Gregory A. Wilson’s Grayshade

Gregory A Wilson’s Grayshade, a rewritten and revised version of the novel of the same name, introduces a conflicted and well drawn hero, his conflicts, and yes, the start of a trilogy.

Our hero is an assassin, and a holy one at that, doing the bidding of the Order of the God Argoth. He hasn’t questioned his job, his life, his vocation, until an assassination target, his hundredth, causes him to start to question matters. Events subsequent to killing that target launches the assassin into a web of intrigue, action and adventure.

This is a revised and rewritten version of the novel first written in 2016. I have not had the opportunity to read that novel (relatively rare and hard to find, as it was barely published), although in an afterward, and in public comments, Wilson has said that there are major changes and improvements to the original. Further, the book is meant as a launch of an entire trilogy that will be funded via kickstarter.

With that business out of the way, let’s look at the book and the story itself. We meet Grayshade in the midst of an assassination that doesn’t go quite to plan, and a relatively atypiGrayShade_lowrescal assassination target at that – the outwardly flighty socialite wife of a political powerful man, which in itself seems odd to Grayshade. We come to Grayshade at a point in his career where he is extremely experienced and very good at what he does. This is no “coming of age” novel where we follow the assassin through his first mission; rather this is someone who has past adventures and missions behind him, which grounds him for when things do not go according to his expectations. Things spiral out from the assassination not going right, to the point where Grayshade starts to question his purpose, his role, and the entire Order.

This makes a lot of the novel about information control and dissemination, which in turn reminds me of Wilson’s gamemastering. The classic way to handle this information control for a lot of novels is to have a callow, untrained, new-to-the-role protagonist who can learn about the role, the world, and his situation as they go, and thus so can the reader. It’s a timeworn technique. However, given that Grayshade is an assassin of no little experience, and we are dropped feet first into a first person view of a fantasy world and setting, managing that information for the reader by other means than having Grayshade learn it himself is no little skill. Wilson has to manage both internal skills and knowledge as well as world knowledge. This is difficult for a GM as well as a writer, and I think that Wilson’s skills as a GM have served and transferred well over to writing.

Wilson manages and uses these skills by several methods, making Grayshade a sometimes reflective character on things he has learned. Primarily, he manages this by using an Obi-Wan for Grayshade, Caoesthenes. His advice and viewpoint, both in flashbacks, and in the present when he visits him, helps provide a sounding board to understand Grayshade himself, the city of Cohrelle, the Order, his role within it, and a bunch of the worldbuilding in the process. Wilson does some great information control here, providing information only as the reader needs it, expanding the world in an organic and realistic feeling fashion. The city, its politics, its facets, comes to life in an unfolding way. 

The setting is tight, a fantasy city, with very little described outside of it (information control, remember). This is a relatively low magic setting, although Grayshade has something close to a magical power, as does a secondary character. In general, this is a low fantasy where blades and skill (and some neat  technological toys) rule the day.

As far as Grayshade’s abilities, Wilson uses a mixture of tell (but it’s really Grayshade telling us) with a larger dose of show, to reveal that he really is top of his class when it comes to being an assassin. Giving Grayshade a rival, Maurend, who intersects Grayshade again and again throughout the novel,  provides not only a character foil, but shows off the training that Acolytes undergo in the Order of Agaroth. The Maurend-Grayshade dynamic is some of the richest in the book.  We get to see just how well skilled and trained such individuals are, especially when they are in the same scene. 

A real highlight of the book, though,  are the action beats. As an assassin and a skilled one at that with some very nifty “toys” and heightened senses, Grayshade does get himself into a number of really well done and described action sequences. Wilson is very careful to go for a variety of encounters and situations so it doesn’t feel like an endless stream of encounters of stabbing bad guys, we get infiltrations, escapes, chases, and more than a few surprises that it would be terrible for me to spoil. These action beats definitely keep the reader turning pages.

And finally, there are the relationships and connections that Grayshade has, and makes, throughout the novel. Grayshade finds that, indeed, it does take a village. I almost suspect him of being a “take that” at novels where you have a singular, solitary protagonist with no ties and no bounds, cutting a swath through the landscape. This character has bonds both positive and negative, and despite himself, is fully within the web of relationships both past and present. The relationships in Grayshade’s world are rich, vibrant, sharp and evolving. Grayshade winds up getting a padawan, an Apprentice, early in the novel, although I think that his use in the narrative is not quite as effective as it might be.

I found the resonances to popular culture and tropes blurred enough that they didn’t drop me out of the story. I mentioned Obi-Wan before in discussing his mentor, and there are plenty of other riffs one can make in the story. In the afterward, Wilson mentions The Equalizer as an inspiration for Grayshade’s story, and that definitely fits him very well. The movie Equilibrium is something that I had in mind when reading this book as well, with its well worn tropes. However, let me be clear that tropes are not inherently bad. Tropes are a device of storytelling, a way to use popular motifs to illuminate a tale, a story, and is especially useful when trying to hold a reader’s interest and hook them into the greater themes of the story. The underlying themes of loyalty, of atonement, of questioning one’s past actions to make better choices in the future, run from the beginning of the novel right through to its denouement. For all of the aforementioned rich action, it’s a novel with philosophical resonance as well.

The novel’s endpoint is definitely “the first part of an adventure” and does not really end on a note that provides a satisfactory conclusion as a standalone book. Grayshade does accomplish an immediate goal, but I think readers who want a tighter end to this first novel might come away a bit disappointed in that they are getting one third of a larger story without a real on-ramp here. However, that said, given the stakes, issues, concerns and the position that our titular character is in at the end of the novel, I came away not only satisfied, but quite interested and eager in what the next two volumes (due to be funded via Kickstarter) will hold in store.

(Athis Arts, 2022)

Paul Weimer

A 2021 double Hugo Finalist (Best Fan Writer and Best Fancast) and the 2017 Down Under Fan Fund Delegate from North America to Australia and New Zealand, Paul Weimer has been exploring and talking about genre since the early days of blogs. Having honed his genre reviewing and criticism skills at the award winning SF Signal blog and podcast, Paul Weimer now writes for (and podcasts) at places like The Skiffy and Fanty Show, SFF Audio, Nerds of a Feather and He is the writer of “What I did on my Summer Vacation: The 2017 Down Under Fan Fund Report”, which set a record for number of photos in a fan fund report of any type in addition to documenting the National SF conventions of New Zealand (Lexicon 3) and Australia (Continuum 13). And of course, a visit to Hobbiton amongst many other adventures. Paul Weimer lives in a city lying between Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, USA, where the long winters provide plenty of time to read as well as plan his photographic adventures. He is best found on social media sites, from Twitter to Instagram to Discord under the name @princejvstin, and his website is

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