Something dark stirs off of the coast of Marillin, and soon it will threaten the entire world. As the Wards weaken and the people of the Vales are constantly thwarted in their efforts to push back the darkness – or even merely survive it in many places – only the last of the rangers can hope to put the Bane back into order.
Banehunter: A Vereldan Tale is part of the Vereldan series: fantasy set in the classically-styled world of Vereld. The series also encompasses King of Dreams: A Vereldan Tale and Godhead: Book I of the Aldariad (the latter of which, surprisingly, establishes connections to Earth.) The chronology of the stories is unclear, with Banehunter being the latest release, yet seemingly only loosely connected to the other parts of the canon beyond a general shared world. Suffice to say, it stands on its own and remains self-contained, so I had no confusion when I dug into this tale exclusively.
As it is, the world is fairly intriguing, making its own steps into a unique fantasy identity beyond the usual sword-and-sorcery clichés. There’s plenty of common ideas integrated into the setting, as with all fantasy, but even some of the more obviously typical elements are more than simply the tropes given a coat of paint, instead sensibly worked into the story where appropriate. Rangers and the undead Bitten might feel very standard fare at first until diverging in unique ways in the story that give even ardent readers of the genre pause to stoke their imaginations. It’s a sign of excellent storytelling at work and I felt a great urge to pick up another book because of it. The world at large is wonderfully frayed and walks the line between bleak and magical very well throughout, never pushing the despair too fervently and staying tasteful within its hard-edged nature.
On a lesser scale, many of the characters here are held a bit closer to their defining tropes. They’re fairly compelling and very readable, yet still seemed a bit plain compared to such a wonderfully grey-tinged story and the surrounding world. Banehunter himself is quite an able, rough-around-the-edges veteran and fits the story perfectly, in a way, but there’s an unshakeable sense that he and his fellow cast could have walked in from any other dark fantasy tale and fit just as well.
It’s a great story, grabbing me immediately, and I even had a bit of flashback to picking up pulp fantasy in the 90s with its old-school cover and unabashed grimness. It’s a nostalgia I didn’t know I’d want to re-live until the book was in front of me and I think, for some of its downsides, I’m likely to pick up the rest just to drink in that old fantasy vibe we so rarely get the chance to see these days.