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Book Review: The Warlord’s Legacy by Ari Marmell

Genre: Sword and Sorcery
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Spectra
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
ISBN-10: 0553807773
ISBN-13: 978-0553807776
Author Website: Ari Marmell

The life of a retired warlord is hard. Just ask Corvis Rebaine. In The Conqueror’s Shadow he had to leave his family, regain the mantle he once discarded, and work with former allies antagonistic to him to defeat Corvis’ near doppelganger, Audriss the Serpent.

Now, in The Warlord’s Legacy an even more aged Corvis must once again defend the nation of Imphallion from itself, but this time without the magic of the demon Khanda, the strength of Davro, or the tactics of his mercenary lieutenants. Because this time, it is only Corvis’ anonymity that will help him discover just who is murdering leading politicians, pretending to be the old warlord, and defeat an old enemy bent on revenge.

Ari Marmell’s first sequel is a more sword and sorcery style tale than The Conqueror’s Shadow. Where the first book was about a face-off between armies, The Warlord’s Legacy is about Corvis, almost on his own, facing down an evil sorcerer and his old nemesis Jaisson, Baron of Braetlyn. Marmell draws on previous experience writing for the Magic: The Gathering novel line to posit a hero vs. villain style story set in a world of his own creation.

In The Warlord’s Legacy Corvis wants to discover who is using his name falsely to murder Imphallion nobles and Guild leaders, and he must do it alone. As a result, he traverses across Imphallion for top to bottom, left to right, often backtracking in his search to find the culprit. This sometimes leads to the story reading like a comedy of errors in which Corvis is always just one step behind.

Meanwhile, just as Corvis is tracking his enemies, his enemies are tracking him. Jaisson and the sorcerer Kaleb move from former ally to former ally of Corvis to tray and find his location, each for their own reason. When Corvis and his enemies finally meet, there is an epic confrontation, in two parts, that is all a reader could ever ask for in a bloody, hack and slash sword and sorcery.

Marmell’s humor is subdued in this sequel. The story lacks the clever wordplay and pranks of The Conqueror’s Shadow, relying more on sarcasm to provide levity. Corvis still talks to himself, though in this story it is less common, and considerably less funny than in the first. The overall effect is of a more traditional sword and sorcery one might expect from any Dungeons and Dragons based novel, something of a cross between Karen Miller and Sam Sykes.

Character reigns supreme in Marmell’s writing, so don’t expect a fleshed out world. Though an accompanying map in the novel helps with following the character’s circumlocutions, Marmell’s worldbuilding in text is on the sparse side. Magic has no system, just exists, something the reader just has to believe works without logic behind it. Readers looking for the systems that usually characterize epic fantasy will be disappointed. However, if you like stories with characters facing real, emotional problems, this may be a book for you. Corvis’ family has been torn apart, a fact that provides a key turning point towards the end of The Warlord’s Legacy, and something that was hinted at the end of The Conqueror’s Shadow. However, though character drives the plot, Corvis’ interactions with the supporting cast are limited, and the conversations that provided so much mirth from the first book are less apparent in The Warlord’s Legacy. In the sequel, Corvis’ character is focused more inward even than before, and so much of the text is taken up with Corvis internal mental circumlocutions, and gut-wrenching guilt.

The Warlord’s Legacy while fairly entertaining, just doesn’t have the same level of quality as The Conqueror’s Shadow. There is little in it that sets it apart from others of its ilk. Whereas The Conqueror’s Shadow garnered Marmell comparisons to David Eddings and Scott Lynch, The Warlord’s Legacy can at best be compared to later R. A. Salvatore (The Sellswords novels or Gauntlgrym). While I enjoyed it for what it was, it didn’t capture the imagination the way that The Conqueror’s Shadow did.

Readers of this novel will need to have read the first novel, as much hinges on what is learned and recounted in The Conqueror’s Shadow. The epilogue to The Warlord’s Legacy leads me to believe that there may be third novel in the works, though I am hoping that this series remains a duology, if this novel is an indicator of Marmell’s future style. I hope that The Goblin Corps, out in July 2011 from Pyr, is more like the first Corvis Rebaine novel than the latter.