In today’s world of discourse—much the same as any other time, I’m sure—hot takes have risen to supplant nuance. There’s too much white noise to sift through to get actionable information. We want opinions, dammit!
As an unfortunate consequence, this trend has given rise to the propensity to use the word “rated” far too readily to make oneself heard in the crowded and discordant halls of fandom. More specifically, that singular word directly preceded by the modifier “over,” or, as I submit to you now, “under.”
I don’t pretend to be immune to the trend. In fact, I nearly crafted a shouty title to plaster all over this one. I read this series about ten years ago, and, since I rarely—if ever—see it mentioned, I naturally feel that it’s vastly underrated. More likely, it’s merely underread—a key difference, since most people I speak to who have read it would heartily recommend it.
Anyway, here’s a brief rundown of the reasons why you should probably, possibly, maybe check out The Renshai Trilogy and The Renshai Chronicles by Mickey Zucher Reichert.
The Gist, or … What is a Renshai?
The Renshai is a name given to a group/tribe of Nordic-inspired people in Zucher’s world. At the start of Book 1, The Last of the Renshai (I bet you can guess where this is going,) the series is set up in typical fantasy fashion. (IE: The entirety of a warrior people is wiped out of existence due to fear of their power, leaving one survivor and kicking in motion a typical survival/AVENGE MY PEOPLE! plot structure.) … not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The kicker—and where this series first started to surprise me— is that said survivor is paralyzed from the waist down. Still, Rache Kalmirsson begins training and—through various, spoilery means—discovers pieces of the heavily-guarded Renshai martial forms. He doesn’t have any powers, he’s just a badass who literally straps his legs to the sidesaddle of his horse and learns to fight better than basically anyone in the world.
Solid premise? Cool. Because then shit gets deliciously weird.
The World, or … WHERE AM I?!
Zucher has crafted a fantasy world heavily inspired by Norse mythology. Hell, even calling it inspired does a disservice to the word. It is Norse mythology. Think of it as Norse Mythology: The Lost Chapters. It fits into any of those legends and, in my opinion, ends up carving out an impressive niche for itself amidst the old myths. Many of the gods even make appearances—much more than mere cameos—as the six-book story arc heats up.
Key Selling Points , or … Sell me Straight
You need more?!
Okay, for starters, there’s a wide and varied cast of characters. Some of them are major players for books to come. Some of them die in tragic ways, and some of them just kind of fade away and do nothing in the middle/end of the series. (Whoops. That’s actually a flaw.)
If you’re into sword-fighting. Like, legit sword fighting with expert-level warriors competing in a series of ever-escalating duels, skirmishes and open warfare, you’ll find a lot to like.
Seriously. Training and fights galore. GALORE.
If you’re into weird magic that isn’t explained in painstaking detail but still feels believably real, you’ll dig it.
If you’re into a story that starts relatively small and gets bigger—most literally and thematically—as it goes, this one has a series of plot, character and action escalations that will keep you guessing most of the way through.
If you’re into TWISTS! Oh boy, there are a bunch. Even telling you my favorite character in the series is a spoiler that will only dawn on you once you get halfway through Book 1 and start being like … why did Steve like WhatsHisFace so much? (Actually my favorite character in any fantasy series to date.)
If you’re into female characters that kick ass both literally and figuratively without feeling the need to abandon all sense of femininity or attraction to their male counterparts (and written by a female hand,) you’ll find plenty to like there.
Finally, you’ll maybe want to check this one out if you’d like to give an underread female author some recognition for proving (25 years ago) what some publishers still don’t know today: you don’t have to be a dude to write kickass epic fantasy.
Nuts & Bolts, or … What is BOOKS, precious?
The Last of the Renshai (1992)
The Western Wizard (1992)
Child of Thunder (1993)
— [Shit gets deliciously weird after this point.]
Beyond Ragnarok (1996)
Prince of Demons (1997)
The Children of Wrath (1999)
(Note: I know Zucher has release two sequels to the Chronicles trilogy within the last decade. I have not read these myself, but my conversations with fans who have left me feeling hesitant about picking them up. Still, can’t know without trying, so don’t let me dissuade you.)