Title: The Crimson Script
Author: SJ Hull
Published by: Independently Published
Publication date: 12th Feb 2021
Abys-Luthil is a city that stands upon the brink of civil war. Its halls of power darken with growing plots, and rival gangs terrorise its aged streets. Criminals raid stately homes in search of arcane artifacts, as the city’s nobles withdraw behind their household guards.
Within this city of masks and deceit, Lyra Alpheri moves between the shadows, hunting those who would prey upon the weak. By day she returns to a life of civilised nobility, as the daughter of the renowned magister, Maellon Alpheri. Aided by her friend Kat, and the master of the arcane forge, Virgil, Lyra swiftly brings justice to those who plague the streets. However, it is not long before the political upheaval of Abys-Luthil’s scheming magisters brings trouble to her own home, and after the very fabric of her world is ripped from under her feet, Lyra descends into the city’s depths to wreak a terrible vengeance.
In a journey that runs thick with blood, betrayal and otherworldly power, Lyra walks the darkest of paths, one which soon tests mind, body and soul. But, as the bodies mount, is Lyra in danger of becoming the very evil which she so desperately fights against?
Author, S J Hull, reached out to me via Twitter and asked if I would read and review their work; I am happy to have agreed and, here we are.
The Crimson Script is a captivating, topical novel that follows the path of Lyra Alpheri; the daughter of Maellon Alpheri, Magister in the city of Abys-Luthil – one of few men willing to speak out against a tide of silence being imposed High-Magister Nihilo and his fellows. One unfortunate event leads to another, putting Lyra on the path of revenge against those that have done her and her family wrong, in what seems a tried-and-tested narrative of good vs evil. The Crimson Script, however, is far from standard in its commentary of the oldest trope.
Right from the first page we’re given a lead character that breaks conventions. Lyra is playing a game of cards, playing a role of innocence and naivety; testing her wits against a group of men aiming to rob her of every penny. Yet, Lyra’s perspective of the game gives a much more confident commentary of the situation. We have a lead character that knows her business and can manipulate those around her to fit her situation, in this first chapter (which you can read here for free) we’re introduced to a wonderful lead character whose commentary is reliable but skewed to her perspective. She is a character that grows throughout the story, sometimes in unexpected ways, captivating, willful and strong, but flawed to a point that makes her easy to empathise with.
While the plot of The Crimson Script conveys some utterly serious topics of conversation; silencing of freedoms, there is an element of humour to some of the characters that breaks the solemn tension. Two characters of the Vox Militant – an order of soldiers tasked with protecting the freedoms of the people – Rillo and Aequo – have a glorious dynamic between them that hints at a shared, painful history that only their banter can get them through. These two characters shone above the rest; despite the focus of the story not being entirely on them. Other characters held a developed richness to them; Kat and Virgil, Lyra’s best friend and mentor. The time spent developing their pasts, shared and separate, added a believable richness to the dramas that surrounded them when they occurred. And because of the depth that they each had nothing about their actions felt forced or out of place.
The world in which The Crimson Script is set is as well developed and engrained as the characters that inhabit it. There is a level of technology that blends with more mystical elements and the writing of the two worlds meeting is seamless. Enhanced by the wonderful world-building of the author. The history of the city Abys-Luthil is captivating and written into the plot with masterful care as to not be an unwitting information-dump; being revealed only as and when it’s necessary.
What resonated with me as a reader though was the political angle of the story. There is an element to it that feels like it mirrors that of the society we’re currently living in. A parallel between the eagerness of High Magister Nihilo to silence the freedom of the printing-presses and the voices of the people of Abys-Luthil and what we know as ‘cancel-culture.’ This goes tot he extreme in The Crimson Script to the point where the citizens of the city are arrested and/or murdered for speaking out against their oppressors. It falls to a single man; Maellon Alpheri, to raise his fleeting voice against what is happening – which kicks off the story of The Crimson Script off proper. It speaks of a fear that seems to be settling into modern-day society when it comes to voicing the ‘wrong’ opinion – and I think this plays back nicely into some of the plot elements within The Crimson Script, especially when the perspective of Good vs Evil is called into question.
While there is a lot going on underneath the surface of The Crimson Script, there is a lot to also enjoy at face-value. Character arcs are strong and develop well throughout the book; with enough scope to mature in any future instalments of the series (of which I hope there is considering the ending!) There are some fantastically written combat scenes, delightful drama and large scale battles also – all wrapped up in a nice package considering the world-building skills and fast-paced flow of the story. The Crimson Script doesn’t rest on its laurels for long and even in the moments you’re given to catch your breath, the very next page steals it away again and throws you back into the action and just when you think you have the book figured out, think you understand the path that Lyra is taking you down, the rug is pulled from underneath your feet and you’re once again left wondering where you are going. I enjoy a book that does this, The Crimson Script unpredictable in its outcome and I give it all the more praise for being as such.
A wonderfully, fast-paced action, adventure story with sublime world build. The main characters are entertaining and each develop throughout the story as they slowly shrug off their mysteries one by one. Hosting a plethora of different arcs; drama, combat, politics and even dipping into horror, with topical themes of silence. An expertly written story that I am already eagerly awaiting the sequel for.