Stay with me.
The first few chapters seem the average fantasy fare tinged with blood and questionable morality. The main character, Jorg, witnesses a traumatic scene and wants justice, but is denied it because of the games the nobles play. Denial sours his soul. Much of what a boy of his age may concern himself with is discarded. He only understands death, violence, and the nagging draw of retribution.
The story unfolds chapter by chapter, revealing secrets of that fateful scene, and crystalizing the setting the story takes place. The author is vague in his descriptions, but uses nouns that drag at your lips with consideration. And when you thought you understood everything there is to know about the story, the last couple chapters surprise you.
A review of this story wouldn't do without addressing the "grimdark" moniker placed on so many stories of this type. Some have complained that this story is too (insert dark themed descriptive here). I don't see none of it. Yes, there's violence and dark characters, but if you place the story against the setting itself, you can understand why. The lands suffer from a years long, one hundred nation war for the throne of the collapses empire. War is not a pretty thing made of shiny-clad plated heroes with flowery words and angelic profiles fighting against obvious enemies of humanity.
This isn't clean fantasy. The enemies look like the protagonist who looks like you. People are killed to advance an objective. Peasantry suffers the whim of nobility. This is how it was, how it is, and how it will forever be as long as the story encompasses humans for its cast.
That's the point. This story is about humans and what we become when survival is the ultimate prize. It's about carving justice from the hides of people, and not orcs. It's the story of us, or the potential us, and this is what riles the conscience of those who complain of the content.
I have some questions of the worldbuilding for this story, but will hold back until I read the entire series. I think Mark hasn't revealed this world fully, and would hate to put my foot so far down my throat.
I found this book entertaining and will continue onto the rest of the series. Four stars because I wanted a little more description.