War God Rising is the latest book by Tim Marquitz, one of my favorite authors for quick and entertaining popcorn fiction. No denial, Tim Marquitz is also one of the editors for Ragnarok Publications so I'm predisposed to like him but if you're still remotely interested in hearing what I have to say then read on to hear my brutal revenge for all of the changes he's made me make! *ahem* I mean, my fair and balanced review of his writing.
The setting is a Rome-like Empire with monsters, demons, gods, and a thriving gladiator industry. Thousands of men and women line up every year to be horribly murdered in the arena for the entertainment of others. Two con men, errr honest entrepreneurs, Kaede and Bess are interested in performing the feat of their careers: fixing the War God tournament. The SuperBowl of Murdertainment.
For this monumental act of hubris, they need a suitable patsy who is both physically capable as well as profoundly stupid. They find their chosen champion in Sand, a young man who is about to be executed for lewd conduct with a sheep that he might or might not be guilty of. Sand is painfully earnest, built like an ox, and believes his two new friends actually give a damn about him. I mentioned he was profoundly stupid, right?
The story follows Kaede, Bess, and Sand as they set out to build up a reputation for Sand so they can even up his odds enough that it won't look completely ridiculous when he wins the tournament that puts him against the reigning War God champion. Kaede and Bess don't actually expect him to win, mind you, but it wouldn't do for their plans at all for him to get killed before it's his time to die.
This leads to a comedy of errors where he faces opponents better than him, gets a magical talking sword (that's a complete ******), and discovers he can't kill attractive women in battle because he gets aroused easily. We even get a fun subplot with a sorcerer bookmaker who decides he needs a (large) piece of the action lest he inform the gladiator commission about just how MUCH cheating our antiheroes (really, villain protagonists) are up to.
So is it good? Yes. Is it funny? Yes x2. Tim Marquitz inserts roughly a laugh a page while never making it completely unbelievable this is a legitimate story. Combining a sports drama with fantasy is something rare enough but the underused gladiator genre too? Yeah, it's very amusing. The humor tends to be on the juvenile side, though, with the aforementioned sheep situation coming up way too many times and Sand having something of an irritable stomach but I was willing to forgive it for the more nuanced humor.
The setting is just the right mixture of development and supposition. We get to know it's a world filled with monsters, magic, and magical artifacts but it's really all centered around the gladiator contests. Tim manages to capture the feeling of sports and the shady back-dealings which continue even onto this day without feeling too anachronistic. Then again, I found out there were concession stands, bookies, and memorabilia stands in the original coliseum so I'm not sure how anachronistic it's possible to be.
It should be noted everyone in the book is a complete *******, which is something that may bother those looking for a sympathetic point of view. Even Sand, the most innocent of the group, has some severe issues and I wouldn't exactly like to be his friend. There's a situation which happens with him and Bess which wouldn't remotely be funny in real-life for example. Of all the characters, I'm most fond of Bess as she provides the majority of sardonic humor and problem solutions. Still, I wouldn't wish some of what she goes through on anyone. Being forced to ask your mother for help? Dear god(s)!
Still, the fact everyone is a jerk makes the jokes all the more enjoyable. You don't care whether these people succeed or not so watching how they fail and blunder about is hilarious. It's the same sort of humor which drove A Fish Called Wanda. Only with gladiators and witches and...okay, it's nothing like A Fish Called Wanda but it's still a fun little book.