Review: Servants of War
So, it’s been a minute since I’ve sat down to write a review for EBR, and to be honest, it’s proving to be every bit as difficult as I thought it would be. No, that’s a lie. It’s worse. I’ve written and re-written this opening paragraph so many times now I’ve lost count, and every time my fingers stop moving, I want to get up and walk away.
Not because I don’t want to write this review. Yeesh, no. I’m so ridiculously excited for Steve and what this book portends for his career as an author. He’s been banging on the wall of publication for a long time now and has found some limited success thus far. To see him succeed like this now, absolutely means the world to me. The very fact that I’m here in my computer chair, banging on this keyboard, once more in search of the right words to use, instead of deciding again to put it all off, should identify to most of our readers just *how* important this is to me. I can’t begin to comprehend exactly how I’ve found my way to this place, where it’s dark and heavy and frustratingly hard to participate in an activity that is so near and dear to my heart. But I’m here and have yet to find my way out.
So, maybe this will be the hit that knocks me loose. Maybe this is the one that rattles me from my paralysis. Regardless, I’m here to get this done. Because Steve’s my friend, and he deserves the best I can give.
And this book is really good too. 🙂
SERVANTS OF WAR is the first in the Age of Ravens series from Baen Books. It’s a Dark Fantasy story about war and politics and gods and magic that helps me believe that there are still authors out there that know how to tell a great story. It’s not a far stretch to say that I’ve been disappointed with much of what I’ve been reading over the last year. For large swathes of that time, I’ve had repeated traitorous thoughts that perhaps something about my ability to identify and enjoy great story had been broken or been lost. Can I tell you how happy it made me feel to read this book and find out that I wasn’t broken? So nice. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the characters in the actual book. I found they didn’t fare the reading quite so well as I.
Illarion Glazkov is exactly what the central character in every mainstream fantasy novel should be: a young man, living in a village out in the middle of nowhere, with a life he enjoys, a girl that he loves, and plenty of time to go rollicking around the countryside with his mates. That is, until he’s not. Kid goes from essentially a “farmboy” to “lone survivor” in the space of a single chapter, and an “unknown nobody” to “god-marked and pointed at a war” in the next. His life will never be the same. He just doesn’t know it yet.
The Empire of Kolakolvia has been at war with the Almacians for a century. There are relatively few corners of the world that haven’t yet been ravaged by the exigencies of this war, and Illarion’s far corner is one of those. After his life is decimated and his soul marked by powers beyond his control, he finds himself in the heart of the empire, offering himself to those that turn the bloody gears. Despite the odds, Illarion is recruited into an elite regiment of soldiers named The Wall, who are identified as being able to control massive suits of armor that are magically powered by the remains of dead golems.
The large majority of the story is told from Illarion’s PoV as he learns how to best serve the empire and the Tsar in support of the ever-changing front of the war. Two other PoVs fill the remainder of the story. Natalya Baston is a foreign sniper, working for the Empire to try and get her parents released from a Kolakolvian prison. Fat chance, you might say, and she’s not naive enough to disagree with you. But she finds a path to what she believes might be the possibility of their parole, when she runs into Kristoph Vals. Kristoph is a member of the Kolakolvian Secret Police and you’d be hard pressed to find a darker, more self-serving man within the boundaries of the Empire. Along the way though, we find that even though Kristoph is an integral part of the wicked mechanism that makes the empire work, there are those that are much more “evil” in terms of what they are willing to sacrifice for both their own good and control of the empire. Kristoph’s job is to find threats and root them out. The most important of those being to find a man that once helped the current Tsar in his rise to power.
By and large, I very much enjoyed this book. Solid characterization, great world-building, intense action, all. The world of the Empire of Kolakolvia is dark and crushing when you begin to get the scope of it all. As Illarion advances into the war front, and Kristoph gets deeper into some of the political intrigue in the book, the deep and crushing horror of the life these people are living comes to the fore. And even when the battle gets intense, and some of the supernatural elements of the world come to light, the fight that Illarion has to serve with the soldiers in his unit helps keep the story hopeful.
I did have two small issues with the story, and they’re what led me to bump my rating down a notch. The first is just how quickly the book starts. I mean, given Illarion’s humble beginnings, it’s a good thing that it gets mixed up there quickly, but it felt a bit too quick for me. There’s a lot of introduction between the world, and the character, and there’s a bunch of mythology, and then a ton of action when everyone starts dying. It’s just, woosh. Like, I think that first chapter could have easily been twice as long, or maybe even three times, and I probably would have felt better about it.
SERVANTS OF WAR is a dark fantasy full of war and politics and gods and magic. It's trench warfare and dark magic roiling across your mind.
Second issue was a the larger one, and that dealt with the concept of the consequences of trauma. Kid goes from living in a small village to the front lines of a *very* brutal and bloody war in the matter of a fairly short period of time. And don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely some impact that is happening, but the dichotomy between these two conditions just seemed way too large for the impact to be seen in much small measure. Now, granted, adding in the impact of such trauma on the mind and soul of Illarion would have taken an already dark book and pushed it even further into the black. So maybe it’s a good thing that the authors handled it with such a light hand. There was a part of me though that wanted to see it — that expected it — and thus I missed it. Now, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but I like to think that making this point kind of holds Steve’s feet to the fire a bit too. Because I want everything from his stories. Just like him, I want them to be the best they can.
This was a such a great read. Can’t wait to see where the story goes next, and what either of these authors has in store for us further down the line.
- Recommended Age: 16+ for violence and gore
- Language: Pretty infrequent, nothing really strong
- Violence: A handful of strong instances that get pretty up-close and personal
- Sex: One reference to a night spent together and a few mild references
Series links: The Age of Ravens
- # 1: Servants of War —This Review —Amazon —Audible —Bookshop.org
Even though *I* think it goes without saying, invariably there’ll be someone that asks. So, here’s the answer: No, there’s no conflict of interest here. Steve doesn’t have any part in running the site any more (contrary to the current Amazon blurb), and this is exactly what I thought about the book. No punches pulled.
Thank you for bringing yourself to write this review, this site is somewhat of a secret haven for me. Quality people, and much calm :). Guess we have similar taste, all the big fantasy novels I read recently felt mediocre at best to me. If not for audio books I wouldn’t have been able to get myself through them. That is much contrary to the excitement of turning page and page that these authors were able to make me years ago. Did we change? I am positive I have not. Was always a connoisseur of fine taste… 🙂 Will be interesting to see my experience with this novel, as I always revered Steve.
Oh and in case you like trees, I really enjoyed Jonathan Drori’s Around the World in 80 Trees.