REVIEW: The Pyres of Vengeance by NC Koussis

Header for Pyres of Vengeance by NC Koussis

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

The Pyres of Vengeance is the second entry in the Swords of Dominion series by N.C. Koussis and the follow-up to his debut novel, The Sword of Mercy and Wrath. The Pyres of Vengeance continues the story of Selene, who is now pregnant and about to give birth, fighting to stay alive in a land full of violent monsters and religious zealotry.

Cover for The Pyres of Vengeance by NC KoussisThe Pyres of Vengeance represents a seismic shift in tone compared to the first book of the series, especially with the introduction of Richter, a new point-of-view character who is the embodiment of all the most terrible things you can imagine, and probably a bit more. Normally I don’t pay much attention to trigger warnings, but here I suggest that readers take them seriously, as The Pyres of Vengeance includes sexual abuse, rape, pedophilia, infanticide, and plenty of extreme violence.

Personally, I found the change of tone between The Sword of Mercy and Wrath and The Pyres of Vengeance to be quite jarring. Koussis uses The Pyres of Vengeance to make social commentary about sexual abuse, including that of children and disabled people. His commentary is undeniably effective, but it is probably too much to take for many readers, and the nonstop onslaught of violence, especially sexual violence, becomes gratuitous in many places.

NC Koussis has largely abandoned the gray morality of The Sword of Mercy and Wrath, focusing more on the pitch-black soul of Richter. One of my favorite parts of The Sword of Mercy and Wrath is the internal struggle experienced by lead protagonist Selene as she tries to find her identity in a world that has taken part of her body and manipulated her mind. Selene’s character development was outstanding in The Sword of Mercy and Wrath. Although she struggles with becoming a new mother in The Pyres of Vengeance, the main conflicts in the book are external rather than internal, which isn’t quite as compelling for me.

On the topic of external conflict, there is plenty of werewolf action in The Pyres of Vengeance. NC Koussis maintains excellent pacing throughout the novel, and the action scenes are particularly well written. Koussis should again be commended for his representation of a lead heroine with a physical disability. Selene’s disability neither defines her as a character nor limits her action in any way.

In case there was any doubt that The Pyres of Vengeance is grimdark to the core, the book also features Michael R. Fletcher’s interdimensional grimdark tavern, the Dripping Bucket. Introduced by Fletcher in Black Stone Heart, the Dripping Bucket also appears in books by Peter McLean, Ryan Cahill, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, Sarah Chorn, Clayton W. Snyder, Krystle Matar, and J.E. Hannaford.

To me, reading The Pyres of Vengeance feels like listening to Jane’s Addiction’s debut album, Nothing’s Shocking, with Perry Farrell repeatedly yelling “Sex is violent!” over music that is somehow both messy and overindulgent in its artistry, yet strangely compelling in its own unique way.

Overall, The Pyres of Vengeance is an extremely dark fantasy that forgoes the subtleties of gray morality in favor of a brutal representation of violence and abuse. This may be appreciated by many readers, but personally, I hope that NC Koussis will return to a more nuanced approach in the third volume of his Swords of Dominion series. Grimdark should not be defined in terms of its depiction of extreme violence; rather, it should provide an allegory for hope in a world full of complex morality.

3/5

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.