Rating: 4.5 out of 5
What would you get if you turned Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser into a pair of half-orc brothers, gave them severe inferiority complexes, moral ambiguity, and massive tempers, and then threw in a powerful religious zealot who sways them closer to the dark side than any individual should ever be comfortable with?
Why, you’d have “The Weight of Blood” by David Dalglish.
“The Weight of Blood” is an extremely dark fairy tale that tells the story of those aforementioned half-orc brothers, Qurrah and Harruq Tun. As far as main characters go, I don’t think I’ve ever seen their likeness. Sold separately into slavery by their orc mother early on in life, they eventually escaped and found each other again, only to grow up without guidance on the streets of a town called Veldaren, scavenging for food and learning that sometimes in life, when you come from nothing, it’s better to kill than be killed. Qurrah is a spindly and coldly intelligent sort whose greatest passion is to become a powerful sorcerer. Harruq, on the other hand, is a large-bodied and (sometimes) kind-hearted oaf who exists seemingly only to protect his physically weaker brother. The dialogue between the two borders on hilarious in the early going, when they’re still nothing but vagrants. But there is something darker in them, mostly in regards to Qurrah, which begging to be released. They are archetypal antiheroes, existing on the periphery of a society that wants no part of them.
The story starts off with a bang, dropping us in on the brothers as an army of orcs attempts to invade Veldaren. It is here that we first meet Velixar, a necromancer and master of the dark arts, who eventually takes the brothers under his wing. Through Velixar, we also are presented with a sizeable chunk of the world Dalglish has created, which is notable if for no other reason than it gives the reader a frame of reference to draw upon further down the road.
The novel is chock full of intense and extremely graphic battle scenes. It would be easy to get lost in the action if these scenes weren’t expertly crafted, which they are. The actions the brothers take from the onset vary from miscreant to downright evil. They butcher women, children, whole families, mostly without batting an eyelash. Even when one of them seemingly finds love, through the appearance of a beautiful sorcerer elf named Aurelia, this does little to stifle the loathsome behavior. Qurrah and Harruq appear to be brutes, ostensibly without a soul, and they act as such.
That statement is not quite true, however, and herein lays the brilliance of the world author Dalglish has created. This is a story of their fall and hopefully redemption, though as a series, once we reach the end it is still in the early stages. But the hope is there that these two will find their way. We get to see inside the brothers’ heads, and what we find there, though disturbing, allows us to feel a glimmer of gallantry. They are capable of love – this much is evident by the way they feel about each other – and any being who can experience that emotion in its fullest and most vulnerable can eventually learn to harness that inner goodness. All they ever needed was guidance, something that was denied them through unfortunate circumstances beyond their control.
And this is where we come to the crux of the fable that the author is telling us. In many ways, the brothers’ situation mirrors events we see all the time in the “real world”. They have nothing, they are starving and ostracized. Everyone looks down on them. They wander through life without a purpose save staying alive. When one looks at it like this, is it any wonder that when a stranger approaches the destitute pair and offers them a life that has meaning they leap for it? They who have nothing are promised the world. They who’ve been looked at as the lowest of the low are told they will be worshiped as gods. They who have had to scrape and claw are given gifts of such power that they become death incarnate. When viewed from this vantage point, can we not understand, even sympathize, with the plight Qurrah and Harruq have been forced to deal with? If we, as civilized humans, were put in the same situation, would our morality not begin to wither and die after a while? This rings true with what happens every day in certain parts of the world. It is almost the very blueprint for terrorist recruitment. And at the end of the day, that is what the brothers become. Terrorists. They target not only the enemy but the young and innocent. They strike from the shadows, seeking to assist a greater agenda that they either don’t or can’t understand.
This is a very dark book, so take that as a warning. If you don’t like the images of flayed arms and legs, decapitation, or bodies reduced to quivering masses of blood and innards, stay far away. However, if you appreciate a well-told story that pulls you into its world and won’t let you back out, this is the novel for you. It is unrelenting and fast-paced. It makes you care about the characters, no matter what bad deeds they may perform. And, best of all, it allows you to feel hope that the characters will turn it all around, and through something as simple as an act of kindness.
In short, I loved “The Weight of Blood”. The title says it all. It’s about the inherent price of violence, the duty of family, and the pressure to do what’s right. I would definitely recommend it. As far as fantasy goes, I feel you’d be hard pressed to find one that equals its scope and passion. I, for one, can’t wait to get pulled into the next volume.
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Plot - 10
Characters - 10
Voice - 7
Execution - 8
Personal Enjoyment - 10
Overall - 45/50 (4.5/5)