Review: Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven by Jessica McHugh

Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven by Jessica McHugh
Raw Dog Screaming Press (June 14, 2018)

220 pages, $15.95 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Anton Cancre

You know what I was just thinking we don’t have nearly enough of? Hyper-violent, dystopian, post-apocalyptic sword and sandals-style fantasy with a hefty seasoning of Shakespearean drama. Luckily, we have Jess McHugh’s Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven swooping in to pluck out our eyes.

You see, our dear friend Shal is a resident of Cartesia, a land that has fallen into ruin following the death of God. Fertility itself has become a commodity, and a few elites lord over society, dispensing violence and destruction at their whim. All in the name of order, of course. She isn’t having that, though, and has gathered an army to her side to tear down the regime of the council, starting with her own stepfather, Doa.

To put it simply, if you are a fan of Conan the Barbarian (the good one) and Fury Road, then you will dig this yarn. It’s violent, brash, visceral and gives zero *expletive deleted*’s if it offends you. At the same time, rooting this violence deeply in the characters allows it to hit like a beast. While there are political machinations and the schemes of the great are ever-present, those aren’t the concerns that overwhelm us.

Instead, we are placed firmly in the heads of simple, broken beings who want little more than to carve a survivable situation from the rough granite of the world for themselves and those they care for. These are characters who, even when at their worst, we can understand and empathise with. And pretty much all of them are at their worst most of the time.

This puppy moves fast, hits hard and takes no prisoners, but still bears a sense of optimism rarely seen in the genres it plays with. It’s an impressive feat to pull with a tale steeped in the rage and misanthropy that are so easy to be overwhelmed by, in the face of the ugliness within these pages. Make no mistake, Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven is not for the weak of heart or constitution, but it is damn rewarding for those who can stomach it.

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