Lords of Asylum

Lords of Asylum by Kevin Wright

Series: The Serpent Knight Saga #1Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Thriller
Date of Publishing: February 29th 2016Publisher: Self-published

Quote of the Book

“Your mistake is thinking of justice as a conflict between two parties. There’s three. The accuser. The accused. And the court. And the court always gets its pound of flesh. Bet on it. Whoever wins, the lord collects a fine. Seizes a house. Requisitions the wrongdoer’s best cow. And sometimes, when a blue moon shines, he just basks in the reflected glory of having done what was truly right. (…) So that next time, he can dip his beak in a little deeper, a little longer, and sneak an extra taste.”

Sir Luther Slythe Krait

Blurb

A city at war. A knight on the run. A murder most foul.

Plague howls through Europe, war rages across the land, and Asylum City wavers in the grip of an arcane killer.

Amidst the maelstrom churning, enter Sir Luther Slythe Krait: a knight long bled dry of chivalry, a fallen lawman whose sole desire is to slink along unnoticed, unneeded, forgotten.

But Krait is a man who gets what he deserves, not what he desires.

Lord Raachwald rules half of the ruin that is Asylum City, and he intends to rule all. But his heir was murdered in a dark rite and Raachwald’s legacy and purpose lie shattered. And with his son’s killer still at-large, revenge, too, lies beyond his reach.

But Lord Raachwald has not forgotten Krait. The two have history and, in point of fact, Raachwald hates him. And with good reason. But he also knows Krait has his uses.

Plunged into Asylum’s civil war and tasked into Raachwald’s service, Krait must hunt the heir’s killer. But it’s a labyrinthine trail fraught with dark sorcery and peril. Can Krait navigate Asylum’s maze of power-ravenous lords long enough to unmask the truth? Hunt down the killer? Bring him to justice?

Or will he die trying?

Disclaimer/Personal Note

I’ve received an e-copy from the author in exchange for an honest review, which in no way impacted my views. Thank you Kevin Wright for the copy of the book!

Editor’s note: We’ve had a copy of the earlier version of the book. It seems like an updated version was released in February 2020.

Song of the Book

Review

This book was a fucking masterpiece. Just had to get that out of my chest. 

It’s been a while since I’ve managed to become so deeply engaged with a story as I did with Kevin Wright’s Lords of Asylum. This unyielding book is the chimerical child of fantasy, historical, mystery, thriller, and noir. It’s the Frankenstein of genres and it packs no punches in delivering a story that is madly atmospheric, each sentence the carefully tightened string of a harp playing some deathly tune; dangerously enthralling to those who listen to it. 

If you are careless enough to plan arrangements before you decide to pick up this book, you’ll find yourself making up excuses so as to not put it down again, not until if you reach that quenching satisfaction of turning the last page, like the epic conclusion to a symphony. I knew this book was special when it described puke as “Homeric”. 

Right off the bat, we are projected onto a scene of death. We are in the surroundings of the Hellwood, a forest that was aptly named, and not for harboring cute little bunnies safe within their cozy burrows. Weaving the narrative is Sir Luther Krait, a former knight with some weight to his name now working as a sort of mercenary, and meeting Krait amongst the bloody remains of his companions are Lady Narcissa Volkendorf and Lord Raachwald, both prominent nobles of Svaldrake. 

As nobles are wont to do, they come bearing a hidden agenda that’s usually fatal to those around them, and Krait is lucky enough to be caught right in the middle of their path (as we’ll soon discover, being lucky is one of Krait’s strongest attributes). Stuck in an ultimatum with his brother’s life at stake, Krait is tasked by Lord Raachwald to find the murderer of his son and Lady Narcissa’s own children and husband. 

The night the assassin came is shrouded in mystery; witnesses claim impossible physical traits and feats of strength from a man who managed to kill 10 people in one night. Suspicions of black magic abound and only a man like Krait can hunt down such a monster.

But for that he will have to brave the streets of Asylum City, a place bickered over by the five lords reigning over the lands surrounding it, a grand center of trade and the hub of Svaldrake.

“This city is a house razed. I see its charred bones stark against the white of winter, huddled amidst the gate, skin blasted off in peels of cinder and ash. Yet it stands and shall continue to do so. It shall not fall. It cannot.”

Five lords, five lands with Asylum City at its nexus, and a whole lot of shit for Krait to drown himself in, for the city is desolated by plague and ulterior motives are as plentiful as taverns (and ulterior blades even more so). This dichotomous city of constant burning plague fire and frozen iciness from the snow is the holy ground of the death of morality and decency.

Everybody in Asylum City is trying to survive the sternness of this medieval world and Krait is just another body stuck in chaos, albeit one with stark connections to prominent figures. 

Krait’s hilarious, depraved sense of humor is the perfect fit for such a backdrop. He’s one of those characters that makes it delightful to be stuck inside his head. 

Often he was grim, rude, obnoxious, irritatingly charismatic, unrepentant,…The list of his faults goes on, but I also found there was an unending list of affinities I could find with his character (the minute he poured wine into his tea I knew I could like him). He could be caring when he decided to, maintaining his humanity amongst all the darkness of Asylum City, and also cunning, strikingly sincere, and trusting (though I must admit, often times he had little choice between trust or death).

His witty quips were positively hilarious, which just stems from the fact the dialogue in the book is flawlessly written; it honestly feels as if you’re having a conversation with your asshole friends. I don’t think I’ve read a character this entertaining in a while. 

“I don’t do the right thing simply on principle. Sets a bad precedent. People might start having expectations of me.”

Much like the book itself, Krait was terrifyingly dark, hopeless, violent, melding himself seamlessly with the scenery of Asylum City. 

As you follow him along in his journey to uncover a murder mystery, both you and him are linked in chasing a specter, getting glimpses and hints of an unknown thing, never quite understanding the abnormality of the murder who took Lord Raachwald and Lady Narcissa’s families. 

As Krait, you keep being pushed further by curiosity, and this morbid desire to reach a conclusion reels you in until you can’t look away for even a second because you must know, and you must know now. Every little detail, every political connection between the lords and religious forces vying for power, every personal link, every financial trace of a secret, adds another puzzle piece to an already mounting pile. Every time Krait selects a piece from the pile and fits it into the big picture, another one takes its place.

Wright constructs an intriguing murder mystery teeming with political intrigue and sets it in the uncommon landscape of a land divided by the men who crave to claim it. 

It’s a whole fantasy setting constructed from the dregs of real-world history, the tethers of it still present and identifiable (as in references to the Knights Templar and Jewish mythology and history), holding on to names and knowledge of places, religion, civilizations known to us.

Having a prevalent presence of Jewish characters, it deals heavily with themes of antisemitism and racism, as it recalls the horrendous holocaustic moments of our history. Artfully political, Krait’s narrative never shies from criticizing systematic injustice.

“And just because you haven’t picked a side in this little war doesn’t mean you’re neutral.”

I loved that even the smallest events hinted at something or had their intended purpose. Even the opening journal entries in the chapters find their resolution and reason linked to Krait’s journey. Scenes in the book that at first glance are there to excite the plot end up having a deeper meaning in the entire story. It was amazing to remember them and connect the dots on how important I didn’t realize they were when I first read them. 

I love books like this, that always give me more than I ask for, that gift me an excitement that I never even knew was coming, all the while written in a well-crafted writing style that has a magnetic tone. I was halfway through the book when it became an instant favorite and it didn’t let up from there.

This is a book best savored like a good wine, letting it slowly dance across your palate to drop a fiery, welcomed warmth down your throat. A warmth that settles in your core and awakens your thirst for the next glass. Like Krait, you’ll be eager to take that next sip and quickly run to open the next installment of The Serpent Knight Saga. 

In the end, Lords of Asylum was cataclysmic, nitty-gritty perfection with a good, unhealthy dose of backstabbing. I can’t wait to see where the next book will take me. 

Content Warnings: death, violence, gore, alcohol abuse, disease, murder, rape mention, antisemitism, racism, mentions of holocaust, beheading, hanging

Our Judgement

Praise Their Name - 5 crowns

She was very young the first time her parents put a book in her hands (most likely an inventive way to shut her up and keep her still) and have not found it in her to stop reading since. Oral tradition has a special place in her heart—it was due to her grandparents' speech storytelling that her love for languages and stories was ignited, and so she has grown to love fantasy and sci-fi above all, as genres particularly influenced by folktales.

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