The first thing I thought of when I saw the title of the novel Five Bloody Heads was the Well of Seven Heads in Scotland, between Inverness and Fort William. I visited the monument there during my backpacking time and though the details of the story were hazy, the sense of revenge and heads seemed to fit.
Five Bloody Heads sets a bandit captain – who was apparently something much more in the past – hunting for the eponymous five heads after a young girl survives the slaughter of her family. She bears scars both physical and otherwise, and she makes a deal for the five heads with Spear Spyrchylde, the leader of a rather pathetic gang of bandits in a second-world setting mimicking Norse culture (and it seemed to me, perhaps Orkney Norse). The story has a collection of conflicts, with hunting the heads being only the most prominent.
This is definitely a gritty saga, something that fans of sword noir might appreciate. The bandits, though, are a lot darker than characters in mashups of sword & sorcery and hardboiled fiction. The heroes of the story are bad people with some redeeming feature rather than principled people in a dark setting. I never really liked the characters, and that forced a bit of distance from the fiction, but the story was compelling. I definitely found the story well-written – some minor editing glitches aside – and the fight scenes had the ring of truth.
On the negative side, I wasn’t sold by the climactic fight, which seemed – excuse the turn of phrase – anti-climactic. As I mentioned, I never warmed to the characters, which taxed my investment in the story. Other than that, my complaints were of the “I would have done it differently,” which are not valid criticisms rather they are stylistic differences.
I give Five Bloody Heads 4 bloody teeth out of 5. If you are into story with really dark protagonists, it’s a good read with some good scenes but doesn’t have anything that would elevate it to great.
You can find out more about Five Bloody Heads here.
You can find out more about the Well of Seven Heads here.