FURY OF A DEMON by Brian Naslund (BOOK REVIEW)
Please note this review may contain mild spoilers for Blood of an Exile and Sorcery of a Queen.
The power has shifted and as Empress Kira lay comatosed, closely watched over by Osyrus Ward, and Queen Ashlyn is believed dead, Ward seizes the opportunity to place his soldiers throughout Almira and rule over all or annihilate those who oppose him. The lands of Terra are now inhabited with skyships, acolytes and other monstrosities cooked up by the madman himself. Yet Ashlyn is far from dead, and neither is our beloved Dragonslayer, Bershad. Deep in the Dainwood forest, Bershad, Simeon, Oromir and the remnants of the Jaguar Army lead the resistance against Ward’s soldiers but it is an ongoing battle where they are losing ground. Meanwhile the Witch Queen Ashlyn and alchemist Jolan desperately try to unlock the secrets behind Osyrus Wards’ creations in the hopes of bringing them down once and for all.
Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund is the outstanding conclusion in the Dragons of Terra trilogy. Naslund aptly weaves all the threads from the first two books into one thrilling, heart-pounding finale. A mad scientist is set loose, monstrous creations are destroying humanity piece by piece, and it all ends in one high-stakes battle. I was initially drawn to these books for the dragons, but I stayed for the great friendships that formed and cemented between the characters, the hilarious banter among them, and the fact that this was a world which showed us the need to respect and find a balance in nature.
Throughout the trilogy as we watch the world fill with progression and technological advance, it becomes quickly apparent that this is not to the betterment of the people. Whilst the majority starve, fall into poverty and illness, Ward cares nothing but to fulfil his ideological vision of a ‘better’ world, the perfect ’soldier’. In Sorcery of a Queen we glimpse into his horrific plans for the future of Terra, but in Fury of a Demon we watch them play out and become fully realised. The acolytes are monstrosities made from dying soldiers fused with dragon bones, sometimes parts of other animals, metals and alchemy. Osyrus Ward essentially becomes the scientist Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. To Naslund’s credit he creates an absolutely fantastic villain here, one who you loathe, and also makes your skin crawl.
With two new additional POV, Naslund effectively shows us the consequences of warfare, the true consequences of Ward’s vision. Nola, a young teenager, left orphaned after her parents and older brothers die fighting in the Jaguar Army, is the sole guardian of her younger sister Grittle. She runs a tavern on very little just to get by, until soldiers destroy that too. Nola was a character who quickly made my eyes blurry with tears as she desperately fights to protect her sister but faces horror after horror. Then there was acolyte seven-nine-nine, once a soldier simply following orders and now conditioned into a mindless killing machine, except there’s a glitch where he does retain some of his former memories. If you’ve ever seen the film Robocop, this is what he reminded me of. Through Acolyte seven-nine-nine we learn the true abhorrent methods Osyrus uses upon the soldiers he experiments on, the pain endured whilst he conditions them.
“Nola had always been realistic about this world. She’d done what needed doing to survive. But it wasn’t until now-stuck in this pen–that she realized the hidden truth of humanity: they were all just animals who stayed civil and kind because there was food in their bellies and a roof over their heads at night. Take those things
away, and the goodness of people got taken away with it.”
Who better than to fight against Ward than the deemed witch Ashlyn Malgrave. She begins her journey in Blood of an Exile wanting to uncover the secrets behind the dragons, to find a way to preserve them but also keep people safe from their attacks. Throughout Sorcery of a Queen her fight for the dragons also becomes a journey to seek knowledge of how to stop Ward and save those she loves. In this last instalment Ashlyn really grows in her abilities, whether they’re part sorcery or part science, experiment after experiment she begins to master the use of lodestones in fantastic ways. I loved that Ashlyn above all respected the laws of nature, the right for animals to have a place in this world too, yet she also respected her immense powers. She knew one person alone should ever keep this much power in their grasp, and although she uses her powers to destroy the enemy, she knows ultimately when to stop.
“The heads of the six acolytes were floating above her, neck stumps dripping black liquid across the dry grass. Her armbands were churning and steam was rising off her sweat-slick skin. Jolan knew that she probably couldn’t keep that up for more than a minute or two, but in that moment, she looked downright terrifying.
A true witch queen.”
Then there was Bershad, our hero who fights with the fury of a demon. Wow, Naslund really puts Bershad through a lot in this instalment, he pushes this character to his maximum endurance. Bershad’s recklessness reaches new heights, which makes for some heartstopping moments. Bershad knew he was fighting against the clock, his transformation was looming ever closer, and if his last deeds were to free the people of Almira, particularly those in the Dainwood forest, and finally settle an old score with Vallen Vergun, then he would fight tooth and claw to succeed. This is a character who I have become deeply fond of for many reasons, but in this book I adored his bond with the Nomad dragon, affectionately called ‘Smokey’. Together they make for an incredible team.
At the heart of this whole trilogy Naslund focuses on the bonds the characters make, the friendships, the bromances, the loyalty and comradeship, the people they would die for. It’s always important to me that I feel an emotional attachment to the characters, that I care for their plights, and here I fell hard for all of them. Well, obviously not for Ward or Vergun! However, Bershad and Felgor’s friendship and banter was top-notch, Simeon and Cabbage made such a comical duo, my heart broke for Oromir and Jolan, and Vera’s determination to save Kira was truly endearing. No matter the dangers these characters all faced, they faced them together.
“You know what nickname I would have given you, if you didn’t already have so many when we met?” he asked.
Felgor pinched an ant off his neck and flicked it away. “Sunshine. On account of your pleasant disposition.”
Bershad grunted. “I hate it.”
“That’s the point.”
Naslund also presented us with many tender, quiet moments, which balanced out the grim reality the people of Almira faced. Nola tells her sister Grittle bedtime stories of their brother’s before they died in the war. Cabbage takes food to Jovita’s hut, a woman he quickly becomes attracted to, having hopes of spending time with her one the fight is over. Bershad and Ashlyn save each other time and time again, they cannot bear the thought of losing each other.
Together this band of characters all played their part in the final battle, a battle which kept my pulse racing and eyes always on the edge of tears.
“If I wind up down the river ahead of you, I’ll try to find a decent spot for us in the afterlife. And if you go first . . ” He trailed off. Swallowed. “Well, I don’t see much point in staying around in this mess without you. So I’ll be following right behind. I promise.”
Naslund is the kind of author who takes your heart strings and pulls them in devious but enticing ways. It’s rare a grimdark book makes me cry out of happiness and sadness all at the same time, but this did. The Dragons of Terra is a trilogy I hope will find itself in the hands of many more readers.
Review copy provided by Jamie at Tor UK. Thank you! Fury of a Demon is out now.