THE RIGHTEOUS by David Wragg (BOOK REVIEW)
“‘This is grim arithmetic, my friend: we take the lives beneath of those who would take countless more above. We must make our choice, then make our peace.”’
The Black Hawk mercenaries are back and this time around they’re causing even more madness and mayhem…
The Righteous by David Wragg is an explosive, quite literally, final instalment to the Articles of Faith duology. It is a story of rebellion, of honour, of a desperate fight for freedom, and it is filled with some of the most idiotic but loveable characters you will ever meet.
At the end of the first book, titled The Black Hawks, we left some of the mercenary band, Prince Tarfel and his oathbound protector, Vedren Chel in the hands of Tarfel’s tyrant, malicious brother, who I’ll say no more about in fear of major spoilers. The Righteous begins not long after those events and we discover that Chel and the sellswords are all still imprisoned and awaiting their execution. As Chel and the Black Hawks’ infamous grisly leader Rennic watch their comrades taken one by one for execution, their need for a daring rescue becomes ever dire. What follows from there is a series of great escapes, a quest for rebellion, of friendship, of thrilling battles and most significantly of utter chaos. An uprising is brewing, but with most of the nations aligned against them can The Black Hawks convince them of their impending downfall? Can they raise enough allies to stand against tyranny and secure the crown upon Prince Tarfel’s head? Well firstly, they’ll have to make sure no one actually chops his head off, which isn’t at all an easy task
If you’ve read my review of the first book, then it’ll be no surprise to you that I already immensely love Wragg’s characters. In this book once again I found our main protagonist Chel, simply adorable. I feel throughout these two books, Chel has a coming of age story arc, which is one of my favourite tropes in fantasy. On the surface he has an awkward, clumsy, not so subtle air about him, he makes monumental cock-ups, yet at every turn he strives to do the ‘right thing’ – the problem is, in this world there is no ‘right thing’. You have to have the courage to do what it takes to survive. We see Chel grow in many ways, he learns a lot (although mostly taught by Lemon and I’m not sure she’s the best teacher, but these are the times Chel lives in…) but he still retains that innocence, that desire to be righteous, the strive to make his life meaningful. Throughout The Righteous, Chel pushes himself and truly discovers what kind of man he is. He’s an idiot for sure, but with all intent and purposes, he’s a charming one.
“Chel held his gaze. ‘My father said the righteous need fear nothing but the loss of their resolve.’
‘Is that the same father who died of plague?’ came Lemon’s voice from beside him.”
Another one of my favourite fantasy tropes is found families. These eccentric misfit characters formed a family I’d happily be a part of, sure I’d die within a day, but with all the banter and fireside stories, I’d at least be laughing along the way. Wragg presented us with useless Prince Tarfel, forgetful Sab, bloodthirsty, quick-tempered Rennic, snappish Kosh, wine-loving Loveless and faithful Foss, sneaky, protective Whisper, and my beloved foul-mouthed wolfy hating Lemon. Once again Wragg does a stellar job with the dynamics between these characters. They argue, disagree, irritate each other, but still their love for one another permeates. You can see it in the way Rennic calls Chel ‘little man’ or Lemon calls him ‘wee bear’, in the way if one of the members is offended, they all take offence, yet most predominantly you see it through the way they would die for one another without hesitation. I feel as though I got to know each of these characters on a deeper level, to the point where I wasn’t even aware of how attached I’d become to them until I felt their absence. There is something I find so special about following characters who hold strong bonds of friendship, who share a history together, and the Black Hawks crew certainly hit that spot.
I would say that The Righteous falls somewhere between the grimdark and epic fantasy sub-genres. The world is ruthless, filled with violence, the characters aren’t all that heroic, or even successful, but hey throughout both books they do go on a quest together as they traverse through the many lands of the kingdom. I loved that Wragg never allowed this story to become overly dark – it is essentially a comical fantasy romp. Without giving away too much this is a book filled with batshit crazy shenanigans which, I kid you not, made me laugh so much I could barely breathe. Wragg even included some most inventive swearing, “ink-fucker” had to be my new favourite! The battle scenes alone were enough to keep me on the edge of my seat and simultaneously make me shout “WTF!” There were plenty of malfunctioning crossbows, warriors on, and I’ll quote Lemon here,“fucken skates? Fucken skatey-skates?” and a metric ton of explosions. These were high octane scenes where Wragg certainly nailed his grimdark slapstick tone once again. All I can say is, it’s imperative to always remember, when you’re travelling with The Black Hawks, Chel, and Prince Tarfel, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!
“‘Fuck’s going on, little man? Sounds like a fuck-up wrapped in a fiasco.’
Rennic was behind them, Lemon and Foss at his back, gazing out over the battlefield with practised eyes.”
However, in between the humour were somber, quiet contemplative moments too, where the characters revealed much more about themselves. This time around Wragg took care to explore the motives of each character – were they there for coin or honour? He also philosophised on the notions of power, and who should have the right to rule an entire kingdom. Is anyone ever worthy enough? There were also many debates on religion, and I enjoyed seeing both sides. Once again the worldbuilding held very little magic, and throughout it is always a mystery whether the advancement in the weaponry used in the battle scenes were powered by alchemy or sorcery? The world was entering a new age of warfare, and by the end Wragg effectively showed us what the true cost of that would be, especially if left in the wrong hands.
If like me, you’ve been craving an immensely entertaining and essentially fun fantasy read that is more heart than it is grimdark, then I’d recommend The Articles of Faith duology. David Wragg has an unforgettable voice and an equally memorable story filled with such moronic heartfelt characters.
“Lemon blinked, eyes flicking from one to the other. ‘Sometimes I don’t have the first fucken idea what yous two are blathering on about.’
‘Worry ye not, Lemon,’ Rennic grinned. ‘That feeling goes both ways.’
Foss cracked a smile. ‘Evil days, my friends.’
‘Evil days, Fossy.’”
e-ARC provided by Harry Illingworth, Harper Voyager and David Wragg in exchange for an honest review. All quotes used are taken from an early ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
The Righteous will be released on 10th June but you can preorder here.