Monday, 22 February 2016

Review - Carnifex by D. P. Prior

I want to get something out of the way immediately. I love dwarves. They have always been my go-to race when playing any RPG or video game, and Bruenor Battlehammer has always been one of my favourite fantasy characters of all time (screw you Drizzt). I love them so much that they even grace my walls, with Bruenor and Gimli artworks hung proudly in my office space. Dwarves fascinate me, and they excite me, from their underground cities and hardened culture though to their love of drinking and obsession with axes. They hold a special place in my heart. 

So when Carnifex landed on my list of books to review I was ecstatic... yet also slightly hesitant. 

You see... I've read plenty of books where my beloved dwarves were cast terribly. I won't name names or books, but after awhile you get sick of seeing them portrayed in cliched ways that induce eye rolling and groans as you read. 

So the questions I had when starting Carnifex were numerous. Could Prior live up to my expectations? Would he offer something new? Or would Carnifex join the ranks of books that have failed to capture the essence of the dwarves and offer something different and interesting? 

Fortunately, Carnifex not only only embraces the rich heritage of the Dwarves but also adds to it by turning many of the things that are common with dwarves in fantasy fiction on their head. 

Carnifex tells the tale of Carnifex Thane, a Ravine Guard of the city Arx Gravis. Following a break in at the Scriptorium by a homunculus Thane finds himself swept up by events that will not only wreck everything that he holds dear, but also sweep him towards to an inescapable fate that will destroy and change all that the dwarves know and love. 

I loved so many things about Carnifex that it is hard to know where to start. The setting is wonderfully cast, and the world building rich and layered with nuggets of information that brought smiles to my face as I read. I adored the design of the Arx Gravis, and lapped up the descriptions of it and its people with glee. Carnifex himself, along with the other main characters of this book (such Aristodeus, Lucius, and Droom) are perfectly cast, with Prior capturing their heart and soul whilst also adding layers of difference to their usual stereotypes. I also adored how Prior flipped many well known tropes on their head, such as the notion that dwarves are immutably welded to the past and resistant to change. 

And holy shit... the battle scenes. THE BATTLE SCENES!!! 

People don't actually realise how hard it is to write a good battle scene, but Prior makes it look easy. They are gripping, violent, and brilliantly choreographed. Throw in some magic, and tons of blood, and the result is scintillating sword and sorcery. 

The plot itself was fun, adventurous, and ultimately tragic, and reminded me in many ways of Moorcock and his Eternal Champion stories. Carnifex is written with a tightness and skill that swept me along at a rapid pace, and the dialogue itself is laced with witty humour and one liners that had me cackling days after I had read them. There were no moments of boredom, which highlights just how well this book was written and edited. 

The ending itself is slightly telegraphed, but that didn't detract from my overall sense of pleasure when reading the book. In actual fact it added to the sense of tragedy for me, and increased the tension as the story was swept along to its inevitable fate. 

All in all Carnifex stands proudly alongside other magnificent sword and sorcery novels from the past. If Prior continues to improve he shall become a real force within the fantasy genre. I cannot wait to read the next instalment.

Highly recommended for fans of dwarves and sword and sorcery!

4 out of 5 stars.

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