The Beasts of Grimheart

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

Podkin One-Ear | The Gift of Dark Hollow

The Beasts of Grimheart was written by Kieran Larwood and first published in 2018. It is the third instalment of The Five Realms series, telling the continuing story of Podkin’s battles against the evil Gorm. The novel follows on directly from where Podkin One-Ear (2016) and The Gift of Dark Hollow (2017) left off, so you really need to read the novels in sequence to fully appreciate what’s going on.

The Bard’s past has finally caught up with him as he finds himself captured by the Bonedancers. The tribe of assassins have been contracted to kill him due to an offensive story that he once told to the rabbits of Golden Brook. However, Sythica – Mother Superior of the Bonedancers – is merciful. She requests that the Bard tells her the same story. Only then will she decide if it is worthy of death.

The tale that the Bard tells is another one from the childhood of the legendary hero, Podkin. Following their last battle against Scramashank and the Gorm, Dark Hollow has become a safe haven for all rabbits. Yet, it seems that the forest won’t remain safe for long. The Gorm have created a deadly new machine – one with the power to tear up trees – and are coming from them.

Although the rabbits of Dark Hollow have arrows that are capable of destroying Scramashank once and for all, they need a special weapon to fire them. Thus, Podkin leads a small group to the Sparrowfast Warren in search of Soulshot – a bow that never misses its target. However, while on route, they are betrayed by one of their own and Podkin, Paz and Pook find themselves lost in the forest. Will the be able to find the others before the Gorm reach Dark Hollow? Or will they find themselves hunted by the fabled Beast of Grimheart?

After a slightly underwhelming first instalment, I’m really pleased that The Five Realms series is going from strength to strength. This instalment was equally as strong as the excellent The Gift of Dark Hollow, possibly even more so. While the novel can be a little dark and scary in places, it is clearly written with its target audience in mind and certainly carries shades of the likes of Redwall, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and even FernGully: The Last Rainforest.

Podkin’s world grows more complex with every new instalment, introducing even more tribes of rabbits and their customs. From the peaceful apiarists of the Silverock Warren to the druid-like giant rabbits who live in the depth of Grimheart Forest, the novel is filled with bunnies of all shapes, sizes and fur colours who bring with them unique beliefs and attitudes towards the Gorm.

Yet the story goes further still this time, with Podkin getting his first glimpse at the true nature of Gormalech. Although this is brief and still somewhat vague, it does give a clear hint as to the nature of the Ancient race that came before the rabbits, as well as the terrible fate that befell them. Through this, the scope of the novel becomes a lot wider. It’s not just a talking animal story – there is a wealth of history, religion and culture behind Podkin’s world and Larwood has only just begun to scratch its surface.

The Beasts of Grimheart is nicely paced this time around, revealing the Gorm’s new machine early on and slowly building to an epic final battle. The fact that the Bard in the connecting segments of the story is also in danger this also adds a sense of urgency to the tale, leaving the reader curious to find out if the story of the Battle of Sparrowfast will be exciting and inoffensive enough to save him from a grizzly death.

The climax of the story is utterly gripping but also had a very final feel this time around, with the rabbit army actually succeeding in defeating the Gorm for once, rather than just chasing them away. While this book could comfortably have been the final instalment of the series, the final few pages do hint that this was not the last of the Bard’s stories, and the Podkin One-Ear will face Gormalech again in the future. This left me incredibly curious to see where Larwood will take Podkin’s adventures next.

In terms of characterisation, The Five Realms series is still going from strength to strength. While the books are still primarily Podkin’s tale, and it was frustrating to see that virtually all Gifts go to him, it was nice to see that so many others are instrumental in the victory against the Gorm. Without Crom’s strength and Paz’s growing magic, there would have been no chance of Podkin saving the day.

Podkin also gets a good deal of personal development this time around, through witnessing the toxic rivalry between his mother and uncle. This acts as a bit as a slap in the face for him, finally forcing him to confront his own rivalry with Paz and accepting that she does make a better leader than him. While it was annoying that Paz’s recognition was primarily exposited by the Bard rather than shown, it was nice to see that she did finally manage to gain the position that she has always blatantly deserved.

The story also offered a little more development for the Bard. While his true identity has been hinted at since the very first book, the climax of this novel is the first point that he openly admits it. It is also the first time that Rue discovers who his master is, thus leaving me curious to see how this will affect their relationship going forward.

My only real disappointment was the treatment of Vetch, who’s long overdue comeuppance largely comes off page. It would have been nice for Podkin and the others to have been given a chance to face the traitor one last time, especially given the second chance that he had already been given in The Gift of Dark Hollow. It felt a little as though the reveal of his fate was added as a bit of an afterthought.

So, that’s about all that I have to say. All in all, I am still in love with this series. Its world-building is amazingly complex and the characters are growing more well-rounded by the novel. I really can’t wait to see what adventures Podkin (and the Bard) will have next.

The Beasts of Grimheart can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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