SPFBO Review: Lords of Asylum by Kevin Wright

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I was rather excited to get to this one, because when Wol likes a book, I tend to generally also like that book! Of course… this isn’t universal… but ehhh close enough. 😀

Waylaid in the wilds, they left him for dead…

Sir Luther Slythe Krait is a bad man. He tried outrunning his past, but vengeance is swift and tireless and rides on unceasing wings.

Lord Pyotr Raachwald’s heir was murdered in a ritual rife with black witchcraft. His legacy is shattered. His purpose ruined. And with the killer at large, all he has left, revenge, lies too out of his reach.

Plunged into the civil war consuming Asylum City, Sir Luther is compelled into the service of his arch-nemesis, Lord Raachwald. Can Sir Luther play Lord Raachwald off against another power-mad lord long enough to unmask the truth behind the heir’s murder? Hunt down the killer? Bring him to justice? Or will he just die trying?

Waylaid in the wilds, they left him for dead, just not dead enough…

“Lord Raachwald is remarkable amongst his kind for only one thing,” Gaunt said. “The man hates.”

“And what does he hate, besides me?” I asked.

“What all men of power hate.”

“Anyone with more,” I said.

“And anyone with less. And all shades in between.”

This is the story of Sir Luther Slythe Krait, a knight and former justiciar who is now making his way in the world as… a caravan guard. Well, the caravan he was guarding was attacked and pretty much everyone but him killed… look I never said he was a good caravan guard.

What he is good at though is investigating. One of the lords of the city of Asylum, Lord Raachwald’s heir (among other people) was horribly killed by something that is rather unexplainable, and Lord Raachwald would really like to know who or what did it. So, he coerces sir Luther Krait, a man he hates but grudgingly admits is good at what he does, to investigate what happened. And by coerce, I mean kidnap his brother Stephan and swear he’ll kill him if Krait doesn’t do what he wants. So he’s in a bind, and of course one of the other Lords of Asylum is pissed off that Krait is investigating something for his nemesis in his city. So he’s got two angry lords breathing down his neck.

So it’s up to Krait to try and figure this mystery out before all hell breaks loose in Asylum.

I really enjoyed this one for a couple of reasons, but those reasons are probably going to be reasons why other people won’t like it.

This takes place in actual 14th century Europe, which was not a really fantastic time to be alive, to be honest. This world is dark and full of all kinds of murder and war, and death and some more war on top of all the other death. The plague is running rampant, and Asylum is pretty much surrounded by fires consuming the corpses of those who have succumbed. So this setting, and therefore most of this book, is quite grim, and rather bleak.

It’s also quite noir, which was interesting, but may be a sticking point for some people. Again, this takes place in 14th century Europe, however much of the dialog is often very modern and uses vernacular which would not have been in use at the time. For me, it gave the book a quality that I really enjoyed, because I can guarantee I would have liked it less were this dialog more historically accurate. Krait is sort of a 14th century morally-grey detective. He’s not a good guy, not really. But he’s not inherently the worst guy around either. He’s in the middle somewhere. He’s quite snarky at times, and he’ll throw out a witty comeback here or there that worked for me, but might not work for everyone.

“May I ask why I had to pay three times the shipment’s worth to receive it?”

“Poor business acumen?”

His dialog made me legitimately laugh a few times, which was nice, given the super-dark atmosphere that the setting provides. The titular Lords of Asylum, most especially one of them, act very much like mob bosses, sending their thuggish henchmen out to do the dirty work, like summoning Krait in for a nice… uh… chat. Krait’s partner in crime, so to speak, a Norseman named Karl was also a great character. The banter between him and Krait was excellent and quite entertaining all on its own.

As modern as the dialog sounds, there is a fair bit of historical accuracy here, as there was indeed plague and war running rampant through much of Europe at this time in history. The persecution of the Jewish people of Europe during the plague was a pretty major part of this story as well. So, there are a fair amount of anti-semitic slurs and remarks thrown at the Jewish characters from various sources, on top of the fair bit of swearing that takes place already. Just throwing that out there, for anyone that might find things like slurs and the f-bomb uncomfortable. This one doesn’t shy away from horrible things that actually happened, nor does it shy away from language that portrays those things in a realistic way.

“Gonna snatch one.”

“One what?” Her eyes screamed.

“One of them.”

“Them? As in, a full-grown man? What, are they pies cooling on a fucking sill?”

“Didn’t say it was a good plan.”

The mystery kept me in the dark until the big reveal, despite dropping some pretty big hints, which was nice. That kept me really interested, as I wanted to find out the whodunnit. I didn’t find the book boring at any point, and usually found myself excited to pick it up and read it when I had time, but it admittedly felt rather like some parts were unnecessarily long or drawn out more than was really necessary to convey what needed conveying. At the same time, most of these parts were entertaining in their own way, but they still felt as if they were padding the word count a bit. All the same, I thought the prose was very well done, and this book was really well written. Kevin Wright obviously has some serious writing skills.

I’ve hemmed and hawed over this for a while now, and while I think it’s more than an 8, I’m not sure it’s quite an 8.5 for me. So I’ll meet in the middle and call this one an 8.25/10 stars. It wasn’t quite as entertaining to me as my two favorites so far from this competition, but it came really, really close.

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