Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Usurper by James Alderdice

Author: James Alderdice

Length: 475 Pages

Publisher: Lost Realms Press

Release Date: April 22, 2020

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars

Buy on Amazon

I'm usually not a big fan of prequels in storytelling. Filling in the backstory sounds like a good idea, but in a lot of cases, falls flat as they either throw the kitchen sink into it trying to add backstory, or they do something that's inconsistent with the story's current points. Luckily, The Usurper is not that book. Fleshing out the mysterious backstory of main character and events of the first book, Brutal, we get a rousing story all its own that leads right into the first book.


In a disputed border area between the Kingdom of Vjorn and the Duchy of Derenz, the armies of both kingdom and duchy skirmish daily, preparing for a battle to determine the latest winner.The duchy uses a large force of mercenaries known as the Sellswords, led by Gathelaus, a giant of a northerner who has never known defeat on the battlefield. The forces are facing a stalemate, until one night, it all changes. The Kingdom's commander, Prince Roose, sneaks behind the lines and meets with the Duke of Derenz and Gathelaus and asks for their help. He tells them Vjorn's King Forlock is an evil ruler, completely out of control, and he is willing to cede the disputed land to the Duke if he will provide troops to help Roose overthrow the king and allow him to take the throne. Seeing a chance for gain, the Duke agrees to send all his mercenary troops, under the command of Gathelaus, to invade Vjorn with Roose. 

Roose planned for this coup, and separated the various army units from the capital. However, it seems the King is not a complete fool, since his court wizard has spied their movements, and Forlock has invited in the country's wild barbarian neighbors to invade, burning and looting ahead of Roose's forces, leaving them no fodder for their horses. Realizing they will all end up dead if they are delayed too long, Gathelaus comes up with a plan to deal with them. What follows that plan is a wild series of events, including battles, betrayals, an attack by a demon, unexpected deaths and flashbacks to various points in Gathelaus's life. 

The flashbacks show how Gathelaus became the ferocious fighter and tactician he is. Whether its fighting fellow Northmen for land, working as a bodyguard, becoming a war leader in a Mongol-like horde or fighting the last Emperor mage of a fallen empire, he has lived 10 lifetimes of action and adventure in 20+ years.  These all tie into facets of the present, ending in the final confrontation at the capital, in a wild headlong rush to destiny for Gathelaus and company, as the only options are victory or death!


I would have to say that the characters and world building in this book are equally strong, and are both focused on throughout. In Gathelaus, we have a modern day pulp action character, kind of a more sophisticated Conan type. An excellent warrior and tactician, he has risen through life on his own merits, finally leading his own mercenary army. He's not infallible though, and does have some failures in his life, and that definitely informs his decisions throughout the story. He's much more thoughtful and well rounded than I expected. The secondary characters all get some attentions, adding to the story in their own right, and not just as weapons holders for Gathelaus. The various villains are an eclectic collection, from female assassins to an insane emperor mage, and they all play well against Gathelaus and his companions, really helping to round out the story.

The world building is excellent, with a variety of settings throughout the book helping to set the tone. From a volcanic island newly risen from the ocean, a lost hidden city with magical protections to a prison fortress Gathelaus was once a "guest" of, they all lead to the penultimate goal in the book, the capital of Vjorn. This city, while not super heavily detailed, is given life by the story taking place within it, and really helps immerse the reader into the world.


As I initially said, prequels are hit or miss. in this case, it's a definite hit. It really adds a quality backstory to one of my favorite characters, and adds a bright new star to the ranks of ferocious pulp barbarian heroes/anti-heroes. This is one I would wholeheartedly recommend you read today, and then dig into the rest of the series.

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