Monday, 8 June 2015

Book Review: Husk: Hunt or be Hunted (A Maresman Tale) by D. P. Prior


About the author:
D.P. Prior is the bestselling fantasy author of the Nameless Dwarf and Shader series.
Raised on a diet of old school Sword and Sorcery, and later influenced by the Heroic Fantasy of David Gemmell, the literary epics of Stephen R. Donaldson, and the "grimdark" offerings of Joe Abercrombie, Prior combines the imaginative daring of the old with the realism, tight point of view, and gallows humor of the new.
As well as being a prolific author, D.P.Prior is also an experienced fiction editor with an impressive portfolio of clients (http://homunculuseditingservices.blogspot.com). 
He has also worked as a personal trainer, and is a competing member of the US All-Round Weightlifting Association.

My rating:
Very good (8/10)

My review:

Husk: A Maresman Tale is the latest novel by D. P. Prior, the author of Deacon Shader and the Nameless Dwarf series, and also set in the same world as them. It’s an exciting and well-written story, with a gritty atmosphere, a carefully thought-out plot, and a memorable but flawed central hero. The world is diverse, the world-building top notch, and the twists surprising enough to keep you interested and guessing until the end. At certain times the novel reminded me of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane tales, while in other instances it brought to mind Stephen King’s Dark Tower series or one of Clint Eastwood’s classic western flicks, if the latter were penned by H. P. Lovecraft. 

The main antagonists of D. P. Prior’s Husk: A Maresman Tale are the aforementioned “husks”, a form of shape-shifting demons that cross between lands to fulfil their dark purposes, leaving a trail of blood and misery in their wake. 

That's why the Maresmen were formed - trackers and warriors charged with holding back the tide. Each of them is different, uniquely suited to the task in hand, but one thing they hold in common: they are half-breeds, part human, part husk; and they are bound by an inviolable rule: 

Hunt the husks, or be hunted themselves. 

Jebediah ‘Jeb’ Skayne has been hunting husks his entire adult life, but there's something different about the trail leading to the fishing town of Portis on the shores of the Chalice Sea: no spoor, no footprints; nothing save the unmistakable feeling of wrongness. 

Finding a husk in Portis would be near impossible for someone who didn't have the sixth sense, but the instant Jeb arrives, all trace of the incursion vanishes. Forced to rely on more mundane methods of investigation, he starts to uncover a town rife with corruption, where a man will kill you for looking at a woman the wrong way; a town that's seen its share of incursions from the land of nightmares before. 

As events start to slip from his control, he realizes the husk he's come to kill is one step ahead of the game, and it holds a secret that will shake his world to the core.

D. P. Prior’s Husk: A Maresman Tale starts off a bit slow, taking time to establish the world our characters inhabit and to set up the small town of Portis, where most of the drama is to be played out. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that the author is intimately familiar with his world, unfolding it layer by layer before the readers’ eyes, while in the same time providing us with clues regarding the main mystery. The world-building is impressive, and the writing style witty and confident, thus offering an engrossing story.

Mind you, it’s not necessary to be familiar with either Shader or the Nameless Dwarf series to follow and enjoy the novel. It stands perfectly on its own.

Apart from the strong world-building, D. P. Prior’s Husk: A Maresman Tale also features a well-realised and developed protagonist. In correspondence with current and recent trends, Jeb is a flawed and somewhat damaged ‘hero’, who despite having a dark and haunted past still retains a sense of honour, duty and fairness. He’s in no way perfect, and in a couple of occasions does some really stupid things, but that only serves to show that he is only human…

Or rather, only half-human. The “husk” half of Jeb’s heritage gives him certain sex appeal that makes him somewhat more attractive than normal to members of the opposite sex. As a result, there’s a number of mildly erotic encounters which occur throughout the novel, but nothing overly-explicit, graphic, or offensive, if you prefer your fantasy chaste and Tolkienesque. If anything, the sexual content is similar to that of Anne Bishop’s novel Sebastian. And just as well-written.

Another character I need to mention here is Jeb’s horse Tubal, who, I confess, was a bit of a scene-stealer for me. It may sound a little odd, but you’ll know what I mean once you’ve read the novel. Tubal is awesome. And that includes his rather particular name.

Now, with all this in mind, I must point out that Husk: A Maresman Tale wasn’t without its faults. The pacing felt uneven at times and some of the secondary characters came off as underdeveloped. There are a couple of scenes I could only describe as cartoony, with the biggest offender being the introduction of the so-called Graceful Goddess and her cronies… er… Laurel and Hardy. I don’t know. Maybe I have a very poor sense of humour but this particular chapter really felt out of place to me.

Fortunately, all these minor annoyances aside, I have to admit that I really enjoyed reading Husk: A Maresman Tale. D. P. Prior is a very accomplished writer and storyteller, and the world he has created was a joy to explore and get to know. Jeb, too, made for some excellent company, and the action sequences and plot twists more than compensated for the (few and in between) slower sections. The ending was satisfactory as well, paving the way for further instalments in the (potential) series. I, for one, would gladly return to the world of Husk for a second Maresman Tale…

Husk: A Maresman Tale by D. P. Prior is another excellent offering from Ragnarok Publications and a must-read for fans of grimdark fantasy, Westerns, and everything else in between.


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