Matt Spencer is no stranger to Broadswords and Blasters, having appeared in issues 1, 2, and 9 of our magazine, and writing the occasional article for us as well. So, when we were given the chance to read a review copy of his latest “CHANGING OF THE GUARDS,” we knew what we were getting into.
And, to be fair, Spencer isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and if by tea we mean hardcore brutal fantasy that pulls no punches. There’s very little genteel or noble in this book, with the focus instead on the kind of people that end up being heroes, and how those same people rarely fit into the society they are fighting for.
The opening starts with Severen, a member of the imperialistic Spirelight Secret Police, captured by the very bandits he was sent out to deal with in the first place, led by the savage Rorkaster. Immediately the personal stakes are made known, but the story unfolds well with bits of information and backstory coming through to the reader. It might well seem to start as a standard set-up between civilized and uncivilized, good and evil, but where this particular book shines is in showing the myriad and sometimes conflicting personal motivations of the characters as well. Severen isn’t a simple soldier following orders. Rorkaster is more than a blood thirsty barbarian with a hate on for anything resembling an enemy.
The action is deliberately brutal in the book, with Spencer keeping his narrative lens unflinching on even the worst of it. The action scenes and sense of danger is always palatable, and often his characters pay the price when blood gets shed.
An aspect that might be off-putting to some but I found refreshing is that Spencer doesn’t switch to “high fantasy speak” when writing. His characters are raw and brutal, and the language they use reflects that. A reader may think they were dropped into a seedy bar instead of a novel, but in this case it fits the characters and works, but might take some adjustment for people more used to seeing nothing but the Queen’s English in their fantasy novels.
If I were asked to point to a main theme in this book, it
would be the effect of colonization and the dangers of imperialism, how it
affects both the conquered and the conquerors, and how, at the end of the day,
you have to look at those that stand to gain the most. But sometimes, those
with nothing left to lose can still surprise you.
 While there are references to Spencer’s other books in CHANGING OF THE GUARDS, the book stands well on its own.