PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Marshall


Hired as guards to a wealthy family on a riverboat making its way upstream, mercenaries Shoe and Fisk become embroiled in their employers' mysterious mission, while defending them from the myriad dangers of the frontier, not to mention their own complacent arrogance – since this group seem to believe that the invulnerability provided by their station in society somehow also applies to the desolate wilderness, where wild animals and wilder humanoids couldn’t give a crap how blue your blood is.

The world of The Incorruptibles is a distinctive fantasy/western hybrid, and much as in the work of David Gemmell, the nationalities portrayed are analogous to past cultures given a fantasy twist. In this case, it's as if the Roman Empire has never fallen and has continued to dominate the world to the present, an equivalent of the late 19th century. So fused are the genres, it also wouldn’t feel amiss to see The Dark Tower’s Roland Deschain riding across the hillside.

With the emergence of daemonic forces, the Industrial Revolution took a different turn in this world. “Engineers” are those able to summon and bind daemons, imps, devils and the like, utilising the energy from these captured entities to power anything from machinery and engines to light bulbs and ballistic weaponry, the latter causing the aftermath of a gunfight to reek of pure brimstone rather than gunpowder

Primary among the fantasy races are the vaettir, but despite also being referred to as elves, these are not the androgynous pretty boys the word has become associated with since Tolkien, but more akin to the vicious and malevolent supernatural creatures that medieval folklore knows them to be, such as those seen in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Lords and Ladies. They are colloquially referred to as stretchers due to their lanky, elongated bodies (one is specifically described as being ten feet tall and the smallest of a group). It’s also unlikely to be a coincidence that they exhibit the behaviour of the more despicable of Native American stereotypes perpetuated at the time.

Shoe himself is a dvergar (dwarf), a native inhabitant of the New World and perceived as a second class citizen at best. Stoically tolerating the unwarranted verbal abuse he receives from the upper classes, he comports himself with a calm demeanour and a quiet dignity, an attitude likely helped by knowing that he will outlive them by centuries. Interestingly, both the racial terms are of Norse origin, possibly in reference to the Vikings’ attempted colonisation of the New World, and perhaps tacitly suggesting other creatures from Scandinavian mythology may make an appearance in the subsequent books of the trilogy.

The world the characters inhabit is by turns indifferent, cruel and unforgiving. Out on the desolate frontiers of civilisation, there are no guarantees that bad things won’t happen to you just because you don’t deserve it. Throughout the book people are variously beaten, shot, stabbed, hanged, mauled, scalped and immolated, every featured death seemingly more agonised and tortured than the last. The only shadows of civilisation encountered are isolated and insular settlements where the townsfolk are taciturn and suspicious, the law is largely crooked, and outsiders are about as welcome as another Uwe Boll movie. Honest and honourable men, Shoe and Fisk may belong to a world mired in corruption and violence, but they will do all they can to ensure it’s only the latter they have a part of. Of the aristocrats, the most interesting and least annoying is the governor’s daughter Livia, a strong-willed woman just as at home on horseback as in a ballroom, who carries a blunderbuss strapped beneath her layers of skirts.

The history of how the world came to be is gradually revealed as the book progresses, and will likely have later significance, and as motives and hidden agendas start to become clear, it becomes apparent that everyone’s actions will have repercussions as the trilogy continues.


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