To end April on an exciting note, I am thrilled to be part of the Random Things Blog Tour for The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis, published by Flame Tree Press today! An epic grimdark fantasy set in a country at war, focusing on a healer rather than a warrior, reminding me of nothing more than a Dungeons and Dragons campaign where the players have taken over.
Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours and Flame Tree Press for having me and providing me with an advance copy of the book!
RELEASE DATE: 23/04/20
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: After a warlord slaughters her patients, Sister Alessia quits the cloister and strikes out on her own to heal the victims of a brutal dynastic conflict. Her roaming forest camp unwittingly becomes the center of a vengeful peasant insurgency, raiding the forces of both sides to survive. Alessia struggles to temper their fury as well as tend wounds, consenting to ever greater violence to keep her new charges safe. When they uncover proof of a foreign conspiracy prolonging the bloodshed, Alessia risks the very lives she’s saved to expose the truth and bring the war to an end. (From Flame Tree Press)
OPINIONS: If you are looking for a fun romp through gritty fantasyland, The Heron Kings might just be what you need. Featuring a ragtag team bumbling through a land at war, trying to survive between enemy factions while healing, plundering and tricking their way to survival and accidentally landing themselves in deeper waters than they expected, this really does remind me of the dynamic of a D&D campaign where the DM has lost control and the players have taken over. While entertaining, it does make it a bit hard to follow at times – but then, I read an advance copy and the signposting could easily have been fixed in final edits.
I thoroughly enjoyed Alessia’s character holding up the story – it is not often that a healer is put front and centre, and especially one that starts out with lofty morals but soon grows a pair and becomes adept at weathering the challenges of uncertain times. She is a refeshing main character for the genre, and I hope to read more women like her in the future! Her companion, Ulnoth, is less pleasant – I hated the bastard, even though I thought he was intended to be more of a hero-type. To me, he often acted incongruously, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. The secondary characters often only pop up once or twice, or stay otherwise non-descript. I feel fleshing them out more could have given the book more substance and elevated it.
In general, there were some stellar scenes – I remember one featuring a whore very fondly – while the book as a whole seemed to never quite find the true heart of its story. There was a lot of violence, much of it not strictly necessary for the plot or character development (think random bodies found with mutilated genitalia and it being made clear that mutilations had happened as a means of execution), which made me personally roll my eyes, as I feel that the genre has moved past that in recent years. I do think a lot of what I didn’t like as much about The Heron Kings is down to its nature as a debut novel and a bunch of smaller issues that are due to reading a digital ARC that I am confident will have been fixed in the final version.
All in all, I do recommend The Heron Kings as a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening in lockdown, and read a tropey, epic, grimdark fantasy that will take you away from everything that is shitty in our world! Get yourself a copy from Hive (hardback/paperback), or your indie of choice!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By day Eric Lewis is a PhD research chemist weathering the latest rounds of mergers and layoffs and still trying to remember how to be a person again long after surviving grad school. In addition to subjecting his writing to one rejection after another, he can be found gathering to himself as many different sharp and pointies as possible and searching for the perfect hiking trail, archery range of single malt Scotch. Don’t ask where, because he’s never lived anywhere for longer than five years.
His short fiction has been published in Nature, Electric Spec, Allegory, Bards and Sages Quarterly, the anthologies Into Darkness Peering, Best Indie Speculative Fiction Vol. 1 and Crash Code, as well as other venues detailed at ericlewis.ink. THE HERON KINGS is his first novel.