Grudgebearer – The Grudgebearer Trilogy #1 – J.F. Lewis
Release date: September 2nd, 2014
Age Group: Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Kholster is the first born of the practically immortal Aern, a race created by the Eldrennai as warrior-slaves to defend them from the magic-resistant reptilian Zaur. Unable to break an oath without breaking their connection with each other, the Aern served the Eldrennai faithfully for thousands of years until the Sundering. Now, the Aern, Vael, and Eldrennai meet every hundred years for a Grand Conjunction to renew their tenuous peace.
While the tortures of slavery remain fresh in Kholster’s mind, most of the rest of the world has moved on. Almost six hundred years after the Sundering, an Eldrennai prince carelessly breaks the truce by setting up a surprise museum exhibit containing sentient suits of Aernese armor left behind, never to be touched, lest Kholster kill every last Eldrennai. Through their still-existing connection with their ancient armor, the Aern know instantly, and Kholster must find a way to keep his oaths, even those made in haste and anger. While Kholster travels to the Grand Conjunction with his Freeborn daughter and chosen successor Rae’en, his troops travel by sea, heading for war.
‘Grudgebearer’ is a layered and complex story with multifaceted characters that is perfect when you want to immerse yourself in a whole new world and its rich history. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the book when I first started it, but after finishing it I can’t help but really love it.
The first book in the Grudgebearer trilogy introduces you to a new world, new races and their Deities. The Eldrennai are an ancient and arrogant race of elves. The Zaur are a reptilian race and the mortal enemies of the Eldrennai. To battle the Zaur, the Eldrennai wizard Uled created a race of nearly immortal male fighters, the Aern. The Aern were enslaved by the Eldrennai, with no choice but to follow every single command they got. The magic of their enslavement was however connected to oaths, and as soon as one of the Eldrennai kings broke an oath they made to the Aern, the magic that bound them together lifted. The Aern were free and the Eldrennai were from then on known as Oathbreakers. The Aern are however still connected to the their oaths. They can’t break an oath they make. Doing so makes them wither away, reducing them to a shell of what they once were.
When the Aern were still enslaved the Eldrennai wanted to breed with them and because Eldrennai women were to fragile to bear more than one Aern child, the Vaelsilyn, or Vael as they prefer, were created. A beautiful plant-like species, completely one with nature, that is specifically made to please the Aern and to breed with them. The When the the Aern were freed, so were the Vael. A huge battle between the Eldrennai and the Aern erupted, only stopped by the destruction of the Life Forge that created the Aern. The Aern agreed to give up their warsuits and live a life in isolation. To keep the peace, all three races agreed to come together every hundred years to complete the Grand Conjunction and renew their oath of peace.
The Gods in ‘Grudgebearer’ resemble the Greek or Roman system. They all have their specific function: God of War, God of Knowledge, God of Secrets, … And like the Greek Gods, they don’t always get along and are entangled in subterfuge and backstabbing to best each other. What is even worse is that they use mortal lives to do so. Torgrimm, the Harvester, who collects the souls of the departed, despairs and wonders what will happen if the Gods continue with their destructive games.
Oh, and there’s a dragon as well! I just thought I’d let you all know 😉
The story begins with a young and arrogant Eldrennai prince relocating the famous warsuits the Armored Aern wore during their enslavement. These aren’t just warsuits however, because part of the Aern’s soul is imbedded in it and the warsuit also has the ability to think for itself and communicate with the Aern.
Kholster, the first Aern that was ever made, made an oath to wipe the Eldrennai off the face of the planet if they ever dared touch the warsuits. Bound by this oath, Kholster sets out with his daughter Rae’en to the Grand Conjunction, with war on his mind.
The character of Wylant, Kholster’s ex-wife, shows us the story from the unique perspective of an Aiannai, an Eldrannai who has been deemed worthy to be exempt from the oath. The Aiannai carry the scars of an Aern on their back, just like the offspring of that Aern, to show their status. I really liked the character of Wylant, a strong female warrior that can still admit to having strong, sometimes distracting feelings of love and regret. You can really feel she still cares a whole lot about Kholster. Throughout the book she corrects herself constantly, still thinking of herself as Kholster wife. But Wylant isn’t the only strong female character in this book! Rae’en, Kholster’s daughter, is destined to take over her fathers position and she tries her best to impress him every step of the way. She is however still very young and the young make mistakes. I enjoyed reading about the relationship between Kholster and Rae’en. They both value their relationship very much and are constantly aware how they treat each other. Especially the ‘race’ they did while travelling to the Grand Conjunction was fun to read. The Vael send a female princess, Yavi, to the Grand Conjuction. Reading her point of view gave a strong image of how playful, but peaceful the Vael really are. The Vael representative has to make sure the Aern and Eldrennai part in peace and renew the oath every 100 years and that is also the only thing they really want. They are naturally attracted to the Aern, because they were made to be, but it is interesting to see how Yavi thinks about this, never having met Kholster before.
I read ‘Grudgebearer’ at a rather slow pace. I think a complex story like this needs to be savoured and put down sometimes to let it all sink in. It made the story richer for me.
If you like complex, layered books that give you the chance to discover brand new cultures and intriguing characters, you should give this one a go. It is a perfect blend between action and exhilarating fights, the politics of a world bearing the scars of its history and the characters inner struggles to come to terms with that history. Next to all that we slowly learn more about the Aern’s history through the retelling of some of the key moments that changed their lives forever.
I was impressed by ‘Grudgebearer’ and started in the second book ‘Oathkeeper’ right away, because I just couldn’t wait to visit that world again.