- Hangman’s Gate (War of the Archons #2).
- R. S. Ford.
- 416 pages.
- Fantasy / Grimdark.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
After uniting the bandit clans, the Iron Tusk has swept into Shengen and taken control of the empire. With an army behind him, he marches along the Skull Road, ready to lay waste to the lands in the west. The mountain fortress of Dunrun and its rag-tag defenders are all that stand in his way.
With their country besieged on all sides, troubling rumours of a priestess amassing power in the north, and unnatural alliances to the south, no help is coming. Alone, they must hold back the inhuman powers of the Iron Tusk, or see life as they know it come to an end.
The old gods have returned…
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I was a big fan of the first book in the War of the Archons trilogy, A Demon in Silver and my expectations were high for Hangman’s Gate. Luckily, Ford has delivered and with Hangman’s Gate, he has created another highly entertaining read, a read that is grimdark filled with heart and a read that packs a bloody punch.
Over a hundred years ago an event known as ‘The Fall‘ took place. The Archons struck an accord, broke the heartstone and overnight both the Gods and magic vanished from the world fading into myth, legend, stories and leaving humankind to its own devices. Until, in A Demon in Silver when the Archons once more start to stir, taking tentative steps back into the world and the fabric starts to tear, the scars become unstitched and magic returns, slowly seeping, bleeding back into the world as innocent civilians start to manifest abilities, show magical powers that haven’t been seen in over a century.
The monstrous warlord, the Iron Tusk marches forwards, forever onwards, those who oppose him, they fall, they kneel, they obey or they die. He is mustering his army and marching along the Skull Road towards the Cordral Extent and towards the ancient and crumbling fortress of Dunrun. The Iron Tusk killed the emperor of the Shengen Empire, took his place, conquered the land, subjugated the people and has now turned his attention to the kingdoms beyond. He united the Shengen tribes, made the Imperial Army Standings bend the knee and now bandits, criminals and tribesmen have all merged with the Imperial Army to create a vast and insurmountable horde. All of the Shengen worship him, above all else, he is their God.
The Iron Tusk wants to destroy the Cordral Extent, claim it as his own, have dominion over all the kingdoms and rule the world. Dunrun stands on the border, it is the last line of defence, the last bastion in the Iron Tusk’s way. Once of great importance, once manned by a full complement of one thousand men, now the fortress is decaying, dilapidated and rotting to ruin. It is garrisoned by only a handful, a span of recruits, the young and the old, recruits who haven’t seen nearly enough and those who have seen far too many battles, those yet to wet their blades and those whose blades have rusted through age. They are the dregs of the militia, those in need of a post but those not good enough for the elite, for the Kantor militia, those, except for a couple of diamonds in the rough mostly lacking basic competence. The gates, the walls of Dunrun need to stand, they need to hold back the onslaught and weather the storm. If Dunrun falls then that is the fate that awaits the world, the Iron Tusk will be a plague, washing, cascading, flowing like an unending river, a torrent of blood that sweeps across the land leaving death, destruction and suffering in his wake.
On orders from the Marshal at Dunrun two of the Great Eastern militia, Ctenka Sunatra and Ermund leave the garrison, embark on a mission in search of reinforcements. First, to Kantor, the Capital of the Cordral Extent for aid from the Queen and, then, onto lands further afield, to the Suderfeld for aid and allies.
On the journey, for the greater good, for the fate of the world, Ermund seeks help from associates from his past, those who before he was betrayed he once called a friend (we get insight into who Ermund really is, the truth and why in his advanced years he ended up at Dunrun and it was one of my favourite parts of the story). The journey into the Suderfeld, back into the Suderfeld for Ermund brings the duo into contact with a couple of returning faces from A Demon in Silver. One of them is down on their luck, their luck always against them, more maudlin, more sombre this time around, damaged after losses and after the events of the first book whilst the other is doing far better than the last time that we saw them thanks to some nefarious and sly means.
Along with the chapters that focus on Ctenka and Ermund and their event laden journey there are also chapters that focus on Dunrun and how the fortress is preparing for the upcoming conflict too. Ford also includes chapters that take you back in time, that add flesh to the bones, depth and layers, colour to the canvas and bridge the story allowing you to see what has happened to the characters to get them to where they currently are. All of the characters have stories to tell and all of the characters have a part to play in the unfolding story with many of their fates intertwining.
Ford is a fine storyteller and multiple points of view keep the story moving forward, giving you pieces of the whole whilst simultaneously giving you the separate stories for the characters, building, cementing foundations, forming a complete picture. There are some old faces and some new in Hangman’s Gate. It was nice to be reacquainted with the returning characters and equally nice to meet some new faces too who are all decent additions to the story both those that we say goodbye too along the way in this story and those who will return in the next book.
I have briefly mentioned, in innocuous fashion two returning (point of view) characters from A Demon in Silver that Ctenka and Ermund encounter on their journey but I won’t mention any more about them to avoid any unwanted spoilers. One of the new points of view characters is Laigon Valdyr, a Centurion from the Shengen Imperial Army. I really liked Laigon, he was my favourite story arc, he is honourable, has a large role in the story and along with his own story also gives us a glimpse into how the Iron Tusk came to power in Shengen. The cruel and barbaric Iron Tusk who is more than human, there is a power to him, a force that exerts his will over those who face him. The Iron Tusk who rides a giant bear, whose helm is melded to his head, is part of him.
For me, Hangman’s Gate didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of its predecessor, falling just short and walking a step behind but it is still a damn good book, a great continuation of the trilogy and a gritty, grimy, glorious and wildly addictive read. There is a sarcastic humour laced throughout Hangman’s Gate, many blunt retorts, and witty remarks that made me smile but I missed, yearned for the banter and the camaraderie that was present between the characters of Josten Cade and Mullen Bull in the previous book. The interplay between them was hilarious and it is the only complaint that I have regarding Hangman’s Gate, that lack of banter between the characters. Ctenka, who is a point of view character and Ermund don’t have the same chemistry as Josten and Mullen, nor do any of the others. Of course, it’s not expected, they are all completely different characters with different personalities but where Josten and Mullen complimented each other, like a sword and a sheath, a bow and an arrow Ctenak and Ermund are like chalk and cheese, water and oil very different. Ermund is stoic, taciturn and guarded with both years and life behind him and Ctenka is not really a fighter, a warrior, he’s playing at it, he yearns for glory but he isn’t cut out for battle. He is mouthy and still with the naivety of youth to him and yes, I wanted to punch him at times, like I’m sure Ermund did too. There’s nothing wrong with being a smart-mouth but a dumb smart-mouth is a different matter entirely! For the most, he is actually likeable which sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t and you want to punch him in the well-meaning ‘Ctenka, stop being a dumb fuck, open your eyes and think before you speak‘ way rather than any malicious or hateful way as he is decent, is a good guy. By the end of Hangman’s Gate, he has matured, he isn’t the same person from the beginning. He is perhaps still a fool, only the next book will tell but he is a fool who has his heart in the right place, he has grown and he is more than he was.
Hangman’s Gate is on the shorter side of fantasy books clocking in at just over four hundred pages and it feels far shorter than that thanks to the fast pacing and the short chapters. The high stakes story, the rag-tag bunch of defenders battling the overwhelming odds, the characters, the world and the Archons, everything created by Ford fits, is interesting and there is always something that draws you back, that calls to you as Ford effortlessly pulls you in, demands your attention.
Of course, the story builds towards the inevitable showdown that has the Iron Tusk laying siege to Dunrun, relentlessly pushing the defenders back, seeing them retreat to the Hangman’s Gate of the fortress as they make their last stand. I read the final two hundred and fifty pages in one sitting, as the pieces, the players all manoeuvred into position and as the story unfurled, reached its apex, its blistering conclusion I was glued to the book and what was happening.
I love everything about this trilogy and I can’t wait for the third and final volume, The Spear of Malice to be released next year as it is sure to be an EPIC and BLOODY conclusion to a trilogy that in my opinion deserves recognition and deserves to be a hit.
Pre-order Hangman’s Gate (War of the Archons #2) released June, 18th.
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