“Hunt or be hunted?”
Now, there’s admittedly nothing particularly special about the premise of a group of morally grey and untrustworthy bounty hunters going on a dangerous quest to achieve a seemingly impossible task. Yet Pannett took this trope and not only executed it to perfection, but he also threw in some twists and turns along the way that took me completely by surprise.
The Hunter’s Lament is a dark, gritty, and sorrowful tale that will keep you on your toes and punch you in the gut in the most unexpected ways.
After nearly three decades of leading his merry band of miscreants, the infamous bounty hunter Bitter Sweet is bone-tired. Tired of the danger, the killing, the losses, the pain, and generally, just tired of life.
Yet when a new contract presents itself, one with a reward so high he could live the rest of his days out in peace, he reluctantly finds himself willing to take it on. All his crew has to do is capture the fugitive Crown Prince, who has escaped the falling of his city after an attack by the enemy empire. The only catch is, they are not the only ones on the hunt, and soon they will have to decide: hunt or be hunted?
Bitter Sweet (talk about an apt name!) is a very compelling and flawed protagonist who is not afraid to lay his soul bare. There’s a lot of reflection and introspection in his storytelling and I really liked how his weary and melancholic state of mind bled through into every aspect of the story. His soul-stirring and emotionally engaging single-POV narration of this tale kept me in a choke-hold, creating an almost suffocating yet utterly entrancing atmosphere that just kept me glued to the page.
The side characters did pale a bit in comparison to Sweet himself, but I also don’t think they needed to be the most complex and three-dimensional characters for this story to work. I really liked that we followed quite the diverse cast of characters, because that fleshed out this intriguing world and gave a natural insight into the different peoples/races inhabiting these lands.
The character dynamics within the crew were also surprisingly fun, tense, and entertaining. The author definitely doesn’t pull any punches and the tone is almost relentlessly bleak, yet the moments of dry humour and witty banter balanced out the darkness and misery so well. I guess I will just always love these types of stories where both friend and foe are so morally grey and secretive about their intentions, as that just naturally sets the scene for some deliciously brutal back stabbings and betrayals.
I do have to admit that the start of this book was a bit rocky for me though, even with the strong and compelling voice of Sweet hooking me in. The opening scenes were a bit too hectic for my personal liking and I thought that there was a bit of a world building/background information overload in the early chapters.
Don’t get me wrong, the world building was intriguing, and I appreciated how the world naturally opened up as these characters set off on their quest. The scenery is beautiful and immersive, yet because I am not a visual reader, the more descriptive passages unfortunately just bogged me down a bit.
That said, I am so happy I trusted the author and kept reading, because once the inciting incident happened I was fully on-board. Each chapter just steadily got better and better, and then there was a big twist around the halfway mark that really sealed the deal for me. I kid you not when I say that I devoured the last 75% of this book in one go, which should say enough about how engaging the storytelling is.
The author does a brilliant job of building up the tension and stakes, with both internal and external conflicts quickly surging to a boiling point. And while this is most definitely a character-driven story at its heart, there are also still a lot of thrilling action scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It might take a while for the more fantastical elements of this story to make an appearance in this story, but once they do, the magic quite literally explodes off the page.
The ending was very shocking and, ironically, beautifully bittersweet. I really applaud the author for his ballsy and bold storytelling, because that is exactly why this seemingly familiar story ultimately stands out from the crowd. To me, The Hunter’s Lament feels like a unique and brilliant mash-up of the best elements of both Hobb and Abercrombie, which is honestly not a comparison I make lightly.
This book might be relatively short for fantasy standards, but it certainly doesn’t forget to pack a punch. I’d highly recommend it if you are looking for a character-driven grimdark fantasy with a motley crew of morally grey bounty hunters, pulse-pounding action, witty banter, melancholic storytelling, and a whole lot of unexpected plot twists. What more could you want?
Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.