Ask me to list a few of my favourite tropes in genre fiction, and I’d say things like space travel, complex magic systems, and possession. While I never expected an author to Frankenstein these elements together in a single novel, this is exactly what Jordan Loyal Short has done with The Skald’s Black Verse, his first instalment in The Dreadbound Ode series.
I first saw this book and its stunning cover during the Storytellers on Tour cover reveal, so I jumped at the chance to be included in The Skald’s Black Verse blog tour. You can check out the tour schedule here, and read more about the book and author on Goodreads and Amazon.
“The path of greatness followed a dark route. The price of freedom was pain and death.”
The story follows Brohr, a ‘shade’ who has inherited the features of both a Norn and the invading Tyrianite race. Dismissed as an outsider by the Norns of his village, he plans to escape to the city with his girlfriend. But his dreams are shattered when he loses control of the angry spirit that haunts him, and he attacks his best friend.
When, shortly after, an otherworldly creature kills a man on the docks and Brohr is blamed for the murder, he seeks help from his grandfather. But the old man is less surprised and more interested in the ominous appearance of a comet in the sky, and his renewed hope for rebellion against the invaders. Brohr is soon caught up in dark schemes, blood magic and a looming natural disaster, all the while struggling to control his violent urges.
My favourite aspect of this book is the familiar, Norse-inspired fantasy world colliding with sci-fi themes like interplanetary colonisation. It creates a fascinating mashup experience that I’ve only ever come across in Deathscent by Robin Jarvis and Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It’s fun to see how Short uses his magic systems (yes, plural!) to account for the absence of modern technology, and I’m interested to see how this develops in the second book.
Between the history, mythology and ancestral magic, there is more than enough meaty lore in this book to sink your teeth into. The author slowly reveals his dark fantasy world while avoiding excessive exposition despite its complexity. Short provides further hints in the form of excerpts from historical writings at the beginning of each chapter. Between the character, race and location names, I had to concentrate when putting the pieces together in my head, but that’s likely a selling point for most hardcore fantasy readers.
“It’s a strange day when you discover that your grandfather knows exactly what it feels like to be drenched in blood.”
The story is told from multiple perspectives that intertwine as the book progresses. Brohr, who is depicted as being somewhere between a victim and an anti-hero, has the central and most exciting storyline. Meanwhile, his unlikely ally Lyssa is perhaps the only character I found likeable. This might be why, occasionally, characters’ reactions to situations felt a little odd to me. Obviously, unlikeable (realistic) characters are a staple of grimdark novels, which The Skald’s Black Verse certainly is, though my personal preference is seeing a few more friendly faces.
This novel features a gripping first chapter, a visually stunning conclusion, and many great ideas in between. I might have enjoyed it even more if there were more details of the ‘millennia-spanning war between alien demigods’, since this sounds flipping awesome. Happily, this leaves plenty of action for the second book The Weeping Sigil which is expected next month, and I’m excited to see where the story leads.
Thank you to Storytellers and Tour and the author for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger warning: Reference to rape, self-harm, death of children