Sunday 20 August 2017

Scourge (Darkhurst #1), Gail Z. Martin

Damn Aliyev and Gorog. Damn the Guilds. Damn Toloth and the Elder Gods, and damn Ravenwood. If I can't save myself, then I will burn and the world will be my pyre

Corran, Rigan, and Kell Valmonde are Guild Undertakers, left to run their family’s business when guards murdered their father and monsters killed their mother. Their grave magic enables them to help souls pass to the After and banish vengeful spirits. Rigan’s magic is unusually strong and enables him to hear the confessions of the dead, the secrets that would otherwise be taken to the grave.

1 / 5 

It gives me no pleasure to say it, but Scourge was a tedious read. It was repetitive, I could barely differentiate between the three brothers, and I had very little emotional investment the whole way through. Whilst I did appreciate Martin's creativity with the monsters (the skin-burrowing ones really freaked me out), I wasn't a fan of Scourge.

Undertaking, like all the trades in Ravenwood, was a hereditary profession; that it came with its own magic held no surprise

At the heart of this book are the three Valmonde brothers: Corran, Rigan, and Kell. They are undertakers, which I thought was a really neat perspective; they prepare the bodies of the dead for the grave and the afterlife, sometimes taking extra coin for a good burial, sometimes to damn the soul of another to the void. To do their craft they utilise one of the few permitted forms of magic: grave magic, used to hear the confessions of the dead and banish the unruly spirits. Initially, I loved the brothers. Their vocation was original and their dynamic a breath of fresh air, but before long they began to fit into very precise archetypes.

Monsters returned time and again to Ravenwood, and when they did, tradesmen became hunters

Corran is the warrior, fighting monsters that roam the streets of Ravenwood, unchecked by the guards that do little more than terrorise the locals; Rigan is the mage, learning illegal magics from the witches of Below; Kell is the dutiful youngest brother, trying to keep the house together. Despite these different roles, they all have very similar personalities: quick to anger, swift to revenge, in love with a girl they can't have, and far too many brushes with death. I swear that after about the sixth time that Rigan has used too much magic and his life is "with the hands of the gods", I stopped caring. And we see so much repeated: Corran fights monsters illegally and worries that the guards will catch him, Rigan trains in magic illegally and worries that the guards will catch him, Kell cooks dinner and worries that the guards will catch his brothers. Yawn.

Plant the seeds, feed the rumours. Wanderers, witches, and monsters - it's a perfect storm

Ravenwood is ruled by the iron fist of Lord Mayor Machison, a thoroughly unpleasant man who tortures peasant men and sexually violates their wives. A real charmer. Ravenwood is a sort of city-state, part of a League of ten such cities who are always jostling for favourable treaties. The trade treaty for Ravenwood is coming up for renewal and the three Merchant Princes and the various Guilds are jostling (and stabbing each other) for favourable terms. The explanation of all of this is very long, strung-out, and technically and politically boring. There's lots of meetings, assassinations, and treatise talk, alongside the Valmonde brothers' plot-line, and it's terribly slow.

Scourge is a mix of genres and ideas: it's about monsters, brothers and family, magic and oppression, trading and politics. Martin has a creative mind and it really does show, but unfortunately I found Scourge to be very tedious to read. It could have been cut a great deal in length and not lost much, due to the repetitive nature of all the monster-hunting and magic-learning scenes.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book. 

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