In the grisly aftermath of a war of apocalyptic proportions, fallen knight Jacobus, of author Kyle Fox’s GRIMDARK: Tales of Exile, traverses a burning landscape and battles gruesome creatures he calls ghouls, among others, as he struggles to understand his place in this new, desolate world without the king he had pledged to serve. The Kingdom of Korigane has fallen to demons, Frankenstein-like monsters who steal corpses’ body parts for their own and consume the rest, and half-women/half-spiders who destroy men. Jacobus has narrowly escaped enslavement but knows there’s nothing left here for him; he plans to go down swinging. In the 50 pages of this short novella, Jacobus evades demonic creatures, loses all hope, and finally sees that perhaps there is some hope for the Kingdom of Korigane after all.
The novella’s fierce and brutal landscape is wrought through vividly morbid language that illuminates the horrors of the hellishness of a world destroyed in a war with demons. Dynamic prose elevates the imagery of the setting and the actions of the monsters, as well as those of Jacobus, to literary heights, though not for the faint of heart. Hints at what the Kingdom of Korigane looked like before the war, its impeccable architecture and valiant heroes, make the desolation and destruction, through Jacobus’s eyes, all the more devastating. Jacobus is a bold and relentless figure, fighting tooth and nail, often literally, to push himself through a problem he knows is unsolvable. His tenacity is the backbone of the story, propelling him through the broken-down world to his eventual greater understanding. Because the book is so short, the ending feels as though it comes too soon, but Jacobus’s development as a worthy hero is not stifled by the story’s brevity; his strength is the book’s strength.
Unnecessary commas—in particular those separating a noun and its verb, such as “her spattering of toxic dribble, ate through the stone” and “so long as he achieved, what he set out to accomplish”—and fragment sentences disrupt the flow of the prose. These stops and starts distract from the otherwise brutally beautiful writing.
Best read as a supplement to Kyle Fox’s fantasy series of which GRIMDARK: Tales of Exile is a spin-off, this short novella–featuring striking, vivid language–shows that gritty relentlessness, despite indomitable circumstances, can sometimes pay off.
~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader