This novel stinks.
KT Davies’ second novel is foetid with ordure and miasma and Davies revels in it. Breed is a fantasy novel, A Novel of the Fantastical as the cover has it, but as the eponymous Breed curses inventively through sewers, dragon vomit and worse, the first author that comes to mind is Iain M Banks and scenes in Consider Phlebas. Later we will see explicit echoes of Tolkien and even Bond movies all taken somewhere new and ultimately Breed (the novel) becomes a remarkable, vivid, filthy and violent post-apocalyptic comic grimdark novel.
Several hundred years after some magical war called the Schism, in a criminal underworld Breed (the character) is heading home to the grotesque Mother Blake with several problems, not least of which is the demon unwittingly freed whilst Breed fled the dragon with stolen jewels. Mother sets Breed a task to assassinate her big rival, Pork Chop Jing, to get back in favour. It’s a set up that goes further wrong for Breed resulting in a rigged trial and a sentence to the calthracite mines. Unfortunately the aforementioned demon has put a geas on Breed to acquire the legendary Schism-era magical weapon the Hammer of The North, and then the mysterious priest Brother Tobias buys out Breed’s sentence as a magically bound indentured slave.
Confused yet? It gets more complicated, whilst Davies’ witty prose keeps it all perfectly clear. Breed wisecracks into and sometimes out of trouble, The full-pelt plot progresses through accident, diaster, crises and more than one demon ex machina. Breed (book and character) is brutal and impetuous. Davies knows fantasy and is gleeful in her evisceration of trope after trope, conniving demons, magic weapons, mysterious stalking characters (this novel’s Gollum is the delightfully named, by Breed at least, Tosspot.) and plotting, feuding clerics.
This isn’t a perfect novel, whilst the breakneck pace works, the occasional slower episodes are less effective and disrupt the dynamic rather than enhancing it. The worldbuilding isn’t a major aspect here but even so there are gaps. I would like to know more about the assassin Sebastian Schiller, the demons and Schism but there’s room for a sequel. On the other hand, Breed is a hugely memorable, grotesque character with a superbly fruity vocabulary. Davies isn’t shy about cursing, abusing, and insulting her characters through Breed’s foul mouth, but she maintains a pattern to it that fits the character and contributes to the pace and the humour. The post-apocalyptic element is possibly undercooked, but the comic grimdark plot and exuberant filth can’t be understated. The unlamented CleanWrite app would have a meltdown bowdlerising Breed.
KT Davies first novel The Red Knight is more straightforward epic fantasy with a memorable, powerful but not always self-confident heroine who fights and fucks with equal need and commitment, and anguishes about doing right for her knights and her nights as well. Breed pares the epic down to basics, the squalor of the sewers, the vindictiveness of Mother and Jing’s feud (and I’m reminded too of The Wire here), the raw demotic language, the abrupt, random violence and regardless of the rich scatological comedy in this, produces a grimdark that is more real in its common lives than all the court feuds and throne wars of certain big names.
Breed the character is an assassin, amongst other, fouler things, and remains, largely, selfish and unrepentant throughout.
Breed stinks and that is very refreshing.
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