My rating is 3 out of 5 stars.
The Sword and Its Servant is the first installment of what is planned as an ongoing series. This “portal” story is definitely a YA novel with its “coming of age” theme, but it also has a very strong element of horror incorporated in it with some nightmarish characters who do some rather nasty things. And that blending of YA and horror is definitely what gives this tale a uniqueness missing in many other books; something fantasy readers tired of the familiar fantasy tropes might find very refreshing.
The story begins on Earth with a young boy named Johannes, who is read a bedtime story by his mother. This fairy tale (for so they both believe it to be) talks about a world called Grauwelt, where a group of refuges has fled for safety only to find it haunted by a horrible supernatural creature who begins to devour them. When all hope of their survival seems lost, the leader of these refugees does the unthinkable and turns to hell itself for help.
After his mother stops reading and tells him to go to sleep, Johannes finds himself unable to stop his imagination from wandering. Instead of settling down to slumber, his mind races with images of himself as a brave knight, riding off on his mighty steed to fight the nightmarish hound-like creatures of Grauwelt called the Lowa.
And then the horror begins for this small boy snugged safety under his covers, as he finds a portal opening in his room! The pulsating whirlpool of light filled with insidious voices and shadowy images of the creatures spoken of in the fairy tale – things that are not so easily vanquished by Johannes’ toy sword. And before he can even call for help, the youth finds himself forced into the sibilant vortex and taken to Grauwelt. A different reality that is somewhere between our own and that of Hel, filled with creatures that are straight out of his nightmares, all of them locked in a struggle to the death for survival.
From this beginning, Mr. Salinas develops the story through several different points of view. After Johannes’ introduction, a parallel story about a strange girl named Einsa is begun; her life being one of unending terror as she lives in pitch black cells full of abducted children. And then the author moves onto several of the Lowa, who are the sons of the King and involved in political machinations. Through these multiple stories, a vivid world of darkness and violence is carefully crafted.
There are several things to really like about The Sword and Its Servant.
One is that Mr. Salinas has crafted a rather non-traditional fantasy world, based not on humans but on another species entirely. The Lowas are truly horrible but also complex creatures who have their own peculiar traditions and civilization that are slowly revealed by the author.
Two, this is not a classic “good versus evil” tale. In fact, all the characters portrayed here are definitely gray. Throughout the narrative, you will find yourself thoroughly hating one for his actions, only to find the motives for those heinous deeds explained later and the hatred turning slowly into mere dislike or perhaps something even more. For example, the Lowas are definitely creatures out of a child’s nightmare, but Mr. Salinas develops them into intelligent beings whose vile acts are within the parameters of their culture. And even the denizens of “Hel” are not shown as completely evil, but something between the two polar opposites of good and bad.
Third, The Sword and Its Servant is not merely a book series; it is actually the introduction to the role-playing world of Grauwelt. Online, lovers of Mr. Salinas’ fantasy creation can immerse themselves into this world via a role-playing game aptly dubbed Grauplay. Something that isn’t exactly new, but the creative team does a great job of integrating the two things together in a new, inventive way, and it does add that extra dimension to the series as a whole.
Overall, I like The Sword and Its Servant. Mr. Salinas’ writing was more than adequate for this YA story; something that I know will only improve as the series progresses. The plot was inventive and fast paced, which makes it perfect for YA lovers. So if you are just a fantasy aficionado looking for something different, or a horror fan who likes it a bit fantastical, this is absolutely something you should check out.