#SPFBO Review : The Usurper (Brutal Saga #0.50) by James Alderdice

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.

You can find my updates for batch 1batch 2batch 3, Batch 4 and Batch 5 by clicking on the  links.

This week and next I will be posting reviews for the ten books I rolled forward to read fully.  Hopefully five reviews this week followed by an update and cuts and semi finalist announcements on Saturday.  I will then repeat this format the following week. I won’t be posting a rating for the books at this point.

The Usurper - Ebook - David J. WestThe Usurper tells the story of Gathelaus, a mercenary who becomes the commander for a troop of renowned sellswords and eventually carves a bloody path to forcefully take the crown.

I had a good time with this book.  On the one hand we have the current storyline – which, after a short prologue takes us back some twenty days earlier to bloody warfare and the forming of a rebellious plan.  This has a grimdark feel to it and follows a linear plot as Gathelaus makes his way across country, demonstrating his strength and battle smarts. The alternate storyline, takes us back to a much younger Gathelaus and tells a series of short, pulp fiction style heroic fantasy adventures of swords and sorcery until, eventually, the two timelines meet.

I think the split timelines worked really well.  On the one hand, we have this series of individual, short stories that help provide a picture of Gathelaus and how his experiences over the years have helped to shape him.  He’s a character that is easy to like in many respects.  I wouldn’t say he’s particularly soft and fluffy, he’s certainly not above a bit of dirty fighting so long as it helps him win the day, but at the same time he does have a strong moral compass that dictates the way he behaves.

In the earlier stories we meet a young Gathelaus as he accompanies his father and brother on a mission to claim land in the frozen North and is brimming with bravado and heroic thoughts.  We then move to 18 years earlier and 12 years earlier, etc, along the way witnessing him deal with troublesome Picts and sorcerers and Gods and other monsters, all delivering a little slice of what made him the man he is today.

Alternately, we jump to the current storyline where the days are slowly counting down revealing the path Gathelaus cut to the throne and the battles and twists along that route.  This storyline has a much grimmer feel to the pulp style hero tales, battles being very bloody after all, and I think the switches in style helped to bring something lighter in between the bouts of battle.  Gathelaus finds himself drawn into a rebellion, the young prince, backed by various nobles (all with their own, usually greed-led, motivations) intend to overthrow the current King – who is something of a tyrant and quite unfit to rule.  Of course, rebellions are usually fought by the underdogs and this is definitely the case here and Gathelaus needs to rely on his cunning ability as much as his sword skills.

In terms of the world building the earlier storyline takes us to many different places.  Gathelaus’ adventures take him through jungles and across deserts and there are many different influences that can be felt along the way before he finds himself immersed in war, surrounded by armies and either thrashing out war strategies in the command tents or plowing into the fray.

The characters.  This is primarily about Gathelaus and to an extent there are no other standout characters although there are certain people along the way who are easy to adopt or enjoy.  Fortunately I liked Gathelaus and so I had no issues with the surrounding characters remaining a bit greyed out although it would have been interesting to have maybe one of two extra characters of note.

Did I have any criticisms.  Well, on the whole, I had a very easy time reading this.  I think the writing is confident and the dialogue was good – although I felt the prologue was perhaps a little weaker than the rest of the story.  I think my only real issue is that the ending felt a little abrupt.  I understand that this is a prequel to a series and so this is understandable in some respects, but, after reading about the MC’s exploits over the years and following his struggles on the battlefield I think I was expecting something more, whereas the epilogue felt a little bit like a slightly clunky introduction to the next book.  But, overall, that wasn’t a deal breaker.

I think that readers who enjoy a good blast of adventure stories mixed in with epic battles and rebellion led by a larger than life Viking-style MC who is easy to like, should check this out.

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.