Baen Books, 2015, 432 pages
After the War of the Gods, the demons were cast out and fell to the world. Mankind was nearly eradicated by the seemingly unstoppable beasts until the gods sent the great hero, Ramrowan, to save them. He united the tribes, gave them magic, and drove the demons into the sea. Ever since, the land has belonged to man, and the oceans have remained an uncrossable hell, leaving the continent of Lok isolated. It was prophesized that someday the demons would return, and only the descendants of Ramrowan would be able to defeat them. They became the first kings, and all men served those who were their only hope for survival.
As centuries passed, the descendants of the great hero grew in number and power. They became tyrannical and cruel and their religion nothing but an excuse for greed. Gods and demons became myth and legend, and the people no longer believed. The castes created to serve the Sons of Ramrowan rose up and destroyed their rulers. All religion was banned and replaced by a code of unflinching law. The surviving royalty and their priests were made casteless, condemned to live as untouchables, and the Age of Law began.
Ashok Vadal has been chosen by a powerful ancient weapon to be its bearer. He is a Protector, the elite militant order of roving law enforcers. No one is more merciless in rooting out those who secretly practice the old ways. Everything is black or white, good or evil, until he discovers his entire life is a fraud. Ashok isn’t who he thinks he is, and when he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, the consequences lead to rebellion, war - and destruction.
Larry Correia is better known for his Grimnoir and Monster Hunter series, which feature superheroes or nearly-superheroes and lots and lots and lots of guns in violent, action-packed, sometimes cheesy adventures reminiscent of the golden age of pulp fiction. Fairly intricate worldbuilding but not much depth in characters or dialog.
With Son of the Black Sword, he's branching out into epic fantasy. And it's much like his other series — his heroes are superhuman, and they spend most of the book chewing up bad guys in bloody battles involving massive firepower, except instead of guns, now we have magical black swords and a bit of sorcery.
While usually the protagonists are unquestionably on the side of goodness and light, Correia does play around a bit with anti-heroes, and here the protagonist is practically an anti-Paladin, being honor-bound by a very rigid caste system and a Bushido-like code to serve a regime that turns out to be pretty awful.
Ashok Vadal, the hero of our story, is a Protector in a medieval society that, while embellished with a bit of Asian flavor in the names and some of the customs, still resembles Europe more than any non-Western society. Yes, there is a rigid caste system, including an entire population of "Nameless" who are basically Untouchables who can be abused and killed at will, and much of the tension in the book comes from Ashok's realization that the law and justice are not the same thing, after events force him to question the unquestionable beliefs of his own caste. But aside from that, the setting is still basically a castle-and-tavern world of merchants, sages, warriors, assassins, sorcerers, and demons — nothing you wouldn't find in an 80s-era AD&D worldbook.
I read another review that called this "Epic fantasy on Easy Mode," which I think is a pretty good description. Thanks to his super-powerful Black Sword and another magical McGuffin called the Heart of the Mountain that makes him almost unkillable, Ashok has to be thrown against kaiju-sized demons or entire armies to even give him a challenge, and even then it's always clear who's going to win.
Which is not to say it's not fun to read about, and the adventures of Ashok the unbeatable Protector move right along from one battle to another. I liked this book well enough and will probably read the next in the series. I just didn't find it all that original and I like Correia's Grimnoir series better. In Son of the Black Sword, even though Ashok is faced with many challenges, physical and moral, there is never any doubt about the outcome. After mowing down everything else in his path the entire book, the demonic Big Bad at the end hardly seems like much of a threat.
One twist in the setting is the absence of gods — in fact, religion has been basically outlawed. Until we learn that Ashok is a "chosen one" and there are some heavy hints that he's going to discover a monotheistic God and that Correia might be going for some sort of C.S. Lewis-style revelation later in the series.
This was a perfectly fine book if you are a fan of epic fantasy, or of Correia's work in general, but it had a lot of the "gamey-ness" of Brandon Sanderson's settings, while Correia's writing isn't quite up to Sanderson's level.
Also by Larry Correia: My reviews of Hard Magic, Spellbound, Warbound, Monster Hunter International, and Monster Hunter Vendetta.
My complete list of book reviews.