I received a review copy of The Returning: A Cautionary Tale From The Mercenary Realms in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Damien Black.
The Returning is an exciting, bloody and gritty, revenge-focused novella by the talented Damien Black. These 25,000 words follow Yarka Karkov. We join him in revenant/ undead form as he is burying his own corpse. Two nights ago he was betrayed by an innkeeper to Crumlov Silkhand and his gang of outlaws. He was taken unawares and was whipped out of town to an agonising death. His partner and love Jenna also played a part in his downfall. For all who betrayed him, there will be a reckoning.
“The preachermen told how a revenant was a vengeful ghost, sent back to earth by the Unseen to right the imbalance caused by their unjust deaths. But to hell with what the priests said.”
In life, Karkov was a soldier who then became a reeve. He followed certain Dukes’ orders to keep the peace yet was also assigned to hunt down vagabonds and other criminals. He has the necessary talents to track, maim and kill his enemies. Being undead actually enhances Karkov and aids him in his mission. For example, he has double his normal strength in death and in sunlight, he cannot be seen which aids the ease of tracking and stealth. It isn’t all good news for our antihero. He gradually starts to lose his memories, has moments where he completely blacks out yet also has some disturbingly clear flashback segments which can be quite haunting. He’s pretty well crafted with surprising depth to say that this novella is only about 80-pages long.
The majority of the narrative is the shortish journey through this Western-tinted fantasy world to find, and hopefully murder Silkhand and his cronies. The novella is split into about 8 engagements and events along the way. Crossing paths with his former love and conversing with a fellow ghost who seems to know more about Karkov than he is comfortable with, are just a couple of examples.
The ending is fulfilling and was not what I predicted at all. It’s quite fascinating reflecting on The Returning when the novella has been finished and I completely reanalysed certain sections in retrospect. The Returning is a fast-paced and well-written fantasy revenge drama that ranks pretty high on the grimdark scale and was just a fun, quick read. If you decide you may check out this bite-size grimdark tale, I believe The Returning is free if you join the author’s mailing list. Recommended.