What Remains of Heroes by David Benem
Review by Jamie Edmunson
The quality of self-published, or indie, books is getting better and better. Not just the stories themselves, but the editing, covers and all the other professional aspects of the business. So much so that the best of the bunch are, in every important respect, the equals of their traditionally published cousins. Here I review one of the leading indie fantasy books from the last few years.
I would class this as character driven fantasy, in the sense that you feel that the author started with the characters and allows them to take centre stage. We follow the point of view of at least half a dozen as the story develops and all of them have well defined personalities. Lannick de Veers is a broken ex-soldier with a dark past. Zandrachus Bale is another unlikely hero, living a safe life amongst his books in the Abbey until forced to go out into the world. Karnag is an assassin with no moral code. True to the theme of the series, none of the characters are traditionally heroic, and are often reluctant. This adds some complexity to their characters, but at times can be overdone, especially since the reader has the impression they are going to do the right thing in the end anyway. I enjoyed the range of characters, though it does mean the plot moves slowly at times, since most characters have their own separate storyline. Indeed, the three mentioned above still haven’t crossed paths by the end of the book. This would suggest that the series still has a long way to go.
We are in fairly familiar territory here. The kingdom of Rune is under threat from evil forces from the past. There is a solid historical backdrop to the story, with the Sentinels, demi-god style characters, who have defended Rune in times past, banished by the High King some generations ago. And they need to come back. It is a modern, Abercrombie-esque setting, with humans taking centre stage and no mention of elves, dwarves etc. Some considerable thought has gone into the politics, with a High-King gone mad (we never meet him); a Queen in peril; evil figures at court; and a mention of thanes, who sound like regional noblemen, who may well come into the story. I appreciated this attempt to flesh out and make a believable world. In the end it felt secondary to the main storylines, since the principal characters are political outsiders (unlike Game of Thrones, for example), but there are hints that this angle may be developed in later books. Finally, there is magic in this land, often quite dark and scary. Benem avoids incorporating a new magical system with detailed rules into the story, which I appreciated. On the other hand, I didn’t detect what the limits or costs of magic use are.
The king is mad, war with the kingdom’s neighbour is brewing, and behind it all a dark, hidden sect, who worship an evil God, are pulling the strings. The Sanctum, a group of book reading old men generally held in contempt as ‘spookers’, must begin a search for the long forgotten Sentinels. Some of these Sentinels and/or their followers are revealed in the book, and they are not always what the reader is expecting. As indicated above, this is an ambitious start to a series, with multiple plot lines started, and a story that slowly reveals itself to the reader. There is a lot more to come and it doesn’t surprise me to see that it has taken Benem over two years to come up with the sequel, The Wrath of Heroes, out now. This is thoughtful, meaty fantasy, and worth waiting for!