An improvement on the first book, but still not without fault.
The Sword of the North is the second book in Luke Scull’s Grim Company trilogy.
After reading the Grim Company I decided to immediately immerse myself in the second book in the trilogy, the Sword of the North, hoping upon all hope that it was better than the first entry. That’s not to say that I didn’t like the Grim Company, but more that it was unmemorable save for the gratuitous violence that will be hard to shake for some time. I am happy to say that this book is an improvement. Not massively, but better nonetheless.
The events unfold soon after the death of Salazar. The White Lady is victorious in her war with Salazar, but Dominia is still the writhing cesspool that it was in the last book, only with less order and more starvation than before. Grasping their opportunity, a band of viciously enigmatic rebels are causing havoc and Eremul, the Halfmage, is struggling to uncover the mystery behind their purpose. Davarus Cole, on the cusp of death, is ‘saved’ and finds himself in the deep despair of a magic mining town, where he struggles to make peace with his past and grasp the slithering tendrils of the path laid before him. Sasha and her newly found sister head to Thelassa, the city of the White Lady, to warn her of the rebels who have become so dangerous in Dominia. And the final thread follows Brodar Kayne and his growing band of misfits as they travel back to his former home to be with his long thought dead wife, however the North is not what it was with a new tyrant taking the throne and building a pact with a powerful demon in order to take over the whole land.
If you read the first book, then you know what to expect here. Except, somehow, Scull manages to build on the grimness to an even greater extent. Never have I seen characters wade around so much literal faeces. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word ‘c**t’ uttered so many times in a book, or even on TV for that matter. Deaths and mutilations are so much more graphic and despairing. Characters are consistently demeaned with rape becoming such a prominent tool. Once again the novel screams its adherence to grimdark without ever pertaining to any reality. I would even go as far to say that the book forgoes the much overused term of ‘gritty’ and flaunts its crass nature as a less successful alternative. But when a series proudly lauds the word ‘Grim’ in its title, and kills hundreds of thousands of people in the opening chapter of the first book, you know what you are letting yourself in for.
One of my main criticisms of the Grim Company was the lack of character development. And, to an extent, I have the same criticism in this book. Scull seems unable to truly create a flawed character while at the same time presenting them as a hero. At least, this time, Davarus Cole has more growth as he realises that he is not the hero he once believed himself to be. Although this growth seems to be presented in a fairly shallow way. He sees himself as no hero, he becomes burdened with depression, terrible things happen to him, then suddenly he is a hero again. It all happens so quickly that the mental journey he travels lacks any true depth.
Then we come on to Brodar Kayne, the eponymous Sword of the North. He was undoubtedly the stand out character in the Grim Company, and thankfully he once again is here. It’s great to finally learn about his past in some well-placed flashback chapters. It is here that Scrull shows that he can do character development well, which infuriates me even more because of his failure to do this with many of the other ‘heroes’ in the novel. I was less charmed by the other characters he picked up along the way. There’s an orc carrying a giant egg (I don’t know and this isn’t explained so I guess we’ll have to wait until the next book for this weirdness to be given clarity), a child who does little but act as the conscience of the group, and, inexplicably, a ninja. This band are chased by group of bandits whose appearances are so scarce that their purpose remains a massive enigma.
There are other characters in this book who are given next to no time at all and who we know absolutely nothing about, yet they suddenly become pivotal in progressing threats that have literally come from nowhere. Seriously, there were a couple of things happen later in the book and I just thought, “what the bloody hell is going on and where did that even come from”. There are threads that have not even been hinted at in either the Grim Company or the first three-quarters of this book and suddenly they are omnipotent in their villainy. This goes the same for powers that characters (mainly Davarus Cole) possess. Just the same as his act of deus ex machina against the Augmentor prior to killing Salazar in the Grim Company, he suddenly has powers that just appear and are given no real explanation.
It is clear that this book is not without its faults. I think this is mainly because it is too short to really give the amount of characters there are and the many story threads the development they need. The story does progress, but there are so many plot points left with absolutely no conclusion. In fact, I think that nothing is given a definitive outcome and, rather, it all acts to set everything up to become a massive battle royal in the final book in the trilogy.
But there is plenty of good about it too. Pretty much everything that happens in the North, with Ylandris and her struggle against the evils that she has to endure and fight against, was incredibly immersive. There was also a nice little twist towards the end regarding her character that came out of the blue and was a welcome interjection of emotion in a violent climax. Sir Meredith is excellently odious, with his intentions and motivations encapsulated by his vile internal meanderings. As a villain he was brilliant and waiting to see whether or not he will get his comeuppance is enough to keep you hooked to the pages in itself. The dark secrets of Thelassa and their enigmatic ruler promise much and entice you forward through the story. Certain aspects do hit a bit of an anti-climax but, for the most part, they are equal parts gripping and disturbing in their revelations. If you are after a book with a decent story, and copious adult themes, then you can’t go far wrong here.
Character interactions and the subtlety of relationship building are only a secondary objective to Scull as grim and dark perversions take the forefront of the story. Yet you cannot fault the excitement. There is always something going on and that makes the book very hard to put down, even if they are occasionally incomprehensible in their abruptness. If you loved, or even enjoyed, the first novel in the Grim Company trilogy then I would highly recommend you take the time to read the Sword of the North.