Thrall is a stand-alone novel – for now, at least – by Steven Shrewsbury. It is a heroic fantasy in a dark and gritty setting filled with warriors, armies, blood, gore, some zombies, an undead dragon with the soul of a man, and even a mammoth cavalry ridden by barbarians. Cool, right? Above all, though, it is the story of Gorias La Gaul, an ancient hero and legend.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is its setting. It isn’t set in a fantasy world, nor in a world we know as our own. Instead, the story of Thrall takes place in a Biblical version of Earth, in a time before Noah and the Flood, when angels roamed the earth and their children were the giants of legend, and when men lived a thousand years. It is a time when humans start to overpopulate the planet and there are whispers that God is about to wipe out mankind and start anew.
This is by no means a religious story, though. That is one thing made clear from the moment the novel starts, when our legendary hero, Gorias – slayer of dragons and believed long dead or even only a myth by many – kills a local assassin in brutal fashion. From there, he is led to the authorities who force him to take on the job of this assassin: preventing the planned revival of a dead priest who has the power to destroy the earth and everyone on it. The mission, however, soon turns out to be nothing like it seems, and Gorias is thrust into a war between three factions, one of which is led by a zombie dragon.
I had trouble describing the story, and my description still feels a little off to me. That is because, though this novel was highly enjoyable, the plot is thin at best. While Gorias leaps from one fight to the next, the reasons for these fights are never thoroughly explained. The battle in the last sixty pages of the book is truly amazing, but the reasons for the participating armies to be where they are is even more sketchy. Apparently, there is a weapon factory nearby that both armies have decided to storm at the same time, but the reason why the barbarians from the north are thousands of miles from home to attack this particular factory is never given.
However disturbing this flaw is, it doesn’t change the entertainment this book has brought me. I believe Shrewsbury never intended this to be a plot-driven story, but a character-driven story instead. The story is actually driven by one character, that of Gorias La Gaul. It works for me, too, for this is a very well fleshed out character. He isn’t always likable, but he is always believable. The story of Thrall depends on him to steal the heart of the reader, and that’s what he did to me. Gorias is definitely one of the better characters in fantasy, and an amazing hero.
Furthermore, this is a well-written story with great dialogues, containing a hint of philosophy I very much enjoyed, and an awesome climax. Who cares if the plot is sketchy when a legend battles an undead dragon, a cool hooded warrior girl shoots arrows at evil priests and an army runs into a cavalry of mammoths?
Why should you read this book?
Don’t expect a smart story or a masterpiece of fantasy. If you’re looking to be entertained, perhaps between reading some heavier fantasy, Thrall is a light story you might want to read. It works as it is, and I will definitely read the sequel that I’m sure will follow after this one’s cliffhanger ending. However, at a mere 260 pages, it could have benefited from an extra hundred pages to further explore both the plot and the setting.
Stephan received a review copy of this book courtesy of Seventh Star Press.