Errant Easel Reviews: Tim Akers’s The Horns of Ruin

The friend who lent me The Horns of Ruin promised me plenty of badass Steampunk fantasy and this book delivered. Horns of Ruin is set in a world where three mortal brothers, a scholar, a warrior, and a leader, ascended to godhood in a war against an ancient race. Centuries later, cults have formed dedicated to the paths of each brother. This tripartite pantheon crumbles when Amon the Scholar assassinates his warrior brother Morgan and is put to death for his betrayal by Alexander, who is left to assume the role of god-emperor of mankind. Amon’s cult is disbanded and cultists imprisoned in their own library of knowledge by the Morganites.

Centuries later, the cult of Morgan has dwindled to but a few who have been largely relegated to ceremonial roles. Eva Forge is the last child to be dedicated to the cult and finds herself the final paladin of Morgan to battle along side the elder Fist of Morgan, the aging leadership of the group. Eva is tough and no-nonsense, brandishing a magicked sword and gun, always reasoning as a warrior, which in this case means acting instinctively even if not prudently.

At the beginning of the adventure, Eva accompanies her elderly Fratriarch on a puzzling and secretive mission to consult a young Amonite prisoner named Cassandra. On the return escort, the three are beset by undead bionic automatons, by which a plot to end the Cult of Morgan is revealed, the young Amonite is able to escape, and the Fratriarch is kidnapped.

The most interesting fantasy aspect of this setting is the paladin’s recitation or invocation of historical feats of courage, stamina, speed, or armor that Morgan utilized in the key battles of his life and now grants to his cultists when they invoke him. This is when promised badassery is delivered. In one scene, Eva is investigating the disappearance of another elderly member of the Fist with a peculiar proclivity for gardening. As Eva tracks the movements of a battle, she winds her way through dozens of slain assassins with peculiar wounds. At the end of the gruesome trail lies the body of her elder clutching a small garden implement, implying that the aged warrior had taken dozens of assassin lives with nothing but his invocations and a trowel prior to dying a confirmed badass.

While I have only touched on the fantasy aspects of the novel so far, the Steampunk aspects were important as well. While the reanimated assassins were kind of like zombies they also required a mechanical aspect leading me to describe them as automaton-like. Also, the city of Ash seemed to be a Wonder of Steam which relied tenuously on the work and research of the imprisoned Amonites, masters of technology.

While the story was an extremely fast paced unraveling of conspiracy and false accusation, there were some really interesting hints at backstory that teased entire other fascinating stories that I would like to read, Eva’s backstory in particular. Why was she dedicated to a dead god? How was she trained as paladin? What were the members of the fist like when they were younger? There were hints and light explanations of each of these but the stories would be so cool, I’d love to see them expanded. In the meantime, I highly recommend giving this book a chance. The setting is cool, the theology well-developed, and the narration feisty and noir-ish. I definitely plan on checking out Tim Akers’s other books, two parts of a trilogy The Heart of Veridon and The Dead of Veridon.

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