Published: September 30, 2019
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Pages: 128 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.5/5.0
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
It is two hundred years since the deity known as the Absolved went mad and destroyed the Kingdom of Alnachim, transforming it into the Execration, a blasted wasteland filled with nameless terrors. For decades, desperate souls have made pilgrimage to the centre of this cursed land to seek the Mad God’s favour, their fate always unknown.
Now a veteran warrior known only as Pilgrim, armed with a fabled blade inhabited by the soul of a taunting demon, must join with six others to make the last journey to the heart of the Execration. Allied with a youthful priest, a beast-charmer, a duplicitous scholar, an effete actor and two exiled lovers, Pilgrim must survive madness, malevolent spirits, unnatural monsters and the ever-present risk of treachery, all so that the Mad God might hear his prayer and, perhaps, grant redemption. But can sins such as his ever be forgiven?
First of all, this short story is entirely separate from the Raven’s Shadow world so anyone can enjoy this and it’s a great way to acquaint yourself with Anthony Ryan’s writing. Secondly, since A Pilgrimage of Swords is published by Subterranean Press you can guarantee that it will be a small work of art. The cover art is fantastic and the story within is just as great.
Pilgrim is introduced to readers during the tail end of a caravan raid, though at this point he doesn’t have a name. He’s surveying the damages and his sword is talking to him… and he’s talking back. Rest assured, he’s not crazy his sword’s just possessed. We are shortly thereafter introduced to a woman who calls herself Seeker and her hyena, both of who are on the same journey as Pilgrim. They are seeking the Mad God in hopes that he will grant them a wish.
The plot of the story is well outlined in the synopsis and I see no need to rehash the topic. The journey to the Mad God is perilous and filled with the horrors of the blasted land now called the Execration. The group of travelers are an odd bunch – there’s Pilgrim and his demon sword, Seeker who hopes the Mad God will tell her where her daughter is, a couple who have called themselves after a pair of star crossed lovers, a masked actor, a scholar, and of course the young priest who is probably the last of his order. Not all are as they seem and for the most part they hold their cards close – what will they ask of the Mad God? It was fascinating to see these mysteries unravel as they get closer to their destination. Hidden talents and motives are revealed and not everyone makes it to the end.
I was suitably impressed with the story and the history of Pilgrim and his sword was particularly fascinating. As novellas tend to be, this was a tantalizing snapshot of a world and one that I would love to read more of. The ending left plenty of room for future books in the series, though I shan’t say more because it would spoil who lives through the book!