The Horns of Ruin ticks all boxes and it even has a gorgeous cover. This latest book from Tim Akers seems to have similar fantasy noir setting as his first book, Heart of Veridon.
So who is Eva Forge? Apart from having a kick ass name she is a very talented young lady. Eva was given to the Cult of Morgan the Warrior at a young age. The brothers and sisters of the cult trained her in the arts of war and especially the way of the blade and she was finally ordained as a paladin. Being a Paladin of the dead warrior god Morgan means most of her talents are related to violence. Think Modesty Blaise in a plate mail wielding a massive sword and you won't be far off. Oh wait, Eva Forge has some pretty cool magic at her disposal as well. I really like what Tim Akers have done with magic in this world. The magic is based on the history of Morgan, on the deeds and heroic feats that he accomplished while he was alive. Before and during combat Eva recites passages from Morgan's history, and for instance Everice among Streams let's her divide her attention to face multiple attackers. When Eva is properly buffed up even a Space Marine would have to think carefully before taking her on.
There were three brothers who through their great deeds achieved god hood and immortality. Morgan the god of war, Amon the Scholar and Alexander the Healer. For reasons unknown Amon betrayed them all and killed Morgan. Henceforth there are two aspects to Amon, the Scholar and the Betrayer. Amon was the second brother to be killed and now only Alexander remains as the god king of the human tribes.
Eva is the last Paladin of Morgan and her assignment to escort Fratriarch Barnabas to and from Library Desolate, the prison of the remaining Amonites, goes horribly wrong. At the Library Desolate Barnabas requests that an Amonite should be released into his custody. On the way back they are assailed by men in strange helmet and armor. Barnabas shields himself and Cassandra, the scholar that joined them, in a cocoon of steel and leaves Eva outnumbered and outgunned to hold them off until reinforcements arrive. Eva buffs herself with the incantations of Morgan and one on one the black armored men are no match for her, but this is not a one on one fight. She is forced to withdraw and has to trust that Barnabas is safe behind his barrier of steel, but when Eva returns Barnabas and Cassandra are gone.
The corpses of her attackers turns out to be corpses animated by engines inserted into their chests. Certainly not the style of the followers of Amon the Betrayer, but Eva cannot think of anyone else who would be able to animate the dead. The Rethari, a race of lizardmen, are constantly attacking the borders, but this kind of attack deep within the City of Ash is not like them.
Owen, an Alexian healer and his squad are assigned to help, and keep an eye on Eva, and they quickly turn into a bad cop good cop couple. Owen wants to follow procedure without stepping on toes, but Eva only wants results now. Barnabas is the Fratriarch of her order and practically raised her and nothing will stand in her way, especially not protocol.
Not only does Eva have to find the kidnappers, unravel the mystery of why Barnabas needed an Amonite in the first place, she also has to come to term with her own hatred of something that happened hundred of years ago.
A lot of detail and thought has gone into the world building in The Horns of Ruin and Tim Akers has really pulled it off with the City of Ash where the story takes place. Amon and his scholars built the city on a lake where the brothers had waged war upon the Feyn. The water is forever soiled black from the ash of the burned ruins of an old city.
The City of Ash reminds me of Alan Campbell's Deepgate which was suspended on chains over a near bottomless chasm. Both cities feel dark, brooding, desperate and with an air of decline.
I loved The Horns of Ruin and I suspect it will feature on my top 10 list of books in 2011. There is a lot of action that kept my pulse high, but also deeper and more emotional stuff which accounted for my high goose-bump count. Eva Forge is a real kick ass girl and it was a lot fun following her throughout the book and Tim Akers have really succeeded in making her and the City of Ash to feel real.
The Horns of Ruin weighs in at 269 pages and is published by Pyr.
Verdict: Must read