Indie Review: Scourge

by David H. Burton

Today I’m looking at a writer I’ve been eager to get to: David H. Burton. He’s written several books, and Scourge: A Grim Doyle Adventure, has been on my reading list for some time.

(I should take a moment to point out that the author of this review is not David Burton (no “H”,) the author of Hell Cop, which I have not read.)

The first thing to say about this book is that it’s simply delightful. It really is. If you’re in the mood for something fun, adventurous, and quick, this is a good choice. The first few chapters were marvelous–I got to grinning like a school boy with each new introduction of some wondrous contraption or magical being. This is one of the best examples of steampunk I’ve come across yet–though I admit I’m new to the genre and haven’t read the “seminal” works. Burton is able to weave technology and magic–and even biology–seamlessly, and in such a way that it seems absolutely normal, yet exciting.Each new mechanical oddity trumps the last, but it never gets old.

The story concerns young Grimwald Doyle and his brothers and sisters, who in the first chapters are whisked away into a fantasy world filled with gargoyles, Jinn, sprites and changelings. Mechanical contraptions are powered by absinth, and magic has all but died out–though there are rumours that evil mystics–the Darksworn–are summoning elemental powers to strengthen their rule over the world. Ultimately, it’s a basic “good versus evil” story, though it’s more complicated than that and it’s dealt with in a way that’s not at all cliche.

This is a book that’s meant for young adult readers, though there’s enough to keep the interest of adults in the book. In that respect–and some others–it’s comparable to the Harry Potter series, especially in its tone. This suits the book very well; the YA market is thriving for this kind of book, and as well written as it is, I’m sure it’s doing well. But for adults, this means there’s a sense of curiosity and awe that permeates the book as we discover each new marvel through the eyes of one just getting to know the world. Grim has to grow up fast and make some real adult choices, but he’s still young, and his ecstatic wonder is ours to enjoy along with him.

The comparison to Harry Potter doesn’t end there. The basic structure has a similar feel to it; Grim and his siblings are cast into an orphanage/school where they clean up after the rich students (they don’t attend classes themselves, but learn a lot about the world). There, they must solve a mystery that the adults can’t seem to fathom, and figure out which of the people they know are responsible. When I first recognized this pattern, I thought it was a strike against the book, but the narrative is so engaging that the concern melted away. If the trope is familiar, it’s unique enough that it stands on its own, and I actually ended up enjoying Scourge more than the Harry Potter books (which I found got quite repetitive). The only thing I found odd was that the adults can’t seem to figure it out. These are supposed experts in their fields, but are stumped; yet the children are able to puzzle it out with some simple research and logic, using information the adults should already have. Burton can’t be faulted for this, of course–the Harry Potter books have the exact same issue, and the whole point of books like this is for the young adults to be the heroes of the story.

The book is obviously the first in a planned series. The main plot of the book is resolved well enough, but there are a few hanging threads, meant to be picked up in later books. I can see this becoming a successful series–it’s got legs–but I haven’t seen any indication of a sequel yet. Scourge was published in 2010, so I can only hope that a new story is forthcoming (though I’ll mention that there is a short story for children, Simian’s Lair, which takes place in the same world).

The characters are engaging and interesting, though some could be further developed–namely all of Grim’s siblings. His sister, Rudy, gets a fair share of attention, but the other children seem to be mere mentions. Each of them has their use, but for the most part they fade into the background except for the scene in which they provide that use, and I wonder if they could have been done without. Other than putting across that Grim has a large family (and that his two fathers have taken to adopting children to protect them from the antagonist), there doesn’t seem to be much reason for so many siblings. But, this is something that could be developed further in forthcoming books, so I wouldn’t could it against Scourge.

Burton does a great job in characterizing those who get center stage. Grim is well rounded, as is Rudy and their Aunt, who has a semi-mysterious role to play. Their friend, Quinn, also had a great character arc, and I actually felt that of all the characters, he grew the most. He had a lot at stake, and his journey was satisfying. I’ll look forward to reading more about him.

The pacing of the book was a bit variable. It gets off to a raucous start, and drew me in completely–but once the inciting incident is resolved and explained, the book slows considerably while Grim’s new situation is described. While the chapters are short and progress quickly, it seemed that not much happened for what could be termed the ‘second act.’ There’s enough wonder to keep the reader interested, but I found myself wondering what Grim was meant to overcome, apart from fitting in at the orphanage, getting used to to horrible food, and slogging through his chores.

Once the action picks up again, though (maybe just under halfway through the book), there’s a mystery to solve. Things get interesting, and actually quite serious. The pace gets frantic. If the middle part of the book was a  bit slower, it’s made up for by the rest. The last third or more of the book moved at a breakneck pace as the stakes get higher and higher. I particularity enjoyed the journey Grim needs to make outside of the orphanage, searching for a particular item, and wanted to read more about that quest. The book ends with a great climax, and while there’s a promise of further adventures, nothing important is left unanswered.

In the end, I’d certainly recommend this book. It’s a fast read, and a lot of fun. If you enjoy steampunk, Harry Potter, or simply a nice adventure with an interesting mystery, this is for you!

David H. Burton has written several books with a fantasy flair. You can find him on Twitter or on his website. You can find Scourge: A Grim Doyle Adventure and his other works on Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes. Check it out!

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