Of Gods and Men by Stephen Aryan
The Good: Good old fashioned heroic-fantasy for a modern audience; plenty that feels familiar, but with a tweak there, a twist here, or a turn-the-trope-on-its-head over there; short-sharp-snappy and easily devoured in a sitting or two, with a whole trilogy to get your teeth into afterwards.
The Bad: For some, this might come across as yet another ‘wayward warrior in a heroic-fantasy setting’ early on, but there’s so much more to it than that if you give it a chance.
The Ugly Truth: ‘Of Gods and Men’ serves as both a fantastic introduction to Aryan’s established world, as well as fan service to those already familiar with his works. As a novella, in my opinion, it doesn’t cover as much ground as a full novel could/would/should, however within the short page-time it embodies the hallmarks of heroic-fantasy – life, love, loss, lost causes, and legends not quite lost to time.
Full review: Within the first page I was getting ‘Gemmell-vibes’, which for me as a huge fan of the big daddy of british heroic-fantasy, is a very good thing. Vargus – our hero – reminded me of Rek/Dakeyras, in that he is fundamentally something of a wayward warrior. And, in the company of the seemingly simpleton Lanny (which, yes, does strike a familiar chord to Lenny from ‘Of Mice and Men’– but I assure you he is so much more than this), I immediately felt at home.
Stylistically too, the writing reminded me of Gemmell. The prose utilises ‘less is more’ favouring purpose and pace over ‘purple prose’ in the description. But where detail is required, it’s succinct and straight to the point.
And whilst the story does what it says on the tin – ‘Of Gods and Men’ – this is first and foremost a human story. A story of human emotion, belief, and survival. And being heroic-fantasy, each of these is challenged in the story, to see whether the characters are found wanting.
And you know what?
It wasn’t them that were found wanting – it was me. I wanted more!
For new readers to Aryan (myself included) this is a fantastic ‘starting point’, though I think it might miss out on some of the epic stage pieces that the main trilogy (and subsequent sequel series). For fans of Aryan, the story serves as fan service, complete with easter eggs, and dare I say it, a few new insights from the character of Vargas.
This prequel novella serves as a fantastic introduction to Aryan’s trilogy ‘Age of Darkness’ (now fully published) and the upcoming trilogy ‘Age of Dread’. And, as with any introduction, if its intent was to inspire the reader to continue, then the fact that my kindle is stocked with ‘Battle Mage’, ‘Blood Mage’ and ‘Chaos Mage’ is result enough.