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Book Review: Wraith Knight by C.T. Phipps

I like grimdark.

You probably know that.

I wrote an article about it. I quoted grimdark author/literary/game critic C.T. Phipps in the article. So I was familiar with him in the space, but I had never read one of his books. And I figured it was about time …

I decided to start with Wraith Knight. The premise I understood was something like the Dark Lord was defeated and the last of his Nazgûl regained free will. Knowing Phipps was a grimdark author, I also had every expectation of this idea being played out in gritty, serious way.

While technically accurate, the premise didn’t actual prepare me for the book I sat down to read, which differs significantly in tone from something like The Lord of the Rings in more ways than just being grimmer. Honestly, at first, it seems lighter (also, there’s a much higher level of magic present).

In fact, whatever you might expect, Wraith Knight will probably deliver something else.

The wit and self-awareness resonating throughout the novel instills the feeling of something I might have expected from Neil Gaiman, occasionally cut in with Whedon-like banter. The net result being an eminently readable experience I tore through quite quickly, while always vaguely aware of the deconstruction of fantasy going on around me.

The novel has an usual quality of, at first, seeming much lighter than it actually is. Our protagonist, the Wraith Knight Jacob Riverson, is a fallen hero desperate to restore himself both physically and morally after having spent centuries thralled to the King Below. He finds himself suddenly awakened into a changed world that has advanced in technology and which has seemingly benefited from social reforms.

Adrift in this new world and with fragment memories, Jacob quickly attaches himself to a rebel knight named Regina, and through her meets our final protagonist, Serah. The three of them begin a quest to undermine the Empress who slew the King Below because of her corruption. As one might expect, this eventually leads to the revelation that there is no clear good or evil in this world, not even the King Below. The further down the rabbit hole you go, the more the traditional high fantasy sense of good vs. evil seems utterly arbitrary.

And while typical grimdark fantasy handles this sort of thing by removing it from the equation entirely, as I said, this feels more like a deconstruction wherein Phipps uses the traditions and then subverts them.

Expect plenty of twists in the second half of the novel. Some I saw coming, some I didn’t.

I imagine among the best recommendation I can make for a book is to say I’m about to buy the sequel. And I’m about to buy the sequel.

Want to check out Wraith Knight?

Grab it here.

1 Comment

  1. C.T. Phipps says:

    Awesome review, Matt. I’m glad you liked the book. Yes, a lot of the book’s appeal to me is similar to what I enjoyed about M.L. Spencer’s Rhenwars Saga. It’s not so much traditional fantasy ideas don’t exist–it’s just they’re propaganda.

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