Ben Martin is a Vietnam veteran with his own storefront business in New York. The mob wants its cut. Martin tells them to pound sand. An ambitious but daft faction of the mob kidnaps Martin’s kid, who dies in their inattentive care.
Sometimes it is the journey rather than the destination that matters. And while the conclusion to Jon Messmann’s The Revenger is never in doubt, the story is of how a man with a unmovable moral anchor makes the rest of the world break around him. Including his own wife, who cannot stand behind Martin as he stands up to the mob. The action is visceral, with the reversals of fortune common in such fights. More surprisingly, The Revenger is passionate, and does not neglect the emotional toll of grief, vengeance, and one man doing what is right no matter the personal cost. Yet the most compelling character might just be the mob boss who has to sacrifice his own family to Martin, else honor and vengeance will remain unsatisfied.
Out in the snowy frontier, a man known only as Cutter watches over a child. When a black-clad patrol descends on the town, Cutter must take the boy from his adoptive parents and flee into the Fey-riddled forests. For Cutter was not always a woodcutter. He was once known as the Kingslayer. And Oathbreaker. And his past has caught up with him once more. And, unless Cutter can escape it, it will kill everyone in his path.
Jacob Peppers claims to write grimdark fantasy with A Warrior’s Burden. Instead, he writes of the mature hero, faced with the failures of ambition and character, who still must fight on. It’s the reverse side of today’s fascination with young heroes, calls to adventure, and mentors. The side where the middle-aged hero sits uneasily in the world he has created and must correct it. Or die trying. As such, Peppers addresses a rarely serviced marker: fantasy for the middle-aged man.
Peppers runs heavy on the action, regrets, and other cares of the moment, dealing out backstory with an almost miserly hand. But the drips of revelation only serve to heighten the tension of the moment. A Warrior’s Burden is small scope fantasy done right, with the potential to blow into a far larger conflagration.