It must be terrible to come back from war to discover that your beloved wife died while you were gone. It would be soul-destroying to find out that she killed herself.
Unless you had no soul.
If you died out there in the wilderness of a battlefield, been hollowed out and possessed by a vengeful spirit, then you might have a different perspective on things.
You would be able to see ghosts. In fact, you would be compelled to seek revenge for their deaths in exchange for their song. You could even look for your wife’s spirit.
That’s the scenario Wendal Finn finds himself in as he returns to the city of Old Castle.
Except, there are other sinister powers in Old Castle. There’s the Scientist faction who came out on top in the war that ruined the world and their rivals, the Magicians.
The Magicians know about Wendal and the spirit within him, and they have the power to bind him and turn him into their own deadly supernatural assassin.
The premises of Edward Cox’s The Song of the Sycamore had me hooked. I’m not blessed with time, it’s precious to me, but I knew I simply had to read this book.
I read my copy on the Kindle with the pages set to an aged sepia colour I don’t usually use, but it felt so right this time. I wish I had listened to the Audiobook, to even further contribute to the otherworldliness, but that’s magic of hindsight.
Steampunk in many parts
I can tell when I’m enjoying a book. I start to imagine whether it would convert into a good roleplaying game. That’s what happened during The Song of the Sycamore and, yes, I think the broken world of Urdezha would be a fantastic game setting.
Urdezha is a post-apocalyptic fantasy where magic and science competes. Often there’s a strong steampunk vibe to it.
Wendal, for example, was a talented soldier and one of the few who could pilot a tank. A tank in the army from Old Castle is a powered walking suit, equipped with ethercannons on the arms, shielded and controlled by magic.
Old Castle is just as fierce as Wendal’s tank. The whole city is walled and shielded by magic. Cannons line the city’s fortifications, and they are used throughout the story. Inside the city, it’s no safer, there are deadly levels of politics, areas that are so rough they are nearly no-go and organised gangs. Now and then creatures from the magic wastes outside will get through the shields.
Outside it just as dangerous. Old Castle is at war with the clansfolk. These are tall, green-skinned and tusked humanoids. Clansfolk beserkers summon their own spirit, causing them to explode in a deadly acid shower.
There’s a lot to take in. Fortunately, The Song of the Sycamore is divided into parts. We start near the end, and after following the missions, the Magicians send the Sycamore-possessed Wendal after political targets, we flashback to Wendal’s time as a tank operator in the wilds.
No one is innocent
In a ruined world, with the remains of humanity holed up in a city bristling with canons and at war with monster-men, it’s rare to find anyone who’s genuinely innocent.
The characters Edward Cox has created are rounded and robust, but I’m not sure I like any of them. Some seem nice. It’s easy to be sceptical. The best deal is the two-for-one; that’s to say Wendal and Sycamore. Sure, Wendal might be a drug addict, but he’s doing the best in the situation a horrid life has dropped himself into. Sure, Sycamore is a murderer, but he (it?) is honest about it and seems to really believe the dead are better off than the living.
I enjoyed The Song of the Sycamore. It’s a freshly dark setting, and it has been filled with exciting characters.
My copy of The Song of the Sycamore was provided for review. It’s available on pre-order today and will be released in the UK on August 22nd.
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