There are many fantasy authors who rely too heavily on the work of others, or the favorite tropes of the genre, when creating their own worlds. Fortunately, there are authors like Allan Batchelder who derive inspiration from fantasy masters and then construct wholly new and endlessly engaging realms for readers to enjoy. Steel, Blood & Fire, Book 1 of the Immortal Treachery series, is a grim, edge-of-your-seat pleasure to read.
Batchelder doesn’t concern himself with too much exposition, but instead jumps right into the action, transporting readers into a dark, brutal world and introducing them to one of the most feared warriors within it – Tarmun Vykers.
Even in the first few pages, the graphic and intense nature of this book becomes clear, and the next 500+ pages follows much the same course. Despite being reviled by some and feared by all, Vykers, also known as the Reaper, becomes humanity’s best hope against the sinister villain who calls himself the End of All Things.
In the swords and sorcery style of fantasy writing, a vengeful hero that seemingly can’t be killed, facing off with an inconceivably powerful magical foe, is hardly unique, yet some iterations truly stand out, and this is one of them. There are other traditional fantasy themes, such as the unlikely band of heroes, the innocent ingénue becoming embroiled in powers beyond her understanding, and the eventual revelation of the great warrior’s softer side. However, remaining loyal to common waypoints in the genre doesn’t make for a bad book, particularly when the intricacies of the plot leave readers endlessly guessing.
Vykers is undeniably the most interesting character in the novel, and the one with the most emotional baggage; shifting from a violent beast to a thoughtful and clever warrior, readers will see him as a beleaguered hero taking to the field of battle for one final, glorious ride. The enigmatic villain of the story, the epitome of evil, is monstrous and threatening, as if this generally overcast book needed any more darkness.
The descriptions in the novel are lacking at times, and it seems as though the excitement of action sequences and plot twists occasionally overshadow the opportunity for thorough, engaging depictions that could draw the reader further in. The writing itself is relatively simplistic, but generally error-free, yet the dialogue could use some fine-tuning. Conversations often seems forced or inauthentic, clearly designed to progress the plot, but not necessarily the believability of the characters.
There is a matter-of-factness to the writing, which comes across as strong and declarative at the outset of the book, but gradually becomes somewhat monotone. A bit of diversity in sentence structure and more attention to the flow and pace of language would be appreciated in future books from the author.
Apart from these issues, Batchelder has built a fascinating new world to explore, and a cast of courageous, compelling characters – some of whom will make it to the next book, and others who won’t. With a bit more polishing, this series could make its mark in the genre, but as it is there is plenty here to find gripping and original. Overall, Steel, Blood & Fire is a murky, masterful, and occasionally comic saga that will leave you wanting more.
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