This is going to be massive.
This is a world dying.
A world where wild magic leaks from the corpses of rotting gods, desperate tyrants battle over fading resources, impassive shapeshifters marshal beasts of enormous size and startling intelligence, and ravenous demons infest the northern mountains. A world where the only difference between a hero and a killer lies in the ability to justify dark deeds.
But even in this world, pockets of resistance remain. When two aging warriors save the life of a young rebel, it proves the foundation for an unlikely fellowship. A fellowship united against tyranny, yet composed of self-righteous outlaws, crippled turncoats and amoral mercenaries. A grim company, indeed…
I first heard the name Luke Scull—and by the way, what a totally excellent name that is for a writer of fantasy fiction—somewhere around the middle of last year. Scull's debut novel, The Grim Company, had just been the subject of a fierce, six-way bidding-war, with brand-new publishing house, Head of Zeus, eventually claiming victory with a bid described as being somewhere in the “strong six-figure” section of the ballpark.
The first of a trilogy, The Grim Company isn’t released until the 1st of March, but Head of Zeus have already released the first two-thirds of the book in the potentially groundbreaking form of an Epic Free Sample. It’s a bold and unusual step from a fledgling publisher, and while the author has admitted to ‘arching an eyebrow’ when the idea was initially suggested, having devoured the first three-hundred pages of his book in less than a day, I really don’t think he has anything to worry about.
The Grim Company is, quite possibly, the most accomplished epic fantasy debut you will ever read. <DISCLAIMER> Of course, having only read two-thirds of the book, there’s always the chance of things going to shit in the final act. Oh, and it might not be to everybody’s taste. The story takes place in a world utterly devoid of baffling, apostrophe-riddled proper nouns. So far, nobody’s been raped. And the most powerful being in the entire world is, in all likelihood, a woman. </DISCLAIMER>
The worldbuilding is succinctly done, with Scull eschewing the endless info-dumps, bloated description, and philosophical navel-gazing that all too often sucks the life from tales tackling such lofty themes. Instead, his tight, concise prose delivers just enough information to allow the reader to plunge in and enjoy the story.
And what a story. It seems that Scull has taken everything I love about the genre (mighty, god-like wizards; political intrigue and skulduggery; the tortured, tragic hero; Lovecraftian demon-monsters running amok in the wilderness), set the magic sliders to maximum, and woven an exciting, fast moving story that presses all my buttons.
While I should point out that on the face of it, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, Scull’s focused, bloat-free approach, coupled with an engaging, easygoing style makes for an absolutely cracking read.
Fans of Abercrombie will love it, especially those who feel he’s been somewhat miserly with the magic in his latest books.
Speaking of Abercrombie, if you were to conduct a poll asking fans of the genre to list their all-time favourite characters, chances are Logen Ninefingers wouldn’t be too far from the top of that list.
Step forward, Brodar Kayne. Haunted by the memory of a terrible, violent tragedy, the immensely likeable Kayne is like an older, slightly-cuddlier version of Abercrombie’s digitally-challenged barbarian. It’s still early days, but from what I’ve seen so far, Scull has big plans for this guy, and it’s surely only a matter of time before Kayne is elevated to the blood-soaked pantheon of ultimate fictional badasses.
I’ll finish by saying that as good as The Grim Company is, it's by no means perfect. But seeing as perfection is nothing more than an ever-distant, abstract impossibility, who really gives a shit?