Hello and Happy Thursday, my lovely peeps🐥!
It’s time for this week’s review and today, we’ll be featuring A Mark of Kings by Bryce O’Connor & Luke Chmilenko!
Book Title: A Mark of Kings
Series: The Shattered Reigns Book: 01
Author: Bryce O’Connor & Luke Chmilenko
Edition: Physical > Paperback
Length: 568 Pages
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy > Epic Fantasy, Magic, High Fantasy, Dragon, Adult
Veteran mercenary who’s seen it all? Think again!
The first of four [planned] books, A Mark of Kings was a pretty good entry into the series. This book starts off in a prologue with our MC, Declan Idrys, as a baby in his mother’s arms, fleeing the terrors and monsters that have come to invade their town. The following chapter is where the story officially starts. Following a time skip, Declan’s now a hardened mercenary; traveling and fighting is a large part of his life now. The only constant in his life is Ryn, the “horse” that is introduced in the prologue and has stuck with him through thick and thin. During a particular mission, one that’s not so different from the countless other requests he’d taken up, Declan finds himself caught up in a whole different world of trouble and life may never be the same again. It seems, someone has a grudge with what courses through his veins and that particular enemy is murderously intent on getting rid of him and Ryn, for good.
“In the weeks to come, I’ve an unfortunate feeling you and I both will come to miss the time where our greatest concerns were hunting for our evening supper and what split in the road to take”
Beware the occasional info dumping
This was a good book, though could do with a bit of editing. The writing and prose are interesting with a light mix of dialogue (and moments) that seems too modern for the time period, but it wasn’t often nor did I particularly mind it. There’s occasionally a lot of info dumping and there was a moment that was perhaps two chapters worth of a century’s worth of history being told to Declan as the latter sat there, his head reeling in all the information…which sounds fairly accurate to how I felt.
The moments of info dumping coupled with long descriptions of scenes, and lots and lots of traveling going on, made for a really slow read. The beginning of the book was good. The prologue had me sobbing before the story even really began, and it was as good of an emotional hook as one would want! Somewhere towards the middle, though, it really began to taper off and some places dragged. Even the exciting fight scenes didn’t help bring the speed back up by much. Perhaps, it’s a bit like some RPG games. You know, the stage with the final map to the last boss? It’s full of monsters that you needed to grind through to get to the last dungeon? I, for one, have always hated dungeon grinding, so maybe this is just a me problem.
Favorite trope check! Ragtag bunch of misfits on the run from a deadly foe.
What I really enjoyed was the plot and the small cast of characters, the small band standing in the “Ragtag Bunch of Misfits” trope. You’ve got Declan, the veteran mercenary who carries about 7 guild companys’ worth of tattoos (like the Fairy Tail guild symbols!) though he currently only belongs in the Iron Wind Company. There’s Ryn, Declan’s peculiar midnight black stallion, who happens to be his mentor, and is just as big of a protagonist as Declan is. And finally, there’s the father and daughter duo, Bonner, the insanely powerful mage who somehow always seems to have some form of magic that can get them out of trouble (not always “all in one piece” but you gotta do what you gotta do!) and the crew’s only healer, and Ester, the half-elf who is deadly with a bow and will and can take you out in a heartbeat if needed. A strong female character, I think Declan may have needed rescuing more times than Ester did!
It’s a bloodbath out there and nobody’s safe!
“There were dozens of them, the ones tied to the columns apparently only the freshest of the gathered collection. The remnants of a score more were scattered about the feet of those secured upright, ribs jutting from the torn, rotting flesh of broken chests, empty sockets staring into the sky from drawn, horrid faces.”
This is a brutal book and I appreciated how realistic our characters are, especially Declan. An ordinary mercenary (with a not-so-oridinary horse) he’s seen his fair share of battles and has plenty of scars to show for it. However, most of his battles were against the occasional wild monsters and human, so it’s no surprise when he’s greeted with absolute defeat (and having to be rescued time and time again) upon being faced with the undead, chimera dragon beasts, and wights. These are creatures of legends, and suddenly they are very real, and you’re down on the ground about to be eaten or killed. Magic exists, to Declan’s ever-growing amusement, scary horrors of children’s tales exist, and history as he knows it may have been completely wrong all along. Can you blame him for being shocked every few pages? And remember, this is a guy who’s participated in and seen his fair share of violence:
“Declan felt like he had been playing the soldier with wooden swords his entire life, and only just been shown the gruesome reality of the battlefield he dreamed of fighting upon.”
There’s a lot of gore in this book, the authors don’t hold back a thing from hurting anyone. It could be a poor little 12-year-old gathering medical plants up in the mountains, it could be the slaughter of an entire village, and our protagonists are not spared any of this. There’s been times when Declan has been horrifically burned or Ester, so terribly injured, you can see the bone. There’s one scene of people torn apart and another of an eight-foot mound of bodies.
Slow character growth; I didn’t know I needed it until I came across it…
Declan does grow stronger, but on a scale of one to video game protagonist, he’s pretty realistic in this department too. There’s no point where he’s magically endowed with the blessings of the gods, and suddenly he’s capable of fighting a horde of monsters (his ancestor maybe, but not him). It’s a slow progress and though he is decent enough with the sword, even Ryn remarks that he’s far from the skills that his ancestors had possessed, having to find the occasional time to drill him on it. Bonner attempts to help Declan with learning magic, and that too is a very slow process. The small bits of lessons comes handy later on, but don’t except giant fireballs from Declan. He’s still learning, and I think this slow growth is what I enjoyed the most. I’ve always wondered how some anime characters go from “What? What’s that?” to being able to draw runes and casts spells (complete with technique names being shouted out) in the very next scene, and it’s one small thing that’s always ticked me.
This book is a good balance between some seriously messed up nightmare fuel and goodness. By goodness, I mean Declan. He’s an all-round good guy. He’s honorable and so humble about nearly everything. When I think of mercenaries, I think of the poor reputation they have most elsewhere (a sell sword who work for the coin, not loyalty), but here, mercenary guilds are found throughout! You could flash your ink at the border guards, and they would accept it as “Oh, okay, not a sketchy person like I thought.”
It may be a little while before I can pick up the second book. That crawl to the climax was excruciating. There were times when I nearly DNF’d at 80 or 90% because nothing was moving, even when things were. The ending being a huge twist and major cliffhanger isn’t enough to have me charging towards the next book. I enjoyed the nightmares this book may fuel (army made up of thousands of rotting and decayed bodies anyone?) and there are some seriously epic scenes (aye, let’s go dragon riding!) and I enjoyed the world building too, but I also kind of wished there was a map in front. There’s a lot of traveling going on, with the group being on the run for most of the book, and the different places mentioned in both history and present would have benefited from a map. However, overall, this was an enjoyable read and my rainbow of annotations and flags could tell you I really mean that. From a plot and concept point, this series has a lot of potential, and I’m intrigued on how things will move on from here.