S.E. Rating: 4 of 5 stars
The titular Rathen (a retired soldier/captain) leads a band of misfit characters, mostly retired, needing money or companionship, to explore/tame mysterious dangers around Ghrakus Castle. The first 50% of the novel is the band forming, then it rockets into action that does not cease. The promise of betrayals among the party members, an intriguing mystery with castle-ruins to explore, and interesting back stories per character are compelling; most compelling is a wraith that haunts Rathen's dreams.
The cover art by Matthew Stawicki is well done; the author's blog documents its creation. Below are some of his rough sketches.
Grant Smith's debut novel reads as an entertaining chronicle of a Role-Playing-Game (RPG) scenario. Plenty of fantasy-RPG tropes are executed well enough: a party of ~12 members of men, dwarves, clerics, mages go adventuring, promised gold to unravel the dangerous mystery behind Grakus Castle; the cultures of orc, half-orcs, demons, etc. are presented as if the reader is already familiar with them (they fit stereotypes as per Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, Warcraft, Diablo, etc.); adventuring from location-to-location, room-to-room, with time in between to heal/regroup resonates the RPG-game ambiance.
On the continuum between guilty-pleasure reading and high-literature, this leans toward the former. It is a fast-read with a style fitting for the young-adult crowd (i.e., erratic pacing and an abundance of exclamation marks!). The mystery behind Ghakus Castle and the dangers that surround it are confronted, but Grant Elliot Smith clearly intends for more adventures for Rathen. If you are a fan of gaming and fantasy fiction, then check this out.
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