Month in Review: February 2020 at the Reliquary

Greetings, Reader! Join me once more as I reminisce about the last month at the Grimoire Reliquary! I’ve read wonderful books, I’ve read good novellas, I even read a couple of forgettable but I regret that not at all – few things offer as many teaching moments to the aspiring writer as mediocrity does! But I’m not here to talk about the bad, I’m here to sing the praises of the exceptionally good with…


Just so happens to be Rob J. Hayes’ Along the Razor’s Edge, which releases at the end of March. I think it’s a remarkable novel whose control over voice is prodigious. What’s more, the fun Rob has with foreshadowing makes for fantastic build-up, which I have every faith the next two installments in The War Eternal will honour in full.

Further, in the words of a wise guy:

The novel is an intelligent work about the costs of perseverance fuelled by the basest human emotions. As thrilling as this first chapter in Eskara’s tale is, it offers caution too. Though anger keeps her alive – that’s no great spoiler, I think, as the older Eskara’s narration is immediately evident – the urge to lash out at those around her costs our protagonist immeasurably much.  

But don’t take my word for it, read the review in full!


Roger Zelazny, you brilliant man of brilliance, you, with your platonic fancies and interests in gods and science and wonders big and small. I love you. I ever tell you that? Well, I do, there’s no denying it. There’s something about this one, something that sparkles and glitters in the sun.

Lord of Light is an epic contained in just under a three-hundred page novel. Its ideas are grand and ambitious, as much in the vein of fantasy as in science fiction, the basic structure of much of the novel borrowed from the creation myth of Buddhist lore (heavily based on reality but mythologised after two and a half millennia), the aforementioned Sam taking on the role of prince Siddhartha Gautama. But Sam is not a man to only wear a single hat – his identities throughout the seven chapters of the book are many and the role of destroyer comes as easy to him as that of ascetic philosopher. Whether he believes in what he preaches or not is besides the point.   

And here’s my full review of LORD OF LIGHT.


I enjoyed Binti, despite it suffering of a serious structural flaw, a plot hole the size of the Vatican. I wish, badly, this weren’t the case but it is what it is. I am curious to read the second installment, even so. My review you can find here.

Murderbot was fun, and it didn’t shy away from serious questions, either. That one got a four-star score from me and I cannot wait to read more about the likable misanthrope!


…Which, while ultimately a read with a number of pleasant elements, suffered from some serious issues in terms of pacing and overwriting. A book in sore need of two additional rounds of editing. Fair’s fair, though! I loved the humour most of all, and several other elements showed real promise!


I talked about the Ahsoka Novel! I talked about talking about Star Wars on a podcast! You can find more about both of them here!

I talked about why the CLONE WARS IS SO GOSH-DARN GOOD!

I talked about how the recently-announced HIGH REPUBLIC imprint has my blood boiling with excitement!!!

I don’t have a Star Wars problem. You have a Star Wars problem.


…And felt promptly colourless after. Good times, good times.


I love reviewing games. It’s how I excuse spending hours playing them. Some mental gymnastics going on there, as you can plainly see. The video is here:

Hopes and Dreams of March

I was hoping to finish A LITTLE HATRED by Joe Abercrombie – and guess what, after four hours of intense sweating and NO BLINKING WHATSOEVER, I did! Care to wager a guess what my favourite fantasy read of March is?

Other than that, I would love to keep up with one – ONE – regular column on my blog, the Saturday/Sunday Star Wars series! Ah, ’tis free to dream.

Thanks for reading! Looking forward for another month of fun content and emotional torture through empathetic reading!

Along the Razor’s Edge (The War Eternal #1) by Rob J. Hayes – Book Review

Review originally posted over at:
Release Date: March 30, 2020
Published by: Self-Published
Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark
Pages: 281
Format: ebook
Review Copy: Provided by the author in return for an honest review.

What Rob J. Hayes has done in Along the Razor’s Edge cements his place as one of the masters of grimdark fantasy.

I’ve taken my time getting to the review of this book, the first of an ambitious new trilogy Rob has decided to release over the next few months of 2020, starting March 31, just a little over a month as of the time of writing of this review. There’s plenty I want to say, and I will begin with this: as soon as I was finished with Razor’s Edge, I was desperate for more. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like great praise to you but keep in mind, only a few fantasy authors in my adulthood have awoken in me the desire to dive into their fictional worlds without so much as a breath of something different in-between – Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Brian McClellan, Steven Erikson.

Eskara Helsene is a Sourcerer of great potential, capable of holding up to five Sourcery stones in her stomach at any one time, she is a deadly trump card for the Orean Empire and a fierce combatant against their Terrelan foe. Or she was, anyway, before the side she fought the war on lost. Now, Eskara is a captive, one of thousands of the foes of the victorious Terrelans stuck in The Pit, a hole in the ground in which the prisoners are forced into performing endless Sisyphean labour every day of their miserable existence. Digging rocks, dragging them out and then digging yet more rocks. “Maybe it was just punishment; never-ending, pointless toil down in the dark. The sure, unwavering knowledge that nothing we did or said meant a damned thing. A punishment worse than death. Irrelevance.” The Pit is made to break people, not just physically but psychologically shatter them as well.

But Eskara will not be broken. Despite betrayal by her closest friend and beatings at the hands of a sadistic foreman at the opening of Razor’s Edge, despite the lack of food and rest and even sunlight, this fifteen-year-old girl refuses to surrender. She draws strength from the daily cruelties perpetrated against her, turns it all into smouldering fury. All-consuming rage is perhaps one of the most sure-fire mechanisms of survival and it serves Eskara well but like the Source inside her belly, it too is poisonous the longer she carries it inside. Do not mistake this for flat characterization. Though Eskara is dominated by fury and pride, her emotions go further; it’s the inability to express them that speaks of a character deeply scarred and emotionally curbed from childhood. What she uses as a crutch is her power: “…I wouldn’t trade my magic for all the meals and sleep in the world. I love the power far too much.” Eskara defines herself through her Sourcery, even in the Pit.

The strongest element in Hayes’ work has to do with character voice; the narrator is none other than Eskara herself – but an older, world-weary Eskara, one for whom the Pit is in the far-off past, though it’s obvious through her narrative that it’s a gangrenous wound that this older Sourcerer has not wholly escaped from. Foreshadowing, done right, can add so much to a work of fiction. Rob does it right, as well as Gene Wolfe in the genre-defying Book of the New Sun. Though these are two very different stories, they share strands of DNA not in voice alone but also in the primal fear of deep, dark places far underneath the surface they both seize. They share, too, well-crafted prose, every word fitting into the greater whole like pieces of a puzzle. So often I come across self-published fantasy works whose occasional smattering of modern parlance comes across as staggering discrepancy, and indeed, I recall even the first of the author’s books I read, City of Kings had the occasional incongruity in this way; not so with Hayes’ latest.

Another strong element of this title is the magical system. A cool, imaginative twist on the schools of magic you might be familiar with, the magic in this world is internally consistent and what I’d call “hard” magic. It’s powered by Source stones the Sourcerer must swallow, each stone with a different magical affinity. There’s plenty more of it than that and suffice to say, I’m excited to see its further complexities reveal themselves.

I would be remiss not to mention the cast of characters. Though I don’t intend on calling each one out, I have to commend Rob for his handling of the dynamics between Eskara and her fellow Sourcerer, Josef. Few in the Pit are what you might call “nice people,” and Eskara is nowhere near as good at making friends as she is at making enemies, but a few allies are nonetheless in the cards for her and the intricacies of their relationships intertwined make for an additional layer of human drama.

The novel is an intelligent work about the costs of perseverance fuelled by the basest human emotions. As thrilling as this first chapter in Eskara’s tale is, it offers caution too. Though anger keeps her alive – that’s no great spoiler, I think, as the older Eskara’s narration is immediately evident – the urge to lash out at those around her costs our protagonist immeasurably much.  

Shall we speak of the cover art? Felix Ortiz continues to outdo himself and if you don’t believe me, come back over at tomorrow, because I have a special treat for you – Rob has given me the absolute pleasure of revealing the cover for Along the Razor’s Edge’s sequel, The Lessons Never Learned!

In the end, I am excited – excited to see the world outside the Pit, excited to see Rob follow-up on what is the best example of foreshadowing I’ve come across since Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, excited for more of Eskara beyond all else. This is my Fantasy Read of the Month; I am happy to give it a full score of 10/10. I consider this a grimdark masterpiece, and an early contender for my favourite opening of a series for the year.


No one escapes the Pit. At just fifteen Eskara Helsene fought in the greatest war mankind has ever known. Fought and lost. There is only one place her enemies would send a Sourcerer as powerful as her, the Pit, a prison sunk so deep into the earth the sun is a distant memory. Now she finds herself stripped of her magic; a young girl surrounded by thieves, murderers, and worse. In order to survive she will need to find new allies, play the inmates against each other, and find a way out. Her enemies will soon find Eskara is not so easily broken.

Articles Worth Reading: 09 September – 16 September

I’ve read a fair amount of words on the Internet this past week, and thought to myself, ‘Hey, I know, I better share them with the rest of you, too!’ So without further ado, here they are:

Why Angry Librarians Are Going to War With Publishers Over E-Books

Hint: It’s because big publishers, in this case Macmillian, are working hard on shafting them over:

In July, Macmillan announced that come November, the company will only allow libraries to purchase a single copy of its new titles for the first eight weeks of their release—and that’s one copy whether it’s the New York Public Library or a small-town operation that’s barely moved on from its card catalog. This has sparked an appropriately quiet revolt. Librarians and their allies quickly denounced the decision when it came down, and now the American Library Association is escalating the protest by enlisting the public to stand with libraries by signing an online petition with a populist call against such restrictive practices. (The association announced the petition Wednesday at Digital Book World, an industry conference in Nashville, Tennessee.) What’s unclear is whether the association can get the public to understand a byzantine-seeming dispute over electronic files and the right to download them.

In a July memo addressed to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and agents, the company’s CEO John Sargent cited the “growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales” as a reason for embargoing libraries from purchasing more than one copy of new books during their first eight weeks on sale. “It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” he claimed.

I cannot begin to describe how much I loathe this short-sighted, bottom line, profits first-inspired way of thinking. Libraries are a pillar of free education and an immensely important source of “equitable access to information for everybody”, in the words of Alan Inouye, the senior director for public policy and government relations at the ALA. How this plays out, I cannot say — but I’m happy to spread the word for something that seems intended to hurt libraries’ standing with library-goers.

Grimdark Magazine’s Review of “Wraith Knight” by C. T. Phipps

This one sounds like a fun read:

Wraith Knight, by C.T. Phipps, asks a Tolkien-inspired what-if: After Sauron fell, what would an out-of-work Nazgul do with the rest of its eternal lifespan? In this book, readers follow Jacob Riverson, an undead warrior in similar straits coping with his recent emancipation and newfound free will after the downfall of his own dark lord, the King Below.

I know C. T. Phipps from, where he’s a fellow reviewer — but I have yet to read one of his works. This one might just persuade me to carve out a few hours and give Charles’ writing chops a chance!

Members of TheWriteReads Did a Blog Tour of “A Different Time”

I was part of it, but my review is one of dozens upon dozens of excellent reviews that present very different takes from my own! A personal favourite of mine is the review posted by “An Angry Old Man Reviews Books”. His short, concise reviews always force a chuckle out of me.

Rob J. Hayes reviewed “The Sword of Kaigen”

…And he came to some of the same conclusions that I did!

We’ll start this review proper with a little comparison. The Sword of Kaigen is Avatar the Last Airbender meets Robin Hobb. Sounds a bit strange on the surface, but it really does fit. The world ML Wang has created is a place where there are nations around the world each with their own affinity for an element, and their own powers to control those elements. Delving a bit deeper, certain families within each nation have specific and powerful bloodline powers. As an example, the Matsuda family are water theonites and their bloodline ability is the power to create a whispering blade; a blade of ice that can cut through anything. For those of you who like a bit of anime, you can likely already see a few similarities to a certain ninja story.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you owe it to yourself to read this standalone. Almost everyone I know has unreservedly loved The Sword of Kaigen, and for good reason. Give it a shot, you won’t regret it!

Thanks for joining me this week! I loved reading all of these, and I hope you will, too!

A Great Asian-Themed Fantasy Sale Is On For The Next Week! (September 6-13)

I love Asian-themed fantasy, especially when it’s ON SALE! Whether it’s inspired by historical events like R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War or it dissects the warrior culture of an analogue of Japan like M. L. Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen, whether it mythologises heroes like Rob J. Hayes’s Never Die or it offers a meeting point between western fantasy tropes and Chinese culture like J. C. Kang’s Thorn of the Night Blossoms, Asian-themed fantasy never ceases to capture my imagination; which is why I’ve decided to not only offer you my recommendations for these three latter books but also to share with you which of the twenty other novels are after my own heart!

Thorn of the Night Blossoms by J. C. Kang

Fantastic action, an intriguing main character, ninety pages I lost myself in, in the span of two hour. I spoke about it at length here, but if you don’t want to read an entire review, I’ve also put in an excerpt below:

Thorn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

I’ve spoken about this book a whole lot — I even did a fair amount of work trying to deconstruct its characters and the relationships between them, all of which can be found here. The most important thing you can gather from that long, long review above, is this: The Sword of Kaigen is one of the finest novels I’ve read, and my favourite standalone of 2019.

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Rob J. Hayes is a swell guy! He works hard every month to make his lists of upcoming Self-Published fantasy novels, he looks real great in a gambeson and…oh, yeah, he writes really damn well! Here’s what I had to say for Never Die when I read it at the dawn of 2019:

The band of heroes and anti-heroes in Rob’s latest novel… I love them to life! A statement strange enough, I confess, until you read Never Die’s blurb:Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight-year-old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die. Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from storybooks read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them…

In that sense, my love for these heroes is strong enough to bring them back to life. But I am getting ahead of myself. Never Die’s heroes are as different from one another as you might expect from Hayes, if you’ve experienced his previous work. First among these heroes is Itami Cho, known far and wide through the land of Wuxia as Whispering Blade. Itami is an honour-bound warrior of great prowess, whose great fault stems from ever-present guilt — no matter the oaths she swears, Itami lives to see them turn to dust. She has only ever managed to keep one of her vows; to keep the second of her blades sheathed, no matter what comes. The mystery of that sword is one the author takes his sweet time building up, and its pay-off is…well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the revelations coming your way.

What I’m picking up from the Sale

My First Pick

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Now that’s a tough one.

*Glances at the covers. Eyes glue to one cover in particular.*

Heavy breathing intensifies.

Okay. Breathe. Right, this is Rebirth of the Undead King and I’ve never seen its cover, nor have I ever heard of it before. Let’s see the synopsis!

No one can escape death forever.

When Zaros finds the remains of a fallen god, he seizes upon the opportunity to exact revenge on the monarchy of his kingdom.

However, having a former god as his teacher will force him to confront the dark nature of not only society, but himself.

Struggling against his inner-demons, Zaros must make a choice.

To uphold his ideals or embrace the legacy of his benefactor.

Rebirth of the Undead King is a grimdark fantasy novel with cultivation elements following the tradition of novels like Overlord, Dungeon Defense, and Will Wight’s Cradle series. Join the legend. 

Okay. Fallen gods, a reference to Will Wight’s Cradle series which I know of and have on my Kindle but have yet to read, as well as of Overlord. Alright, I think we’ve found my first pick! I’m sold!

Now, let’s take another look at the remaining 19, eh?

My Second Pick

Oi! There’s a many-tailed fox!


Okay, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I absolutely love foxes. The intersection they’re placed at in Japanese culture – that’s completely fascinating to me, and I’ve watched dozens of anime with fox spirit protagonists, antagonists, side characters and so on. I’ve read some of the legends, I even own a game or three. Foxes are awesome. No regrets in picking this up!

One last pick, I think, is in order? I’ve read three of the novels on sale — there’s some symmetry in picking up three more!

My Third Pick

…is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty!

What if Sleeping Beauty was a martial artist?

For a hundred years, Princess Morning Light has meditated in a hidden temple surrounded by ten thousand thorns. Could her long-lost sword skill be the key to stopping the Vastly Martial Emperor?

Rebel leader Clouded Sky doesn’t believe in the old legends of Ten Thousand Thorns Temple. But as bounty hunters and imperial guards close in, the martial princess may be Clouded Sky’s last hope.

Who can he trust – and who is planning to betray him?

Yup, that sounds right up my alley.

These are my picks for the sale! How about you? Anything pique your curiosity yet? Once again, the full sale you can find here. Tell me about which of these novels sounds best to you in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter! Thanks for reading!

Articles Worth Looking At (The Week of July 29) – The Dragon Republic, Self-Published Fantasy in August, And More!

Previous Next

Rain from Bookdragonism reviews R. F. Kuang’s The Dragon Republic

I am beyond excited about the second installment of The Poppy War! What’s going to happen with Rin after the…well, the genocide she commited in the last book? Rain doesn’t tell us, of course but…wait a second. Rain…Rin…could it be? Gasp!

Seriously though, Rain’s review of The Dragon Republic is great and it’s gotten my blood boiling with anticipation! And that special announcement…I’m not giving anything away but let’s just say, I’m looking forward to August 5th! takes on The Boys

You ever want to slice open the hero genre? Well, Amazon Studios’ The Boys might be for you. It’s an irreverant take on superheroes, asking us: What if the icons we believe in are in fact facetious, double-faced hypocrites? This article on does an in-depth commentary on the show’s strengths and weaknesses, with some spoilers. I don’t agree with all of them but with that in mind, I think it’s an excellent article.

Another Month of Self-Published Fantasy Novels Begins!

I love Rob J. Hayes’s work in the fantasy genre. It’s gritty, action-packed and beyond just silly good grimdark fun. But this is someone who enjoys contributing to the wider fantasy writing community, and one of the ways he does that is through his monthly “Self-Published” fantasy post. It’s an in-depth look at plenty of new indie fantasy coming out over August of this year, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to look through it. The book I’ll be reading this month is definitely Steve McKinnon’s Wrath of Storm, the continuation of The Rain-Catcher’s Ballad, which I read for the finals of SPFBO 4 over at The Lordless City is another novel that sounds like it might just be up my alley!

Global Trade and Empire

In this week’s “How the Hell Did I End Up Here” article, I somehow managed to find my way to a British Library article highlighting Britain’s relationship with India, going in detail about tea trade, Victoria’s relationship with Indian Secretary Abdul Karim, the colonial practice of taking raw materials back to the colonizer’s home territory, manufacturing them into different goods and then selling them back at a much higher price in Indian territories, and more. Here, for example, the reality of life onboard a steam liner is described in detail:

While travel on the liners was often seen as glamorous, the harsh conditions for the lascar sailors working in the hold and firing the engines attest to a different reality. The common perception among ship-owners and the public was that lascars were essential as they could ‘stand the fiercest heat of the tropics better than any other race’. In reality, however, it was their low wages that made them an attractive labour force: while Indian lascars were officially British subjects, they were employed on ‘Asiatic’ contracts, which meant that they received much lower pay than their European counterparts. The hard working conditions led some lascars to settle in British ports. Some were pushed to desert their post, or were stranded by lack of employment. They were the earliest Asian working class in Britain.

I heartily recommend you check out the British Library link; not only is it a fascinating historical record of several of the ways the British exploited India, it also comes with plenty of historical documents — letters, advertisements and so much more.

Another Look at the Tactics of Gondor: These Beacons are Lit

It’s been a while since I’ve read up on Bret Devereaux‘s tactical reading of the Siege of Gondor but this second part is as well thought-out and downright awe-inducing in the scope of its intellectual labour as the first part. If you, like me, have any interest in strategy and tactics, whether from a purely hobbyist perspective or because you want to write believable large-scale battles, this is a series and a blog you need to read. And more often than I do, too!

Let’s start by laying out a theoretical term: defense in depth. Instead of trying to ‘hard stop’ an attacker with a single, maximally strong defensive line, defense in depth seeks to slow down or damage an attacker while yielding space. One of the great virtues (but not the only one!) of such a defense is that it turns friction into an ally. Armies are hugely complex things, involving many moving parts (people, equipment, animals, etc). Friction (pedantry note: here in the sense used by Clausewitz) is simply the tendency for things to begin to go wrong with that system as it moves and fights. As Clausewitz says (drink!), “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is hard.”

You can think of it this way: when an army first jumps off on the offensive, it has had time to plan and prepare. Positions very close to the army are under good observation, so information is more accurate (and there has been time to sort out the inaccurate reports). Everyone is in the right position, everyone’s weapons are in good condition, everyone is fed and rested. As soon as the first step forward is taken, that begins to break down: key specialists are killed, equipment breaks, soldiers get tired, scared, lost, bored. Intelligence is swallowed in the fog of war. An attack is thus at its most dangerous at the very beginning, before it is worn down by friction. An attacking army is in the most danger at the end of an assault, exhausted and worn down – such a moment is the perfect time to counterattack, if forces remain to do so.

Defense in depth seeks to exploit this tendency, maintaining a measure of defense pressure on the enemy to inflict attrition, delay and friction, but with a flexible enough defense to enable the defenders to repeatedly withdraw to new lines, preserving a potent force for a potential counterattack.

I think we all need someone to decript what that old Clausewitz is sayin sometimes, don’t you? At any rate, this entire series is, to me, a labour of love towards tactics and Tolkien’s world, and I hope that more people take notice of it!

That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, and I hope that one or more of these words on the Internet might be interesting to you!

Book Review: City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes (Archived)

Hey, everyone! This review was originally published over on about six months ago. Check the site out, great reviews by me and many other lovely folks! I thought I’d start reposting my old reviews here every few days, in case anyone who hasn’t seen them before follows my blog for the book reviews in question. Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received this novel for free thanks to the r/fantasy TBRindr initiative, in return for an honest review. The purpose of this initiative is to showcase the works of independent authors.

 City of Kings is a tale of siege, dark necromancy and bloody betrayal. It’s the sixth book in Rob J. Hayes’ First Earth setting, but it works well as a stand-alone. I should know since I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of his previous works. And I don’t use ‘pleasure’ lightly.

Let’s jump straight into what I loved about this book!

The Characters:

Five main characters, five diverse viewpoints.

Meet Rose, leader and de facto queen of the Wilds. Rose is on a quest to rid the land of the blooded, long-time lords and despots of the Wilds. This is one scary pregnant lady, ready to put everything on the line for vengeance. 

Anders is a good-for-nothing drunk, a charming spy, and capable of inexplicable feats of magic. He is also the son of our big bad, the blooded lord and military tactician Niles Brekovich.

The Black Thorn is a giant of a man, and a wielder of a great-axe much more at home lopping off heads than acting the part of nominal leader of an army and being called a hero. His romantic relationship with Rose is written well, and the prospect of fatherhood in the world he inhabits is examined well.

Red Henry delights in blood, murder and mayhem…but she is no soldier. And the battlefield is all too foreign to a woman used to striking from the shadows.

Pern Susku is an honour-bound warrior who failed in his mission to protect his master; who, in fact, allowed that very master to be killed by The Black Thorn. This failure haunts him, as does the tribe of warriors he comes from.

These five main characters come alive over the three-hundred pages or so of City of Kings. None of them are good people, with the possible exception of Szusku who does a fair bit of agonizing over past decisions. They‘re one and all opposed to the blooded; much like Joe Abercrombie‘s First Law trilogy, this presents characters wholly entwined with one side of the conflict. The blooded are ever seen as adversaries and for good reason.

Not that our protagonists are much better, mind. Hayes does very well with the ending when one of the main characters steps over the line in what is a particularly gory and memorable scene.

The side characters are memorable, too. Two captains, a sergeant, and of course the Five Kingdoms general, Verit, deserve mention. So does Pug, The Black Thorn’s young squire, whose fear and lack of skill don’t stop him from putting his hide in harm’s way time and time again.

The Plot:

Fast-paced and with the highest stakes, City of King‘s plot takes place over just six days. Not the time to pull off a proper siege, but time is not on Rose‘s side. With an empty coffer and enemies threatening to push on all sides, the self-styled queen of the Wilds only has one choice – to wager the men and women under the Black Thorn’s banner in a desperate bid to break the last bastion of the blooded.

But if a siege blood-curdling in its intensity isn’t enough for you, you might be won over by the shambling hordes of undead, or the daring battles with horrifying cave-trolls! Or perhaps you seek betrayal and heartbreak? There’s plenty of that, too!

I appreciate the downtime between battles, the moments of quiet reflection and discussion on what comes next, how the siege is compounded by whatever disaster our protagonists are forced into dealing with. It is during those times I most appreciated the character-building skill Hayes possesses, and so will you.


Like the best of grimdark, this book doesn’t contain violence for violence’s sake. There is a point to it all, and it reflects on and deeply affects the characters who witness or perpetrate it. You will find no glamour in the clash of attackers and defenders, no allure to battle in City of Kings.  

What you will find, is a deftly written story, detailed and unafraid to show characters at their worst. Rob J. Hayes displays a tremendous amount of skill with a fully realized world, as well as a string of unexpected twists and turns all the way to the end.

With City of Kings, Hayes has earned a great deal of my interest. I’m looking forward to revisiting the First Earth setting both in future installments, and by picking the past five novels!

Did I have any problems with it? Not as such; more nitpicks than anything. Anders, despite being a favourite character of mine, was a bit too verbose even for a nervous drunk prone to bouts of chattering.  A letter is missing here and there, maybe even two!

…I really have no issues with this book.  I’m not shy about pointing out what I dislike, but there wasn’t anything I had problems with here, neither in terms of story and characterization nor on the technical side. The writing style is clear, crisp. Descriptions set the backdrop of scenes well.

You’ll enjoy City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes if:   

  • You are a fan of grimdark;
  • You are planning to besiege a fortress in the bloodiest way possible;
  • You’re looking at a handy how-to guide to pregnancy;
  • You enjoy books written by men who can pull off a gambeson;
  • And more! Prob’ly.

I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads!  (4.5 Stars)