The Good: A promising debut set in a truly epic world, with gritty, relatable characters, and a page burner of a plot (yes, that's right, a page burner).
The Bad: In my opinion I don’t think there is a lot that is BAD about ‘The Grim Company’ – I’ve seen the pointed finger on a lot of reviews, but I’ll try and clarify my thoughts on the ‘grimdark’ and ‘Abercrombie part-II’ here.
The Ugly Truth: The Grim Company is a hugely impressive debut. Yes, it’s Grimdark. Yes, it’s comparable to Joe Abercrombie. But if you’re going to write a grimdark novel OF COURSE you’re going to be compared to JA. It’s like writing a novel about elves and dwarves but hoping not to be compared to Tolkien. What The Grim Company does do, and does very well, is entertain. It’s unashamed of its roots, which to me is all that counts. Don’t shout and scream that it’s ‘just a copy’ – it’s not. It’s a tilt of the hat, a nod in the direction of, but in my opinion it’s a very strong contender in today’s fantasy market able to stand on its own two legs (unless you’re an unfortunate mage like Eremul, of course!).
For Those That Like: David Gemmell, Brian McClellan, magic based stories, grimdark, gritty characters, tyrant-overthrowing-plots, and oh alright then I’ll say it, JOE ABERCROMBIE.
The gods are dead.Luke Scull’s ‘The Grim Company’ is his debut novel, and the opening to a brand new epic fantasy series. ‘The Grim Company’ is a story of the unlikeliest companions thrown together to bring down an enemy that even the gods couldn’t defeat. The odds of their success are grim (see what I did there? Ok, I’ll stop!).
Magic is dying.
Freedom isn’t far off being terminal, either.
Dorminia is a city under siege from within. The Tyrant of Dorminia rules with the approach of: hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil. ‘Evil’ being anyone with motive to oppose him. His mindhawks can hear the thoughts of the people, the city watch see everything, and if anyone steps out of place then Salazar’s magically powered Augmentors sort it out. Swiftly.
But ‘evil’ is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Salazar himself is a hero for overthrowing the gods hundreds of years ago, but what about the men who seek to overthrow Salazar?
Two ageing barbarians, one with bad knees and the other with a bad temper, aren’t your typical everyday heroic pair. Nor is a cocky hot-headed youth who claims to be a hero at every opportunity. And a ‘half mage’ with no legs barely scratches at being 'half man', and there’s no such thing as a ‘half hero’. But together with a band of rebels, they seek to bring down Salazar and liberate Dorminia.
You need a fitting start to a tale in which the gods are dead. It needs to be a cataclysmic intro, something world-shattering to live up to the epic setting. What to choose, what to choose…oh, I know! A tidal wave. Eureka. Wait… …
A TIDAL WAVE?!? In the first five pages?
Certainly sets the tone, doesn’t it?
‘The Grim Company’ comes out swinging, and throughout it doesn’t pull its punches. Look, I’m not going to go into the similarities that other reviewers have pointed out just yet, because I think that ‘The Grim Company’ can stand on its own two feet and fend for itself in terms of originality. Sure it’s grimdark fantasy, which is all the trend at the minute, but it has its own unique spice. I won’t bore you to death with examples but here’s a tidbit for you. Without spoiling anything, Scull introduces the concept of deep-sea mining at one point in the story. DEEP SEA MINING IN A FANTASY?!? Stick that in your originality pipe and smoke it. Then you have the concept of the Augmentors, warriors with a specific talent or trait magically magnified. Yes, this concept (or at least the base idea of it) has been used numerous times in fantasy, but it’s execution in the story is fantastic and makes for some fantastic character development and twists.
Scull shamelessly man’s his ‘Grim Company’ with the unlikeliest of heroes, even though each stereotype is likely to appear in every other grimdark fantasy novel out there. BUT, and I must emphasise this point, BUT Scull does it SHAMELESSLY. Ageing barbarian with aches and pains, getting too old for the life of a warrior; a crippled and bitter intellect, seated at the heart of a conspiracy yet he can’t sit down or stand up without risking sh**ting himself; and a hopeful young hero, talented, brave, destined for greatness, that is if he can stop his ego from running away from him. They’re all familiar to a fantasy fan, but don’t be put off by thinking this is a copy-paste cast. It’s a testament to Scull’s writing that he can take such familiar characters and breathe new life into them. I myself fell in love with the characters. Yes I can see the similarities. Do I care? No. They’re individual to me.
The plot and the setting are fantastic. Who doesn’t like an epic backdrop to a fantasy? And it doesn’t get much better than dead gods whose corpses leak magic. Seriously, top this, go on, I dare ya.
Scull’s style is refreshing. I mean when you weigh it all up he has PACKED ‘The Grim Company’ with ideas and characters. When you try and list them all down, it seems like it won’t work on paper. There's just so much going on. But it does. It really, really does. The pacing is fantastic, never relenting. It’s not so much a page turner as a page burner.
But the heart of the matter, I guess, the thing that everyone wants to know:
…is ‘The Grim Company’ just another grimdark, or is it (as a minority of reviews/readers suggest) a blatant copy of other things out there (He-who-shall-not-be-named!).
In my opinion? NO!
‘The Grim Company’ is its own story. I used this word earlier, SHAMELESS. It is shameless in its use of characters, tone, and even word choice. But what does it have to be ashamed of? Nothing if you ask me. It’s a damn good read from a damned good author. I’m not going to point out the similarities for you, because in my opinion that’s not me doing justice to Luke Scull or ‘The Grim Company’.
If every reader in the known world wants to know the TRUTH about this similarity binge, I’ll give you a truth. You might not be able to handle it, but here it is.
Is ‘The Grim Company’ a mirror of Joe Abercrombie’s ‘First Law’ series?
As a debut novel, ‘The Grim Company’ is better.
Growing up with the heroic tales written by authors such as David Gemmell and James Barclay, D was inspired to write stories of his own. After joining the army D used his free time to focus on his dream of sharing shelf-space with his idols.
D lives where the army send him, but home is in Chelmsford with his fiancé. They say that behind every great man there is a woman pulling the strings, but she lets him dance to his own song whilst being the perfect partner in step. D claims that his books would not have been written without her.
David Emrys is not his real name. Nor is D.
You can read more about the author and his other book reviews on his website. Also read Mihir's review of From Man To Man by D.E.M. Emrys. You can order The Grim Company over here.