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Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd

Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour; a dying breed in the Shattered Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent’s principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. He wants for little so bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded. It might never bring a man fame or wealth, but he’s not forced to rely on others or kill without cause. Little could compel Lynx to join a mercenary company, but he won’t turn his back on a kidnapped girl. At least the job seems simple enough; the mercenaries less stupid and vicious than most he’s met over the years. So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine.

I’ve always imagined being a mercenary in some far off, fantastical land would be the hardest of lives to live. Based on what I’ve learned in Stranger of Tempest, the latest offering from Tom Lloyd, it would appear I was entirely right. When you join Anatin’s Mercenary Deck, chances are you’re going to find yourself living fast and very probably dying young.

I warmed to Lynx immediately. Out of shape and with a habit of waking up in jail cells, the only thing Lynx has going for him is a deeply ingrained sense of honour and an unshakeable need to do what is right. I enjoyed how Lloyd drip feeds details of Lynx’s murky past into the main narrative. You get to learn just enough about the events that have led the man to be the way he is. That said, I get the distinct impression that there is still more to be revealed in the future. I certainly hope so.

The rest of the men and women who make up the mercenary company are a suitably eclectic and rowdy bunch. Their commander, Anatin, is a salty old sort, and Kas is a hedonist who is always ready for a fight. My personal favourties though, were Reft and Deern. Reft is a giant of a man, silent and deadly. I don’t think he utters a word in the entire novel. Deern is the polar opposite, a mouthy troublemaker who causes problems just about everywhere he goes. There is a strong sense of camaraderie between all these disparate characters. The longer he spends in the company of his new brothers and sisters in arms, the more Lynx stops being just “the new guy” and starts being treated as an equal. This is a group who bleed for one another, and that level of commitment forms the strongest of bonds.

Lynx’s dysfunctional little family find themselves on the run when they fall foul of a militant holy order. Turns out the mercs latest job may have been mis-sold to them slightly. The only option is to run, and the only direction they can run is towards the ruins of an ancient underground city. What follows is a fight for survival. Good job Lynx and his new comrades are natural born survivors.

A large chunk of the book takes place below ground as the mercenaries attempt to flee their pursuers. This whole section of the novel was executed perfectly. Lloyd’s narrative dances that fine line between fantasy and horror. The dark caverns, and various beasts that lurk therein, are damned gruesome. I particularly liked how both groups, the pursuers and the pursued, start to fall apart after prolonged time in the dark.  The physical and psychological effects start to weigh heavy on them all. The growing sense of claustrophobia and unease that various characters start to exhibit feels almost palpable. They are attacked by horrors both real and imagined. The traumatic events they experience also acts as the perfect opportunity to once again highlight the growing bonds of comradeship between Lynx and his new friends.

Now, time for an embarrassing admission – I’ve not read any of Tom Lloyd’s other books.  Based on how much I’ve enjoyed Stranger of Tempest however, I will be correcting this gross oversight as soon as I possibly can. If you’re an existing fan of this author’s work, and I can fully appreciate why you would be, then I’m sure this new series will appeal. It is chock full of fantasy action, memorable heroes and more explosions than you can shake a fully loaded mage gun at. If you’re a newbie, like me, then I suggest you consider this your gateway drug of choice. By the book’s end, I considered myself a convert to this author’s work.

Stranger of Tempest is published by Gollancz and is available now. This is a cracking new series and I want to be reading book two already. Highly recommended.

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