“As the Horns of Grief rise, vengeance shall come, and the world will bleed in chaos…”
Friends, we need to talk. Recently I read The Fangs of War, which immediately established itself as one of the boldest and strongest debuts I have ever read. So then of course I could not resist jumping into The Crowns of Omens soon after, which was so phenomenal that it quickly became one of my all-time favourite prequel novellas. And now, having just finished The Horns of Grief, I am almost reluctant to admit that it immediately shot up to the top of my list of ‘best sequels I have ever read’. Safe to say, I have fallen so head over heels in love with the gloriously gritty Blood and Steel Saga that it’s honestly just pathetic. So, for my sanity’s sake, please indulge me and allow me to explain why E.J. Doble, Thane of Grimdark, must be stopped.
First of all, these covers. Unacceptable. The entire reason I am in this mess in the first place is because I could not resist purchasing these books as pure cover buys. Like, come on… tell me you didn’t drool when you first saw them?! Truly one of the most gorgeous sights my eyes have ever been graced with.
It is clearly a scheme of the author and his cover artist, Diego Spezzoni, to lure people in with these beautiful pieces of art, only to then break as many hearts and crush as many souls as possible with the story hidden inside.
Though, by all means, go ahead and judge these books by their covers, because the story inside more than lives up to the stupidly high quality of these breathtaking covers. I mean, why else would I have more or less inhaled these first two books and the prequel novella in just a couple of weeks’ time? This series is un-fucking-putdownable and from the very first line in The Fangs of War, I was just doomed.
“On a silent shore, in a distant land, the world was coming to an end.” Yes, welcome to the Blood and Steel Saga. Be sure to buckle up.
Doble’s prose is simply so unbelievably entrancing that it just puts a spell on you and makes you forget that you even have a life outside of this story. This level of wordsmithing is just… chef’s kiss. How someone can describe such horrifying scenes in such an achingly beautiful way is truly beyond me, but I absolutely love it. The lyrical and descriptive prose just makes this world come to life, grabbing you by the throat and forcing you to keep reading until you are left absolutely breathless, broken, and bruised by the end.
Because holy fucking smokes, is this series a wild ride. I am calling it now, Doble has a big murder board hanging above his computer while he is writing this series, because that’s how much of a bloodbath things become. The stakes are sky high, zero punches are pulled, and nothing and no one is proven to be safe. And somehow, he still has the nerve to create a cast of characters that you just can’t help but get fully emotionally invested in. In other words, cue the emotional damage!
I will refrain from naming any characters, because truly no one is safe and their paths are so unpredictable that it’s best to just go in completely blind. All I will say about them is that this is a cast of wonderfully wretched and deliciously depraved characters whose lives are absolute trainwrecks that you just can’t look away from.
They are scattered all across the spectrum of gray morality, with some having just a couple more redeeming qualities than others. Like, I wouldn’t want to meet any of them on the street and some of them could definitely use a new moral compass considering how broken theirs are, but that’s exactly why their journeys are so fully captivating to follow. Each of them is so fully realised and has such a consistently strong personality and voice, so the multi-POV storytelling works to perfection. And even when you want to strangle them because they once again let their emotions drive their (idiotic) actions, you can totally see why they are behaving that way. How dare they be so painfully flawed and realistically human?!
And don’t even get me started on the female characters. Somehow, Doble thought it acceptable to write three of the best female protagonists in all (grimdark) fantasy. Hell, in all of fiction, period. Like, did he not go to the same school as so many other male fantasy authors where they learned that women are either damsels in distress or pure objects of lust? Each of these women have their own agency, are strong in their own unique ways, and prove again and again that they are absolutely not to be fucked with. Though one certain ‘serpent girl’ (iykyk), she’s a piece of WORK and I am watching her…
What’s more, despite all the violence, gore, darkness, depravity, and pure unadulterated horror, there is never a point in the story where sexual violence is used or even threatened with. I mean, apparently you can write the most grimdark of grimdarkiest stories without using sexual assault as a character motivation or a plot device. And you can show how absolutely depraved and evil a character is without having them be a rapist. Like, what a concept, who would’ve thought?!
And okay, I said I wasn’t going to name characters, but some of them elicit such strong emotional reactions out of you that I now just need to vent a bit. You see, there’s Revek, an absolute bag of dicks who makes even characters like Kyle Haven (Liveship Traders), Ramsay Bolton (A Song of Ice and Fire), or Bero (The Greenbone Saga) seem like absolute sweethearts. Honestly, I hope Revek steps on a thousand Lego’s, gets his guts spooned out by those he has wronged, and then chokes on his own intestines. Or, you know, something even more fucked up than that. Feel free to rip him apart Mr. Doble, you have my full permission.
Now, even with all that stupendous character work, the wondrous world building and gripping plot/pacing somehow don’t suffer. Excuse me, but an author shouldn’t be allowed to just nail EVERYTHING, okay?!
On a grand scale, this is a story about two nations that are plunged into a catastrophic war, which is quickly revealed to be a conflict not only of men, but also one of the divine. But really, this is a story about broken and dangerously ambitious characters trying to survive in a world that is out to get them. Enter the cutthroat political intrigue, meddling gods, eldritch and cosmic horrors, and mystifying mirror-realm magic which is explored in-depth in book 2.
There are simply so many layers of mystery and intrigue permeating every aspect of the story, and Doble just tantalisingly peels back the layers one by one. And for the love of all that is holy, someone keep this man from delivering more of these shocking plot twists because my jaw is still aching from how many times it dropped to the floor! The answers that are dropped are riveting, but also leave you with even more questions and will make you want to reread the damn thing all over again… I already have an overflowing TBR, okay? I did not sign up for this!
Genre boundaries are also just fully obliterated with the seamless mix of fantasy and horror here, making this one of the most thrilling reading experiences you will ever have the pleasure of experiencing. Especially during the scenes in the Ozban forest, I was anxiously pacing the room and squinting through my eyes like the absolute wimp that I am. The unsettling and haunting atmosphere is so all-consuming, it will send chills up your spine and give you nightmares for days to come. Absolutely riveting shit, is what it is.
Also, thank you Mr. Doble for giving me a reader identity crisis. For the longest time I have said that I don’t like military fantasy and usually you will find me happily skimming through fight scenes because they bore me to tears… yet here I am, glued to the page by every swing of the blade and cut of the knife. The cinematic action scenes are pulse-pounding beyond belief and there’s honestly just a certain beauty in all the madness. And even when some of the villain monologues are a bit intense and dramatic, I am somehow just fully on-board and revelling in the depraved darkness of it all.
And now, here’s the cherry on top of this rotten cake, Doble has achieved all of this at the age of only 21 years old. Let that sink in, 21 years old… and somehow he’s already such a crazily talented wordsmith, gifted storyteller, and absolutely evil mastermind. I mean, I am also 21 and now I am just left staring at a blank wall wondering what the hell I have achieved in my life at this point? This is INSANITY. Our current ruling Lord Grimdark, Joe Abercrombie, better watch his back because Doble is coming for his title, and he is coming quick.
So yeah, at least my impulsive cover buy paid off for once (or did it?). Despite all my warnings, I need you all to buy these books so Doble can afford to get some of these characters (or maybe himself, bc who hurt you man?) some decent therapy. Or a new and fully functioning moral compass. Or maybe both? Though honestly, I doubt some of them even have a chance at being saved from the dark paths they have descended down.
In any case, thank you for listening to my incoherent gushing as I slowly spiral into madness over how much I adore this series. If you would please be so kind as to read this series and come join me to start an emotional support group, that would be very much appreciated. Full of horror, gore, violence, trauma, grief, and revenge, The Blood and Steel Saga is a feast for those with the coldest of hearts and the darkest of souls. Can’t recommend it highly enough.