Synopsis: They are the most feared mercenary company the kingdom has ever known.
Led by Yulan, their charismatic captain, the Free have spent years selling their martial and magical skills to the highest bidder – winning countless victories that shook the foundations of the world. Now they finally plan to lay down their swords.
Yet when Yulan is offered a final contract, he cannot refuse – for the mission offers him the chance to erase the memories of the Free’s darkest hour, which have haunted him for years.
As The Free embark on their last mission, a potent mix of loyalty and vengeance is building to a storm. Freedom, it seems, carries a deadly price.
“Wren knelt at Kerig’s side as he lay in fitful slumber on a worn blanket. She dabbed at his brow with a folded cloth. Yulan knew her to be amongst the greatest of the Free’s Clevers, capable of extraordinary and terrible things, yet her face now was nothing but gentle concern and love. She was the best of them, Yulan suspected. The least flawed. For all that he liked Kerig, he had never thought the man entirely worthy of her devotion; less so than ever, now that he had ventured all their lives for the sake of his own vengeance. But then, Yulan knew less of this sort of love than he would have liked. Desire and passing passion, yes, but not the rooted, pervasive thing Kerig and Wren shared.”
I’ve been trying to write this review off & on for weeks now. It’s just such a busy time of the year! As Dr. Ian Malcolm likes to say.. life, uh, finds a way!
The Free follows brave Yulan, the leader of a group of ragtag mercenaries. He is ready for the crew to disband & retire, but ends up taking One Last Job. Evidently, I seem to enjoy the One Last Job trope, lately. Which is a good thing, because it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere in fantasy!
The secondary characters are interesting & dynamic. I’m a sucker for following a group of people throughout a story – learning about their various backstories, seeing what their relationships are like & how they interact with each other (GIVE ME ALL THE BANTER), as well as the comradery.
The Free is a standalone, which as we all know, is fucking rare these days! As much as I love my sprawling, chunky, epic fantasies.. it’s nice to read the occasional standalone as well. Something that gets to the point & tightly wraps up the story all in one package.
In the acknowledgements, Ruckley makes note that Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven & The Wild Bunch influenced him while writing The Free. I would also compare it to 13 Assassins (the original) & The Twilight Samurai, in some respects. Trying to remain honorable, yet dealing with injustice in the world. It’s safe to say, this wouldn’t have any trouble fitting in on the big screen! There is certainly that cinematic quality to the worldbuilding (although I wanted to know even MORE about the world, which can be a minor gripe that I have when it comes to standalones.)
I can’t talk about the intriguing worldbuilding without also mentioning my favorite thing in the book, the fully-realized magic system that Ruckley has come up with! It’s complex & fascinating & just so brilliant! I truly loved how the balance of nature & what we put into it plays a part. I won’t say anything else about the magic, because it’s so damn exciting to see how it all unravels.
The Free is brutal, bloody & fun. This has grimdark elements, yet relies heavily on heroic fantasy storytelling. There is plenty of action & drama & more than a little romance. I dug the hell out of this!