It is commonly said that the true fiber of a person will be determined by what they do when they face what seem to be impossible odds. Will they run and hide, or stand up and tackle these challenges head on? Indubitably, this is a sure-fire way in which to test an individual’s character. With all of that in mind we can see how Ranker’s Charge: Deliverance at Van Demon’s Deep, by author S.P. Stevens, puts this theory to the test. Readers who are looking to explore such concepts in an epic fantastical world, will fall in love with this novella!

The story takes place in a subterranean world which has been taken over by psychotic savages known as the Unbound. A crack team of soldiers called Rankers are tasked with rescuing a group of miners who have become trapped in the underground lair. However, it is not just the Unbound which this team must face. They also encounter bad magic which is lethal in nature, and a growing dissension amongst their ranks. All of this as the threat of being gassed to death by their commanders up above looms over their heads. Can the Rankers accomplish their task and make it out in time? Or are they doomed to spend an eternity, deep in the depths below?

Make no mistake, this is a very ambitious tale. A great deal of thought and effort has obviously gone into the world-building, character development and plot structure. It is very tight. Also, the theme of camaraderie amidst the life and death struggle for survival is well fleshed out and entirely engaging. The author manages to make you feel as if your are actually on this team of Rankers. You will experience the emotions of anger, fear, and sadness right along with them. All of this as the relentless action and frantic pace of the story continues to suck the reader into this magically epic world.

The main characters in Ranker’s Charge are also quite well developed and interesting. Whether it be the resolute but conflicted Kiprik, or the deceitful and loathsome Padre Brax. They experience a great deal of growth and development within the pages of a rather short novella. Kiprik as the central protagonist develops the most as the story is seen primarily through his perspective. Nevertheless, if there is a character I would like to know more about it would have to be the young boy Erik. He is central to Kiprik’s growth, and thus the story, but i am unable to really get a good “feel” for him. Who is he? What is he? How did he get here? That being said, I am guessing that the author had every intention of making Erik an enigma. To be able to explore him in more depth would be my own personal preference.

S.P. Steven’s writing has a great flow to it and is crisp and easy to read. The mix of action with a very compelling theme worked quite well for this particular reader. If I was to recommend next steps, it would be to explain a few elements in some more depth. For instance, other than Erik, I would also like a little more clarity in regards to the Miasma. It is a critical part of the story and as such more explanation would be useful. That being said, I do realize that this is a prequel for the main series and as such everything cannot yet be revealed. It is certainly a wonderful “taster” of what is yet to come. I will be one of the first lining up for the new S.P. Steven’s novel Bindcrafter: Song of Suns. I would very much like to explore this world further.

This novella gets a solid recommendation from me and is a must read for all epic fantasy fans!

4 out of 5 Rankling Stars for this one! ****