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Scott Oden is an outstanding writer of historical adventure fiction and fantasy. I'll be looking at his novels over the coming months. For now, though, I want to take a look at this short piece, a tale of orcs. I've reviewed several stories about orcs in the last few months, one by Charles Gramlich and three different stories by Tom Doolan.
This latest is probably the darkest of the lot, which is by no means a bad thing. It concerns a punitive raid on a temple. The leader of the orcs is Kraibag, Captain of the 10th Zhrokari Brigade. They've finished destroying the temple for spreading sedition. Kraibag is about to kill the surviving priestess when he's stopped by Muzgaash, a Witch Hound. Witch Hounds can sense magic, and he warns Kraibag of sorcery.
He's right. It's only minutes later that everything erupts as the priestess uses herself as a blood sacrifice. What ensues is an attempt by the surviving orcs (Kraibag and Muzgaash) to track down the priestess responsible for setting up the spell enabling the first priestess to sacrifice herself and to prevent a prophesied child messiah from arising to destroy them.
There's plenty of action and excitement in this one, and the sorcery is good and creepy. Oden writes conflict well, and the pacing carried me along. This is more than just a story of good guys versus bad guys. It's more like bad guys versus bad guys. It's hard to say who is more vile here, the orcs or the priestess Amarante. One of the things that impressed me about this story was how Oden took traditional villains, the orcs, and without changing them or making them nice in any way, made them sympathetic. Initially my sympathies were with the humans, but as I saw the lengths they were willing to which they were willing to go to defeat the orcs, that changed. The end does not always justify the means.
Another thing I liked was that this story didn't take place in a vacuum. There's a history that informs all the events. Oden refrains from infodumping it all on you. Instead, he lets you have enough information when you need it to understand the contexts of the things the characters say and do. I especially liked Kraibag's reaction to the ghosts when he passes through an old battleground. This approach made me want to read more stories set in this world.
Scott Oden has had a tough year. I'll not go into any details because it's not my place to do so. If this sounds like a story you'd enjoy, show him your support by buying and reading "Aramante" and then telling a friend about it. I'm hoping he'll post something else soon. Like maybe that historical piece featuring Richelieu he was working on last year.