When the trade caravan Driwna Marghoster was hired to protect is attacked, she discovers a dead body hidden inside a barrel. Born of the powerful but elusive Oskoro people, the body is a rare and priceless find, the centre of a tragic tale and the key to a larger mystery…
For when Driwna investigates who the body was meant for, she will find a trail of deceit and corruption which could bring down a kingdom, and an evil more powerful than she can imagine.
Brother Red is the exciting, nail-biting, throw-a-spore-bag-and-hope-it-hits new standalone set in the world of Sarun that it shares with Snakewood and The Winter Road before it; a book that carves its own bloody path through the history of the Post, but also brings its story arc from the previous books full-circle. It is a story that takes the other two books in the series, and threads them into a wholesome, complete arc – if you’re a fan of Selby, or gritty, fast-paced fantasy in general, and you also don’t mind a cry, this is certainly a book you don’t want to miss.
In short – and spoiler free – the plot sees Driwna Marghoster, fieldsman in the Post on a journey to discover what’s happening to the Oskoro – the tribe we saw in the Winter Road that had disappeared – and Ososi, as their numbers are dwindling, there’s word of kidnap. A fearsome Ososi cast-out behind it, a mythical Magist rumoured at work and a dead Ososi baby found, with the legendary Flower of Fates sprouted into her brain. While that may not be a great summary, I’ve tried to entice you without ruining any of the plot – trust me, there’s a lot more than that above which you know up front. It’s every bit as mysterious as the last two – and holds its card until right at the end. And even then, there’s a good lot of questions. But that’s the magic. The continuing mystery throughout the entire rise-and-fall-of-the-Post arc is what keeps me coming back to Adrian’s works. Again, there’s well-realised fight scenes, and plenty twists that you only find out when the knife’s in. I’m not afraid to say that – by the end – this series had tears in my eyes.
That last bit is down to how much a master Adrian is when it comes to character relationship. You have to really care about what happens to a character to be moved to tears – something that he’s a dab-hand at. Immediately – with Cal and Driw – you get a feel for the character’s deep-connection within a few lines of shared history. A life well-spent in knowing each other. This start is what scares me the most, because you know that when an author can build that instant connection, in a book like this, it means that it’ll most likely be used against you. But in the most original, unpredictable ways. You just can’t help but care about Driwna and get behind her cause. She’s one of those characters that knows what’s right, knows what she has to do despite everything against her and just gets on with it. I admire her fervour, her steel. She’s formidable, not only in battle. She’s got a strong heart and knows how to pick those who follow her. A character that builds up those around her and loves uncontrollably because that’s what her heart tells her to do.
The fights are always a favourite of mine in Selby novels – they’re a well-oiled machine, a well-rehearsed dance, a visceral, on-the-edge of your seat experience that won’t relent. Won’t let go. It paints a vivid image of fights that are a storm of spore bags flying, kaltrops dropping, swords clashing, bodies falling and much more. And wonderfully described sword forms to say the least.
Fieldbelts and fightbrews are very much an integral part of the fights and are the ‘magic system’ of Sarun – though, not really magic at all. It’s a science of mixed herbs and plants that have differing purposes – some give you night vision, others cripple enemies, there’s all sort of fun. The pinnacle of these are fightbrews, those mixtures whose recipes are closely guarded secrets – the brew of the Post is one that people are tortured and killed for. But the secret remains. These brews afford the user super-human strength. Undeniable, forces of nature. If you can stone the brew, and rise to it properly. The consequences are brutal. ‘Paying the Colour’ is hours of sickness on the comedown which makes for intriguing and unpredictable scenes – if you chose to drop a fightbrew at the wrong time, you might end up on the run from the enemy when you start to come off it. A weaker form of these are ‘dayers’ brews that are weaker but more forgiving. The end all and be all of the flora of Sarun is, of course, the Flower of Fates, a flower that affords the user power above and beyond any brew … at great cost, and I love that Brother Red featured this once more as did the other two.
Now … that epilogue! I mean, wow. This is the part in particular when the series comes full circle and as a fan of the rest of the series, this is what made the entire book worth it. I mean, I absolutely loved the book, but there’s nothing quite like that in a well-loved series. If for anything but the enjoyment of the end of this book, I personally would say read them in publishing order. It makes it all the more emotional ‘coming home.’
Overall, my rating for this book is buy it now, please – the more people we can get that are fans of this series, the more sway we’d have in forcing Adrian to relent and write more and more. But all joking aside, buy this book. It is phenomenal, you won’t be disappointed.