Rating: 5 stars
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Kendras is quite possibly the last surviving member of the only family he’s ever known—the elite fighting force known as the Scorpions. Gravely injured and left for dead during the conflict between the city states of Dalman and Fetin, Kendras has no choice but to accept the coin and offer of service to the mercenary who finds him severely wounded outside the city. All the mercenary called Steel demands is nothing less than Kendras’ total submission and acceptance of a secret task to carry out. With nowhere else to turn and no money to buy medicine, Kendras resignedly accepts.
But Kendras has his own hidden agenda, that of learning if any of his Scorpion brothers survived and bringing the elite team back together again. It also includes finding the man who holds Kendras’ heart and soul, the officer who leads the Scorpions. But first, Kendras must heal. His shattered foot and other wounds need time. Complications arise when Steel becomes possessive of Kendras, wanting more than just his body. But Steel’s too late, Kendras’ love and loyalty lie elsewhere. When that becomes apparent, what will Steel do when he realizes Kendras will never be his?
Kendras faces layers of political intrigue and tests that will strain his loyalties and test his physical prowess as a warrior. But nothing will stand in the way of Kendras achieving his goals, not even the Empire itself.
Scorpion is such a powerful book. Brutal, grimly realistic in its portrait of a warrior’s life, depicting the violence to body and soul that is the by product of such a life. It is also equally honest in its scenes of casual, everyday brutality that is a way of life for those less fortunate and lacking in status or wealth. Rape, humiliation, slavery, and death lie in wait for all but the most noble or well connected. And even then assassination and mutilation are possibilities for those who would rule. Aleksandr Voinov has created a universe of exceptional cruelty, where casual viciousness and political maneuvering are daily occurances. Yet it is also a world where love and loyalty cannot be bought and the possibility of redemption and love is a treasure to be fought for.
In Voinov’s world, a devastating war in the empire of Shara has left the former dynasty broken into three city kingdoms. In the three hundred years since the sundering of the empire of Shara, the three cities have maintained a delicate balance of autonomy between them. The author reveals the political tactics within each city and the wars that the failed policies and negotiations have brought to the kingdoms themselves. Kendras and his fellow Scorpions are the latest casualties of a war between Dalman and Fetin, two of the city kingdoms. From the start, the author brings us into the conflict at the bottom level. The consequences of the war is everywhere, from the dead to the dying and mutilated. The mercenaries needed to fight are just as quickly discarded by those who hired them. It is a rough, cruel life and Voinov depicts it honestly with gritty descriptions that are almost to vivid to bear.
Equal to Voinov’s world building is his characterizations. Every character found within this novel is meticulously created from Kendras to Steel to Widowmaker, the assassin whose loyalties are hidden beneath layers of guile. These are also not men for the fainthearted. They take what they want regardless of the frailties and consent of others. In fact, kindness and passivity is looked down on, it will get a person killed or enslaved on this world. Loyalty and brotherhood are to be treasured and love is so rare that it is not easily identifiable.
At the heart of this story is Kendras, an orphan discarded on the streets of Fetin to fend for himself at an early age. An oddity because of his black skin and blue eyes that mark him as a pureblooded Jaishani (a noble race), Kendras has no idea as to his lineage or history. A petty thief and sometime killer, Kendras’ life was changed on the day he was set to die, saved by the officer who would train him to be a Scorpion. I loved Kendras. He is such a remarkable character. He perseveres, he is loyal, and amidst his pragmatism, there is an unquenchable desire to love and be loved in return. Equal in complexity is the officer (his name is revealed later on in the story). Who and what he is slowly comes to the surface over the course of the story. While the novel unfolds through the eyes of Kendras, the officer becomes a man who both Kendras and the reader commit to emotionally and intellectually. But every character Voinov has created has multiple layers, such as Selvin, a Scorpion who chooses to remain a sexual slave to Steel and Widowmaker, mercenaries with pasts as complex as their characters. Every one of these damaged people enrich the story with their realism and singular personalities.
I found no quibbles with this incredible story, but I must make an admission. The opening pages are as brutal as any you will find throughout the book. Initially, I had a hard time with them, especially the non con elements involved. But they also ring with a terrible authenticity and you will understand why the author not only included them, but started off in such a manner as you delve further into the book and Kendras’ life. It is cruel and sets the tone for the reality of the life Kendras lives and the events that will occur down the line. Kendras does what he has to in order to stay alive. It’s a pragmatic outlook and it certainly is one that belongs to a war hardened mercenary.
The narrative of Scorpion was smooth and thrilling. I couldn’t put it down. The ending of the story was satisfying while leaving the way open for the next book in the series. It’s with anticipation and a little fear that I await the next installment. Don’t pass this story up..
Cover art by Reese Dante is gorgeous in the 2nd edition. The model is perfect for Kendras and the design works in tone and graphics. Great job.
Note: This is the second edition of this book, published by Riptide Publishing. The original version was published by Dreampsinner Press in 2011.