SERVANTS OF WAR Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace explores the military-fantasy-horror of Servants of War.
It is rare that fantasy derives its historical inspirations from anything after the nineteenth century. The traditional European fantasy is a smorgasbord of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with maybe some Roman Empire thrown in there, and there is a whole subgenre of victoriana inspiration (steampunk, particularly). From there, we are confronted with the forthcoming novel from Baen Books, Larry Correia and Steve Diamond’s novel Servants of War, set to be released in March 2022. It is a book best described as ‘World War I, but with magical mecha.’

Servants of War is a collaboration between Correia, a fantasy and science fiction author, and Diamond, a horror author. The result is a book that takes what could have been a traditional fantasy narrative and injects a level of terror into it that only a proper horror writer could do. The end result is something of a melding of genres into one gripping story, even if some of its elements are well-trod by now.

Servants of War uses in a fantasy context what I’ve seen certain science fiction stories use: a deliberate conflation of the horror of war and the horror of the supernatural to make the proceedings even scarier then they usually are. The Netflix original film Spectral does this, as does Battle: Los Angeles and some military horror films like Ghosts of War or Trench Eleven. Since this is a setting based off of World War I, the characters of this book have to contend with the misery of trench warfare combined with demonic beings crawling out of the trenches to consume their souls. The imagery from all this is vivid.

As previously said, some of the elements are traditional fantasy fare. Your protagonist is a village boy from the outskirts of the empire he nominally swears allegiance to, and is caught up in supernatural intrigue through no fault of his own. Much of the plot is political intrigue, albeit through a more modern political environment rather than a traditional royal court. There’s a scout and a political officer and all sorts of military figures. There’s a small romance that reminds me of the old saying “fantasy novels are romance novels for men.” It’s made fresh, however, through the simple grace of the quality of Correia and Diamond’s prose.

The worldbuilding here is good, if wearing its historical inspirations on its sleeve. The empire for which the main characters fight (usually unwillingly) is clearly based on the Russia of the last few Tsars; its emperor uses that very title. Its church feels like a combination of pre-Christian paganism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, including grand cathedrals. There are ethnic groups clearly based on Jews and Romani. The other empire in this war feels vaguely Western European, perhaps French, although it’s rather vague. The cosmology of the world is definitely Christian-inspired, which leads to a harrowing segment near the end of the novel.

Servants of War is a gritty, militaristic fantasy that is both engrossing and scary as hell. It gripped me from the beginning and consumed most of a Sunday for me. It’s exactly what people want in dark fantasy, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is looking for that sort of thing.

[This book was provided to me by its publisher, Baen Books]

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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