Book Review – Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

Darkhurst #1
Publisher: Solaris
Pages: 559
Characters: Corran, Rigan, Kell
POV: 3rd
Genre: Fantasy, series

In a city beset by monsters, three brothers must find out who is controlling the abominations.

The city-state of Ravenwood is wealthy, powerful, and corrupt. Merchant Princes and Guild Masters wager fortunes to outmaneuver League rivals for the king’s favor and advantageous trading terms. Lord Mayor Ellor Machison wields assassins, blood witches, and forbidden magic to assure that his powerful patrons get what they want, no matter the cost.

Corran, Rigan, and Kell Valmonde are Guild Undertakers, left to run their family’s business when guards murdered their father and monsters killed their mother. Their grave magic enables them to help souls pass to the After and banish vengeful spirits. Rigan’s magic is unusually strong and enables him to hear the confessions of the dead, the secrets that would otherwise be taken to the grave.

When the toll exacted by monsters and brutal guards hits close to home and ghosts expose the hidden sins of powerful men, Corran, Rigan and Kell become targets in a deadly game and face a choice: obey the Guild, or fight back and risk everything.

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I love the premise of this story, with the heroes being undertakers who, in this world, do far more than just bury the dead. I fell in love with the Valmonde brothers as soon as I started reading, and I also loved their abilities. Although this story is a fantasy and has a high fantasy backdrop, it also gave me an urban fantasy vibe. I loved the combination of the two, and thought they worked well together.

The world building is fabulous, and I had a clear visual as I was reading. I loved the detail especially, not only of how magic works but the history and feel of the setting. The city and its characters drew me into the story, and it felt like I was walking into a well lived in city with a long history. The culture of its people is very rich, and I particularly liked the details of the undertakers’ burial rituals. I also liked the Guilds, the balance between the world and dark places, and that using magic has consequences and drains the person using it.

The bad guy is an evil piece of work, and not so nicely layered. I thought his plan was very sneaky, and well thought out. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and I liked the feeling of a net being closed around those working to oppose him. I enjoyed the politics behind his planning too. It added depth to not only his scheming but the world too.

This is also a story about secrets, and not everyone is what they seem. I loved the action scenes which had me on turning pages as I wasn’t sure everyone was going to survive. As a side note I thought the fact that not everyone does added to the realism of the story, and the feeling that these guys have a hard road ahead of them. The monsters they hunt and fight are a wonderful mix of creatures, and none of them anything I’d want to meet in an alley, dark or not.

I loved the brothers’ relationship. They’re caring friends as well as siblings, and very protective of each other. One part of the plot threw me completely as I didn’t see it coming, but I thought it added an extra layer to their situation and how dire it is. The supporting cast are very three dimensional too, and I loved that the women were totally kick arsed and held their own. I loved Polly and Elinor. Aiden rocks, and his ability is very cool. I loved the twist on it, and enjoyed the obvious thought that went into the battle scenes which, although bloody, are so much more than that.

I thought the high body count—among the good guys too— added to the realism and high stakes feel of the story, and while I enjoyed the way this one ended, it sets up well for book 2.

I have yet to read a book by this author that I didn’t get hooked on, and this was no exception.

I’d recommend Scourge to readers who enjoy fantasy stories with detailed world building, layered characters, and a plot that keeps you turning pages. 5 out of 5 stars.

About Anne Barwell

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with a cat with “tortitude” who is convinced that the house is run to suit her; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date, it appears as though Kaylee may be winning. In 2008, Anne completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra. She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes. She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ. Anne’s books have received honorable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards. She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical. Anne can be found at
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