This review originally appeared at Fantasy-Faction.com.
Just like its protagonist, Ben Galley’s Scarlet Star Trilogy is a series constantly on the move, constantly growing and changing from a coming-of-age fantasy/western hybrid to an adventure set in an alternate London. With the final book in the trilogy, Bloodfeud, Galley wraps up a consistently strong self-published series that introduced readers to likeable characters, an interesting magic system and settings that included alternate versions of the American Old West and London.
The series debut, Bloodrush, was Galley’s entry into Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, where it placed second amongst more than 300 self-published fantasy entries, behind only Michael McClung’s The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids. The book introduced readers to Tonmerion Harlequin Hark, a young British lord whose father was just found murdered on the steps of his own estate. Per his father’s instructions, Merion (and his fairy best friend, Rhin) make their way to the American West, where they are to be reunited with their aunt Lillain.
In the early-going, Merion is something of an annoying hero. He’s childish, impetuous and spoiled, and wants nothing more than to return to London and run his father’s estate, even though it’s debatable whether he’s actually ready for such responsibility. Over the course of the series, Merion’s desire to return to London never wanes, but Galley does a good job of slowly changing Merion’s motivations as he matures. While the Merion readers meet at the beginning of the book merely wants to return for vengeance and a return to the comforts of home, Merion slowly comes to understand who his enemies are and why they must be stopped. As the story unravels, Merion transforms from a protagonist that you reluctantly root for, to a young man who has earned your respect, not just for the challenges he has overcome, but for his ability to learn from his early mistakes and experiences.
Merion’s family and friends provide a sounding board for Merion’s hands-on education, especially Lillain, Rhin, and Lurker, the prospector and war veteran who becomes a father figure for Merion in the new world. Calidae Serped, formerly Merion’s adversary but equally motivated to bring down Lord Dizali, provides an excellent antihero who at times seems more interesting than Merion himself. If Galley was so inclined, I could see him writing another successful novel centered entirely on Calidae.
Early in the trilogy, some of the subplots seemed out of place, especially Rhin’s theft of the fairy queen’s horde and her attempts to recapture him, but Bloodfeud proves that Galley had a plan all along that brings all the plotlines together in an organic and satisfying manner. While I found the alternative American West setting from the earlier books more interesting than that of the alternative London, Galley’s ability to tie old plot points together makes up for the change.
Galley makes a concerted effort in Bloodfeud to finally give us a better look at Lord Dizali and his motivations, with mixed results. Almost entirely absent in the first book, Dizali played a larger role in the second book, Bloodmoon, and get significantly more of the focus in the finale. Dizali’s relationship with his wife provides plenty of opportunities for further storytelling, especially as he uses her as his motivation for everything he does, but to be honest, I didn’t especially enjoy the way that plot worked out, and actually thought there were opportunities for Galley to make Dizali and his wife far more interesting characters. At the end of the trilogy, I still wasn’t certain what motivated Dizali (except perhaps simple insanity?), and I thought he could have been given far more interesting motivations with a simple plot tweak.
The final confrontation between Merion and Dizali wasn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been, as it feels like the final 10% of the book consists of Merion chasing Dizali through the streets of London, but at the end of the day, I’m always more interested in characters, and the characters are clearly Bloodfeud’s strengths. That being said, Merion’s mission to rescue Rhin from the fairy queen provided a jolt of excitement and once again opened a door into a corner of the world that we hadn’t seen before.
The Scarlet Star Trilogy marks the first series from Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off that I have completed, and I’m glad I did. It demonstrates not only that self-published writers are capable of creating compelling, character-driven fantasy fiction, but that they are capable of consistently bringing that same level of quality storytelling throughout an entire series.
While Bloodfeud marks the end of the trilogy, the epilogue clearly leaves the door open for additional storytelling, whether that be in the form of additional short stories, novellas or even novels. I, for one, would welcome a return to the world of Merion and his strange collection of friends.