Age of Iron by Angus Watson
LEGENDS AREN’T BORN. THEY’RE FORGED.
Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar’s army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people.
First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar’s most fearsome warriors, who’s vowed revenge on the king for her sister’s execution.
Now Dug’s on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join - and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that’s going to get them all killed . . .
It’s a glorious day to die.
Turns out Iron Age Britain is not an easy place to get by in. The country is fragmented into many warring tribes constantly at one another’s throats. Bickering warlords try to grab hold of as much land and power as they can manage while trying to ignore the ever growing threat of the Roman Empire.
Dug Sealskinner is a slightly shabby warrior, past his best, with a suitably world-weary outlook towards life. It’s not difficult to spot, the sardonic attitude, resigned acceptance of just about every horror he’s faced, hell he even manages to look a little grumpy on the front cover of the book. Dug would like nothing better than to spend his remaining days working the land or fishing. Cantankerous and more than a little curmudgeonly I warmed to him immediately. It helps I’m more than a little curmudgeonly myself. Be warned, if you are easily offended there is a good chance that Dug may not be the hero for you. His language can best be described as fruity. Actually, no, that’s actually a bit of an understatement. Dug swears (a whole lot), mostly using colourful epithets related to various items of a badger’s reproductive anatomy.
Lowa, another warrior, finds herself suddenly persona non grata with her previous employer. For reasons she has difficulty trying to fathom, she has become public enemy number one and people who were previously friends are now trying to dispatch her with extreme prejudice. Full of rage and driven by revenge, Lowa’s only chance is to throw in her lot with a shabby looking mess of a man with a large war hammer and a world-weary outlook.
Rounding of the trio is Spring, she’s the polar opposite of Dug and Lowa. A young girl with an inquisitive mind and far more secrets than is appropriate for someone of such a young age. She has an unerring knack when it comes to finding trouble, and her presence in everyone life guarantees things are never going to be anything other than interesting.
Together, once they have found one another, these three form their own weird little dysfunctional family. They end up getting caught up in a plot involving the local maniac king, Zadar, and a couple of sinister druid types. Zadar is a lovely fella, a consummate sadist he likes nothing better than seeing others suffer. It doesn’t matter if he’s torturing victims in increasingly gruesome ways or leaving no-one left alive after a battle. If it’s just plain nasty, he’s more than happy to do it. Zadar has a grand vision and there are only a few things standing in his way, their names – Dug, Lowa and Spring.
Ok, I’m willing to concede that the Age of Iron is not perhaps what you would consider 100% historically accurate, but you know what? I don’t care one little bit. Not in the slightest. This debut is a whole heap of frenetic chaos, and is thoroughly entertaining from the get go. Sitting tonally somewhere between Spartacus, Chelmsford 123 and Slaine, I really got a kick out of the Age of Iron. Angus Watson has also deftly injected some darkly comedic moments that sit well within the structure of the narrative. Overall, this novel is ferocious, unashamedly adult, fun with some fantastic characters and some great action packed moments. It’s well worth a look in my humble opinion.
Age of Iron is published by Orbit and is available now. Clash of Iron will follow in 2015, I’ll be looking out for it.