Last Updated on February 12, 2024
The Sword of Mercy and Wrath is the debut grimdark fantasy by NC Koussis, a blood-soaked tale of losing one’s identity in the monomaniacal pursuit of revenge.
Tristain shares point-of-view duties with his adopted sister, Selene, who steals the spotlight immediately upon making her entrance in the third chapter. Selene is a dynamic and engaging heroine and my favorite part of the book. Anytime she is on the page, The Sword of Mercy and Wrath becomes an unputdownable delight.
The Sword of Mercy and Wrath offers remarkable depth, especially related to questions of character identity. About halfway through the novel, Selene adopts an alternate persona and makes several rather shocking decisions on her pathway to zealotry. Meanwhile, the innocuous Tristain must grapple with his literal beast within. The surprising identity of another side character also introduces an unexpected twist toward the end of the novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed how NC Koussis subverts the clearcut views of morality found in traditional epic fantasy. During the first few chapters of The Sword of Mercy and Wrath, I thought the book was falling into the usual mold of good versus evil. However, NC Koussis goes full-on grimdark by the middle of the novel, introducing moral complexity accompanied by scenes of graphic violence. NC Koussis is a talented writer, and he particularly excels at writing such scenes.
There is also an unexpected touch of romance in the book, although I hesitate to call it that. The scene is not sentimental at all, but rather a violent outburst of passion reflecting the increasingly dark mental state of one of our main characters.
NC Koussis should be commended for his representation of a physically disabled main character, whose disability does not limit her in any way. We need more of this positive representation in fantasy. I’d also like to call attention to the beautiful cover art by MiblArt Design, which contains a subtle clue about our heroine that I didn’t even notice until I reached the midpoint of the book.
My main critique of The Sword of Mercy and Wrath is that the world is underdeveloped. There is a great story here with a surprising amount of psychological depth, but it takes place in a world that feels only partially established. NC Koussis errs on the side of brevity to maintain a fast- paced plot. However, I wished that he would slow down a bit to expand the worldbuilding and deepen all the characters not named Selene.
Overall, The Sword of Mercy and Wrath has a lot to offer grimdark fans, especially in its lead heroine. I’m excited to see where NC Koussis takes the story next as he continues his Swords of Dominion series.