Fantasy with Attitude: The Gallows Black by Sam Sykes

If you want an action-packed fantasy beach read, this is the one. Told by Sal The Cacophony, (think Guy Pierce in Lockout) a hitwoman with a magic hand cannon of a gun that fires rounds fueled by the ashes of dead wizards, the story follows a manic escape after an assassination gone wrong. Sal accidentally gets caught up with, and beguiled by, Twenty-Two Dead Roses in a Chipped Porcelain Vase (Yes, that’s her name!) who has been sentenced to death for her crimes. Together they fight their way out of the city. 

This book is fun! 

But it also taps into something greater. Twenty-Two Roses is a Freemaker, a research scientist of the fantasy kind. She explains why she has been condemned in the following brilliantly allegorical passage:

“[O]ur work is easily misunderstood by the small minds of this world. They find the notion of dedication to a greater idea, not an empire or general, to be terrifying. They call us mercenary intellects, peddlers of what mayhem our work creates. […] When, in fact, those puerile minds who stand in my way have simply gazed upon the same future I have and seen a world that their fear and hatred could not control, and they find this adequate cause to try to kill me.”   

While reading I was reminded of the same way the original Star Wars movies tapped into the rebel hippy era. Young people, fighting an evil empire cruising around in the equivalent of a souped-up VW Beetle. Sal and Twenty-Two Roses are two outlaws on the run, making impossible escape after impossible escape, all while battling people that fear knowledge and truth, and debating the morals of their positions along the way. 

If you’re looking for a fast paced sword and sorcery fantasy that still gives you a little something more, The Gallows Black has everything you need.  

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