Servant of Rage by A.Z. Anthony
Servant of Rage by A.Z. Anthony is the first book in the Bloodrage trilogy, a dark fantasy story following the journey of a young bounty hunter called Subei in the aftermath of a supernatural event that granted people around the world magical powers that are inextricably tied to a berserk urge for violent use of those powers.
In my previous review of Anthony’s work, I referred to him as a Second Generation dark fantasy author. While other fantasy authors draw on the rich history and tropes of their genre, stretching back for centuries, he has chosen to focus on the modern grimdark movement and is one of the first that I have seen to play with the unique elements that make that kind of book different from others.
Normally you don’t see authors attempting deconstructions of genres until they are long established, so I have been following Anthony’s career with great interest and in this book he continues along that same trajectory while beginning to inject fresh elements of originality, primarily in the form of a divergent setting and tone. Of course, if you are a fan of grimdark fantasy he has included some blatant references to other series that he has enjoyed, as well as providing a fairly solid example of the genre himself, as all deconstructions must be.
The Ghangerai are drawn from many steppe-horse nomad cultures, with the most obvious being the Mongols. As a gestalt of these different cultures their philosophy is not purely Mongolian, and I would argue that as a post-melting-bowl culture that is now mired in some serious imperialist crises it is easy to draw parallels to American culture.
The inciting event for the whole book is that in the past, a single master of this “Power of the Ancestors” managed to kill all of the others blessed with it, allowing him to amass the full portion for himself. His death releases that gathered power back out into the world to wreak havoc once more. To begin with I found the decision to make this Old Master white when all of the other characters throughout the book are coded as various Asian ethnicities, a little bit strange, but it was ultimately necessary for the book to examine the ideology of the Ghangerai steppes nomads, and specifically their sense of superiority over the other races.
There is an assumption among the Ghangerai that the reason this arcane power has not yet been used to conquer the entire world is simply because none of the previous masters who have “Higlandered” themselves to dominance have been Ghangerai. Carefully reflecting the ideology of American Exceptionalism through the lens of what many living there would consider to be a “primitive” and violent society provides a subtle undercurrent to a book that is otherwise aggressively straightforward in a way that is clearly meant to highlight that aspect of the characters.
There is very little coyness to the Ghangerai characters, neither Subei or his brothers in arms are particularly inclined towards subterfuge and almost every thought that crosses their minds is expressed, loudly, at the earliest opportunity. In combination with their internal struggle with the titular blood-rage this makes for very engaging reading.
One final point that I need to highlight is the language that is being used in this book. In this too, Anthony has made no attempt at deflecting from the intensity of the story. Modern language is used throughout, to give the reader an emotional understanding of the conversations that are being had, but even that modern language is shaped by the Ghangerai mindset. The prose goes beyond tight, almost to the verge of sentences being clipped short. Brief exclamations and even briefer descriptions rule this book, giving you the bare minimum that you need to understand the situations that the protagonist is being flung into in the brief moments that he has to comprehend them.
If you are looking for purple prose and languid descriptions of idyllic landscapes then you will want to look elsewhere, but if you want an incredibly fast paced thriller of a grimdark fantasy novel with a sly sense of humour woven through it, then Servant of Rage is a good fit for your tastes.