This is a review of “The Free” by Brian Ruckley.
They are the most feared mercenary company the kingdom has ever known. Led by Yulan, the Free have spent years selling their martial and magical skills to the highest bidder, but now they finally plan to lay down their swords. When Yulan is offered a final contract, he cannot refuse – for the mission offers him the chance to erase the memories of the Free’s darkest hour. As the Free embark on their last mission, a potent mix of loyalty and vengeance is building to a storm. Freedom, it seems, carries a deadly price.
The world-building is really good up to a certain point – i.e. the past 50 years. The rest seems not to exist at all, but that might be because the story has a very narrow view on characters to whom ancient history doesn’t matter. It still feels a little bit odd. But it is a well-built world despite this. And when it comes to characters it is easy to get to know and like Drann, Yulan, Hamdan and even Akrana. The others just kind of fade into the background, and Sullen is a bit of a disappointment, though Wren’s ultimate fate was a pleasant surprise. It is, in fact, the best part of the book!
Those characters that practice magic have a very definite price to pay for every single little thing they do. For every magic trick an equal amount of their life is pulled out of them as payment so they really have to be careful, and it is a consistent thing throughout the book with no suddenly powerful people able to bypass this. The subject of the Permanence(s) is vague and in the end a bit disappointing with how much they build them up and how little they are actually used.
Lots of time is spent travel and talk, and very little on action. Over 300 pages in fact. What action there is to be found is either interrupted by annoying switches in POV or we get the start of it and then said POV switch happens, and we are told of what happened when it is already over and we know what the outcome was. This detracts heavily from the suspense of the book.
Because of this it is also difficult to get to know the characters enough to actually care about them or be shocked or feel anything but blandness when something happens to them. Or they do something meant to be epic. It doesn’t help that a few of the characters seem forced and only do a few of the things they do in order to give Drann, and us as readers, a view of what’s what. It isn’t endearing at all.
The language itself is sometimes oddly, weirdly poetic and almost Yoda-like in its buildup of sentences. This throws off the reading pace and stops up the flow which can get annoying. As well as the small infection of tell-don’t-show at the start of the book when the various characters are introduced. But other than that it is a good, if rather bland story of action and adventure. Good for a rainy afternoon when you have absolutely nothing else to do or read.
It is actually a good story, an interesting story, but the way that it was written kills the suspense and enjoyment of reading it.
It is an okay book. That is all.