Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark
Series: The Rage of Kings #2
Publisher: Angry Robot (June 17, 2014)
Length: 460 pages
My Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
With The White Towers (The Rage of Kings Book 2), Andy Remic does something amazing. He takes the members of the Iron Wolves and actually begins to turn them into some semblance of human beings without losing their grimdark appeal!
For those of you have not read my review of THE IRON WOLVES I’m sure that seems somewhat nonsensical, but trust me when I say that our heroes are some of the most despicable, vile, and loathsome humans you will ever come across. From pit fighters to drug addicts to kidnapper/serial killers, the Wolves run the gamut of human depravity. Honestly, when reading the first book of the series, I felt dirty for even routing for them to not be hanged for their crimes against humanity. But as I said, in book two, Andy Remic begins the slow transformation of these monsters into something more than classic grimdark caricatures.
The story picks up right where book one ended: the remaining Iron Wolves have saved the Kingdom of Vagandrak from Orlana the Changer’s army of mud orcs and inhuman “splice” only to be arrested and sentenced to death by mad King Yoon. Now, they must not only find a way to save their sorry assess from the hangman’s noose but also somehow escape the impregnable fortress in the Pass of Splintered Bones. But even if they succeed in doing those things, none of them are prepared for what awaits them back in their homeland. For Orlana’s coming has awoken another enemy of Vagandrak: the Elf Rats. These twisted denizens of the toxic land far to the north have returned to their ancient homeland, determined to avenge themselves on their human tormenters and wipe the scourge of mankind from the very earth itself!
From this great beginning, Mr. Remic weaves a grimdark story that spends a great deal of time on the characterization of the individual Iron Wolves. KiKi, Captain of the Wolves, has her unusual childhood and magical powers explored. Dek the Pit Fighter opens up about his family. Narnok of the Axe begins dealing with his wife’s betrayal and his vile torture. Trista the Serial Killer turns into more than a murdering ice princess. Even Prince Zastarte exorcizes his demons to an extent and explains how he had been lead down the path to serial killing. Not that any of these epiphanies by the Wolves washes them white as snow or changes their inherent evilness. Monsters they might still be, but at least, Mr. Remic begins to explore the why of their insanity. That, in and of itself, made the characters more real and more compelling to me.
Another thing that Mr. Remic does a good job of doing here is giving readers a less over-the-top villain. Book one suffered, in my opinion, from the fact that Orlana the Changer was so evil, so ridiculously inhuman that all her actions seemed surreal. Here, though, the author finds the right balance between vile and fantastical with the Elf Rats. Sure, they are genocidal monsters, but their reasons for being such are clearly articulated, allowing a reader to understand why they hate the humans of Vagandrak so much and what they hope to gain from their behavior. Perhaps that doesn’t seem very praise worthy, but after book one, I thoroughly enjoyed knowing exactly why the bad guys were killing everyone.
With all that being said, I want to assure grimdark lovers that even with Mr. Remic spending more time on characterization and explanation The White Towers is still a blood spattering grimdark fantasy. There are pages and pages of gory atrocities, fierce battles, and monstrous genocide. Sex also plays a major role here, and more than a few of our heroes are bi-sexual, which leads to several uncomfortable moments when the less open-minded members of the group discover this. So if you loved The Iron Wolves or just are overdue for a hit of grimdark, pick this one up. Just make sure, though, that you have a clean rag next to you to wipe all the blood off your face as you read it.
I received this book from Angry Robot and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
CHECK OUT MY REVIEWS OF THE RAGE OF KINGS SERIES
THE IRON WOLVES