Esmay Rosalyne’s Spoiler-Free Review of The Pyres of Vengeance by N.C. Koussis
Publication date: 1 June 2023
Series: Book 2 in The Swords of Dominion
Genre: Grimdark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
*Disclaimer: I received a free eARC of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Game of Thrones meets The Witcher in this epic grimdark sequel to The Sword of Mercy and Wrath, where no one is safe!
After losing everything she knew, Selene struggles to keep hope alive. Terrifying threats from the capital test her in ways she never thought possible.
Richter can’t destroy himself or the corruption that lives in his body. He won’t let anything stop him from his mission, though – to kill every other werewolf on the Continent.
The Order of the Golden Sword cares not for the laws of men. They’ll do anything to wipe the lycanthrope haven of Palerme from existence. But no one has ever faced an army of werewolves before.
THE CYCLE OF VENGEANCE CONTINUES
Review of The Pyres of Vengeance
Koussis continues his epic grimdark werewolf fantasy series with The Pyres of Vengeance, and holy shit… do we go GRIM and DARK here. You better brace yourself for what’s waiting for you within these pages, because I sure know I wasn’t ready. This second instalment in the Swords of Dominion series is a blood-soaked tale full of trauma, carnage and chaos where absolutely no one is safe.
We return to the brutal world that we have been introduced to in book 1 and get another dual POV set-up, except one of the old perspectives is exchanged for a new one. And damn, was this new POV character a piece of work…
I normally don’t give content/trigger warnings in my reviews, but I just feel like I have to give a heads-up here because I was personally a bit caught off-guard by the major tone-shift from book 1 to book 2. As soon as you read the prologue, which is one of the most disturbing and brutal opening scenes I have ever read, you will know what type of story you are in for here.
Be prepared to read from the perspective of a character who is a rapist, necrophiliac, and overall just a self-righteous, disgusting piece of shit.
If you are not ready for this type of messed up content then I wouldn’t blame you if you put the book down right there. Please protect your mental health and just go sit in the sunshine to stroke some blades of grass instead 😉
Okay, all that out of the way, let’s get on to the actual review.
I have to say that I am extremely impressed by how much Koussis has already grown as an author since releasing his debut novel not even a year ago. In my opinion, The Pyres of Vengeance is a step-up from book 1 in every single way. The character work and emotional development of the characters is way more in-depth, the pacing is much steadier, the action scenes are even more visceral, the world building feels more solid and immersive, and the prose and overall tone is fittingly gloomy and haunting in a way.
Though, my favourite thing about this book was without a doubt the continuation and development of Selene’s character arc. Since the start of this series she has suffered so many physical and emotional blows, yet she remains strong as ever and will stop at nothing to protect the ones she loves.
That’s not to say that we don’t see her struggle, and the battle that she is fighting in her own mind might just be the most compelling one in this entire book for me. She’ll be the first to admit that she’s far from perfect and sometimes I really want to punch her in the face, but that’s exactly what makes her such a complex and believable character.
Also, there were some surprisingly touching and heartwarming found family vibes, including a beautiful exploration of motherhood, which I very much welcomed amidst all the trauma and destruction.
It’s truly awe-inspiring to realise just how layered this story is, with the riveting action scenes being just as gripping as the deeper themes that are explored. Koussis’ brutal and refreshing take on werewolves is just so fascinating and we get to dig even deeper into the question of who the real monsters in this world are.
I especially liked the contrast between the relatively ‘wholesome’ (for so far as anything can be called wholesome in this story) lycanthrope settlement in Selene’s storyline and the loathsome and corrupt group of zealots in Richter’s storyline. Heavy themes of religion, zealotry, indoctrination, othering, corruption and morality are seamlessly woven into the narrative and I appreciate that the author leaves room for the reader to make their own judgements on all the conflicting stuff that’s going on.
Now, I do have to admit that I struggled quite a bit with my reading experience for the first 70%, mostly because I despised being in Richter’s mind so much. I mean, I’ve made it no secret that I like dark stories following morally gray characters, but this new POV character is just straight-up morally BLACK. To be fair, I think Koussis handles most of the heavy and disturbing scenes fairly well, but there were some moments that felt too distasteful and just unnecessarily shocking in my opinion.
All that said, I do kinda respect the author for doing such a brilliant job of writing a hateable character that pulled such strong emotional reactions out of me, for better or worse.
And my hate for Richter aside, I actually think that this book was brilliantly plotted and paced, so I just couldn’t look away. Right from the start, you will be filled with anticipatory dread, because you can sense the total chaos that is going to break out once these two storylines start weaving together. And indeed, the final 30% were absolutely batshit crazy, which is why I am so glad that I didn’t give up along the way. There are some jaw-dropping revelations and I am very intrigued by how things left off, so consider me locked in for book 3 already!
Overall, I think this is a very impressive sequel that improves upon its predecessor in every single way. If you somehow still think werewolves belong in angsty paranormal romances, then Koussis is here to prove you wrong. If you like dark stories that will challenge you and keep you on your toes from start to finish, then you can’t go wrong with The Swords of Dominion series. Trust me, it’s a howling wild ride.