This is the third book in the Hounds of the North series. I read the first book in the series, The Witch of the Sands, and greatly enjoyed it. I haven't read the second book, Black River.
In this book, we continue on with Spear and his band. They've been hired to deliver the heads of five devils who slaughtered a little girl's family. As they find out what they're up against, will the cost be too much?
First, because this book is part of a series, it's always a question of whether you have to do background reading before delving in. In this case, you don't. This book works great as a stand alone. For me, it was more a matter of remembering the characters as I was reading along. It was almost like I'd taken a brief journey with these people before and then years later came across them once again. 'Oh! Yeah I remember that guy!' Though you don't need any of the background from the previous books, it is fun to have that little connection. On the other hand, you aren't bogged down with a lot of back story. Sometimes authors tend to go overboard in an attempt to let you know what happened before, and if you've read the previous books it can be pretty annoying. 'Yes! I was there! Move on already!' In this case, Fugazzotto did an amazing job. If you didn't know this was part of a series, you wouldn't have guessed it.
This book is NOT for young readers or those faint of heart! There are some pretty fierce battles and a lot of brutality going on. Now, the battle scenes are brilliantly painted and incredibly realistic, but they can still be a little difficult to stomach, especially if you have an active imagination. Some of the characters in the book are true monsters and their treatment of others is difficult to read. Though it's graphically violent, it's definitely necessary in this book. There aren't really any 'good' guys, but we have to be sympathetic to our hero, Spear. Even though Spear has done some pretty nasty things in his time, by seeing just how horrible the 'bad' guys can be, it lets you rally your forces and ride with Spear into battle.
This is a tale of bandits and brigands and fallen soldiers. It's pretty intense with only the random humor of Bones to break it up. It reminds me a lot of those tales of cowboys when the West was dieing. They had this whole way of life, but everything went and changed and they found themselves lost. It's the same here. These previous Hounds of the North are lost and searching for a way to bring meaning back to their lives. For each one, it's something different that they chase. It's fascinating to watch them try to puzzle out their lives and figure out their place in the world. It's also incredibly sad when we see the ones who just don't seem to 'get it' when it comes to what's really important.
If you read any of the previous books, you already know if this is your thing. If not, you'll know by page two if this is something you're interested in. It's an intense tale of lost warriors scrambling to right the world. It's a tale of hope and loss. It's a tale of fear. In the words of one of my favorite characters, 'Your life will end with you'.
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