Brutal: An Epic Grimdark Fantasy (The Brutal Trilogy #1) by James Alderdice Book Review

Write on: Fri, 06 Jul 2018 by  in Charles' Reviews Read 4102


BRUTAL: AN EPIC GRIMDARK FANTASY by James Alderice is an homage to the classic Western A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, 1920s gangster movie LAST MAN STANDING, and samurai story YOJIMBO. The premise for it is a remarkably flexible one. Basically, a lone warrior goes into a town which is controlled by two rival gangs. Playing the two against one another, he attempts to make a fortune but things quickly spiral out of control.

Brutal takes the premise and applies it to a high fantasy setting. An unnamed warrior, clearly standing in for the Man with No Name and going by "The Sellsword" visits a Duchy where two wizards have divided the region in two. The local Duchess soon attempts to win over the Sellsword with softer methods and he proves to be a lot smarter than his stoic mercenary demeanor suggests. Who is he really working for? Himself? The Kingdom? The Duke? One of his employers? These are the mysteries which guide the story.

Despite its title as an epic grimdark fantasy, this is actually a fairly self-contained story that is for adults but not particularly gritty or dark. Individuals who don't like grimdark will be able to enjoy it while those who don't like sacharrine good versus evil will find it sufficiently cynical to be enjoyed. I put it roughly on par with Conan the Barbarian or the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. Which is to say R-rated but not trying to go to extremes.

The Sellsword is hurt by the fact they don't even bother to give him an alias. There's also the fact the book deliberately obfuscates almost every element of his past, which tends to work better onscreen than in fiction. Nevertheless, we get enough of his personality from encountering various characters to know who he is and what he stands for. One of my favorite moments is the encounter with a bandit on the road to his destination where he is patient rather than threatened before finally losing his amusement after the poor fool refuses to take a hint.

I liked the romance between him and the Duchess as well. Too often authors try to make true love stories between manipulative and lying characters. In this case, both the Duchess and the Sellsword play each other from beginning to end, which is a far more interesting dynamic. The fact both come to respect each other versus love each other is entertaining and reminds me a bit of the Mel Gibson/Jodie Foster dynamic of Maverick.

There's a bit of a mystery spread throughout the book with a secondary one as to the Sellsword's identity. I figured out the latter fairly quickly, remembering the Conan influences, but the central mystery as to what the hell is actually going on behind the scenes was a lot more difficult to figure out. The results were quite satisfying and had plenty of clues which made sense in retrospect.

Brutal is a solid piece of fantasy and while a bit rough around the edges in places, it's still always entertaining. James Alderice created a good work here with well-done world-building, fun characters, and a classic but not-overused plot adapted to a new setting. I think people looking for an afternoon's read could do much worse.

Available here

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 March 2021 01:56
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.