The Weight of Blood
by David Daglish
(The Half-Orcs #1)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
What first drew me to this book was the intriguing cover with the two half-orc brothers lurking along the edge of a camp. The second attraction was the fact that this series is about half-orcs, not something I think about too often - most of the cute YA fantasy novels I've been reading tend to feature half-human, half-fae or half-elven main characters. The third thing was that the ebook is free on Amazon (also free on Nook, if that's how you roll) and has decent reviews. Being the cheapster that I am, the freebie status cemented my interest.The story centers around two half-orc brothers, Harruq and Qurrah Tun, who live in squalor on the edges of society, which has rejected them due to their heritage. They soon find out that they are actually half-elves, which ties into their larger destiny. Harruq is physically stronger and serves as the "brawn to [Qurrah's] brains," as he likes to put it. Qurrah is weak and smaller than Harruq but possesses skills of manipulation and sorcery, since he once served for a necromancer. His desire to learn causes him to create a vow to serve the death prophet Velixar (a Sauron-like character), and this commitment also pulls in the loyalties of Harruq, who has sworn to protect his brother no matter what.
Out of the two brothers, I find Harruq easier to identify with, since he possesses a conscience for the violence he inflicts on others. His conscience starts out tenuous but forms once his stakes increase with his growing friendship with the elf-mage Aurelia. Conflicted, Harruq is torn between his loyalties to his brother and his friendship with Aurelia. I appreciated the glimpses into the motivations of this character as well as those of his brother, because they made a hard-to-love character (child killer and all) at least possible to identify with.
On the other hand, I wanted to villainize Qurrah since he exhibits a sense of ruthlessness and vengeance that his brother does not have. However, while he loves Harruq he does not hesitate to manipulate him into mindless obedience for the sake of his necromancy practice. He is a product of his past, but the ending pushes a realization upon Qurrah that leaves some room for him to change. In terms of morality, he's darn close to evil, but a lot of this stems from bitterness, and he is quite malleable. I can understand his bitterness since he has gone through more than his brother, and in many ways he is even more flawed than his brother, who can exhibit more lightheartedness.
The action scenes are well-written, adrenaline-ridden, and contain a lot of blood, if you can stomach that. With Qurrah's hemorrhaging spells come gruesome, sticky results that make R.A. Salvatore's gory scenes look like a herd of rainbow unicorns frolicking through the clouds. I found myself cradling my jugulars during some of these gore fests. Daglish gives enough description and leaves the details for the imagination....and as we can see from Velixar's influence, imagination can be a powerful thing. Bleh.
As for world-building, compared to a lot of fantasy, there is not a lot of world-building here, but a lot of the old histories are tied in directly with the lots of Harruq and Qurrah. This is more of a character-centric novel, so there are no sweeping histories or paragraphs of geography lessons in these pages, but they are interwoven into the story. The only time I actually noticed world building was when Velixar gave Harruq and Qurrah a history lesson of the gods, which was actually pretty interesting. Also, the towns of Woodhaven and the capital city seem to use the standard modern fantasy tropes of swords and sorcery, and the races of elves, humans, and orcs. As a result, it wasn't as necessary for Daglish to describe the surroundings as much.
With less emphasis on world building and more on character development, the pacing was fast, and I tore through the novel in about three hours. Harruq's internal conflict was the best part of this book, cheesy as it was. But it plays out on an immensely satisfying level. The character Harruq grew on me, as well as that of Aurelia, who was quite easy to like and was no damsel in distress. I wasn't sure who would live, and so the possibilities of some of my favorite minor character dying set me on edge. By the end of the novel, I was lolling my head with delirium (okay, more like just shivering with excitement).