Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Review: Malice

Malice by John Gwynne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Good: Fully fleshed-out world, engaging characters, solid plot.

The Bad: A little on the longer side so it’s not a single-sit on a Sunday afternoon, and I felt a lull in pace towards the middle.

The Ugly Truth: Malice is a hugely impressive debut. The characters are very much real, you believe in and feel for them. The world and setting has a very ‘lived in’ feel, as if the author has taken time and care to craft his realm with an artisan’s touch.

For Those That Like: David Gemmell, J.R.R. Tolkien, myths and legends, Michael J Sullivan, novels with a young adult feel to them, stories about the ‘coming of age’ and ‘a greater purpose’.

A war in heaven.

A war in the Banished Lands.

A war of the Gods.

An ancient prophecy has come to pass. Giants have returned to the Banished Lands, their ruins bleeding into the earth. The borders of the Kings of men are no longer safe, as foul creatures stalk the shadows. Bats that can drain every drop of blood from a body, and white Wyrms that can swallow an armoured knight. Asroth’s minions will flock to the banner of the Black Sun, and a second God war will begin.

High King Aquilius calls a council of kings, proposing an alliance in the darkest of times. Their hope lies in defeating the Black Sun, but also in seeking Elyon’s champion, the Bright Star. The prophecy divides the royal alliance, and the kingdoms return to their own affairs. Prince Nathair, promising warchief and first born of King Aquilius, rides for his father’s cause, forging new oaths between the regions of the Banished Lands. Nathair’s results are impressive, but his methods and allies are questionable…

Veradis, for one, follows Nathair without question. Though the Prince’s campgain takes them to the far corners of the Banished Lands, Veradis believes that the search for the Bright Sun might be closer to home.

Home is the last place that Kastell wants to see. Now a grown man, his childhood squabble with his cousin, Jael, has taken a turn for the worse. They no longer play at war, but live the bloody reality. And Jael isn’t just Kastell’s cousin, they’re both nephews of King Romar.

Corban wants nothing more than to fight for his King. The only problem is that warriors are brave, and he is a self-proclaimed coward. In a time when heroes are needed, will Corban rise to the occasion and claim his destiny, or cower and hide? For he is not just the Blacksmith’ son…

…And it’s always darkest before the dawn. The Black Sun and Bright Star are on the horizon.

John Gwynne’s ‘Malice’ is his debut novel, and the opening to a brand new epic fantasy series ‘The Faithful and the Fallen’. I have discussed the story at length with the author (who has been more than accommodating to a writer/wannabe author) and I can’t help but agree with his definition of ‘Malice’ as an ‘enjoyable adventure with a tip of the hat to Gemmell and Tolkien, but add a more modern character flavour’. ‘Malice’ is a legend-forged saga of heroes and hellions, true friends and traitors, and a war to end the worlds of both mortals and immortals.

‘Malice’ follows the coming-to-pass of an ancient prophecy. The Black Sun will wash over the Banished Lands with his hordes, annihilating the realms of men. Man’s only chance against the darkness is the Bright Sun, a promised warrior of Elyon. A true tale of good vs evil, told through the lives of ordinary people, with very special destinies.

‘Malice’ has an eager cast of fantasy hopefuls, each with their differences and their similarities, but all relatable thanks to their very ‘human’ lives. When I say ‘human’ I mean that they’re real people, believable and with dreams and nightmares of their own. Corban is the recognisable hero-to-be from a downtrodden background, who we see come of age throughout the story. Kastell is another underdog, though he comes with a bark AND a bite enough to see him become a giant slayer. Veradis is a warrior foremost, his unwavering loyalty to Prince Nathair seeing him hold the line against hordes of enemies – man, giant, and draig alike. There are most characters aside from these – someone for each and every reader to relate to.

Gwynne revamps fantasy tropes for his debut. Sure, we’ve all read stories of good vs evil, wars between the gods, doomsayer prophecies, heroes and villains, characters with great destinies…but this is different. ‘Malice’ embraces the old favourites and breaths a new lease of life into them. Gwynne’s goal to embody a little bit of Gemmell and Tolkien with a modern mix-up has definitely paid off! I have to say, ‘Malice’ embodies a ‘suitable for all ages’ GRRM appeal. Whilst reading the story, you can imagine Gwynne positioning his characters as if they were on a chess board. And when he goes in for the check mate, boy does he move fast. The finale was literally on-the-edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting excitement. Whilst some points of the book read more methodically, as if you’re reading them to get to the next chapter, you can see why they’re important later on. Without spoiling anything, when everything begins to kick off, you’ll be dragged along for the ride!

John Gwynne is a newbie to the fantasy writer world, but with ‘Malice’ he’s well earned his place amongst the ranks of the great.

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