REVIEW: The Definition of Vengeance by Kevin Wright

The Definition of Vengeance by Kevin Wright is the third installment of the Serpent Knight Saga. A particularly excellent example of grimdark, it is a continuing series of supernatural adventures during the Black Death starring a corrupt Medieval Knight and his unusual band of companions. It’s a little bit of Dark Souls, a little bit of A Plague Tale, and some Kingdom Come Deliverance thrown in. If you’re wondering why I chose video games to represent the writing style, there’s not really a deeper meaning there, they just reminded me of the story.

Cover for the Definition of Vengeance by Kevin WrightSir Luther Slythe Krait finds himself once more in a new location riddled with corruption, superstition, and evil happenings. This time we are doing a murder mystery with our antihero protagonist tracking down the murderer of a young girl, Hilda. This is the smallest stakes of the three books so far and we get a more intimate story versus the larger epics of the previous two volumes. This benefits the tale as we get more focus on the protagonist versus his supporting cast and to be honest this is a good choice since his dark cynical worldview is the strongest of the narratives. 

If you aren’t familiar with the Serpent Knight Saga, Luther is closest probably to Westeros’ Hound but with a much more sardonic cynical humor. He’s a corrupt man who is well aware the world he inhabits is utterly absurd and vile, so he’s largely abandoned himself to being a hedonistic corrupt officer. However, like so many noir protagonists, there remains those one or two lines he refuses to cross and compels him to try to do something against the corruption he finds.

Kevin Wright has an exaggerated but not unbelievable style to his worldbuilding. His is the kind of rainy, muddy, perpetually overcast, and dark medieval world where everyone is one particular shade of scumbag after another. It is evocative and jumps off the page in a way that not many other authors can match. In a very real way, his mythologized version of Eastern Europe is as much a star as Luther himself.

I appreciated the more tightly focused and character-specific storytelling in The Definition of Vengeance but some fans may be annoyed that instead of the stakes raising or a larger view of the setting opening up, it has instead become smaller. I don’t have this problem because I don’t believe that would be fitting with the themes established. 

Sir Luther is something of a noir hero. He can’t change the systemic and cultural evils of the Dark Ages nor meaningfully make improvements even on a personal level. He’s also, despite how entertaining he may be, a genuinely terrible person with a few redeeming qualities. You enjoy him for telling off the Prioress of the Abbey of Saint Helenas for how ridiculous her pretensions are not his personal virtue.

One interesting element of the story is Sir Luther’s dealings between the local village and the Romani people in the area. The villagers treat them like crap and they’re less than pleased at the locals in return. The death of the young girl becomes a potential flashpoint between them and only Luther is even mildly interested in finding the actual culprit versus an easy scapegoat.

Basically, if you’re looking for properly dark grimdark fantasy with a bit of crude humor as well as scathing satire of social institutions of the Middle Ages then this is certainly the book for you. I’ve enjoyed the entirety of the Serpent Knight Saga (Lords of Asylum, and The Last Benediction of Steel) and think it is one of the better independent grimdark works out there.

Read The Definition of Vengeance by Kevin Wright

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.