Lying with Scorpions


Title: Lying with Scorpions
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Amazon: Buy Link (Second Edition)
Length: 250 pages
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A guest review by Sirius

Summary: An action/adventure story about a mercenary struggling to rebuild his unit after the war which made me hold my breath when I was reading it.

Blurb:

You learn your wisest lessons from your enemies. Assuming, of course, you survive the encounter.

Kendras is a casualty of war: injured, penniless, and quite possibly the last surviving member of the only family he’s ever known—the elite fighting force known as the Scorpions. When a steel-eyed stranger offers him medicine and shelter in exchange for submission and a secret task, Kendras has no choice but to accept. He is a Scorpion; he’ll do whatever it takes to survive.

But his true goal is to rebuild the Scorpions. Neither Steel’s possessive nature nor Kendras’s shattered foot can keep him from finding the last of his brothers… or the mysterious leader of the Scorpions, a man who held Kendras’s heart long before Steel tried to take it for himself. The goal is simple, the situation anything but. To rescue his leader and escape from Steel for good, Kendras must fight through a morass of politics and intrigue, where enemies are allies and even allies have hidden agendas.

Review:

First and foremost, I love the cover. I really, really love the cover. stares at the cover with dreamy eyes 🙂 Okay, back to the book now.

I was excited and curious to read this story because at some point I considered myself a huge fun of this author. However I then realized that while I have read a lot of titles which he co-wrote with others, I was actually not familiar at all with his individual style outside of one short story by him (and that story was actually my least favorite out of all his works). I was looking forward to see if I liked him as much as when paired with someone else.

I did. I could not put this book down. It is a twisty action/adventure, which takes place in the well-drawn fantasy world, and I thought the world building was awesome. It comes out slowly and unexpectedly and not everything is presented to us together in one or several huge information dumps. Some of this world is revealed through the characters’ life stories, some is revealed through cleverly-given information, which totally makes sense in the story, and some is revealed through action itself. I loved it.

It is a story about brotherhood of soldiers, something which I love reading about. Give me comrades who would do anything for each other and I am a happy camper even if those guys are not romantically involved. Kendras, as the blurb tells us, is certainly not a man who would give up until he achieves his goal to rebuild his unit, the Scorpions, after a horrible war. The circumstances he finds himself in could have certainly made a weaker person give up, but Kendras follows the team’s motto “Never Stop Fighting” to the letter. He goes through physical and mental hardships, shows willingness to do anything — literally anything in the name of his comrades — and gets involves in dirty politics, but remains a true Scorpion until the very end.

I really enjoyed how this book was written. It is fast-paced, exciting and a pleasure to read. I felt Kendras’ despair, his never-ending desire to bring back his comrades if they are alive and to release them to death if they are dead. It felt sometimes as if I was watching a movie, but the pictures on the page did not become less complex just because it was cinematic as well:

Kendras shrugged. A Fetinye might not have heard of the Seventeenth or “Scorpions”, and now he likely never would. It seemed pointless to display the symbols now if the people and deeds belonging to them were memories. The tattoos not dark enough against his skin, and the raised scars of the etching remained. He’d worn the scorpion on his gloves, but he didn’t know where they were. The glaive was gone. Not that he could have wielded it now.

Speaking about the storyline in general, the plot turns surprised me at least twice, and I loved that I could not predict what would happen at all in those instances. It was a very welcome diversion from so many predictable plots in this genre. The action in this story was just so much fun.

When I read Scorpion for the first time, I did not notice anything romantic; there was plenty of hot sex, but I did not find much romance. I did not feel that it was a problem because so many other things were happening and characters were really busy fighting for their lives and doing other stuff. However, when I reread it, I realized that the romantic tension definitely was there, just quite subtle and not in your face. That worked for me.

It was not until I had finished the book did I realize I had any issues with it. While brotherhoods of soldiers in general is one of my favorite themes in fiction, I found these particular soldiers , and specifically the Officer who Kendras spent so much time trying to find to be pretty  immoral(especially after we are treated to some major revelations about him). This impression of mine does not take away at all from the brilliantly-written characters, but it certainly removes some of my ability to relate to Kendras and his boys. I think I would have wanted to see that something else besides loyalty to each other keep them fighting, and I would have liked for that to have happened before the end. On the other hand, maybe it was their characters arc to realize that there are bigger things than just loyalty to the Scorpions to fight for.

Lastly, I had an issue with the “bad guy.” In light of how I perceived the morality of the Scorpions and their leader, I wondered what exactly the so-called “bad guy” of the story did that the soldiers did not or were not eager to do? All of the characters in this story were deeply flawed and had shades of gray/darkness in them, but I could not shake off the feeling that the author wanted to portray the “bad guy” as such and somehow contrast him to the Scorpions. I guess I am not sure there was something to contrast in the first place as they seemed way too similar to me.

Highly recommended as exciting and powerful read.

30 comments

  • As a reader, I also have certain boundaries. But give those boundaries, I enjoy discovering a book that is so absorbing and well written I love it regardless. This is one of those books. :hearts03:

    Taken separately there are several elements that might attempt convincing me to pass on this story. But Scorpion tempted me early (actually with the great cover and pre-release blurb at Dreamspinner). Engrossing, complex characterizations (loved Widowmaker), interesting plot, and good world building. I couldn’t put it down, and OMG loved it!!

    Reply
    • I agree that this book had engrossing plot and complex characterizations. I am glad you loved it Denni 🙂 Again, this book was not out of my boundaries, it did not make me annoyed with the characters, or anything like that, but I just cannot relate or sympathise with them much, certain actions just tipped the scale for me. I love grey characters, but I want to see some light in them, if that makes sense. To me all characters in this book were very dark grey with very big spots of black.

      I guess the best I can put it is that I respected this book tremendously, but I did not love it.

      Reply
  • Just wanted to say I have finished ‘Scorpion’ and loved it with a passion. It was the writing as much as the story (if that makes sense?) that made this an ‘A’ read for me.

    The metaphors in Kendras’ dialogue that made sense in terms of Kendras’ world view and experiences but also helped to anchor who he is and his bafflement about what to do now. Getting the Officer/Adrastes back is very much a ‘be careful what you ask for’ thing and I liked the realistic uncertainty of the reunion. I also liked that Kendras works with power-with and -through and uses resistance to claim his self and his path. I get very tired of heroes and heroines who are the boss of everything and everyone around them. I also liked the respect the Scorpions had for each other and their past.

    It is interesting to me that I didn’t feel as you did Sirius on the moral compass issue maybe because I place a value people doing what needs to be done. I think the moral compass in the story lay in the differences Kendras noted between himself and the Officer and Steel/Gray Eyes that actions must have a guiding purpose other than coins or power-over for the sake of being on top e.g. Steel’s failure to take care of his men (trying not to spoiler)

    I loved the role of ‘the book’ and the rituals the Scorpions used to define and remember who they are. I read somewhere that of Odin’s two raven’s thought and memory, memory was the most powerful because memory guides action.

    This is an original story yet as a fond reader of the Black Company books I can see their echo and as they say ‘soldiers live or soldiers die the company lives on’. I can make the same comment about the ‘Malazan Books of the Fallen’ by Steven Erikson. This just says that science fiction and fantasy as a genre has been around long enought that there are classic or ur texts. I am very much looking forward to Scorpion 2.

    Reply
    • I am glad you enjoyed the book Merrian, I really have to check out the Black Company books. As to moral compass, well I definitely agree that kendras did what needed to be done for his purpose. The thing is to me, Kendras, Officer, gray eyes were all willing to do equally despicable things and to me the result of those things was the same no matter what purpose is. And if it makes sense I did not find Kendras’ purpose to be enough either. Trying not to spoiler here, but I was actually liking Kendras because I felt that because of his upbringing, he could not behave any differently since Scorpions were his only family. What tipped the scale for me is well, I cant say, I just say it was him willing to do the same thing that Steel was doing. I never liked Officer after the big reveal about him.

      Anyway, to each their own and I am glad you loved the book. As I said I enjoyed it tremendously when I read it and reread it right away, but it is not going to be a reread for me, I am afraid.

      Reply
  • Sirius, if your review wasn’t enough to pique my interest (which it was), the discussion would have been. now i’m seriously intrigued.i have to read this! And yes, completely agree with you on the cover. Thank you for the review!

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Feliz and yes, hard to not stare at the cover isn’t it? 🙂 I hope you will enjoy the book too.

      Reply
  • Merrian – yup, the “annals” are “the memory” in “Scorpion”. In my defense, my professor at university was one of the global capacities on the issue of “memoria” (“memory/rememberance”) of groups – such as entertainers, guilds, monk and nun communities. So, yes, the “Scorpions” keep their own history, and I believe Cook and me were influenced by the same medieval custom. 🙂 (Only that in the case of the Scorpions, they don’t have a dedicated historian – tends to be the officer and he’s not usually sharing what’s in the memory…).

    I did use nicknames extensively (which is another military custom, really). Whatever people are actually named, people in a military unit will call them something else. So while we have names like Kendras, Rikan and Dev, we also have nicknames like Widow(maker), Steel, Stick, Puppy, Runner and Blood.

    And, yes, the Scorpions vary in numbers a lot – tend to be less than twenty, though – I see them much like a special forces unit, and more like a platoon than a “company”, which tends to be larger.

    Reply

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