I’ll say it straight up: Frank Dorrian is my favorite self-published author. I need to get a Dorrian shirt. Maybe a poster. What I really need is a signed copy. Perhaps, for a few pounds, he’ll oblige. Let’s talk about why I’m a Dorrian fan.
The Shadow of the High King (TSOTHK) introduces Harlin, a mercenary with a painful past who is hell-bent on vengeance. Harlin’s family was captured and enslaved when he was still a boy. His mother and sisters were sold into brothels, while Harlin and his father became pit-fighting slaves. His father dies brutally in the pit, but Harlin’s fighting skill earns him the respect of the Lord-Captain of the Black Shield Dogs, an infamous mercenary company. Unfortunately, Harlin’s company suffers a devastating defeat and he is separated from his shield-brothers, believing them dead. Finally free to pursue his heart’s desires, that is exactly what Harlin does—he departs for home, thirsty for vengeance. But what Harlin finds when he arrives at the isles of his youth is far more than the revenge he was seeking. The ancient legacy of his ancestors falls like a mantle across Harlin’s shoulders and becomes his cross to bear.
What makes this story stand out from all of its self-published peers? A few things. First: Dorrian’s prose is some of the most gorgeous I have ever read—right up there with Rothfuss, in my opinion. His imagery is visceral, perfectly showcasing his savage world. You can tell he’s one of those writers who agonize over every word. There are diamonds hidden everywhere in the bleak terrain of these pages. Here are some examples of my favorite lines: “The past is a place to learn from, not to live in.” “Some men sculpt themselves around their pain.” “Mercy breeds only contempt.” I could go on…and on…and on…for such gems are the bedrocks of every scene.
When we open a book and walk into a world, all of us are looking for different things. When I open a book, I want to learn something about the past, something about the nature and spirit of man, and something about myself. I want stories that help me grow, not just help me escape. That’s what Dorrian’s work does for me. His skill in martial arts makes each fight scene a learning experience. His characters embody the essence and spirit of the human condition. And there is an agelessness to his world that is at once both compelling and haunting.
Is it perfect?
No. TSOTHK could use one last edit (happy to do it for you, Frank!). But other than a few typos and a pacing issue or two, this novel would be very close to my vision of perfection.
TSOTHK will not be for everyone. While Dorrian’s prose is arresting, his world is gritty and brutal, populated by characters who are products of that world, resplendent in their flaws and damage. For those looking for heroes, you will find none here. What you will find is the raw spirit of a man who can rise up out of shit to beget more shit—glorious shit!—leaving behind him vast debris fields of carnage, shattered lives, and stolen virginity. If that’s the sort of book you are looking for—like me—then welcome home. Otherwise, walk away.