Rock’n’roll lives—and so does sword and sorcery—in Brian Keene’s and Steven L. Shrewsbury’s Throne of the Bastards. The title alone lets the reader know the fun’s in the fury when it comes to Rogan, barbarian king of Albion.
Throne of the Bastards is the sequel to King of the Bastards, the first installment in Keene’s and Shrewsbury’s horror-meets-sword and sorcery mash-up series. It picks up where the first slash-fest left off, with Rogan, having adventured to the land of Olmek-Tikal, returning by ship to retake the Kingdom of Albion from a usurping son. This is where the horror elements seep into the fantasy—for the king sitting on Albion’s throne still possesses Rogan’s legitimate heir Rohain’s body, but is controlled by the spirit of his bastard son, Karza.
War ensues immediately upon Rogan’s return. The narrative introduces a diversity of characters similar to an epic such as Game of Thrones, though with sleeker descriptions. Before he can confront his enemies, Rogan must balance an uneasy set of alliances. The motley and slightly monstrous rebel army comprises General Thyssen’s battle-hardened soldiers from the north, a rag-tag troop of Albion loyalists from the capital, and his bastard-daughter’s host of Pryten wildfolk, including her otherworldly and disturbing horde of tree-dwelling troglodytes. From General Thyssen’s darkly sarcastic humor to Pryten Queen Andraste’s violent lusts, the alliance is no easy beast to yoke, and there are adventures to be had in consolidating his rule of the rebellion alone.
Having secured his power at no small price, Rogan then journeys to the capital to confront Karza. He discovers his son’s minions are even more fiendish than the abominations conjured by his allies. Here the book develops a level of tension and suspense that hits the page-turning sweet-spot. By making no apologies for its homage to Robert E. Howard and what now passes for unabashed, hard-rocking ‘grimdark’ fantasy tropes, Keene and Shrewsbury achieve a certain freshness and fun not often seen in today’s more commonly encountered fantasy aesthetics.
Throughout the novel, a cast of shrewd and outlandish villains adds spice to the flavor. A wizard named Papa Bon Deux, a winged aberration of a demon called the ‘Helvectia,’ and a heavy-helping of family betrayal, tragic sacrifice, and well-described action keep the pace alive until the story reaches its climactic conclusion. This, of course, lends itself to the possibility of more installments and even prequels. Suffice it to say, if you put your money down for an action-packed ride with a smart sense of style, Throne of the Bastards will leave you satisfied yet ready for more!
Other titles by Brian Keene and Steven L. Shrewsbury: