Book Review: The Sangrook Saga by Steve Thomas

The Sangrook Saga is dark, and its pages are stained with blood.

Or they might as well be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one grimdark tale of necromancy and blood magic. It might unnerve you and make you uncomfortable and if you’re not in for this sort of experience, you might as well stop reading here.

But if you are, The Sangrook Saga might just be the book for you.

It is an interesting title, this. Rather than tell one single tale over the span of his two hundred and twelve pages, the author tells six stories you can read independently from one another, with the possible exception of the sixth and final one, which is the climax of the Sangrook family’s tale.

The six disparate tales take place at different times, following characters either of the Sangrook bloodline or those close to them in some way. Chartered inside the novel is the fall, rise and whatever comes in-between of this clan of necromantic bloodthirsty warlords and despots.

They are, all of them, charmers without equal. By that I mean to say, they are a lot of nasty boys an’ girls who may or may not occasionally start from a good place only to get corrupted by the power locked away in their blood. Characters’ fall from grace involves a variety of foul crimes and horrors triggered by loss, misplaced vows and errors in judgement.

It’s an interesting magic the Sangrooks and their enemies at the Convergence have, a sort of joining between gods and their priests. That seems to be the basic tenant, though the Sangrooks and the Convergence are obviously going to be very different. There’s a further magical system which relies on animal essence extraction by artificers and that was as interesting as it was gory…which it really is.

The writing itself was a pleasure to read. Tight, easy to follow and unafraid to use real curse words, it drew me in and didn’t let me go until I reached the unhappy conclusion and put the book down. The dialogue, in particular, is excellent. Not once did I feel the author was using his characters as mouthpieces to dump information. Everyone had their unique voices, and those never came across as stilted, which I’m particularly happy about.

The Sangrook Saga draws inspiration from Dark Souls in the way its story is told, says Steve Thomas, and his words ring true. All throughout, there is a certain amount of despair, the sense of a world which has passed its heyday, a place more dead than it is alive. It is not a place everyone will enjoy. But those who can handle darkness and hopelessness in great, fat quantities…this one is for you.

If you enjoy listening to companionable music while reading, you might find psychedelic rock quite agreeable to the Saga. I listened to some King Crimson and the sort of dark fantasy music I only put on whenever one of my D&D players meets an untimely death during a cultist ritual. Gods, that’s particular, isn’t it?

Nit Picks? Aye, a few. Once or twice, characters turned to the darkness a bit more quickly than they ought to have, in my opinion. That said, not everyone will feel they did, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. There are also a few minor mistakes, mostly typos or repetitions — but no more than six or seven that I caught. I also disliked the cover somewhat, though I don’t mean to offend the artist, it’s just not my cup of tea.

The score? This is the first indie book I’m giving 5 solid stars to! It also takes home the “Worst Necromantic Family in a Dark Fantasy Series” Trophy Award of the Imagination!

All in all, quite an excellent job, I reckon. I recommend the Sangrook Saga to those of you who:

  • Love dark fantasy;
  • Have played and enjoyed Dark Souls and the way its story is delivered;
  • Want to learn how to take over the world with your big-ass, dark magic-wielding family (like me!)
  • And more! Prob’ly.

You should stay away if you have issues with graphic violence and the all-encompassing feeling of despair, though. Not a happy book, this one.

Its release date is June 22–that is, tomorrow! You can get it here.

Bingo Review:

  • Five Short Stories (Hard Mode)
  • Self-Published Novel (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Published in 2018
  • Novel With Fewer Than 2500 Goodreads Ratings (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Featuring a God as a Character
  • Standalone Fantasy Novel (Hard Mode)

 

I got the review copy from the author, Steve Thomas, in return for an honest review as part of the TBRinder initiative, hosted by the ever-wonderful u/Esmeralda-Weatherwax at her blog!

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #17: Face-off! (Part 1 Finale!)

At last, I overcame my treacherous body-snatcher of an ex-wife!

I write this in mine own hand after mine magical quill refused to watch.

What madness had she concocted upon the land, upon my people, my great empire? Such questions did I ask myself as I sharpened poisonous, were-hare claws. Mine Legion of Librarians, once strong in number, now reduced to a mere few dozens all looked upon me, their faces taut with great joy.

Sven, my Prime Librarian went positively ashen in the face. Perhaps, seeing the young and loyal, and newly appointed, Head Librarian on mine majestic feminine heels made things clear to him, the disloyal cur!

But the thought of Sven, of anyone, vanished in an instant as I saw it. Mine glorious, majestic, magnificent body!

‘Wife!’ I screamed in her voice, quite prepared to defeat her with vocal might, alone.

She looked at me with what I perceived as fear, but now, upon great contemplation and use of mine great faculties, was relief. She ran towards me with this expression, the clatter of my beloved armor now a sound to fear. I half-crouched, ready to strike back at her.

Her/mine lips fell on mine/hers. (This whole business of body snatching confounds even mine great mind.)

Then, I was looking down on her, and I was back in the body that belonged to me, and once again I felt true power resting on mine fine, strangely lengthy fingers!

I studied her face, contemplating how best to dispose of her when she spoke.

‘Thank the gods you showed up! I didn’t think I would handle another day of this!’

‘…Wot?’

‘Look…’ she sighed. ‘I’m sorry I stole your body and tried to usurp your empire. I realize now, ruling is no easy feat. All these decrees, edicts, pronouncements, they are a bore!’

She circled me, shifting like a panther as she walked towards Sven. ‘Besides, I… I don’t know how to tell you this, Maus, but I’ve fallen in love.’ She took his hand in hers, smiling at me. Brr, I felt the cold outside of the armour cool by a score degrees. ‘Besides, I never meant for this to be permanent. I just needed to know if you had the little monster locked away somewhere. Now that I know you don’t…’ she shrugged.

I had summoned mine spiked helmet — a fashion statement if ever there was one — but removed it. ‘I have very many little monsters, woman. Which one eludes my glorious collection?’

‘You really should cut the grandiloquence a bit, Your Darkness,’ her voice was rich with mockery, but she tilted her head, confused. ‘You really don’t remember?’

‘You better begin making sense, woman, else I’ll–‘

‘Our little monster? Don’t the words mean nothing to you?’

A faint memory shifted somewhere behind a door forced shut.

‘Have you really forgotten our daughter, you egomaniacal despot?!’

Huh. Words rolled out from my mouth in a metallic voice. ‘Well, former wife, you have had your fun. With this in mind, I reckon us two have had a good enough reunion not to force this for another century or few. Enjoy the lad with my most heartfelt good wishes!’

But she didn’t seem in a mind to enjoy anything too much at all as much as to pull my spine out of my mouth, and so I snapped my fingers and sent both her and Sven far, far away. Somewhere tropical, with loads of sharks, preferably. She’ll manage, no doubt, the minx.

Huh.

I have a daughter. It’ll be mine. It’ll all be mine.

 

Well, that was a strange conclusion to a strange arc to a strange piece of really lazy fiction meant to mock fantasy tropes. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and we’ll pick up with Part 2 soon!  -Ish.

Baaai!

Adventurer’s Mishaps: Assassin’s Blade

Welcome to Adventurer’s Mishaps, a new short fiction series on this blog, inspired by my love for role-playing games akin to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Today’s entry follows the story of Liadrin, whom we shortly met last week. If you haven’t read last week’s ‘Mishaps,’ click here to take a look.

Liadrin drew the dagger out of the guard’s neck, holding his body as it fell to the ground without a sound. Capable guards were impossible to find, nowadays. Countess Morrgiana’s were a new breed of rabble altogether — messy, inattentive pigs. This one had crumbs and jam all over his collar. Like children with sticks, these — and only marginally less likely to hurt themselves if they tried.

The body would be found, she had no doubt; it was meant to. If no messenger was to be had, you drafted the message on a warm body; that way, no one could ignore it. Not for long.

She was worried, however. With mercenaries this ill-suited for guard duty, the Gods only knew how long it would take them to find a corpse, even one in such an evident place. She looked over the balcony’s edge, scanning the ground below. No one in sight. The assassin sighed.

If you can’t bring attention to the corpse, bring the corpse to attention, Liadrin thought, as she dragged the body over the marble railing. The fall would attract attention, no doubt. Attention was good.

She moved upwards with the alacrity of a shadow, and just as silent as one. Torches flickered and died out as soon as Liadrin neared, providing her with an even deeper cloak of darkness. She didn’t use magic, but she might as well have, such was the nature of her skill.

Yells sounded from below, muffled by distance but clear enough to convey undiluted fear and surprise. Liadrin’s smile widened, a couple of daggers flashing by in the dark.

Two guards stood on the sides of  her supposed target’s living quarters. One of the men held a heavy crossbow, just as the assassin’s information had pointed out. He had the time to give out a surprised yelp, not even loud enough to awaken his colleague before one cold blade sucked the life out of him. The man on Liadrin’s left groaned in his sleep. He would never awaken.

Footsteps sounded on marble steps, somewhere far behind; good, they were coming. Perhaps there was hope for these men yet.

Liadrin hardly appreciated making a showpiece of the craft but her master’s needs demanded that she stand on the spotlight. The assassin relit the torch on one side of the doors to the Countess’ private rooms. She positioned the heavy crossbow in as evident a way as she could, before opening and passing through the door.

Morrgiana slept in her bed, undisturbed by all the commotion. Without so much as a flinch, Liadrin dragged her awake by the hair, forcing the young woman to her crumbling feet despite the Countess’ horrified screams. Even hauled off her bed in the middle of the night, she was in beauty, Liadrin couldn’t deny. Obvious, then, why King Lekaved had taken her as his lover…the assassin couldn’t fault his taste.

“Please, please, please let me go. I-I promise I’ll be good, I’ll do whatever you want, I-I have jewels and gold, and trinkets with little magicks in them and you can have–”

Liadrin pulled on the girl’s dark hair even harder. “Shut up, you little fool,” she said, her voice as cold as the north seas. “You and I will share in the romantic  view of Kiern at night. The gem of the East, in all its glory is worth appreciation. Move!”

The last word Liadrin underlined by shoving Morrgiana through the glass archway, onto the ground

“Why-Why–?”

Liadrin forced the woman–little more than girl, really–to her feet, ignoring the cries of pain and the tiny pieces of glass that embedded themselves within the Countess’ skin. “With bedfellows such as yours, must you ask?”

Blows fell against the wooden doors to the bedchamber. They wouldn’t last long, but Liadrin had ample time. She forced Morrgiana to turn around with one hand, taking a bone blade out of its sheath with the other, and held it to the younger woman’s pretty face.

Morrgiana’s sobs rocked the woman’s petite body. “Please don’t. If you know about–about Lekaved, you know I could make him do anything.” Her voice grew desperate, histeric. “The King’s ear, I could have it listen to whatever you want. Anything you want, please!”

“I want you,” Liadrin whispered, “to look at the city. Take it in, all of it. Do you see the lights, over there? Have you wondered what it’s like, being one of these lights? Have you ever imagined life out there? Not this pretty little thing you have here, this mimicry, built on marble and the bones of your King’s starved subjects?” Her voice fell to a whisper. “You would think my touch a kind one, and so soft, compared with some of what is there.

But it is beautiful, isn’t it?”

Wood shattered into splinters somewhere behind them. With a well-practiced flick of the hand, Liadrin’s blade left a mark down the side of Morrgiana’s face, from her temple all the way down to the edge of the jaw; far from a deadly wound, it would leave a deep mark on the Countess’ beautiful face. Liadrin removed her grip from the woman, leaving Morgianna to her wailing, and moved next to her, between the arched doorway and the balcony railing.

She glimpsed backwards, to see several guards, one of which pointing the crossbow at her back. Yells mixed into one, calling for her to put the dagger down. Liadrin lifted the blade higher, as if to throw it at one of the guards, her lips curling in a blood-curdling smile.

The guard holding the heavy crossbow squeezed the weapon’s trigger, releasing its loaded metal bolt. Time came to a standstill. Liadrin repositioned her body in that single moment, with preternatural speed that would’ve allowed her to avoid it entirely, if she wished.

That wasn’t part of the job.

Time resumed, and the bolt pierced Liadrin’s body, puncturing muscle, shattering bone, tearing organs to pieces. The force propelled her over the edge. As she fell towards the lake below, Liadrin smiled, despite the burning pain. As blackness overwhelmed her, one thought alone swam above it.

Her task was complete.

**********

Liadrin awoke to the warmth of a fire and one of the worst itches she’d ever felt; a sure-fire way to know that you were alive, and recently gone through serious healing. Without opening her eyes, she said, “Klaus. Your divinations proved as helpful as ever.” Her voice was husky with strain, her mind clouded with exhaustion. “I see your healing arts are as formidable as I’ve heard. You will forgive me if I don’t look forward to the next time I need one of those.”

“I’m sure I’ll find some amount of forgiveness within me,” he humored her. There was strain in his behind the chuckle. “You pulled it pretty close, Lia. A few millimeters higher, and not even the energy within that trinket you gave me would’ve been able to save you.”

Her smile widened. “I know.”

She heard the priest grumble an indecent comment under his nose, then say more loudly, “You should rest now. It’ll take you more than a short nap to recover from this.”

Liadrin nodded, then opened her eyes. The human flinched at her iris-less gaze before getting a hold of himself. “You are ready for your part?” she asked, her fine eyebrow lifting up in what bordered mockery.

Klaus nodded gravely. “You know as well as I do, there really is no other choice.”

 

This is where we’ll leave the tale of Liadrin (for now, anyway). Something tells me that we’ll see her again, at one point or another. Things are heating up, in Adventurer’s Mishaps, and I have so many ideas, and we’re going ever-deeper in the rabbit’s hole! 

Hope to see you again next time!