A thoroughly entertaining, action packed and epic story packed into a novella sized bundle, radiating grimdark bleakness and imaginative ideas.
Author: Zamil Akhtar
Publishing Information: Self Published, 14th October 2021
My head hurts… in a good way!
There was so much to get my head around within the space of 100 pages with Death Rider but it is written so well and the pace kept so high that I was compelled and engaged at all times.
Our protagonist Darya begins the story being dragged out of her yurt to a waiting firing squad, her failure in battle costing the lives of hundreds and earning her death. When the weapon carrying her shot fails to fire, her life is briefly prolonged when her leader, Shah Jalal orders her to join the Death Riders.
Our splintered wood would crash against the enemy’s ravenous steel. They didn’t call us death riders because it sounded fearsome — we rode to our deaths for the cause.
Being assigned to the Death Riders was a punishment, but a more noble death than being subject to a firing squad, a punishment that meant you would die fighting in battle rather than on your knees in a ditch.
As the story develops, you begin to realise not everything is as it appears, and there are clues littered amongst the brutality and grim scenes that unfold. It would give away too much to go into more detail, but I really liked how it was done, even if at first I didn’t quite understand what was going on. More pieces of the puzzle are revealed towards the end.
90% of the book is really pretty grim and bleak, and Akhtar excels in painting this picture of horror, death and forlorn hope. Speaking of horror, without revealing too much, there are actually parts that did feel very creepy. The God that is revealed later in the book gave me shivers, and I really enjoyed the sinister, mysterious vibe the author was able to create around it.
I haven’t read Gunmetal Gods and decided to start with this novella, book 0.5 so it made sense to me to get a taste for the writing and the world, and I’m incredibly impressed. Death Rider is its own self contained story, with what I imagine are small nods to the world of the wider series. While writing a satisfying and interesting story is an achievement in itself within just over 100 pages, I appreciated being able to taste the flavour of this series after only a few of them.
The conflict feels inspired by elements of various cultures and factions of the middle ages, including parallels to the Ottoman Empire, with Shah Jalal’s army consisting of Janissaries. Perhaps most predominately this felt inspired by The Crusades, and is told from the perspective of the side we’d associate with the Middle Eastern forces. You’ll see the author has made quite the divergence from the religions of the Holy Wars, however. I loved how inventive the elements within combine to make the book feel like sort of a fantasy-historical fiction- mythology- horror.
Just want to say thanks to the author for making this book available as a free download. It’s really whet my appetite for the main series, which I am now excited to get onto. A brilliant read I highly recommend.
A disgraced warrior seeks an honorable death on the battlefield, but an eldritch god has other plans for her.
(I love how short that blurb is, it gives nothing away!)
Books 1 and 2, Gunmetal Gods and Conqueror’s Blood, are out now: