Survival is never easy, but it’s never been harder for Grim, the last bounty hunter in Liwokin. He survived the Great Riot that killed Liwo by the thousands, endured the bloody chaos that ruled the city in its aftermath, and avoided the crushing fist of the Agency created to quell the unrest. Rule of law returned, but following the rules doesn’t put food in your belly.
On a job gone wrong, Grim stumbles into a conspiracy that targets Ulken, the Head of the Agency, a man who has done more to ruin Grim’s life than any other. Struggling to earn honest coin, Grim plans to use this information to rise quickly through the ranks of the organization so an empty purse never worries him again. He becomes a Finger of the Agency, joining a sardonic ranger, two fugitive siblings, a stone-skinned Skardwarf, and a powerful dark mage—none of whom know any better than Grim what they’ve gotten themselves into.
Grim’s Hand soon discovers the Agency’s furtive work is far deadlier than hunting bounties. While fighting to save his home from monsters who once were men, Grim discovers the conspiracy runs deeper than just Ulken and the Agency—what was unleashed is spreading, and if Grim’s sanity doesn’t prevail, it will consume the minds of the Bright Empire and beyond.
I went into An Ocean of Others without knowing much about it and I was pleasantly surprised by what I read. I was expecting a more typical dark fantasy novel but instead I got dark fantasy with horror and mystery elements. If those appeal to you than I definitely recommend giving this book a read.
Grim is a bounty hunter turned accidental monster slayer. He doesn’t really know what he’s getting himself into when he becomes a member of the Agency. The Agency has taken over much of the work he used to do as a bounty hunter and he can no longer earn enough to live. When he finds evidence of a conspiracy against the head of the Agency, he decides to join it as a way to bring this evidence to the leader and earn favor. However, he is soon thrown into a hidden world and a conspiracy far larger than he imagined. He is assigned to a team of five and sent out on various dangerous missions.
It was on the first of these missions that the horror elements of this book first come into play. I was not expecting this at all and it took me by surprise but it was very well done. It is mostly psychological horror, since the monsters they are hunting influence the perception of people around them. Grim and his companions don’t even know what they are heading into the first time and have to work it out themselves, which the author writes in an unsettling way that kept me glued to the page.
The pacing of this novel was excellent. It is a fast paced novel and we are thrown into the action from the beginning. Between fights the banter between the characters helps keep things interesting and fun. The novel is also told in first person, which can be hit or miss but I think the author did a great job. First person was absolutely the correct choice for this book, the psychological aspects to the horror and the toll that takes on Grim is explored brilliantly through the first person narration. Our characters are often confused and unsure if what they are seeing is real, and getting that viewpoint from Grim instead of a third person narrator makes the unease all the more potent.
One criticism I did have was about the side characters. While I did like them quite a bit and the group dynamic, they often feel very one note, more like an archetype than a character. They each have a personality trait that defines them and we get that trait displayed over and over. There are occasional changes but they can feel abrupt and not entirely genuine to me because I didn’t feel the change was earned.
My other minor criticism is concerning the Riot. There was a riot that recently took over the city and killed a tremendous amount of people. It is built up a lot in the beginning of the novel as a driving motivator for Grim, he is searching for the cause of the Riot while everyone else seems complacent about it, which only angers him more. After the beginning of the novel though, mention of the Riot mostly seems to fade away. I kept waiting for the mystery of the story to connect to the Riot and it never did. Since this is the first book of the series I would be fine if I felt like the Riot was a larger mystery that would be addressed over several books but it just seemed to fade away and I never got the sense that it would be addressed later, though it very well might be.
That being said I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a fun adventure and creepy at times, with just the right amount of horror to make me feel uneasy without going over the top. The world building is also handled very well, hinting at a larger world outside of the main city that is the focus of the novel. The magic is intriguing, there seems to be both a light and dark side to the magic. The religious belief of the empire is that light magic is good and dark evil but one member of the group is a mage who shows that this is not true, they are complements to each other and a mage is more powerful when using both. I am very intrigued by this magic and I look forward to learning more about it as the series progresses.
I highly recommend this book for fantasy readers looking for a book that doesn’t conform to standard genre definitions. If you want something unique and outside the box, definitely give this one a try, I am very glad that I did.