If the word “squeamish” applies to you, this is probably not the book for you.
Being familiar with Larry Correia’s work in Monster Hunter International and The Saga of the Forgotten Warrior, I can confidently assert that he does not shrink away from scary images, mature themes, or realistic violence. I have no previous experience at all with the work of Steve Diamond, but he’s referred to as a master of horror, and it shows. Together, they produce some truly gruesome, horrific imagery. It is the stuff of nightmares.
If that is not your cup of tea, you shall find no smug judgment here, from me, for simply avoiding this title altogether.
But as for me, myself? I found Servants of War, by these two distinguished authors, to be a gripping, riveting tale, filled with battles and intrigue, powerful themes, and lovable characters, as well as terrifying monsters. There was nothing happy-go-lucky about it, but it was great. In short: I loved it!
Servants of War is an upcoming – yes, you read that right: upcoming, courtesy of an advance copy, thank you Baen! – military fantasy novel, the first in a series, The Age of Ravens. However many installments this series has, I want them all!
The story follows in detail only a handful of characters: Illarion Glazkov, a young man whose peaceful life and precious loved ones are ripped bloodily away from him, casting him into the depths of hellish warfare; Natalya Baston, a young woman of special, deadly skill, bound unwillingly in service to a tyrant, desperate to find a way out; Kristoph Vals, a secret policeman and cunning agent of the true power behind the throne, utterly ruthless, patient… and ambitious, especially when he happens upon a key piece of critical information which, if handled properly, could oust a truly evil superior. By twist of fate or the hand of greater powers, these three and their various friends, colleagues, and comrades are bound together in a grand conflict which will determine the outcome of ancient feuds and the course of entire worlds.
I don’t want to spoil too much of a book that has yet to fully come out, but suffice to say I appreciate the world-building behind the story. It’s set in an alternate world, another dimension, which humans accidentally came to and eventually the task of survival gave them dominion of a significant portion. They’ve developed to a point akin to the early 20th century, engaging in trench warfare a’la World War I, but with a few fantastical additions: a wandering people blessed by their gods, religious worship of three goddesses which include Baba Yaga, and an unending war being fought over which of two mighty nations will invade a third and plunder the power of Hebrew-based golem magics. One of these nations, having elevated a heretic wizard to its highest circles, employs the use of metal suits known as Objects, which are animated with magic scavenged from the husks of the golems they want to steal.
There aren’t really any “good” sides in this endless war, not on the mortal or immortal levels. The powers that be include that heretic wizard, a communist tsar, bloodthirsty goddesses who delight in torment and death, and more. But there are good people among the citizens and good comrades in the armies. To stop the cavalier slaughter and mad machinations of these malicious powers, to save the poor humans caught in all the crossfires, is going to require a mighty miracle, and likely several such miracles. For now, though, all people can do is just try to survive and look after those closest to them, as they try to make the best of one of the worst situations imaginable. A simple, and impossible, task.
That is where the appeal of the characters comes in so strongly. Though the authors kill off enough of their characters that one is always a bit afraid for our heroes, one still can’t help but root for sweet, honest Illarion and his brave comrades, and for beautiful Natalya, who just wants to wander the world as her people are meant to. And though I cannot entirely root for Kristoph, I can still thoroughly enjoy the show as he strives to outmaneuver an enemy far worse than himself, with only his wits to rely on. Who among these, and those around them, will live to see the end of this entirely awful conflict? Who, if any, will overcome the impossible and reap the rewards of peace and freedom? That is the most exciting question of all to ask, when you actually care about the characters and have no trustworthy idea of the answer!
As such… well, suffice to say that even though this novel is not entirely available until March 1st of this year, I am already awaiting the next book with eager anticipation! If what I’ve said of it sounds appealing to you, then I highly recommend it!
Rating: 8 stars out of 10. (I subtract one star because… well, I am not entirely immune to being squeamish, and I rather like stories I can safely share with the kids)