The Skald's Black Verse (The Dreadbound Ode #1) by Jordan Loyal Short Book Review

Write on: Thu, 30 Jul 2020 by  in Charles' Reviews Read 2519


THE SKALD'S BLACK VERSE by Jordan Loyal Short is a science-fiction fantasy novel that takes place on an isolated world at the heart of a vast interstellar empire. The planet was conquered long ago and has been ground down to a Medieval subsistence. However, with a looming natural disaster, the seeds of rebellion are planted that are aided by mysterious supernatural forces.

The world-building of this book is something that I really enjoyed. The village of Skolja is a Viking-themed Medieval sort of place but it is dominated by foreign forces that came from the sky and conquered the place three generations ago. There's hints of Braveheart, Warhammer 40K, and Skyrim in the world-building. The book walks a fine line between justifying the anachronistic mixture of technology as even the invading humans from space are a crude theocratic organization halfway Roman and half-way Catholic.

The take on colonialism is an interesting one as while the Empire is depicted as arrogant and oppressive, the reaction to this oppression is handled in different ways. The mayor of Skolja cooperates with them and attempts to mediate any problems, believing peace is the ideal. Unfortunately, the local Prefect could not care less about these efforts and just wants to be reassigned. His son is ambivalent about all of it, not realizing how important his father's role as a collaborator is.

Contrasting this is Brohr, a local half-breed citizen who has just lost his girlfriend due to savagely beating a man in front of her. Brohr is possessed by his dead brother's ghost and it gives him vast supernatural powers that are just bubbling under the surface. Brohr's grandfather wants to avenge his fallen people and is willing to use his own blood as a weapon to do so, no matter the cost. The fact his grandfather is obsessed with racial purity, long ago wrongs, and vengeance makes him a less sympathetic rebel than usually is the case in these kind of stories.

Really, this is a book that thrives on its characters and the fact that it mostly relates to a single village on a remote planet gives it a very interesting feel. I'd argue this is a kind of blackish space age steampunk but it also possesses quite a bit of magic to go along with its weird tech. The skalds of the world knew many forms of magic that have since been outlawed by the empire but are slowly making a return. Magic is dark and twisted, dealing with alien entities, that enhances the feel of sorcery. It is an evil and unnatural thing but perhaps the only advantage the native peoples have.

This is a book full of moral ambiguities that I enjoyed. The colonizers are a bunch of selfish jerks but the majority of them are just doing their jobs, the initial atrocities having happened a long time ago. The resistance to them is ambivalent and bordering on banditry with the ideologues having mostly aged out. The typical Skolja citizens has adapted to the new way of life and are more concerned about where their next meal is coming from rather than the occupiers of their planet. The residents of Skolja feels like a combination of a Scot, Norseman, and various fishing peoples that help them feel familiar without feeling identical to these cultures.

Practicality also dictates that this tiny resource-poor world with no technology is unable to do squat against the empire anyway. The empire won against the locals because they had better numbers, technology, and magic. This is an unsympathetic and uncaring world that doesn't have any real natural sense of justice. If they successfully revolt, they'll just get crushed with the next wave but that doesn't mean much to people who want blood more than victory. All of the ideologies competing here mean nothing to the comet that's about to hit the neighboring moon and shower the planet in debris, too. In the face of an uncaring natural disaster, all the talk about freedom and oppression may be secondary to survival.

In conclusion, this is a solid and entertaining piece of fantasy science fiction. I'm a big fan of Warhammer 40K and this is very similar with a "ground's eye" view of what being the subject of a vast interstellar civilization would be like for the average citizen. The depiction of brutality from colonizer to colonized, the inhumanity of man, generation grudges, poverty, and religious fanaticism are all intriguing to read as well. This is extremely well-written grimdark and if you like your fantasy and sci-fi gritty as well as depressing then this is a book you should pick up.

Available here

Last modified on Thursday, 30 July 2020 12:42
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.