2021’s The Black Coast is the first volume of Mike Brooks’ secondary universe epic fantasy The God-King Chronicles .
For generations, the Thanes of Black Keep and their dragon-riding sars have defended their stretch of the Naridan coastline from the Raiders, sea people from distant, unknown islands.
It’s been a decade without a Raider visit. The folks of Black Keep hope that this means that there will be no more raids. Their hopes are especially fervent because a plague has left the Black Keep undermanned.
The appearance of a fleet vaster than any before confronts the current Thane — Lord Asrel — and his sons with the prospect of heroic, futile deaths at the axes of a vastly superior force. However, this is no raiding fleet. This time, the Raiders are fleeing something terrible. They have come to stay.
Despite the long, unpleasant history between Narida and Raiders, Saana Sattistutar of the Brown Eagle Clan hopes to convince the Thane that allowing her clan to settle peacefully will be less trouble than trying to prevent them from settling. Unfamiliar with Narida’s culture, she underestimates the sars’ inflexible code of honour. Given a choice between reasonable but unconventional compromise and certain death over a point of honour, Lord Asrel will always choose death.
The Thane’s adopted son Daimon sees things differently. When his father breaks parley to attack Saana, Daimon subdues Lord Asrel and takes command himself. Hoping to persuade his father that compromise is best, Daimon imprisons the old man and Daimon’s bookish brother Darel without the means for an honourable suicide. Daimon then devotes himself to the daunting task of integrating the Raiders into a society that for good reason sees them as uncivilized predators.
The fact that the Naridans and Raiders speak mutually unintelligible languages might seem to be the greatest barrier but perhaps it is an asset. The fact that only a few people speak both languages prevents Naridans and Raiders from discovering too quickly how different their values are. For one thing, Naridans are sure that women are by their nature subordinate to men, whereas the Raiders are egalitarian and have no problem following warrior women like Saana. For another, Naridans find same sex relationships entirely acceptable, whereas the Raiders consider them an abomination.
Daimon has little time to deal with all the issues inherent in accommodating both Naridans and the Brown Eagle Clan. Eventually, other Naridan Thanes will discover what he has done. They will no doubt agree with the Thane that Daimon’s decision to avoid needless war and certain death to shore up his population with willing — if barbaric — settlers was an unforgivable act of sensible cowardice. Once that happens, a Naridan army will appear on the Black Keep’s doorstep and Daimon’s life will be forfeit.
Daimon has even less time than he knows. The undead ruler from whom Saana fled is determined to bring all Raider clans under his control. Flight will not be allowed. Therefore, even as Daimon desperately looks for ways to fold the Brown Eagle Clan into the Black Keep’s domain, a Raider fleet even larger than Saana’s is on its way towards the Black Keep.
Unlike the Brown Eagles, these Raider do come to raid.
Negative first: there are whole subplots I did not mention (so as not to bewilder or bore you) . Subplots like that of the God-King who refuses to take a wife and his dutiful sister who is trying to keep the divinely ordained God-King on his throne (despite the fact he’s crap at his job). I assume these bits are there to set up developments in later books; too bad that the subplots aren’t all that well integrated into this book. Indeed, they might have been better served were they given their own volumes (thus arises series creep).
But aside from that, what did you think of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
While I cannot be certain, I strongly suspect the author had very specific real-world models in mind. Specifically, the sars are rather like samurai, while the Raiders are Vikings with no metal and an excess of draugr .
On the subject of real-world models, when I say “dragons,” what I really mean is “semi-domesticated dinosaurs.” If you felt that the novel Shogun would have been better were the samurai to have been riding triceratops into battle, this may be the epic fantasy novel for you.
While this is, as is the way of things these days, book one of a series, and while the book does end with a scene assuring the reader that even greater challenges await the characters who survived the travails of this volume, Black Coast does contain within it a complete novel, Yes, with a beginning, middle and end. This is not a book fragment.
The Black Keep portion of the novel, particularly Daimon and Saana’s efforts to prevent their respective culture’s dissimilar values from provoking violence neither side can afford, is engaging. I’m curious to see where the series goes.
1: Consequently, I didn’t mention the third culture in the novel, whose approach to gender resembles neither the Raider nor the Naridan model. Narida being Narida, the Naridans take this as clear evidence that the Naridan way of doing things is far superior.
2: Just the one, but it turns out even one undead Viking is one too many.