Andy Peloquin’s epic grimdark fantasy thriller, Darkblade: Assassin, is a spellbinding, twisted, visceral, and emotional story that’s perfect for any reader who wants to experience a darkly gut-wrenching tale. Mixing the elements of classic Sword & Sorcery, modern-day Grimdark, along with vigilante revenge thriller and the assassin antihero elements, Darkblade: Assassin is a treat to read.
I normally stick to reading action thrillers set in the real world(almost) and am not usually a fantasy and sci-fi reader, but this brutally awesome and emotionally captivating story fed my interests too well. Peloquin’s prose is almost poetic at times, and magically attention grabbing in every scene as he does a good job of getting deep into the twisted mind of his hero, the Hunter of Voramis.
This half-demon, half-human antihero is a sympathetic, broken, and twisted character who’s also too awesome, badass, smart, good, and epic and suffers greatly through the events of the story. The Hunter’s an assassin who works for the highest bidder, but only takes on jobs where the targets deserve his wrath. This means he gets paid by horrible people to kill other horrible people. He lives in his secret lair in the most impoverished region within the city of Voramis. While the hunter enjoys luxuries within his safe house, he provides shelter, food, and medicines for destitutes of the city at a broken old pub. He rationalizes it as a cover to stay hidden, but they’re much more to him, as he learns through the hard way after an epic tragedy.
The Hunter’s skills include superhuman speed, strength, a healing factor among others, and his armory is full of awesome weapons, but what stands out for the story and the character is his dagger called the SoulHunger. It’s a blade that drains the souls of its victims and powers up the Hunter each time he uses it. This SoulHunger plays an important, epic role in the story, when the many layers of intrigue behind the Hunter, his amnesiac past, and demons come into play through the masterfully woven narrative.
Though the first half has the Hunter in a full-blown sociopathic assassin mode with his demon side prying for control, it explores many characters who mean more to him than he acknowledges, but that changes when he crosses paths with a criminal group called the Bloody Hand and incurs their wrath on everyone he cares about. After a long sequence of recovery, the Hunter gives himself a purpose, while he’s extremely psychotic, and goes on an epic violent vigilante rampage on all those who’ve hurt his city. This series of events is more violent than any Punisher story, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. A major part of his recovery is spiritual along with physical, where the Hunter has to come to terms with what he really is, work with a cult of priests who’ve hunted his kind for centuries, and stand up against demons who are way more powerful than him in an epic showdown to save the world.
Most of the scenes are very anti-heroic and too visceral, but the Hunter is a character who’s more heroic than he feels about himself. With alchemy, gods and demons in a complex yet well-constructed lore, political violence, organized crime groups, magical weapons, portals into hell, a Machiavellian spymaster who is more than what he displays, mystical priests, rituals of dark blood magic, giant attack dogs, gory blood-soaked battles, smart assassinations, violent vigilante vengeance, otherworldly demons, and epic sword fights, reading Darkblade Assassin was more fun than watching Game of Thrones and The Witcher. The shred of humanity within the half demonic Hunter makes the story a soul-crushing, sympathetic, humanizing, and emotional tale. There are even philosophically deep scenes like a conversation between the recovering Hunter and an old veteran warrior-priest about the whole concept of gods and reality.
Though the book works as a standalone epic, there are many things scattered through the book which are the seeds for the sequels, and the ending is dark yet positive, unlike some grimdark fantasy stories that end on a nihilistically pessimistic note. Andy Peloquin is a writer who can take things very dark and create a lot of shocking tragedies but uses all that darkness in the story to eventually bring out the good after making the Hunter suffer too much. I’m not usually a sci-fi and fantasy reader and tried this book as it was glorified in a few online groups for fantasy readers, and I only wish I had read it sooner. The prose is magically captivating, but the story drags on heavily at a few moments, which may put off readers who expect things to keep moving at rocket speed.
The Hunter of Voramis, a character who always hides his face with alchemical prosthetics and disguises, learns to accept himself for all the good and the bad, and gets comfortable in his own skin for the next phase in his life. Don’t let that confuse you into thinking that it’s a young-adult sensitive story, as it’s far from that. The Hunter is a character who’s over a thousand years old, having lost most of his memories and trying to survive in a world where many people either want him dead or want to use him for their own nefarious purposes. If you need more blood and gore than any Frank Castle story with a half demonic antihero who’s got more heart than he realizes, DarkBlade Assassin is something you’ll treasure. I couldn’t help but think of my favorite good psychopath character Moon Knight(from Marvel Comics) while reading this book, but Moon Knight and The Hunter are very different from each other, though they’d both appeal to the same fanbase.
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