A kingdom at war. A royal family at war with itself. After the massacre of his people, Damien Dreadfire leads a patchwork army of unlikely allies against the Kingdom of Betanthia. The alliance teeters on the edge of a knife, as old rivalries between clans threaten to tear it apart. With the help of his trusted friend, Einarr, and a strange mystic, Damien launches a bold offensive that will decide the future of the free lands. Short on time, and even shorter on men, the fate of a once vibrant culture and its people rests on the outcome of the next battle. Meanwhile, Betanthia’s crown prince, Gareth Bethard, faces dangers of his own. With his family coming apart at the seams and a growing conspiracy afoot, he tries desperately to hold everything together. Even as Gareth grapples with inner demons, he must learn to take up his father’s mantle as the protector of civilization and defeat Damien’s invading horde. It’s only the fate of a thousand-year dynasty resting on his shoulders, after all.
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Christopher Brenning’s debut novel combines the brutal realities of war with the emotional turmoil of a grimdark environment. The Hellborn King is relentless in the chaos it entails and the characters driving the plot home with all the shocking moments to remember. I hope you are in the mood for a lot of blood and pain!
Let me start the review by saying this. If you do not like Grimdark fantasy with all the evil and gritty scenes that come with it, this may not be the book for you. I have read my fair share of Grimdark novels and some scenes in this book made my stomach turn. Hopefully if you are still reading, this is a novel for you. The northern tribes have united under the banner of Damien Dreadfire and they are on the march to invade the Kingdom of Bethanthia. However, old rivalries between enemy clans are starting to rise and Damien will need the help of his friend Einarr and an ancient mystic to calm the people. A prophecy has been told of a forgotten line being rediscovered for the North to gain its dominance once again and Damien seeks to find that lost catalyst. Bethanthia is being defended by the crown prince Gareth Bethard, son to a drunk and beaten King, Gareth has to find his place to combat this invading force he just doesn’t know how to accomplish that.
I can’t obviously talk about every character but I would just like to highlight two that stood out for me. The first one is Madeline, she is the captain of imperial troops and is tasked with meeting this invading force head on in this conflict. She is a tactical genius and has never lost a battle, but she doesn’t have the numbers on her side. She enlists the help of an old soldier named Titan and he may be just the type of person she needs for the incoming war. The other character I greatly enjoyed was Einarr. Einarr gives us a first hand knowledge of the invading horde, what their motivations are, and the several tribes that have joined in the campaign. The best moments were the revelations about Einarr’s past and it was these scenes that made me realize the “enemy” are human beings as well. Job well done by the author to make me care for characters on both sides of the conflict.
I will be honest in saying that I wasn’t sure about this book at first. Apart from the prologue, the first several chapters I didn’t find very interesting. That all changes when the characters started to open up and it wasn’t just blood and steel. This is a multi POV and there is not one wasted chapter even if some are better than others. The actions scenes are great and it is the quiet moments where this book really shines. Fair warning here, do not expect a happy ending but one that will set up the rest of the series.
This is a Grimdark epic worthy of your time and one of the better ones I have read in a long time. Pain will be felt but also the hope of something better on the horizon. I hope you will join me on this dark path. Who knows where it may lead!