Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: The Free by Brian Ruckley

This is a decent epic fantasy on the darker side - more Game of Thrones like in genre.

The Free tells the stories of the fading days of the last mercenary company. Times are changing and there's no place for them any more (for reasons which are never quite clear in the book). Levyman Drann ends up accompanying them as contract holder - the representative of their employer who's duty it is to prove that they are acting under contract rather than being mere bandits.

Unfortunately, perhaps because I've been spoiled by Elizabeth Moon's brilliant military fantasy, the mercenary company comes over more as an adventuring party than anything with military discipline.

Despite that, this is a fun read. Ruckley's magic system is interesting - magic is based off of the four seasons in the way it is often based off of the elements. Mages have a season - how that's determined is also left out, but it doesn't seem to be something they choose. The world is made up of entelech, which comes in season flavors. So, everything's about seasons. And the use of magic steals a mage's vigor and permanently shortens their lives. Because of this, magic is used somewhat sparingly - although this is still a slightly higher magic world in terms of frequency than Game of Thrones. It's always nice to see a new and different magic system.

The characters are well-realized and the story itself interesting, although the ending - no spoilers - is rather a downer. It leaves one with the feeling that things are already bad and can only go downhill from here. If you like happy endings, you might want to skip this one.

If you like unashamedly violent, dark epic fantasy with good worldbuilding and an interesting magic system, then I recommend it.

(Copy received at World Fantasy Con).