One of Facebook’s best kept secrets, in my opinion, is the Grimdark Readers & Writers group. I *think* the Battle Royale is thrown quarterly, although it’s the first I’ve actively been involved with.
Here’s the link if you’re interested:
Ultimately, my vote goes to Smile of An Empress. Having said that, I thought I’d briefly review all three entries, because all of them were so dang good. Truly expectional, guys and gals! You all should be proud.😀
1.) The Brood Must Endure–
Very impressive and intense beginning, with just enough mystique and gore. Well-written, with a clear sense of characterisation. Addictive; the words were very fluidlike. In fact, it was increasingly difficult-almost impossible– to set aside…not that I wanted to. The characters outside of Surandir and her father, Torsk, were an unexpected, albeit smart choice. They were needed. Said choice made them, in retrospect, hard to ignore. I grew to adore them, and I cannot imagine the story without any of them.
There were also elements of pathos, which isn’t always associated with fantasy, and so that was a surprising touch. I appreciated that while it wasn’t over the top, it wasn’t minimal, either. It was grisly, an escalated tragedy permeating throughout.
The quickly escalating adventure that ensued, resembling a personal journey more anything, however, was its strongest virtue. 4.5 stars.
2.) “From Teeth and Claws”- The opening sentence hooked me right away: ‘The guilty man writhed underneath the body of the monstrous Warg.’ The ensuing battle, coupled with atmospheric details, was nothing short of sheer brutality, shock, excitement, and political intrigue. From the start, I could never predict what was coming next, and everything that did (with the possible exception of the denouement,) continually surprised and intrigued me. In particular, I loved the symbiotic relationship between Syn and Talys. It fascinated me, and I wanted to learn more. Likewise, the mythology and worldbuilding. 4 stars.
3.) “Smile of An Empress”–
“As fine a day as any for a mother to sell her daughter.”
The story started simply enough, with adequate stimulation to keep me curious. But the quote above genuinely took me aback, and it changed the tone and purpose of the tale entirely. I never would have expected the direction the author took it to, and I have absolute respect for broaching such important subject matter.
The prose and pace were near perfection. I loved every second spent in Estanfal. The small details set in what was clearly a totalitarian regime, coupled with great character development and worldbuilding (Estanfal’s definitely a place I’d like to know more about, and would pay for additional stories set there,) in addition to the intrigue, mythology, and conspiracies, made for an unforgettable grimdark contribution.
Reminiscent of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and the Premiere reminding me of the emperor from Star Wars, what I loved most was the integrity of Courier Harald. Admittedly, he had done some horrible things, but I believe he was trapped in his unique position (a means of survival,) and he desperately wanted to do the right thing. 5 stars.
EDIT: I forgot to mention that the three stories can be read for free at the following link: