Valengetrix: Ghost of Aratania
Self-published by J.R. Cason, August, 2022 (about 140 pages)
Reviewed by Lyndon Perry
Valengetrix: Ghost of Aratania (Amazon affiliate link) by J R Cason is a collection of 5 short stories (or novelets, introduced by an opening epic poem called “The Lay of Auropia”) that form a loose story arc, giving the individual adventures context as Valengetrix makes his way back to his homeland. He was exiled at some point prior to these tales and seeks vengeance against his enemies. Assumed dead, his return is like that of a ghost as he prepares to enter his home city and confront the emperor who has driven out the more noble families of the realm.
Assisting Val in his quest is a ‘soul’ (ancestral spirit) that lives in the jeweled hilt of the sword he carries. This spirit being, Ashren by name, needs to ‘feed’ in battle, and when it strikes it sucks out the life source of those it defeats, turning the dead opponent into a pile of ashes. This makes for some great action and exciting situations. These are buddy tales, after a fashion, and the dialog between Val and Ashren is sly, witty, and humorous. Some great chemistry between the two.
As for the stories themselves, there’s a nice variety of sword and sorcerous encounters in this short volume – from stealing back a precious medallion from a cannibal chief who worships a snake god to confronting an arctic giant while accompanying a shape-shifter unawares, then on to a pirate fight on the high seas while facing monsters from the deep, before finally arriving back to his homeland in Aratania.
Here’s a quick summary from the book’s blurb, which is quite descriptive and enticing:
In the savage realm of Auropia, lurks a ghost in the form of a man. Valengetrix, exiled from his mysterious homeland, seeks redemption in the eyes of his people as he sets out to retrieve lost relics of the once renowned empire of Aratania. Accompanied by a sentient blade, forged from the soul of an ancient warrior of his race, Valengetrix begins to understand that the price for returning home must be paid in blood and treasure.
…With the aid of his ancestral blade, and the various peoples of this world he encounters along the way, the name of Valengetrix becomes a name widely revered by his allies, and feared by his many adversaries. (According to the author’s notes on Amazon, “this short story series [is] set nearly two millennia before the events in the Legends of Atlameria: Harbinger of World's End.”)
Overall, I enjoyed these serial tales (kind of like an ‘episodic novel’), especially “Blood in the Snow” and “Caught in the Undertow.” The action was strong, the characters well-drawn, the individual plots and monsters and crises were exciting and intriguing. A few of the stories began with a lot of world-building and descriptive set-up, so I had to adjust my expectations a bit and ‘get into’ the setting before being rewarded with the action I was looking for. So I might say some parts were a little slow for me. But again, in general, the collection was a fun and fulfilling find.Goodreads notes: “The leading ladies aren't particularly awed by our barbarian hero and have agency other than being love interests. Yes, [this collection has] its share of friendly tavern maids…and gleaming manly thews….” But, it is sword & sorcery after all.
“Ghost of Aratania” ends with Val and Ashren at the city gates of his homeland, and I assume book 2 in this series, “Valengetrix: Lion of Auropia”, will provide continued adventures and wrap up the storyline of vengeance and redemption.
I look forward to reading the second series of stories. And I recommend this collection to other S&S fans – or really any fantasy pulp readers who like discovering new worlds and heroes and diving into the high adventures they provide.