I received an ARC of Cold Counsel in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Chris Sharp and Tor.
The Troll, Slud of the Blood Claw Clan was born amidst the most intense storm that the world had ever witnessed. The narrative of Cold Counsel is about his bitter revenge following on from the eradication of the Troll race in a brutal genocide manufactured by the Elves. Luckily, newborn Slud, son of the clan’s leader was whisked away from destruction by the witch Agnes in secret. The tale unfolds in the Iron Wood where Agnes had been raising and moulding Slud into a tool of vengeance. “For cold is the counsel of women.”
I have to admit that even from the beginning, this seemed like an unusual but intriguing concept with a Troll being the hero. Slud’s tusk-bearing, axe-wielding, and hulking presence reminded me of the warrior Orcs from Lord of the Rings. It is very much a coming of age tale as Slud looks to reclaim the mountain from the Goblin hordes. I was interested to see if a Troll on his own could carry the weight of a fantasy tale as I couldn’t imagine such a character meeting or befriending anyone on his travels. Fortunately, I was incorrect and some of the colorful companions he meets are just as bizarre and unusual at Slud. I enjoyed reading the point of view chapters from the mind of legendary demon wolf, Luthar, and my favourite was the perspective of Neither-Nor, a tattooed rogue twin-blade flaunting Goblin. Sharp works this strange angle of presenting a fantasy story admirably well. Troll’s are still brutes, Goblin’s are still mischevious and often untrustworthy but these races, normally the villains of fantasy, are given human qualities but without trying to manipulate our already formed views of them too much.
I noticed another reviewers’ status update stating that they didn’t like the way Slud’s vocals were written. It is in broken, almost slang English and at first, I thought it a was child-like presentation. On reflection and as I got further into the story, I decided I liked what Sharp had done with Slud’s and some of the other characters speech. Instead of child-like, I naturally started reading these parts in harsh, guttural Scottish or Jamaican accents depending on the person in question and this was actually really fun in painting the overall picture of the world and its players in my mind. In addition, who expects a Troll to have a posh British accent anyway?
The fabricated fantasy world isn’t too grandiose. The majority of what happens takes place in the Iron Wood, at the Goblin’s mountain capital and other places traversed on the journies in-between. Where this book exceeds is in its Troll-lead pummelling high speed and brutal action scenes. I had a lot of fun reading this book. The created world seems a nice mix of typical fantasy and Norse mythology (with mentions of the Gods Odin and Hel etc…) This is a pretty great standalone story that doesn’t try to pretend it is trying to create something groundbreaking, grand and epic. At 288 pages it is a quick read and that is a reason that the characters aren’t too complex. They all have a primary motive and that is about it but as mentioned, Cold Counsel is all about the blood and guts action and the Goblin’s political turbulence. At the finale, it is ambiguously presented that a sequel could follow but perhaps the author is as unsure as I am to know if this is the end of Slud’s adventures. Sharp’s well-written tale following a Troll’s destiny is highly recommended, firstly for the plot and action, secondly to say you have read a book where the Troll was the hero.