The Grim Company by Luke Scull
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."
I've used that quote many times to reinforce to students how important it is to be original when composing a essay. It's so easy to be influenced by a journal where you believe part of it answers the question to which you are posed perfectly. Perfection is a myth, something we strive to but find it frustratingly impossible to obtain - but maybe the perfection you seek should be from your own mind and thoughts, not other's. Aspire is different to inspire, don't you think? I believe this is a problem with The Grim Company - please read on.
My main problem with The Grim Company was that I had read the story before, or something very similar to it. There are too many parallels to other stories I've read by writers such as Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, George R R Martin and many more. Of course writers are going to be influenced by other writers, but for me this wasn't a original story. I'm going to try to explain why I think this and also my relative disappointment with the characters created by the author - this being they (to me) came across lifeless and devoid of, well, character.
Grim Company is a debut high/dark/grimdark fantasy trilogy by Luke Scrull. The Gods are dead, slain by the Magelords some five centuries ago. Humanity is on its own, but now they are ruled by those mages. There is one who can challenge the mages, Davarus Cole who has Magebane - a weapon that makes him impervious to sorcery. Cole has a destiny, to become a hero. He yearns to slay Salazar, a Magelord who rules Dormina with a tyrannical flair. To help him reach this goal, he has The Shards, who are a group of rebels - although Cole finds himself held back by their leaders lack of action, Garrett.
While this is going on, demonic forces are gathering to the north. The only thing standing between them are a loose confederacy of Highlander tribes (basically Vikings). A Shaman, who commands these forces - meanwhile he is pursuing the former Sword of the North, Bordar Kayne, who fled along with Wolf aka Jerek to the south. Their paths become entwined with members of the Shard.
In-between this we're presented with the Eremul , the Halfmage, a mage who Salazar let live on account he hides his magical abilities and turn informant. Life's a bit crap for Eremul, as he is half the man he use to be, literally speaking. His manservant Issac, helps Eremul get around (so to speak) and turns into a rather adapt aide for both his master and, well everything he turns his hand to.
There is another side story going on (four in all) which introduces the reader to Ylandris, a sorceress, who seduces the King of the North so she can realise her dream of becoming queen. What she begins to realise is that the King isn't really in command and finds herself thinking how to depose the Shaman aka Magelord of the north.
So here's my problem with the characters - Bordar Kayne personality is devoid of anything that would appeal to the reader. It's wooden, like it's been hammered out and played out by the writer many times over for perfection. The author does describe The Sword of the North as 'in his prime' many times over - but then continually reinforces to the reader how he is old and flagging, aches and pains override his ability to fight. However he seems to walk through anything thrown at him. It doesn't help as Bordar dialogue read like it was forced by the writer to give him some ounce of personality. Now his companion Jerek is likeable up to a point, but after a while his personality grated at him. It was like he was thrown in only to give it a Mark Lawerence-esque "fuck, cock and cunt" linguist lesson to the reader. I've no problem with rough language in a story. After a while, you just think that character has nothing to offer but that 'fun' trait. He is easily prone to violence, even a flipping alchemist annoys him, for no reason other than being one. Females, he doesn't like females... 'cunts' apparently. In fact the only person he 'half' likes is Kayne and even then they almost come to blows.
I want to talk about Davarus Coles, possibly the worst leading character I've ever come across in any fictional story I've read. I'm not just saying this for impact or trying to be 'edgy and cool' - he sucks! Seriously, the story goes he has a destiny; to follow in his father footsteps and become a hero. Fine, understandable in a way. He is neither the anti-hero which some of George R R Martin's and Mark Lawrence present us in their stories, but a insufferable, deluded, annoying, whining git. He rather reminds me of that person who big themselves up constantly, but when it comes to doing something, they fall way short. He has such cliché lines like; "I'm a hero, this is what I do." I get the author has written this character that way, but too much 'page time' has been given to a character who actually brings nothing to the story.
Having said that I did end up rooting for the bad guy, Salazar - wrong? Maybe, but then the heroes in the story weren't really written in a way where I'd end up rooting for them. We end up finding out why he helped kill the gods and why he is so hard on his people. It's explained in a way where you feel for the bad guy! The Magelords may have become ruthless and unforgiving in their rule, but once the explanations is there, well I felt it was justified to a point. The Halfmage was interesting in his witty retorts to those who mocked him. The story isn't helped by dialogue that (as I've mentioned) seemed to be forced out by the author - I'm trying best to explain how the majority of main characters came across to me; false and lifeless would be the best analogy I can come up with.
There are some interesting world creations though; The Augmentors, sort of a magically enhanced police force appealed. They are a extension of Salazar's power and gifted with differing abilities such as; enchanted armour, blurring speed, never tire, etc. Talking about magic, I wanted to mention that I'm not a fan of fantasy with heavy magic involvement within its pages. However Luke Scrull does make the magic subtle mostly. Mind you, on a scale that borders on genocide.
I think the real problem with The Grim Company is that there is no defined protagonist or anti-hero - there all just mixed together in the hope they carry the story. There doesn't seem to be any real antagonist either. Salazar isn't such of a bad guy, just the 'guy' who is put there to make you feel like there is some kind of evil in the world - it just didn't sit well with me - that was my conclusion towards the end. Another issue for me was the predictability of where the story was going. Something many reviewers have mentioned but glazed over. The story is very A-B, you know where Cole is heading. I've mentioned Salazar.
So the last thing I wanted to mention was how similar part of the story is to GRRM. To the north we've got demonic powers looking to come south and devour the people of Trine in The Grim Company. The people are weak, both those who are defending the north and those south - due to civil war and a populace being ruled in a iron vice. GRRM - same thing when you think about it. Though the powers north are presented as a more 'natural' evil. There is civil war in Game Of Thrones the north is weakened due to the death of Ned Stark, due to this civil war for the crown. The Grim Company a death of a important Magelord weakens the people. Game of Thrones the king is poisoned and the realm reverts to civil war. Hmm. In The Grim Company the Demons are coming and the people are near powerless to stop them - well unless Kayne goes back north and walks through them. Much like this novel.
Apologies if I sound a little cynical - I found the similarities to similar to a few other author's stories. Imitation is fine, but there is a limit surely. I did enjoy a few of the characters as mentioned, but didn't find the story original enough to warrant me liking it more. In fact it borrowed heavily from other fantasy novels, in my opinion. I'm not suggesting plagiarism as it's not. Maybe you will find it differently, in which case I hope you do as there are some ideas here that could possibly work really well.
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