The Conqueror’s Shadow by Ari Marmell
Published by Gollancz, April 2011. (Review copy received.)
ISBN: 978 0575 098619
Review by Mark Yon
This is one of those books that been sitting in the pile for a while at Hobbit Towers. I’ve not been avoiding it, just haven’t managed to get to it. Whilst it was lurking there, Youngest Hobbit looked at the cover of this one (portraying a huge axe), and says to me, “Dad, some of the books you read have great covers!”
The cover actually does sum this one up fairly well – a large, no, LARGE, axe with strange symbols on it, outlined in red – could be blood, could be something else. You know that this one is going to involve violence and gore and….. well, it won’t be pretty.
But: hold on. What Ari tries to do here is something interesting, to tell the tale of a Conqueror – Corvis Rebaine, Terror of the East – but by what happens twenty years later, when the Conqueror has conquered and gone away to hide in seclusion with his wife and family.
Of course, his opponents are not going to let him get away with being hidden and his home and family are discovered, with the consequence that he has to don the old armour of ‘the Terror’ and then go off to collect his former allies, the demon Khanda (held captive in a magic token), the ogre Davro and the wood-witch Seilloah, in order to take on his nemesis, Audriss.
So, we have witches, ogres and magic. Not to mention nasty goblins. Nothing particularly new there, either. The plot is really a rewritten The Magnificent Seven re-imagined as Fantasy. The main plot idea – that of the ‘old warrior returning’ is not really new, and goes back to Gemmell’s Druss for example. (Later edit: something that Rob B’s also noticed in his review.) There are touches of black magic, possessed weaponry (hello, Elric?) and vampirism to riff off also.
Such obvious tropes might be a tad repetitive to some. However, there’s a lot to like here. The tale is told is very entertaining. Its strength is in its witty dialogue and a sense of dry humour along the journey. There’s some nice characterisation, especially in the character of Corvis, and the tale is, in turns, both creepy and amusing.
As a result, it wasn’t long before I wanted to keep turning the pages, even though I could see what was coming. The fight scenes are suitably gory and bloody, the ending quite impressive. There are some nice little twists along the way, that Ari manages to use which make the tale a little less sturm und drang and a little more thoughtful. I particularly liked the fact that each chapter starts with a moment of backstory before continuing the plot of the present. It is how we get an idea of how Corvis became the respected and feared man he was, and it does highlight the point that some leaders are there not by choice but by means of responsibility.
And in the end, the conclusion is perhaps inevitable. Such matters rarely end well for someone.
In summary, this is a great page turner which also raises questions – can a man whose life has involved nasty, horrific things ever be something else? Can they, or should they, ever try to recoup past glories?
This revenge tale is worth the reading.
Review by Mark Yon, May 2011