Book Cover: Rend the DarkI’ll be revisiting the Echoes of the Ascended novellae regularly in Bite-sized Books (not least because there’s a new one every month, and I’m still playing catch up). A new perspective on Aedaron, with a new hero and a new tone. Rend the Dark shifts to horror as Ferran hunts the Dark that walks in human skin.

Over a thousand years ago, the Ruins were banished to the Abyss. Ferran grew up with Elinor, but he was born with a talent that separated him from his friends: an ability to see the evil powers that avoided banishment – or have escaped in the centuries since.

Adopted into the Order of Talan, Ferran hunts the Ruins across the lands with his acolyte Mireia. When he comes to the village of Groveland Down, he gets a cool welcome from the headsman, scarred from a terrible encounter with the Order in his youth. But it soon becomes clear that the village has been tricked into harbouring a threat that could bring Ruins on them all.

I liked that Ferran feels distinct to Elinor. They share a childhood, but his adulthood has exposed him to unthinkable horrors. As a result, he is unconcerned with politics and honour – although, like Elinor, he has an instinctive care for the people he protects; a key aspect of Rend the Dark is his unwillingness to abandon the villagers. People skills are not his thing, which is where Mireia comes in. She can sense the Dark, but she’s also empathetic – she understands the fear that grips ‘normal’ people when they have to face it. Mireia’s song is a lovely touch, but I mostly appreciated the way she made the Order inspirational: the story of the lone guard on the Abyss, making every day a blessing won by sacrifice. For me, she ended up carrying the story while Ferran was more the unstoppable warrior – useful, but not very engaging.

We also get a fresh feel for Aedaron, as Ferran is accompanied by a Warden who is the opposite of those Elinor has to deal with. Warden Aker is brave, resolute and good-hearted, determined to keep his Ward safe in the King’s name. You can’t imagine him selling favours or setting the nobility against one another – indeed, it’s hard imagining him engaging in politics at all. Aker is well-acquainted with the Order of Talan and the threat they guard against; this is a story about a small group of warriors against an overwhelming horde story, not one about convincing the powers that be that a threat exists.

The group is rounded out by two of the local Magistrates. I liked that we saw most of the action from Hileon’s perspective; Hil is terrified to the edge of cowardice, properly unnerved by the violence and the vile, body-snatching creatures they must face. He’s far more relatable than cocky Riffolk, although I liked Riffolk’s development through the tale. Their shock at developments in Groveland Down give us an easy point of entry into this new aspect of Aedaron: it’s not just a faux mediaeval kingdom of corrupt nobility; chilling horror stalks the land.

If I’m cynical, it’s hard not to suspect that we’ll see classic D&D archetypes rounding out the Echoes: Elinor the warrior; Ferran the priest; Alys (presumably) the rogue; and Roan and Kay paladins or wizards, depending on your views about mixing magic and swordcraft. It doesn’t reduce the entertainment value in my eyes (hey, soft spot); the story works in its own right.

I’m not big on gruesome monsters (Lovecraft not my thing) and I really don’t like spiders, so I can’t say I was taken with the shokrul, but I enjoyed the tale – and I’ve become more aware of the small page count. It really is remarkable what Gelineau & King achieve in what amounts to an hour’s read. I look forward to reading the next instalment in Skinshaper next month.

****

Rend the Dark (Echoes of the Ascended | Ferran) is available now in the UK, as are the other 3 first instalments in the Echoes of the Ascended collection (A Reaper of Stone, Best Left in the Shadows, Faith and Moonlight).

I received a copy of Rend the Dark from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.