It’s always a pleasure to read a novel in a subgenre that I hold very little love for. I’m not much of a fan of the whole grimdark movement, the novels I’ve read not striking a chord with me, and struggle to find the appeal of nasty people doing nasty things in extraordinary or fantastical situations. However, Luke Scull’s debut novel, The Grim Company, manages to surpass my distaste for the subgenre and provides a highly compelling start to a new series.
Telling the story of a world that has lost its gods in a war with the mages 500 years ago, we follow six different points of view as they attempt to liberate of the city of Dorminia from the magelord Salazar. It’s a great setup for an epic story, one that would normally be told across multiple volumes. What Scull does with the story though is where things really stand out.
Compressing the events of the liberation attempt to a single volume, readers are presented with a quickly paced, and rarely ever confusing, series of events that bring the separate plot threads all together in a thrilling conclusion that manages to shift the entirety of the status quo we’ve been presented with up until this point.
What really makes this work is the disparate and engaging cast of characters. From the disgraced and on-the-run highlanders Kayne and Jerek, to the crotchety halfmage Eremul, the sorceress Yllandris and the youthful Cole and Sasha, each of the major characters provide a new element to the world and the story being told.
The fact that many of them are more than just nasty people, the defining trait of many grimdark characters, helps them as well. They each have their vices and flaws, but many of them have aspects to their personalities that go well beyond the vices; and this is without the extent of character development that comes from a full series.
Actually, The Grim Company sets up a lot for a wildly imaginative journey overall. As we’re introduced to three major factions – the Dorminians and Salazar; the High Fangs and the Shaman; and the City of Towers and the White Lady – we’re given a ton of information on the world and the aftermath of the war with the gods that put the land into the Age of Ruin.
From the abominations that wander the lands, fended off by Salazar’s augmentors in the Trine, and the Shaman’s brethren (men merged with animals that reflect them) in the High Fangs, to the famine that is spreading across a land that is refusing to heal, Scull fills his story with little details on the world that are undoubtedly going to play major roles over the course of the series.
The augmentors in particular are a fascinating bunch. Definitely taken from the imagination of a game developer, Scull infuses them with powers that would be completely at home in a video game and I’m shocked aren’t taken advantage of more by other writers. With enchanted weapons and armour making up the power that the augmentors wield, they are utilized for some intense and thrilling action sequences throughout the novel that scream of a more cinematic and game-like. It’s a nice touch that helps them to stand out among the elites of other fantasy stories.
That said, not everything works perfectly within the story. The sense of how long things take to occur, or how much time has passed, is glossed over frequently; making the sudden jumps from one period of time to another feel a little awkward. The fact that Yllandris’s segments also feel completely superfluous to the story being told, with payoff to her, thankfully, few segments undoubtedly playing a role in the sequel The Sword of the North, only managing to stay interesting due to the fact that they build up the power structure and culture of the north for readers.
Overall, Luke Scull’s debut novel is a thrilling read that manages to hold interest and move at a rapid pace towards a satisfyingly tantalizing conclusion. If you enjoy a good fantasy read, but have been scared off by grimdark in the past, give this one a go; it may just be the gateway to the subgenre that you need. I know it’s got me interested in giving the overall subgenre more of a try.
The Grim Company by Luke Scull Rating: 8.5/10