The Bookwyrm's Review of Steel, Blood and Fire by Allan Batchelder
Author: Allan Batchelder
Length: 550 Pages/ 18 hours, 34 Minutes (Audio)
Publisher: Allan Batchelder/ Blancsanglier Productions Ltd. (Audio)
Release Date: January 2, 2013
Narrator: Christopher Selbie
Series: Immortal Treachery
Genre: Grimdark Fantasy
Sometimes you get recommended a book by a friend that you are kind of on the fence about. I admit my friend's description of this book was a bit vague, and I just kind of forgot about it. I came across it a few months later and decided, why not, I have a hole in the TBR list. After reading the paper version and listening to the audio version, I am beyond glad I did. Otherwise, I would have missed out on what is one of, if not my most favorite, fantasy characters. Tarmun Vykers is just one of those characters that even though they are in no way a hero, they still appeal all out of proportion to what they should. With that, lets get this review rolling.
Tarmun Vykers. The Reaper. death on two leg's, whos sword has killed whole peoples if the legends are to be believed. Unstoppable warlord. Kingdom conqueror. Right up until that all ended when he ran up against the Virgin Queen's army and was defeated. Captured, tortured, having his hands and feet cut off, the stumps healed, then dumped in the woods to fend for himself, dying a slow, painful death. Only the Reaper won't die that easy. After months of crawling around, barely surviving in the woods, Vykers comes across a cave with a skeleton in it, the skeleton of a mage named Arune with the spirit still attached. Offering Vykers the chance to be whole again if he agrees to let her bond with him until she can find a body of her own, Vykers agrees, and the history of the world changes with that decision.
So begins the next chapter in Vykers's story, as Arune forms hands and feet of magic for Vykers, and he heads towards civilization again. After running into a patrol of the Queen's soldiers, Vykers is brought before the monarch, who offers him a chance for life, as a threat to existence is currently rampaging across the continent, killing everything it comes across. That threat is called The End of All Things, a mage of immensely vast power, who revels in the death and destruction his army creates. He is literally trying to live up to his name, and the Virgin Queen's kingdom is next on his agenda. Tarmun must, with some new allies, retrieve an item that just might turn the tide, if it even exists.
While Vykers and his companions go on this quest, the End's sister, a healer named Aoife, is on her own journey to try and end her brothers reign of evil. Meeting unexpected allies along the road, she brings her own magic to the fight against her brother. On another road, a small group of mercenaries, lead by Long Pete, ends up in the Queen's Army, only to be split up and captured by The End's army. This leads to some revelations about a few of the parties members that have world shaking repercussions.
As Vykers returns from his quest, the End has all his pieces in place to make his move. This leads to an amazingly well written penultimate battle scene, with so much action its amazing he kept it all straight! He did, though, and it leads to some fantastic action, loss, betrayals, heroics and huge magics. The final showdown between the Reaper and the End is just brutal combat poetry, and leaves plenty for another book in the series.
While the worldbuilding with this book is definitely strong, and the plot really keeps the reader engaged, the characters are what makes this book shine! Tarmun Vykers, vulgar, amoral, ruthless, but still strangely likeable has a lot of secrets that are slowly being reveled, and he is just a fantastic character. The main secondary characters like Arune, Aoife and Long Pete also had a lot of time lavished on their character development, and even characters like the Queen have some interesting developments. The villain, The End of All Things, is the perfect Grimdark villain. Ruthless, merciless and completely insane, he is just such a larger than life character with secrets of his own, slowly revealed throughout the book. I think this is the kind of dark fantasy gem that can appeal to a wide swath of fantasy readers.
The narration is handled by Christopher Selbie. I was unfamiliar with his work before this, but I found him to be a very good narrator. He has excellent pacing, and never drags into monotone. He uses a variety of tones and accents to create individual characters you want to listen to. Definitely a top notch effort I can heartily recommend.