I was offered a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review, and I happily accepted, because it sounded really interesting!
To the north sits Thyesten, the ancient Lich King of Gedlund. He has banished death, and for countless centuries ruled a land where ghosts, vampires, and other wicked undead keep men in feudal servitude. Elsewhere in the world, human civilization has flourished, and with rifle and iron rail, the power of the Elves has been banished at last. Foremost among the great modern nations is the Verin Empire, and with their prosperity threatened by forces the Elves once kept in check, they find themselves rushing headlong into war with Thyesten’s Kingdom of the Dead.
Tammen Gilmot is a young soldier sent to defend the Verin Empire’s colonial frontier who finds himself swept up into this reckless new campaign, pitting rifle and cannon against Gedlund’s ruthless Everlords and their legions of the dead. In the goblin-infested southern frontier, the sprawling metropolis of Gemmen, and the haunted northern kingdom of Gedlund, the modern world wars against the past as Tammen tries to find his place in the forming of history.
Gedlund is the story of a young man’s rise to responsibility amid battles between humanity and the terrors of the distant past. Drawing inspiration from Lord of the Rings, Catch-22 and our own late 19th century, William Ray’s debut novel features a complex and nuanced world of memorable characters and unique perspectives on life in worlds of classic fantasy.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy, even the best ones. We’ll just have to play it by ear.”
Wow, this book had a really great start. I dunno what I was expecting here, but it certainly wasn’t me reading into the wee hours with sore eyes because I couldn’t put this beast down until I was nearly a quarter of the way through it.
This story follows Tammen, a young, educated, not-quite-noble man who has just joined the army. This is the sort of action that gets you disinherited, as ‘taking the Queen’s Coin’ is seen as below his station. He shows up for duty in the frontier only to be singled out by two young sergeants and asked to carry a crate to where their captain, Valdemar Hoskaaner, a very strange man who was cursed by the elves into being a statue for a couple centuries, stands on it and has him guard his back against the horde of primitive goblins hiding in the long grass attacking them while he jumps out into the action. After this kerfuffle, Tam gets pulled into this captain’s unit, and goes on a mighty adventure across the lands. An adventure that is full of ups and downs and twists and turns where you never really know what will actually happen, but there’s probably going to be some shenanigans.
Verin’s beloved prince has been assassinated by Gedlunders! So, they are ordered to invade Gedlund, a land ruled by a Lich King, full of the risen dead, vampires, and all sorts of other undead riffraff. Val Hoskaaner is from Gedlund, originally, and the mystery of his backstory was actually pretty riveting for me, at least in the beginning. This strange man from another time and another land in the Verin army with a giant magical sword where everyone else uses rifles and bayonets. He’s also such a likable character that I couldn’t help myself but latch right on. Val is what kept me reading past my bedtime here. The mystique of him, I suppose. I liked other characters as well, like Gus and Claude, the snarky sergeants who reminded me so much of Fred and George Weasley, and the unflappable, stoic corporal Glynn. I wish we got a little more backstory of how Glynn came to be in Verin’s army in the first place. That, I imagine, would be an interesting story.
This world is not very dissimilar to our own late 19th century, excepting that we don’t have Lichs, Goblins, Elves, Vampires, et cetera. But, this world does have guns and cannons as the primary weaponry of the army, as well as trains, telegraphs, cameras, and things of that nature, that give it a really Victorian vibe sometimes while still also feeling like a really sprawling high fantasy, if that makes sense. It’s maybe not exactly flintlock fantasy, but it’s not steampunk either. Perhaps it’s best to say that it falls somewhere between them. It was also full of zombies, vampires, ghosts, and monsters, so it had the feel of a bit of a horror novel as well at times.
It got a little slow in the middle, about when the POV shifted from one main character to two, as the characters had split from one group into two. I found myself a little less enthralled with it after the halfway mark (despite all the zombie shooting action and so on), and I’m not sure I can put my finger on why exactly…. but I think it’s because in the grand scheme of things, Val becomes a bit more of a background character and less the mysterious hero as the story continues and you get a good feel for his modus operandi. That, and I found myself liking Tammen less and less as the story progressed. There’s nothing inherently unlikable about him, but he just seemed rather… stodgy. Perhaps that’s the point. However, even with all that said, I did really enjoy this book as a whole much more than I think I was expecting. It’s really quite well written with a fantastic vocabulary, and some interesting ideas used in interesting ways. Best of all, it didn’t have any glaring grammatical errors or plot holes. That admittedly doesn’t always happen with self published novels, never mind self-pubbed debuts. Not finding errors seems almost a boon sometimes. 🙂
All told, I thought it was quite good. Although the story in this novel is quite self-contained, I do hope to one day read the next book in the series because from what I read of the blurb, it follows the exploits of one of my favorite characters from this one. This is a book that’s not in the SPFBO, but that I think should really be put forward for the next one, because I expect that it would do alright, at the very least. It would hold its own. With bayonets. *stab* I give it 4/5 stars!