It has been a while since I’ve read a good ‘ol sword and sorcery story and I was pretty excited when Matt Spencer sent this e-ARC along and it was a wild ride! CHANGING OF THE GUARDS is a brutal adventure set in a grimdark fantasy world where the land may eat you, while intrigue may stab you in the back for fun.
Captain Severen Gris gets more than he bargains for when given a mission out on the frontier. He is tasked to put down a local group of bandits, but what he ends up stumbling upon, is corruption that goes to the very height of the Spirelight empire instead. Severen finds himself between a rock and a hard place, but he may just hack and slash his way out regardless.
Spencer takes the classic tropes of fantasy in hand, but inverts and re-imagines them. It is truly striking how different this book feels from other sword and sorcery stories. It blends two fantasy sub-genres together; sword/sorcery and grimdark, while also stylized as a more contemporary fantasy all it’s own. The cursing some readers may find to be jarringly realistic since even some of the euphemisms seemed to be pulled from pop culture. Yet, Spencer not only makes this work, but work well. The politics in the book, especially the racial tensions, between characters are specifically poignant.
Gris as a protagonist isn’t exactly new by any standards, as far as being a troubled, but capable fighter. He seems to be guided by a certain set of morals, while often choosing what is best for him and him alone. He certainly walks the line of being anti-hero or a hero, but never fully goes down either line. The other characters that surround him are wonderful though, and here Spencer’s style shines with fleshing out various secondary stories effortlessly.
This is all said without even getting to the rich world-building that is done to create a setting with depth, while politics, economics, and power dynamics push and pull behind the scenes. Not a corner of the Spirelight Empire has been left out in Spencer’s meticulous scene setting. There are some pretty graphic scenes of violence, while also the insinuation/presence of sexual violence as well, so this isn’t one for the kiddos. Yet, if you enjoy fantasy with a flavor of Game of Thrones grey morality, violence, and sex, then this may be your next read.