RetroReview: Black Cross by J.P. Ashman

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Beware.

I read this book last year. Twice! It remains one of the grimmest, darkest, grimdarkiest books I’ve ever read in my life. Just… goddamn.

Arcane magic can be a ruinous power, despite admirable intentions.

A mysterious scroll finds its way into Lord Severun’s hands, enabling him to release a dangerous experiment upon Wesson. With Sergeant Falchion unable to forgive himself for aiding the wizard, and desperate factions taking advantage of the devastating aftermath, Falchion embarks on an arduous quest alongside friends and strangers alike. However, even if their attempt to seek aid is successful and the city is saved, they risk revealing a secret that threatens much more than Wesson alone.

From a fantasy world not too dissimilar to our own dark and bloody histories, the beginning of an epic tale is told. Incredible magic is unleashed, allies become enemies; unlikely friendships are forged, and a foul plot is discovered that will shatter the long lasting peace of Altoln and her allies, plunging them into a gritty, brutal conflict that falls far from the fluffy fairytales of old.

Long has black powder been in the hands of dwarves alone.
Alas, winds ever change and nothing remains the same forever.

Well, this was fun! And by fun, I obviously mean holy fuck this book is dark AF. Goddamn.

It started out a bit slow for me. It was a little hard to stay immersed in the story right at the start. I have no idea if there was a discernible cause to it that was out of my control, or if it’s that I’m ADD as fuck. Probably the latt-OMG SHINY THINGS.

Not to be daunted by books that I have trouble getting into (this is one of many, and a lot of them ended up favorites of mine), I persevered and ohoho, I found a really good and engaging story before long!

So, the leader of the Mage’s Guild and the leader of the Cleric’s guild combine forces to more or less genocide all the criminals in the city… y’know… for the greater good. To do this the mage casts an arcane spell that the cleric brewed into a potion. They give the potion to a sergeant in the town’s guard, and he unknowingly releases it into the wild. Turns out the arcane magic goes wrong and they start the bubonic plague. Whoops! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Luckily, the city of Wesson has saviors. Falchion, the sergeant who feels guilty for bringing the plague down onto the city; Sav, a scout and one of Fal’s best friends; and Errolas, a ranger from the elven lands in town to investigate the arcane magic usage (among others) are heading to the elves for help. Because of course the elves can help. They’re bloody elves. Elves are awesome!

Back in town, two guardsman, Sears and Biviano, who are sort of detectives, are investigating how the plague started, and sort of stumble upon some considerable crazy and corrupt as fuck stuff going down in the church. Shenanigans ensue.

Then there’s Longoss, the assassin. who falls for Elleth, an innocent girl fleeing the plague forced into a not-so-innocent life, and Coppin, her sister in all but blood. There’s some considerable shit going down in the Black Guild too, and Longoss is at its head. The girls just get dragged along for the ride.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. The world in which these characters live is not a good one, much like ours much of the time. There is a lot of violence, a lot of rape and a lot of death. Preteen girl getting prostituted without knowing what sex is: check. Dude getting his dick cut off: check. Girl gets her nipple bitten off: check. Someone horribly burns to death: check. People getting tortured: check and check, People getting shot with crossbows: hoo boy, check and check. – George R.R. Martin would likely have to take a breath at some point and be like ‘Fucking Jesus, dude.’

That said, this book has fantastic characters. Everyone is a mystery, in their own way. Some of the mysteries get solved by the end of the book, but most don’t. I want to know just who and what the fuck Biviano is, because he is hilarious and mysterious all in one. Sears is some sort of crazy berzerker demon thing, Falchion’s real name apparently means something important, and Coppin has green hair (which I feel is important somehow, because it’s pointed out several times but never explained).

My favorite character though is Errolas, the elven ranger. There’s nothing inherently special about him, other than the fact that he’s an elf. Once again, elves are awesome. I have a lot of elf esteem… so yeah.

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Elf esteem.

I obviously don’t take too many things too seriously, and as I said, this book is dark and full of terrors. I found reasons to lighten it up. There’s a scene nearer to the beginning where the city is on fire, and the words ‘thatched roofs’ and their being on fire immediately brought to mind not the fact that people’s fucking houses were burning down, oh no. It brought to mind this motherfucker right here.(You know exactly what that is a link to. Don’t even act surprised >.>)

Okay, so now that we have a comic and a Strongbad video in a review of one of the grimdarkest books that I’ve ever read, I’ll go ahead and end this on a high note.

I loved it. I can’t wait for more. Errolas4ever. *micdrop*

You can grab a copy here: US | UK | CA | AU

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