With The White Towers (The Rage of Kings Book 2), Andy Remic does something amazing. He takes the members of the Iron Wolves and actually begins to turn them into some semblance of human beings without losing their grimdark appeal. For those of you have not read my review of The Iron Wolves, I’m sure that seems somewhat nonsensical but just trust me when I say that our heroes are some of the most despicable, vile, and loathsome humans you will ever come across. From pit fighters to drug addicts to kidnapper/serial killers, the Iron Wolves run the gamut of human depravity. Honestly, when reading the first book of the series, I felt dirty for even routing for them to not be hanged for their crimes against humanity. But as I said, in book two, Andy Remic begins their slow transformation into something more than classic grimdark caricatures.
The story picks up right where book one ended: the remaining Iron Wolves have saved the Kingdom of Vagandrak from Orlana the Changer and her vile mud orcs and inhuman "splice" only to be arrested and sentenced to death by mad King Yoon. Now, they must not only find a way to save their sorry assess from the hangman’s noose but also, somehow, escape the impregnable fortress in the Pass of Splintered Bones. And even if they succeed in doing those things, none of them are prepared for what awaits them back home. For Orlana’s coming has awoken another enemy: the Elf Rats. These twisted denizens of the toxic land far to the north have returned to their ancient homeland, determined to avenge themselves on their ancient tormenters and wipe the scourge of mankind from Vagandrak!
From this great beginning, Mr. Remic weaves a grimdark story that actually spends a great deal of time on the characterization of the individual members of the Iron Wolves. The Captain of the Wolves, KiKi, has her early years and unusual childhood explored. Dek the Pit Fighter opens up about his family. Narnok of the Axe begins dealing with his wife’s betrayal and his vile torture. Trista the Serial Killer turns into more than a murdering ice princess. Even Prince Zastarte exorcizes his demons to an extent and explains how he had been lead down the path to serial killing. Not that any of these epiphanies by the Wolves washes them white as snow or changes their inherent evilness, but at least, Mr. Remic begins to explore the why of their insanity. That, in and of itself, made the characters more real and compelling to me.
Another thing that Mr. Remic does a good job of doing is actually giving readers a less over-the-top villain. The Iron Wolves really suffered, in my opinion, from the fact that Orlana the Changer was so evil, so ridiculously inhuman that all her actions seemed surreal. Here, though, the author finds the right balance between vile and fantastical with the Elf Rats. Sure, they are genocidal monsters, but their reasons for being such are clearly articulated, allowing a reader to understand why they hate the humans of Vagandrak so much and what they hope to gain from their behavior. Perhaps that doesn’t seem very praise worthy, but after book one, I thoroughly enjoyed knowing exactly why the bad guys were killing everyone.
With all that being said, I want to assure grimdark lovers that even with Mr. Remic spending more time of characterization and explanation The White Towers is still a blood spattering grimdark fantasy. There are pages and pages of gory atrocities, fierce battles, and monstrous genocide. Sex also plays a major role here, and more than a few of our heroes are bi-sexual, which leads to several uncomfortable moments when the less open-minded members of the group discover this. So if you loved The Iron Wolves or just are overdue for a hit of grimdark, pick this one up, but make sure you have a clean rag to wipe all the blood off your face as you read it.
I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank Netgalley and Angry Robot Books for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.