397 pages | Liam’s Vigil Publishing Co. | Fantasy/ SFF
I received an eARC of this novel from the author as part of the #TBRindr programme.
The digest: an accessible low-fantasy novel which many will enjoy. Blackwood Marauders doesn’t hesitate to throw the reader right into the thick of it, and an entertaining story matched with precise prose means that you will probably speed through this.
From the book’s Goodreads page:
“Glory is for the gods. The rest make do.
From the author of THE AGARTES EPILOGUES and the critically acclaimed THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO comes this coming-of-age fantasy about people trying their best to survive in a grim, unforgiving world.
Growing up in a quiet farm, Luc “Lucky” son of Jak didn’t think much of the world until he fails the military entrance exam and finds himself responsible for a group of vicious, bloodthirsty mercenaries. Raised to be honest, upright, and true, his own ideals clash with the mercenaries’ shaky morals. His problems take a turn for the worst when he falls into a trap set by Roena Blackwood.
The eldest of Duke Iorwin’s daughters, Roena is adamant that life can only go her way. A high priest’s prophecy causes her to rethink her options and take the path less travelled: that of a travelling mercenary.
But killing monsters and saving villages can only get interesting for so long. Luc and Roena find themselves in a twisted plot concocted by none other than the merchant Ylir yn Garr. Together, they must learn to set aside their differences and work together to prevent disaster, even if it means confronting what they ran away from in the first place”
- The writing is almost faultless. Villoso’s prose was phenomenally concise and clear, ensuring that readers can really get stuck into the book and lose hours at a time in the narrative. I will say that there were one or two word choices that didn’t sit too well with me in their given context, but that isn’t a bad ratio in a 397-page novel.
- The pacing is good. The author takes her time during the opening few chapters to set the scene of the story and introduce us to some concepts key to the storyworld of Blackwood Marauders, but once that’s done the action comes thick and fast. There are enough breaks from the fighting to give the reader a bit of a reprieve before returning once again to the bloodshed and violence one expects to find in a book about mercenaries.
- The story is interesting (if uncomplicated). The novel does play up to a fair few typical fantasy tropes, but the author weaves in a bit of intrigue here, a bit of expectation-inversion there in a way which means that while you think that you can predict what will happen next, you can never really be too sure.
- I particularly enjoyed the switch in the focus of the story from killing fantastical monsters to… well more human-based issues (as per the Goodreads synopsis). I can’t say too much about this for obvious reasons, but I will say that monster-hunting does not take up the majority of the story, and readers might be disappointed if they go into the book thinking otherwise.
- The character development here is not amazing, but the relationships between them are fairly good. We mostly follow the viewpoint of Luc and as such we are privy to his changing relationships with different groups of people. We start with his family (with whom he has… a complicated series of relationships) before watching him assimilate into the much more dangerous world of mercenaries. Through these relationships Luc does definitely grow as a character, it just feels a bit superficial at times (hence why the character development wasn’t that great. Other characters had even less development, in my opinion, making most of them forgettable which isn’t ideal.
- The characters’ actions have consequences. Too often in stories can the characters get away with doing almost anything with little risk of facing the consequences. Blackwood Marauders is not one of these stories. If you drink too much you might end up with more than a hangover.
- I’m not usually a fan of romance in novels, but that element of Blackwood Marauders was actually quite believable on a superficial level. Do I really think that character X loves character Y? No, but I think that character X believes that they love character Y. It’s all rather harmless and entertaining, and doesn’t take up too much of the plot.
- On a basic level, the court intrigue here was enjoyable. There is nothing like what one sees toward the end of Sanderson’s original Mistborn novel (let alone that of denser novels like The Lies of Locke Lamora), but the threat of arranged marriages and noble obligations were certainly believable and served their purpose in this story. I think if Villoso writes a sequel to Blackwood Marauders, I would like to see a full commitment to either having a court intrigue novel or one completely removed from that world entirely.
- The general worldbuilding is quite good.
- I really enjoyed the ending. It did an excellent job of wrapping up the main narrative of the novel while setting up for future instalments.
- I personally enjoy more… fantastical elements in my fantasy novels. I went into Blackwood Marauders thinking that there would be a much heavier focus on magic and monsters than there actually is in the novel. To be honest, the fact that these elements of the story are as minor as they are surprised me – there is scope for a fair bit of development from what little we see in the novel and I can only hope that if Villoso writes a sequel to this book then she chooses to look more into the magic of the world.
- Sex scenes. Eugh. They aren’t the worst I’ve ever read, but honestly does the word ‘slit’ really have to be used? These scenes just made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and confirm my belief that books are almost always better off leaving this sort of thing to the reader’s imagination. (I know some people disagree with me on this – just look at the popularity of romance fiction – but the criticism for this novel still stands).
- A couple of the characters can suddenly do stuff they have no right doing – e.g. being an expert warrior or a tactical genius with no real experience in either of these fields. This is an issue which a lot of authors have, in fairness, but it irked me nonetheless.
- The characters are a bit too generic. By this I don’t mean that they’re all carbon copies of traditional tropes, but equally I likely won’t remember much about them this time next year. There’s the farm boy who wants to do great things and provide for his family, the rebellious nobles who are sick of privilege (and the issues which their position prescribes), the heartless killers and so on.
- The cast did seem to grow rather speedily (in number) but only on a superficial level. Many of the mercenaries exist in name alone which makes one wonder why they were written into the story at all.
- There wasn’t a massive amount of character development in Blackwood Marauders but there was just (just) enough to make me not feel overly disappointed.
Conclusion: 3.75/5 (rounded to 4 where required). I enjoyed reading Blackwood Marauders and recommend it to fans of low-fantasy fiction. For me it was a little too reliant on familiar tropes and its character development was a bit lacking, but I will certainly be picking up the sequel if one is ever written!
If you’re interested in reading my other TBRindr reviews, you might want to check out the following posts: