Review: SKALD Vol. 1: The One True King of Men by Aubrey Sitterson
Disclosure: This is a review of SKALD Vol. 1: The One True Volume of Kings by Aubrey Sitterson. Sitterson offered me a review copy, but I declined, opting instead to purchase it myself.
I was, initially, familiar with Aubrey Sitterson as a wrestling podcaster. I mean, I am still familiar with him as a wrestling podcaster/Youtuber (I’ve never actually watched it on Youtube, but Sitterson’s Straight Shoot is one of my favorite podcasts), but I learned (chiefly through that podcast) that he also wrote a weekly, serialized fantasy story called SKALD that he then podcasts. I’ve never listened to it. Instead, after the first 16 chapters were released Sitterson released an eBook version (available on Amazon), although the weekly podcast version has continued and has now amassed enough episodes that a second text volume is incoming soon.
SKALD works with many tropes that will be familiar to those who have read Tolkien and the fantasy genre that he spawned. High elves and wood elves, Halflings, and tinker gnomes all make appearances. I have found this sort of thing to be somewhat divisive. Many people (myself included) love when people play within the tropes. There is something interesting to someone trying to bring their own spin to a world that has grown into a weird multiverse over generations of Tolkien readers and Dungeons and Dragons players. SKALD, though, also shares DNA with classic sword & sorcery stories, like Howard’s Conan. It is brutal in spots. Gritty. Some spoilers: The story follows a man named Maul that was captured and tied to a magic tree by elves and escapes after befriending a giant cat monster. He views himself as the rightful ruler of men, although he has obviously not seen his perceived kingdom in many years. Maul is single-minded. He is a violent tornado that has made a pact and subsequently broken it with something ancient. His motivations are clear and consistent as he makes his way through the world, overcoming obstacles that stand in his way. Sitterson’s writing is compelling, moving you forward. The action is well written and frantic. There are a few typos that stood out to me, as well as a few instances where the repetition for emphasis made me wonder if it might have come across better when read, but nothing that hurt the overall flow of the story or my enjoyment of it.
The story. So, that’s an interesting thing. Maul is, to this point, a pretty straightforward character. He wants one thing: His throne and is not necessarily interested in being likable. That’s appropriate, though, for the sword and sorcery genre, where the protagonists are rarely true heroes. It also helps that Maul meets a slew of interesting characters along the way and their motivations appear to be consistent and, unlike Maul’s, obfuscated in secrets. Everyone wants something, and many of them want to handle the incredibly powerful Maul to their own ends, even if they are not clear yet. In this way, Maul makes an interesting contrast against the rest of the world that is also just looking out for itself, but – unlike Maul – feels it necessary to hide their true intentions. As mentioned above, the story is compelling, but it is also not clear that the story has a particular arc, although that may be in part a necessity since – as mentioned above – the story is written and recorded on a weekly, ongoing basis. That is also not to say that the story does not move forward or things do not progress, it simply does not move in a smooth arc the way one might expect if they picked it up looking for a novel. Instead, Maul’s is an adventure that crashes from one fantastic place to another, with a new obstacle standing in his way at each turn, much to Maul’s dismay. There is, then, a good chance that Maul will smash it. It’s a lot of fun.
I enjoy SKALD quite a lot. Sitterson’s imagery is evocative and reads smoothly. I also found that the volume, for the price ($2.99 on Amazon for, according to Amazon 151 pages) covered a lot of ground. Honestly, perhaps because it is serialized, it covers more ground in Maul’s world than many fantasy series do in whole series. It’s neat to see what sort of madness awaits Maul around each corner, and SKALD rarely sits still for long. It is not really a reservation, but the serialized nature of the story means that those looking for a novel, a self-contained story with a beginning, middle and end, may not find what they are looking for here. Those looking for a serialized, gritty fantasy world built on classic tropes, though, should find a lot to like with SKALD. Even though it is built on those parts, I never felt like it was terribly derivative, and Sitterson’s world is compelling and well built. SKALD Vol. 1: The One True King of Men is available now, with the second volume available in eBook version, too. The podcast version, published weekly is available for no money, in its entirety, as well, through iTunes and PodOMatic. Sitterson also operates a Patreon to support his production of the story.