Graylands is where people go when they don't want to be found. A neutral, mostly frontier country between two opposing empires, it is a haven for drifters, pilgrims, outlaws, and everything in between hoping to build a new life, find adventure, or just disappear. Katrina Lamont is one such individual. Once upon a time, she was the Chosen One-a warrior charged with a great and heroic destiny. But when she finished her journey, there was no happy ending waiting for her. Now she lives as an embittered, alcoholic drifter, haunted by the ghosts of her past. But when an evil sorcerer, Jacob Daredin, seeks to fulfill an ancient prophecy that may grant him god-like power, Katrina will have to take up the sword once again as she finds herself caught in a race to find the young woman whose sacrifice is the key to Daredin's mad dream. Along the way, she will contend with Krutch Leeroy-an infamous outlaw who is not all he seems-and cross paths with Lily Blackthorn-a perky, but mysterious woman with a dark secret of her own. As Daredin's forces close in, they will traverse a haunted landscape of pirates, demons, killers, con-men, an immortal juggernaut, and worse in an adventure where the line between destiny and plain bad luck is razor thin.
Walsh’s characters brim with life. Fallen from grace, Katrina is embittered and rough around the edges. Krutch Leeroy is delightfully unsure of himself, his legendary status constantly getting the better of him. Lily Blackthorn’s humanity shines through, despite her demonic nature. Walsh takes a standard fantasy quest, complete with sacred daggers and a storied villain named The Enforcer, and breathes fresh life into it, with crisp action, cliffhangers, and ideas. A world where pirates battle dragons (“But I bet you’ve never taken a bullet, have you, you big bastard?”) is nothing if not inventive.
Some seasoned fantasy readers may find Walsh’s world-building to be a little uneven. Inconsistent naming choices—names like Krutch, Cypher, and Kader butt up against Lily, Katrina, and Jacob—may pull readers out of Walsh’s otherwise finely crafted world. Still, fans of high-stakes fantasy will appreciate what Walsh adds to the genre. His keen eye for detail and memorable scene-setting is bolstered by a wry humor. Walsh has already penned a sequel, which readers will no doubt seek out after reading this series kickoff.
Takeaway: This rousing fantasy abounds with character and inventive action.
Great for fans of: Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood, Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
In this subversive debut fantasy, a fallen heroine is drawn into the schemes of madmen.
Alcoholic Katrina Lamont is in the frontier town of Dictum in the untamed Graylands that separate the Two Empires. While drinking away memories of her tragic past, she’s approached by the suave Rasul Kader who needs help tracking down a mystery woman with a grand destiny. “I’ve had enough destiny in my life,” she declares. Meanwhile, Capt. Deacon Marcus of the Sentry Elite has arrived in Dictum on a hunt for the stolen Dragon’s Fang dagger. He meets with Guardian Mage Elijah Warren, who informs him that a sickness is brewing in the nearby forest and he must investigate a possible breach into the Black, where evil rules. South of Dictum, in a fortress near the Dark Lands, the vile Jacob Daredin waits for his machinations to bear fruit. He possesses the Dragon’s Fang and needs only to spill royal blood during the Devil’s Moon to become all-powerful. And finally, there’s the legendary pirate Krutch Leeroy, whose agents have assaulted Katrina, pushing her to join Deacon Marcus on his quest in the Derelict Woods. Katrina, however, has no idea that she’ll soon confront the brutal, invincible Enforcer and a girl named Lily, whose fate overlaps with her own. If these “Travelers on a mission” and “talk of quests and destiny” make author Walsh’s debut seem like every other fantasy adventure, think again. His self-aware approach to genre blending (using not just orcs and gargoyles, but also a serial killer) provides a rigorous example of tight, engaged storytelling. The playful prose dances the line between silly and epic, like when Krutch is described as “a legit, real-deal pirate.” After the complex chess-style setup, Walsh begins savagely removing pieces from the board in ways that should satisfy fans of gory creature features. It’s Katrina and her incredible past, though, that make this a must for casual and hard-core fantasy readers.
This debut features a string of startling, satisfying twists wrapped up in mesmerizing fantasy.