This one is actually rather outside of what I normally read in fantasy. For all that I love fantasy as a genre, I tend to avoid what I consider the traditional bits of it (I won’t go into what that entails here; I’ve been berated for it enough elsewhere) and I think this falls into one of the traditional bits of fantasy. But it was cheap (yes, that is basically how I choose what I want to read) and looked vaguely interesting, and I think it was worth it, in the end.
Before anything else, I have to say, this is not a very original piece of fiction. This will probably come through in my comments, but I’m just warning you.
The book has a fairly typical anti-hero, though maybe a little younger than one might expect. His writing feels adult, even if he isn’t. The “anti” part gets rather overdone early on in the book; you feel as if the author is labouring the point a bit. Yes yes, pillage, rape, stabby stab, we get it. He’s a nasty little s**t. Fine. Oh yes, and he has tragic backstory. But after the overdone pillagey rapey bits, you kind of don’t buy that the tragic backstory is enough to get him off the hook. After that it gets a bit more complex (and I’d have to spoil to explore it thoroughly, which I won’t).
The main character, Jorg, may be a teenage boy, but he (and to be honest a lot of the supporting cast) think about sex far too much. To be honest, I think that is a lot of what tends to drive me away from traditional fantasy into the quirkier edges. Not that they are devoid of sex, but they tend to be a little less focussed on it; I’m not entirely sure why. Not to be all feministical here, but the women of the book are basically sex objects or mothers (which is just a step onward from sex object, really). It certainly wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test. I’m not even sure there’s a scene where two women are present, let alone where they talk, about men or otherwise. There wasn’t even a scantily clad, sexy, stabby warrior type in the band. That might have helped a little. There are some whores, a mutant girl, a sexy necromancer, Jorg’s mother, Jorg’s dad’s new wife, the sexy sister of the new wife (Jorg obsesses about her sexually)… you see where this is going. The author is very obviously a man. And not one I think I ever want to meet.
But Jorg does have some character, beyond all this. He’s rather clever, and the way we see the world through his eyes is quite interesting, as are the between-chapter snippets of his views on the rest of the brothers. He can be charming, his anger is fascinating and just the way his mind works is fun to watch. But, and this may be because we see the world through his eyes, the other characters are basically cardboard cut-outs that exist to get stabbed or be raped (which is only another form of stabbage, I suppose). There’s no insight beyond him. Maybe the author did this deliberately… highlighting the ego-centricity of all teenage boys and this one in particular. I couldn’t possibly say. Though, to be honest, I imagine not. I think the author enjoyed writing Jorg immensely, and took a bit too much care over it, leaving no space for anyone else.
There honestly isn’t much to commend the book beyond Jorg. The story is a bit dull, the setting fairly typical, post-apocalyptic fantasy, the writing uninspiring. I’ll probably read the sequel, but only because I really enjoyed reading Jorg. It sold the book for me, but I don’t particularly suggest anyone else bother reading it. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, by any means.