We was exhausted, outnumbered, battered, bleeding, and more than half of us was wounded or dead. The men was barely moments away from breaking and running. So, of course, we attacked.
In the first story, a company of human mercenaries (the titular ‘wardogs’) fights alongside elves against goblins, orcs, and a calvary of warboars. Told from the perspective of the gruff and guileless Sergent, his working-class dialect takes a bit of getting used to but provides a fair amount of humor to the proceedings. There’s a great bit where Sarge becomes an unlikely saboteur and is airdropped by an elven warhawk into the enemy camp.
Vox excels at his big battle scenes, and aside from their imaginative aspects I think a lot of their appeal has to do with the way he plays with multiple point of view. Sometimes that means actually seeing the battle through the eyes of different characters. Other times it’s just being able to see all the different perspectives: the tactical, the logistic, the personal, etc. The key though is that the battles are always rooted in small character moments. Here, the ribaldry and camaraderie of the soldiers grounds the action with a lot of character and charm. In one of the more amusing moments, a fear-stricken young soldier begs Sarge to be his father confessor:
“I ain’t done my confession, Sarge!” The poor kid was terrified,
almost in tears. “I don’t wanna die with my soul all black with sin, Sarge. I don’t wanna go to Hell! My maman and my sissy went to Heaven, and I gotta go there if I’m ever gonna see ’em again! The caporal said sergents was like priests, or as good as, so you gotta confess me before I gets killed!”
I mentioned in a comment last week that the Castalia books have invariably had strong endings, and this one is no exception – it’s low-key, simple, and moving. I liked this story a lot, and I think it’s my favorite novella of the Selenoth world.
In the second story, Qatabi Dawn, a barbarian tribe of cat-people band together to take down a legion of Amorr – the Selenoth equivalent of the Roman Republic (if it had been Christian rather than pagan). The cat tribes are led by their chieftain Shabaka No Tail, and the story is concerned with his efforts to unite his people and save them from annihilation.
The description makes it sound silly, and it could have easily gone that way, but Vox approaches his feline creations with enough care to make them feel authentic as well as bizarre. The world-building in this story is really well done. They are fully formed fantasy barbarians in the Robert E. Howard mode, they just have the added cool factor of claws:
In the entryway, the flames revealed a feline-headed demon, its beastly body covered with speckled fur, standing upright in a grotesque parody of a man. Amorran armor hung loosely from its muscular frame, but it was weaponless except for the six-inch claws that extended from its huge paws. As Vopiscus watched, frozen with terror, the demon extended a thick black tongue from its jaws and deliberately licked the young officer’s blood from its claws.
If you’re looking for an entertaining introduction to Vox Day’s fantasy universe, and one that doesn’t require much of a time investment, this is the one to get.