Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
Narrative:Third Person, Limited, Subjective
My first reaction when I finished Sword of the North was: You want gritty, this is like rubbing yourself all over with an emery board!
Sword of The North is possibly the darkest Grimdark novels I have read in quite some time. The world is broken, the characters are all in horrendous situations and the outlook is about as bleak as you can make it. There is horror and death around every corner and there is not much happening to convince people that The Age of Ruin is anything, but The Age of Ruin.
It could have easily been a pretty flat and depressing trudge. The amazing thing is, Scull has been able to make it sing and give it life through craftily bleeding little aspects of hope into the story that the reader can latch onto, little elements that might be a saving grace to keep the characters moving forward. There is also a streak of dark humour running through it, that comes from the strangest of places. Sarcastic wit, humorous violent rages and psychopathic thought processes all serve to create anything from sniggers to belly laughs.
Occasionally it is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride, which I think is one of the most important elements to keep grimdark interesting. At one stage, within 1% of the novel (according to the reader!), I had a tear of emotion, a belly laugh and the feeling of extreme betrayal. There is humour sidled beside death, and love beside hate. It creates such a heady atmosphere, and it kept me enthralled the whole way through.
The development of the characters between The Grim Company and Sword of the North is immense. The most outstanding aspect of this instalment, is that no matter how much action is whizzing about, the human aspect is never lost. Each of the points of view are dealing with demons that readers can relate to: drug addiction, ageing, bullying, disability and anxiety to name but a few.
There are two characters that go through the most obvious developments, but the progression I found most engaging is in Yllandris. The conceited, beautiful and powerful concubine of the King, has been broken down into an emotional and physical wreck. With it she becomes the champion of children lined up for sacrifice, and is willing to sacrifice herself to stop the reign of the Mad King. Her thought processes are fragile and beautiful, and where I disdained her in Grim Company, I fell in love with her in this. The great thing is, Yllandris is not the only character that is treated with consideration, almost all are changed and moulded anew by the events that have befallen them.
Brodar Kayne, the actual Sword of The North, is given some extra groundwork with flashback scenes to his past as a warrior, and his relationship with his wife and child; the driving force of his journey back to the Highlands. I'm usually not a big fan of flashbacks, but these actually served to broaden Kaynes character and reveal his motivations, not just pad out the book with superfluous meanderings.
The plot line is huge. There is so much going on in and around the two central themes that it had the potential to cause brain bleeds; but by keeping each spoke contained within each point of view, it doesn't become unwieldy in the slightest. At no point did I feel like I had missed a crucial element, or that I had been thrown so far wide of the 'real' plot that my attention started to wander off with it. It just flows so nicely, and by keeping the point of views in a regular pattern, it maintains a good structure, rather than jerking you out of one element and into the next, eliminating the potential for confusion.
The battle scenes are fast and furious, yet well enough written that there's no confusion as to where that arrows aimed or who is swinging what sword at who. Generally, the pacing was hard hitting all the way through, but well kept in check so there wasn't any time line clashing or underdeveloped ideas.
However (I always have at least one!), right near the end, things started to get so clamorous I started to lose track of where people were, what they were doing or why they were doing it. It just felt a little too hysterical for the real impact of the battle royale to sink in. I understand the need to make those events as chaotic as possible to create atmosphere, but pulling back and spreading it out, possibly would've left a mightier impression.
This was fantastic! If you liked The Grim Company, you'll love Sword of The North! It's really a step above the first instalment, in both composition and development, but still with the characters you love (and possibly hate!). Abercrombie, Erikson and Lawrence (and so many others!) have some real competition on their hands with Scull advancing like this!
Harcopy Worthy? Nods head vigorously!
Major point taken: Always be careful when selecting a pet.