Along my reading journey, I’ve made a conscious decision to include self-published and small press works in my reading schedule. But it is difficult to know where to start: So many new authors and books to examine to find the perfect fit for my tastes. And to help others with this same problem, I’ve decided to talk about any indie/small press books which I have recently been enjoying.
Well, this past weekend I finally got around to reading Allen Batchelder’s grimdark offering Steel, Blood, & Fire; this novel a damn fine page-turner, filed with everything I enjoy about the genre!
Genre: Fantasy – Gridmark
Series: Immortal Treachery #1
Publisher: Self Published (January 2, 2013)
Author Information: Facebook
Length: 548 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Steel, Blood & Fire is a dark, gritty, and brutal fantasy novel in the grimdark sub-genre. People are tortured, raped, and killed in the George R.R. Martin style. The setting is medieval, portrayed in a realistic way with splendid touches of historical authenticity, and there is even quite a bit of magic, magical creatures, and god-like beings making appearances to spice up the ho-hum world. What sets Steel, Blood & Fire above many dark fantasy offerings, however, is Allan Batchelder deft ability to use this grimdark setting to weave an entertaining, fast-paced narrative which keeps you desperately turning the pages to see how things turn out.
Told through multiple point-of-view characters, the story seamlessly weaves back and forth between several individuals. The most important of these people are Tarmun Vykers aka the Reaper, Arune, and Long Pete. All of these individuals experiencing the turmoils of their time in a different way, allowing readers to see unique views of events through very different eyes, but each caught up in the same horrible circumstances, specifically the crusade of a man known only as The-End-of-All-Things, who is determined to destroy everything on the world, wipe it clean of every form of life. This monster leading a huge army which follows him not for riches or glory but out of abject fear of his sorcerous power and his utter ruthlessness. The path this evil one and his horde carve through our protagonists’ world easy to discern due to the trail of corpses and total destruction that stretch behind them.
From the above plot description, it is not difficult to surmise that Steel, Blood & Fire is a brutal novel at times. The narrative almost literally drips blood and revels in the dark side of humanity at certain points. Horrible deeds are done over and over again to innocent people. Thankfully, though, Allan Batchelder never allows those nihilistic tenants of grimdark to overwhelm what is, at its heart, a character driven story about an unlikely villain-turned-would-be-savior, a troubled healer, and a gigolo-turned-warrior. Vykers, Aruna, and Long gradually developing from one-dimensional people at the the beginning of this tale into fully realized individuals by the conclusion; people who have went through hell, learned many things, and come out the other side better human beings — we hope.
As for the writing itself, it was equal to anything being put out by traditionally published grimdark writers. In fact, Allan Batchelder surpasses many a dark fantasy writer, especially in his ability to tell an entertaining story with a fluid plot and non-stop character development. Certainly, I could complain about Vykers transformation from villain to hero being a bit too easy, Arune’s plot “telling” instead of showing too often, or the villain’s evilness being a bit too one dimensional, but the simple fact is none of those flaws in the book distracted me overmuch from what was an engaging, grimdark romp.
Steel, Blood, & Fire is an impressive work of dark fantasy which is both epic and horribly realistic, one I do not hesitate to recommend to other fans of the grimdark genre. Allan Batchelder now a writer I will be following and will be purchasing his continued writings in this series. And, so, for whatever it is worth, I’d strongly recommend others give this novel as try as well.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.