REVIEW: Death Rider by Zamil Akhtar

Death Rider is a prequel novella for the Gunmetal Gods series by Zamil Akhtar, which is a Middle Eastern inspired grimdark fantasy with heavy eldritch overtones. We see the world from Darya’s point of view, a tribal warrior trying to break through the walls of a besieged city and end the war in the name of the Shah. She is assigned to the eponymous death riders; the tip-of-the-spear vanguard designed as fodder against the defending forces. Despite facing death many times, somehow, she continues to survive – is it luck, skill, or a guiding hand?

Death RiderHaving read Gunmetal Gods (#1) previously I thought I knew what to expect from Akhtar in this novella – powerful, many-eyed beasties revered as gods, blood, death, and ominous magic – but Death Rider veered off on a mind-bending detour that I did not see coming. Kudos to any author who can shakes things up like that! Darya’s persistent not-dying leads her to believe she is being shielded by a higher power as she tries to find a way to break the siege and get herself back into the good graces of the Shah, who has sent her on this impossible mission.

A lot rides on her shoulders, as she laments her lost love, how she might keep her grown children safe and to preserve her honour through a long and difficult campaign. As the solo POV of Death Rider, Darya works extremely well to bring us into the world and keep us hooked. She kills with efficiency and prowess as she makes her way to seize the princess-in- the-tower who could spell her triumph. Darya keeps her head when things start to get a little topsy-turvy and this is where Death Rider really shines.

Akhtar’s prose is quick, smooth, and engaging; he conjures some dark imagery and a profoundly in depth world in just 100 pages. More than just a story, Death Rider will make you think and wonder. As someone who has never been keen on Lovecraft’s work, I have to say Death Rider takes the tentacles and eyeballs for an exciting ride and is entirely worth the time to try out – especially as it’s available free from Akhtar’s newsletter. You do not need to have read any other books in the series before this. It is set much before the happenings of
Gunmetal Gods, with entirely different characters. It is a perfect introduction, and reminder, of the brilliantly dark worldbuilding and story-craft that Akhtar has brought to the fore in the series.

Rating: 4.5/5

Read Death Rider by Zamil Akhtar

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Rai Furniss-Greasley

Rai Furniss-Greasley

Rai is an avid SFF fan, with a leaning towards the darker stuff, and has been ever since they were a little kid. Rai lives with their partner and two cats, Noomi and Scout. They work in IT and are also a post-grad researcher into non-binary experiences. Besides reading, Rai enjoys walking, gardening, TV & films, and gaming, where they are a co-host of The Offline Gamer. Rai posts reviews and other bookish content on their site, https://aspectsof.me , where you can also find some of their own fiction writing.