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Book Review

During her first big gig with a respected mercenary crew, Viv the orc goes too hard too fast and gets badly wounded. Now she’s left to recover in a small village in the middle of nowhere. But this place has interesting residents to meet. And Viv has lessons to learn.

Plot Summary

Viv is large, green and muscular—an orc adventurer through and through. In fact, she’s the sort who will happily wade into battle with an axe, a sword or anything she can lay her large mitts on. She’ll be the first one to growl, attack and smash a foe to dust.

That’s exactly what she does when she gets a chance to fight with the famed mercenary crew Rackham’s Ravens. Its members are seeking the horrible necromancer known as Varine the Pale. And this villainess sends a horde of undead skeletal wights in the crew’s direction as they trek North.

That doesn’t faze Viv, of course. She rampages hard and fast and takes on 10 ugly foes for every one the rest of the group handles. However, there’s always 10 more. And the young orc rushes into the thick so quickly that she ends up surrounded by wights—and all by herself. And one of the monsters drives a spear into Viv’s thigh.

Even a massive orc can’t battle on with a near-mortal wound. So, when the rest of Rackham’s crew rescue her from the swarm, Viv must be dumped (at least that’s how she sees it) to heal up in a tiny seaside village.

Trouble is, when you’re an orc like Viv—a true bred fighter—it’s nearly impossible to simply sit in a room while a grievous wound heals. The local doctor patched her up and told her to stay put, but Viv limps out into the streets of Murk anyway. The pain is terrible. But the agony of simply sitting is worse.

Soon enough, Viv is drawn into the life of the town. She’s not the chatty sort, and usually people take one look and walk the other way. But some in this place seem set on talking to her.

One is a furry rat-like character named Fern: a local bookstore owner who has a special ability. She can pick the perfect book for anyone who happens to wander into her moldering shop. She even finds a book that Viv—a decidedly non-reader—instantly begins to enjoy. In fact, Viv discovers she kinda loves books.

Viv also begins to develop a relationship with a genius town baker, a dwarf named Maylee, who quickly takes a shine to her. And then there’s the gnome knife-battler Gallin; and Iridia, a serpentine Gatewarden who watches everyone suspiciously.

Before you know it, Viv is so shockingly tied up in reading, eating delicious baked goods and helping the residents of Murk that she almost forgets about adventuring. Who knows where Rackham’s crew is or when they’ll be back for her? For that matter, who gives a rip about Varine the Pale?, Viv thinks.

Ah, but Viv isn’t outside the grasp of that loathsome necromancer yet. It just so happens that there’s a mysterious man in gray in the streets of Murk who will soon cross paths with a certain limping orc. And he will, almost accidentally, set up Viv and Varine the Pale in a fated confrontation that neither can avoid.

And it will all be centered around … a book.

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

This fantasy world is filled with magic. Varine the Pale, for instance, has the magical ability to raise supernatural creatures from the dead—such as those skeletal wights.

Viv discovers a different kind of skeletal creature, too, called a homunculus. It’s essentially a collection of skeleton bones in a bag that are enlivened and given an intellectual consciousness through a magical “bonedust.” Someone notes that the homunculus is, in essence, a slave held captive by dark magic. Viv and others work to give this thinking and feeling creature free will.

A special magical book features pitch-black pages, each of which is a portal to another dimension.

Authority Roles

There are no true authority figures represented here other than the mercenary leader Rackham, who we meet only briefly, and the serpent-like Gatewarden. Iridia is a gifted fighter who initially blames Viv for the town’s growing woes. But with time Viv and Iridia develop a grudging respect for one another.

All of the rest of the people and creatures in Murk tend to be either villains (ie: the man in gray and Varine) or generally good and respectable folks. Viv develops close relationships with several of them and helps them with problems. For instance, she helps Fern come up with ways to save her failing bookstore. In fact, on several occasions, Viv reveals the good person she is at her core. She is definitely large and fearsome, but she’s also kind and giving.

Ultimately, Viv learns several things about herself during her recovery. She learns that she isn’t simply a good fighter; she can be a good friend, too. And the relationships she forms give her life an unexpected richness. On top of that, Viv discovers that she truly enjoys a good book.

Profanity & Violence

Fern has a bad habit of swearing profanely, and it’s represented as a quirky part of her character. So the language in this book can be unexpectedly harsh with exclamations of f- and s-words and uses of “godsd–mit,” “hells,” “d–n,” “a–hole,” “b–ch.” and “b–tard.”

Characters (including Viv) drink mugs of a beer-like brew at a local pub. And Viv and Maylee drink glasses of gin while on a picnic.

Several scenes focus on battles with knives, swords, axes and the like. Many of those are against wights, which are smashed to dust. But there are flesh-and-blood injuries as well. Viv’s wound, for instance, is described in detail.

Several characters are held captive by a magically produced cocoon of bones that could be used to crush the life out of then. Bone shards are shot at creatures much like a gatling gun. A small animal that’s part owl and part dog is hit and injured, and the creature also digs its beak into someone’s arm. Viv faces off with wolf-like creatures that have sharp spines growing out of their backs.

Sexual Content

Early on, Viv gains a number of new friends and approaches each as just that. But it becomes clear that Maylee, the female dwarf, is very attracted to Viv. Viv eventually begins to think of Maylee in terms of her physical appeal and attractiveness, too. The two spend time together, begin to share light, intimate touches and eventually kiss several times, though they don’t become a long-term couple.

Viv also reads an adventure book (we read snippets of the story) that features two female lovers. We learn that Gallina enjoys arousing books that she gets from Fern’s store.

Discussion Topics

None.

Additional Comments

This is a prequel to the bestselling Legends & Lattes. As such, it sports a similar “cozy” tale that puts friendship and learned lessons first and adventuring fantasy battles second.

Readers should note, though, that this book is filled with quite a bit of foul language. And a same-sex attraction that blossoms into a romantic relationship is part of the slow-burn equation as well.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose