cover image Kingdom in Chains

Kingdom in Chains

J.W. Zulauf. Evolved, $14.95 trade paper (284p) ISBN 978-1-62253-352-7

Zulauf opens a fantasy series with this complicated novel set in a land where slavery is the norm but one lord has committed himself to the cause of freedom. Barloc, a longtime slave, knows Drudgeburg will be different from other places he’s lived when his new master, Lord Harbor, whips a too-harsh slaver. Here, slaves can earn their freedom by successfully completing 30 days of quests. Fail any given quest, though, and the timer starts over. There turn out to be reasons for not immediately emancipating everyone, but the system seems capricious and the behavior of the guards inconsistent. Barloc’s assiduous following of orders and humane heroics help him graduate from backbreaking labor, but his masters and comrades aren’t always thrilled with his tactics for completing his quests. And then King Sclavus’s men arrive to insist Lord Harbor demonstrate fealty by ending his slave-freeing. Instead, Drudgeburg openly rebels, and all inhabitants, from the newest confused arrivals to the seasoned, trained fighters, prepare to lose their lives in defense of the idea of ending slavery. Zulauf’s feudal world has castles, kings, and swords, but also guns and wage labor, making for odd moments of what feels like historical inaccuracy. But the blend of detailed battle scenes, Barloc’s emotional memories, and political intrigue make for a mostly satisfying start to a series. (Oct.)