“Neanderthal King” by Matt Ward

Apparently James Cameron had trouble selling the idea of a movie about the Titanic. “Where’s the suspense? We all know that in the end the ship sinks and everybody dies.”

Well, this story is about the Neanderthals’ last stand against Homo Sapiens from the POV of the losers. So, if you read this book, I hope you’re not aiming for an optimistic outlook. Be prepared for a lot of death.

This has an unfortunate dulling effect on the suspense, as we soon get inured to the fact that everybody is going to get killed eventually. But there is a nicely complex diplomatic plotline woven through the violence, which leads to a believable ending.

The main character is a work of art, starting out as a crude but honourable soldier, and developing gradually into a likeable-from-a-distance epic hero. Nobody else (except for a villain or two) is important, because they’re all going to die anyway.

This story has some of the best world-building I have seen. The writing style — grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary — is rugged and disjointed, just as we would expect the voice of a Neanderthal brute to be. In fact, the numerous errors disguise quite a lot of sloppy editing, (getting ‘nay’ and ‘neigh’ mixed up, for example) but in a mess like that, who can say for sure?

The setting is beautifully (no, strike that) realistically medieval, with stone castles, iron weapons and stinking, filthy hovels filled with piss, vomit, and steaming entrails. Effective, but definitely not for the weak of stomach.

Recommended for those who like their fantasy down to earth and beyond.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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