Hero Grown by Andy Livingstone
Brann has come a long way since his days as a galley slave. At Lord Einarr’s side, he journeys to the capital of the Empire to warn the Emperor about Loku and his depraved cult.
But Loku already has the Emperor in his thrall, and his scheming ensures that Brann is enslaved once more. He is put to work in the fighting pits deep below the city, where a man might escape with his life, but not his soul.
Brann emerges bent on revenge, determined to stop Loku. But first he must fight to recover the man that he once was, to become the hero he is meant to be.
Last year I read the debut novel from Andy Livingstone, a rather wonderful historical fantasy called Hero Born. The sequel, Hero Grown, has just been released and the good news is that it’s the perfect companion to its predecessor.
Hero Grown achieves exactly what I would hope it would do. It continues Brann’s journey and successfully explores his character in more depth. We get to watch as our erstwhile protagonist evolves from being merely a pawn to being a player. All around him the politics of an empire continues to play out but Brann is changing. He is more than just a slave driven by revenge. He is learning new skills and beginning to flex his leadership muscles. Brann is becoming something far more valuable – a potential ally
The highlight of this novel were the chapters dealing with Brann’s time in the gladiatorial arena. As a galley slave, Brann learned the lessons of patience and how to endure back breaking labour. As a gladiator, he learns how to channel his anger into focussed attacks and, probably more importantly, how to defend himself. Circumstance then sends him from the arena to the fighting pits, where things get even bloodier. In the depths of the pits, death is Brann’s constant companion. I’m a huge fan of television shows like Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and was reminded of this when Brann is learning his gladiatorial craft. This is when the novel hits its stride and there is some sweet action to boot. You get a real sense that the constant violence is taking its toll. Our hero is being taken apart piece by piece, to the point where he becomes almost feral, and then remade into something new. This process is brutal and dehumanising, but ultimately necessary. Brann is becoming a weapon, far more dangerous than he ever was before. The forces that are shaping this young man’s destiny know that he has to go through Hell before he will be capable of facing the challenges that will lie ahead.
Once again, each new chapter begins with some scenes following the old emperor as he continues his political manoeuvring and scheming. The gladiator is key to the emperor’s plans and we start to see just how important Brann’s training, and innate ability, actually is. It is not just a matter of revenge against Loku, its more than that, the fate of nations rest on our young hero’s continued success. As with Hero Born there are plenty of other characters to enjoy. There are a couple of new characters called Breta and Mongoose who are a great addition to the cast. I hope there will be more of them in future books. Old favourites return as well. I was particularly pleased to learn some of Grakk’s backstory. I warmed to this enigmatic soul in book one and learning more about him felt like a real treat. Brann’s galley mates Gerens and Hakon are still on hand to assist their comrade.
Livingstone also displays skill when it comes to creating an evocative setting for his story. The action moves from the frozen fjords and mountains of Brann’s homeland to the capital city and then the deserts of the Empire. It’s a nice juxtaposition. There is a distinct contrast between what we’ve seen before – the stark seas and coldness of the North with the urban crawl and stifling heat. You get the impression that though these two books are connected they are also distinct entities in their own right.
This second book in the Seeds of Destiny series is the ideal sequel, and proves conclusively that book one was no fluke. Andy Livingstone knows his stuff when it comes to historic fantasy. I can’t wait for book three. I’m invested in Brann’s story now, I need to know how things are going to turn out. Now all I have to do is try and wait patiently for the conclusion of this epic tale…. *waits patiently for 5 seconds* OK, when exactly does the next book come out? When?? I need to know what happens now. Damn you Book Gods, why have you forsaken me? WHY??
Hero Grown is published by Harper Voyager and is available now.