|The Crimson Battle Axe|
THE CRIMSON BATTLE AXE
by Curtis Oddo
A great evil is rising. From the heights of his throne in the Desolate Lands, the Dark Lord Nobis, long-exiled and contained by the use of powerful magics, plots to take control of the human kingdom by first weakening its defenses with a creature summoned from an alternate dimension, then by overwhelming its armies once their defenses are down. In this all a plan has been hatched to defeat the entity known as the Great Beast that the Dark Lord has summoned—whom, in less than a day, destroyed a major fortification that protected the human lands. Four grand individuals from the world’s peoples have come together—one a creature with metal for blood, who can bend it to his will; another a cat creature from the far islands with a penchant for potions and poisons; and two of human descent, one a famed wind wizard with a sad past and the other a noble night with a troubling lineage. Together, they seek out the one person who can bring to them the one person they believe can defeat the Dark Lord Nobbis—Gnarl, the legendary, hundred-year warrior and the wielder of the Crimson Battle Axe.
The Crimson Battle Axe, the debut novel by fantasy author Curtis Oddo, is, as I could describe, a throwback to the sword and sorcery tales of old. Within its pages are a plot that has often been seen but not done in an as imaginative of light. There comes a group of individuals in search of a grand warrior, who seek to destroy a dark lord to save not only the humans, but their world, and through it all there begins a quest which sprawls a grand world in which much danger has come as a result of misunderstanding, betrayal, war and the conceived lust for revenge. Such turmoil that has existed before the bulk of the novel makes for true tension not only within the broad scope of the story, but the inner dynamics of the characters, and where Oddo succeeds in creating within the early parts of the story is the dynamic that exists between the main party itself.
I started reading this novel without much knowledge of its plot or what the majority of the story was about. This, while somewhat-daunting to some readers, gave me ample opportunity to go into this world blindly—which, I believe, made the experience so much more enjoyable.
There are a few key points I would like to make in regard to specific aspects about the novel that stood out to me—some good, some bad.
The majority of the novel takes place on a continent that is simply described on the map as ‘Gnarl’s World.’ A first impression of looking at the world would indicate that this locale is sprawling—massive, it seems, by just how many peoples seem to inhabit it. In the world there are a number of races—including, but not limited to: the metal people of the frigid lands, the cat people of the distant islands, the ferocious and often-misunderstood Biroc, as well as the human peoples and other lesser races. There are also a number of fantastical creatures that exist both within the world and in the alternate dimensions that exist around it. The geography and the layout of the land, as well as the diversity within the flora and fauna, creates a true impression that this place is unlike anything you have ever seen, and Oddo describes it just enough to where you can allow your mind to fill in the blanks. This adds to the magic of the novel, as well as its often=overwhelming nature in terms of histories and cultures. However—as sprawling as this place seems to appear on the map, it becomes apparently within the course of this novel that the world has to be relatively small. When placed on a timeframe in which to kill not only the fearsome creature that threatens the human lands, but also to stop the Dark Lord’s armies from amassing, travel between point A to B comes in days when it would seem as though it would take much longer to travel across these lands if only based on the size of the map. While this in itself is not a criticism, per se, it is a bit misleading, especially to readers who expect a broader world over a seemingly sized-down one.
The writing is, for the most part, very well-done. It was obvious this book was edited and was done so with care, as there are very few mistakes that can be found within the actual text itself (and even then they are little.) However – from a technical standpoint, there are problems with repetition that come in the form of either repeated usages of a character’s name or even their action. While this would not be such a problem if there were other characters of things present, there are often many cases where the author repeatedly used the character’s name. We would see ‘Gnarl did this,’ ‘Gnarl did that,’ ‘Gnarl’s sword,’ etc. several times within the space of one paragraph, if not one sentence. The final notion is especially prevalent when mentioning specific weapons, which are quite obviously character-related and do not necessarily need description of their ownership to know just who they belong to. Said repetition also appears in parts of the novel not related to the novel – when, in fighting the ferocious alternate-dimension creature, the monster is referred to as the ‘Great Beast’ and nothing else, and later, when a falcon appears, it is called ‘the bird’ far more times than ‘the falcon’ or other things (i.e, the avian creature, the creature, the winged being, etc.) This in itself is more of a writing quirk than anything and, I understand, could be the result of over-editing. There are also minor issues with dialogue continued over paragraphs improperly laid out and sometimes placement of terms that are far too modern for this world (mainly the point of the element of lightning being called ‘electricity.’) The most daunting fault in the writing comes with the final act of the book, which I will continue to expand upon in the final point.
The most important thing I want to specify about what ultimately led me to rate the book as I did was the ending. Three-fourths of the way through, I was more than willing to add a star because up until that point things had been going very smoothly. The last fourth of the book, however, resulted in problems for me, most specifically due to a deus ex machina-styled series of events that made little sense and seemed to have been pulled out in an attempt to save characters and to keep things from happening that would have otherwise happened in a realistic scenario.
Without giving too much away, the following occurs:
- An anti-magical element that was brought into the story beforehand but was discarded by the main cast due to not wanting to abuse and/or harm it was brought into play by a messenger who was told to find the main character by looking for him based on his appearance. While that in itself seems somewhat-plausible considering said character’s visage, it does not explain how a bird that seemingly has no sentient intelligence found said character, as it was implied that the bird was told to look for said character based on that. I seriously considered the idea that it could have used magic to find said character, but even if it was using magic, it would have been nullified due to the anti-magical element it was delivering, thus making it impossible. Through this method, a ‘safeguard’ was delivered in order to secure the main character’s safety.
- Gnarl, our main character, is described as a super-warrior. Over one-hundred years old, trained in the art of battle, a veteran war hero famed for his violence, strength, intelligence and ability and wielding a fabled weapon, he is a force to be reckoned with. Little seems to stop him throughout the course of the novel until the very end, when a poison brings him to his knees. This would have been appropriate had it kept him in place, but over the course of the next several pages Gnarl recovers, fights, falls, fights again, is knocked back and nearly killed (to the point where he nearly dies,) then is miraculously able to fight again. This, again, would have made sense had the superhuman quotient been more prevalent. As it was not in the end, it jarred me from the story and made things make little sense.
- The major female character of the story, Thelady, saves Gnarl in the end through her use of ‘goodness,’ which drives off the evil entities from fighting him. This threw me off immensely. There had not been up until that point any mention of the virtue of good being able to overpower the darkness of evil (i.e, in a magical way, or in a physical manner.) Thelady was also not described as any sort of Paladin, Priestess or anything of that sort, so that idea I quickly tossed out. This, again, leads into my point that I previously mentioned above – that elements were thrown into place to ensure the characters’ survival.
- And finally, there comes a final showdown in a place that ‘bridges the worlds.’ I can’t explain it in detail without giving it away, but I’ll say this: the creatures that lie within this place are known to kill any who enter it and spare no mercy. When an object they deem inappropriate is there when Gnarl enters this place, they let him be because they want him to ‘take said object’ from the world. This made little sense, as it had been implied that this was a world between and little the ‘normal’ world could offer would have any effect on it, and also because on several occasions Gnarl had almost been killed by these creatures.
To summarize my thoughts, I have to say that The Crimson Battle Axe is not a bad book. It is anything but. Having not read a major fantasy work in a while, it was refreshing to see the lack of constraints within the mythology as well as the idea of a fictional world explored in ways that most people might have been afraid to try. It’s fantastical, has great and exciting action, a common but classic and well-loved plot and a troop of heroes that you can sympathize with in one way or another. While it is, in some ways, the classic ‘sword and sorcery’ novel, it is done so with a sense of adventure and dread that make it enjoyable every step of the way. The Crimson Battle axe is an epic, small-scale fantasy story that leaves you wanting more. With a haunted past, a character in turmoil, a land besieged by the evils of war and sentient nature, The Crimson Battle Axe is a masterwork in world-building and imagination.
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(Note: The link below brings you to the hardcover edition, but a paperback is available)
(Note: The link below brings you to the hardcover edition, but a paperback is available)
Reviewer's Notation: I received The Crimson Battle Axe for review by the author.