”And a king shall rise from among the kingless, born of exile. In glory shall he rise, and glory shall be his song, calling to the faithful, echoing across the ages. And even in his doom shall he lead unto Urrinan. Such is the fate of the Bringer.’ So say the hymns of the Dreamers of the Skolani.”— Brin Bright Eyes, Saga of Dania”’
Move over Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and Lombards. Make way for the Amalus, the Wulthus, the Skolani, the Carpans, and the Spali.
If you were looking to assuage you John Gwynne fix, waiting patiently between “The Hunger of the Gods” and the next installment in the “Bloodsworn Saga”, you may want to peruse the back cover blurb of Book One of the epic fantasy “Sundered Nation” series, entitled “The Severing Son”, by Vaughn Roycroft. Read the blurb, then get to the book itself, and you might find something you would be very intrigued and satisfied by.
I definitely did.
Welcome to Roycroft’s Dania, the many Gottari factions, and a world plainly inspired by the rise of the warlike, marauding Germanic tribes that helped precipitate the fall of the mighty Roman Empire.
In Dania, Angavar the ‘Outcast’, formerly a puissant chieftain, accused of killing a competitor for the affections of a beautiful woman, has been banished for his supposed crime. He gets the woman, and they go on to have children together. But loses his status as a great warlord – banished from his tribe.
His eldest son Vahldan, wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as a great fighter, but his prospects as the son of a disgraced man don’t look promising. And his exacting father pushes Vahldan hard, to live up to a legacy that seems tarnished and tenuous. But tragedy awaits around the corner, and just because Angavar is exiled, doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have enemies. And in a lawless and desperate land, the strong will take what they will, and now, while Angavar is not defeated, he is weakened.
But among the Gottari, a formidable female-led tribe, the Skolani, Blade-wielder Elan, a redoubtable warrior, is trying to purge the wild and dangerous borderlands of perilous warbands, ravaging, pillaging, killing indiscriminately. During her mission, she finds the secret home-in-exile of Angavar and his family.
There is a haunting prophecy that hangs over all the land. Elan is not sure she believes in that prophecy, but…what could Angavar and Vahldan have to do with it? Has a saviour, the Bringer of Urrinan, been born in the house of Angavar?
Great books have great characters, and as a great book, “The Severing Son” is no exception. Elan, Valhdan, as the primary players, and the supporting cast are outstanding. Among my favs, the deliciously complicated Princess Icannes, and loyal Badagis. The secondary plot centered around Thadmeir, Amaseila, and the Wolf Clan’s court – which appears like the primary thread at first – displays more exceptional character work by Roycroft.
Valhadan as a protagonist stood out as immature, anxious to prove himself, with a huge chip on his shoulder. He struggles to contain the violence brewing within him, trying to resist the powerful berserker inside of him. He was also magnetic, courageous, passionate, tenacious.
As he tries to come to terms with the burden of destiny, he doesn’t always handle it well. I adore when someone’s flaws hamper them, and they have to figure out that THEY might be the main thing holding THEMSELVES back from achieving the heights they are capable of. That is also part of his coming-of-age arc, which is very well and realistically done by the author.
Balanced with Elan’s perspicacity, veteran leadership and fighting prowess, unwavering loyalty, and careful, thoughtful acceptance of what is happening around her, and with Valhadan, she is the real hero of the novel for me.
The worldbuilding, as mentioned, highlights that the world created is analogous to the wars between ancient nomadic Germanic tribes. That is a fascinating and somewhat under-documented period of history, in my opinion. It is clear the author felt the same, prompting him to deliver this exciting book based on that historical era. Sometimes, the book does feel more like historical fantasy, but that’s a great thing, in my estimation. I wanted a bit more depth at times, in terms of exposition about certain elements of the world, but I was still plenty engaged.
Special note of the magic in the book, which is more of the kind of soft system that I crave, creating that sense of astonishment and wonder. The wielders are all mysterious, in terms of the extent of their powers and the consequences of what they can bring to bear. The Skolani dreamers, the Gottari Seeresses, the Carpan mystics…are any of them truly accurately able to predict prophecy? If one or any of them are indeed all truly prescient, then which prophecies are “real”?
Some of the major themes that permeate the novel are identity, prophecy, found family, prejudice and mistrust, the responsibilities of a ruler or leader, found family, love, lust, and perhaps most of all, destiny.
The good guys and the bad guys in the novel, everyone is chasing, or trying to avoid specific destinies. Can one outrun destiny, Roycroft seems to ask us? And if we can, does that running away, in of itself, doom us? Isn’t it better to just face it, embrace it? Or can one change destiny itself, and forge a different path that one is not bound to? I found Roycroft really dealt with this theme well.
I absolutely loved the romance in the book, which took the form largely of a friendship/romance/potential love triangle taking place between two powerful female characters and an important male character. There is plenty of passion, titillation, youthful angst, lust, yearning, doubt, fear, genuine feelings of love and attachment, and doubt about what the future might hold for the development of a stable relationship of any kind, for any of the three involved.
It’s no secret I’m a fan of elaborate prose. I lean toward the purple rather than the striped-bare. Roycroft strikes what I believe most readers will find to be an excellent near midway standpoint (a bit more towards the lean and mean) with his writing. It’s very accessible, not convoluted, and very smooth. Nonetheless, you will find some gems of quotable material in the book – again redolent of Gwynne – that you’ll find yourself admiring, and re-reading for the poignancy and impact of it.
“Vahldan didn’t want to believe that justice required bloodshed. Accepting that led to too dark a place to contemplate. There simply had to be a path to peaceful resolution. There had to be a way out—a way to break free of the shackles of legacy.”
Roycroft knows how to write spectacular battle scenes. Be it one-on-one combat, or large scale conflicts, the build-up to the action serves to set up the conflict, build up the emotional investment and stakes, ratchet up the tension, and then Roycroft slams home the payoff, with brutal, amazing intensity.
This is a brilliantly bloody book, set in a cruel world, with unflinching codes of honour, unrelenting revenge, with duels to the death, ritual scalping of defeated enemies, and victors that give no quarter to the vanquished.
I predict if he can continue to hone his craft here, Roycroft could one day in the future join the Camerons, Wurts, Winters, Cornwells, Gwynnes etc. as a master of depicting ancient combat. Is this high praise? Undoubtedly…I will be watching this aspect of Roycroft’s writing with a high degree of scrutiny in future books, to see if he can earn that kind of reputation.
Let’s also speak about the fact that this book is definitely full of many beloved tropes. For some, that will be problematic. But trust me, these are tropes done well. I never felt a sense of the doldrums regarding all the familiar devices Roycroft uses in the book. There are plenty of fresh and inventive things here to like.
The storytelling is taunt, quick, and though I love the slow-burn, I can’t quibble here. This is a pulse-pounding book, and more people than not will likely really love the pacing here. I burned through this book compulsively in a few sittings, despite the 500-page length. A big book that reads FAST.
An author who is clearly quite attuned to the type of heroic fantasy that so many people love, in the mode of David Gemmel and John Gwynne, Roycroft shows a ton of promise. Epic and historical fantasy fans will delight in this book – it ticks all the boxes.
“The Severing Son” is a dynamic, fast-paced, thrilling first entry into the Indie Epic fantasy scene. It’s clear to me this first book in a series is a prolusion to something (perhaps many things) even greater and I can’t wait to read what that something is.
Five stars, and highly recommended.