Along my reading journey, I’ve made a conscious decision to not only read the books on the shelves at my local Barnes & Nobles store, or online at Amazon, but to also try self-published, or indie, works as often as I can.
Now, I know several of you are snickering in the background or rolling your eyes at my idiot crusade to bring a few good indie works to light. And, believe me, I understand why you’d do that. Several years into this, I have to admit that I’ve probably stopped reading more indie faire than I’ve finished, but those that did keep my attention were — or had the potential to be — above average stories, and I’d like to occasionally share those few in the hope that you might also discover them.
Genre: Fantasy – Sword and Sorcery/Grimdark
Series: Iron Nails #1
Publisher: Warrior’s Oath Publishing (August 27, 2015)
Length: 396 pages
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
As this story begins, a reader is immediately thrust into a dark forest, where a desperate, young man named Bray is fleeing from vicious foes, who are right on his heels. These barbarian-like warriors have already slaughtered the youth’s brothers before his eyes, and now they are leisurely hunting him, using their dogs to run him to ground before they finish him off . . . slowly.
But someone else is also in the forest. A foreign man who is there to hunt the barbarians themselves. And when Rayle hears the boy’s frantic flight, he goes to survey the goings on, not necessarily to rescue anyone but to see if the boy is worth rescuing.
Great opening! This beginning was a grimdark thing of beauty – vicious and pessimistic with an almost ethereal quality to it. The dark forest, the boy’s fear, his possible rescuer, and the vicious pursuers meshing into an adrenaline-filled beginning. Plus it seamlessly led into a journey of revenge which promised (and delivered!) combat, bloodletting, and magical discoveries. All of which turned Act One: Prince of Promises into sword and sorcery gold . . . before stepping aside for Act Two: Mother’s Pride.
This second part of the book was very different in perspective and tone from Act One. Here Mr. Knott shifted completely away from our lone boy and his quest-driven rescuer back to the youth’s home village. Act Two detailing the legal trial of Bray’s mother, as she is confronted with charges that she sent her sons away to avoid conscription into the military.
What? A trial in the middle of a sword and sorcery story?
Yeah, it was a rather jarring shift from sword and sorcery swagger to legal wrangling, but Mr. Knott pulls it off. In fact, Act Two almost read like a different book, interesting in and of itself, filled with lots of good, old-fashioned scheming and lots of colorful characterization. Two characters, in particular, shined here: Captain Birch and Innkeeper Mortimer. But I must admit that the shift away from the desperate, combat-filled journey of Bray and Rayle to this village setting did upset the frantic momentum of the tale, slowing things down immensely.
Things heat up again in Act Three: The Sane King, however; Bray and Rayle’s story merging with those of Birch, Mortimer and all the rest. The book ending on a sword and sorcery high note.
The first thing most people ask when I review a self-published novel is, “Was it equal in quality to professional books?” And I can say with The Sane King that it definitely is top notch, favorably stacking up against e-books released by publishing houses. The cover is obviously striking and attention worthy. There are no issues with the succinct prose; it flows well, has few (if any) errors, and is more than adequate to craft this sword and sorcery tale. And the story itself is well told, filled with excitement, exhibits organic development of characters, and has a slowly building plot. So no one should pick this one up thinking it isn’t professional in every way.
As for the story itself, its most impressive element was the characters. Mr. Knott crafted each differently, painted them in their own shades of grey, and endowed every one with their own personalities and foibles. For example, Captain Birch is an older officer on the down side of his career, cursed with an addiction which is slowly driving him insane and tasked with conscripting young men for the military, knowing he is throwing them into a meat grinder they won’t survive. Innkeeper Mortimer is a piece-of-shit guy, who no one would ever accuse of being a hero, but who, when fate forces him to, takes up the mantle of leadership in order to save himself and everyone else. And finally, there is Rayle; this foreign warrior is cast in the mold of other sword and sorcery heroes like Conan and Kull, but displays more than a little philosophical musing along with his willingness to cave-in heads.
The weakest element of The Sane King is the worldbuilding. Now, I don’t like info dumps any more than the next reader (especially when done by writers who can’t tell when enough is enough already), but in a fantasy, there has to be some of that in order to set the stage upon which the tale is being played out. Here we have strange names of people and gods as well as distant lands and people mentioned, but there is little description to bring any of them to life before a reader’s eyes. So, in this area, The Sane King was a bit lacking.
Overall, I thought this first installment of Iron Nails was an exciting sword and sorcery read. Nope, it didn’t stretch the bounds of the genre, but it delivered exactly the type of depressing, hard-nosed, adrenaline-filled adventure that I was expecting. And if you love those types of sword and sorcery tales, then you should definitely give this novel a try.