Monday, 28 April 2014

Book Review: 'The Emperor's Blades' by Brian Staveley.

UK and US covers for 'The Emperor's Blades' by Brian Staveley.
The Good: Nice change from the usual western-medieval setting. An epic start to a new fantasy saga. An ever thickening plot, set in a rich and real world, cast with characters whose stories you don’t just follow but live, too.

The Bad: Would have liked to see more of the Annurian Empire through Adare’s storyline, but this really isn’t criticism but more a curiosity, as I would have liked to discover more about the fully-fleshed world. Kaden’s monk ‘trials’ (as I like to think of them) at times felt more like a reminder of his importance/existence, rather than furthering the plot.

The Ugly Truth: Well deserving of the hype proceeding it, Brian Stavely’s gutsy newcomer ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ doesn’t pull its punches – visceral and break-neck from start to finish. Whilst packing a strong right hook in terms of action and suspense, it’s the subtle knife that slips through your guard as the plot twists again and again.

For Those That Like: Stories in which no-one is safe. Conspiracy and betrayal, clandestine operations, court intrigue, badass monks, and greater powers at war behind it all.

The Emperor is dead.

Murdered...

...Betrayed.

Heir to the unhewn throne, Kaden, is yet to discover his father’s death. For eight years he has trained under the Shin monks, honing the strength of mind over matter. Isolated from the world, atop the Bone Mountains, Kaden and the other monks are unaware of the events tearing apart the empire. But the monks have threats of their own – an unknown creature stalks the mountains, slaughtering livestock in a way that no natural beast can.

Valyn, Kaden’s brother and second-in-line to the throne, is nearing the end of his Kettral training. Soon Valyn will join the elite Kettral ranks, and lead his own Wing on clandestine operations. But on a routine training exercise he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens not only his brother’s life, but the future of the Empire, too. With enemies lurking in the shadows and betrayers in the midst of the Kettral ranks, it’s down to Valyn to save his brother, that is if he isn’t killed first by the assassins… or his own soldierly training.

Adare, Valyn and Kaden’s sister, appointed Minister of Finance within the Empire, is there to witness the trial of her father’s murderer. The accused is no deadly assassin nor common crook, but the high priest of the Empire’s faith. The ensuing trial questions whether the Annurian Empire should be ruled by a mortal Emperor or the will of a god…

And behind it all greater forces are at play. An enemy lost to the pages of history is about to return, and no matter of mortal quarrel can compare to its power to destroy.

War is coming, and no-one is safe...

Brian Staveley’s debut ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ is armed and dangerous. One of the most highly anticipated releases for Q1 2014, the novel has set the standard high for the rest of the year. A mix of fully-fledged-fantasy and the ‘grit’ that has become a popular staple in recent fantasy works, Staveley sets himself apart with a non-western medieval setting, a new breath of life into tried and tested character archetypes, and a magic system that even a d20 and a pen and paper couldn’t predict (in a good way, of course).

‘The Emperor’s Blades’ tells the story of the titular Emperor’s children following his murder. The story centres around the three main PoV characters, the story told from their experiences, the overarching plot interwoven with their individual journeys. The plot thickens as they ‘come-of-age’ in their separate environments.  Kaden in a monastery under the tutelage of Shin monks, Valyn training on a remote isle to join the ranks of the Kettral elite, and Adare navigating the intricacies of politics and plotting as a Minister of the Empire. The Emperor is dead, murdered by the hand of the High Priest. Conspiracy is afoot, one that threatens the Emperor’s children, and the rule of the Empire itself. Kaden, isolated from the outer world due to the remoteness of the monastery, is unaware of his father’s death, and his own sudden inheritance of the unhewn throne. Valyn uncovers the conspiracy through the last words of a dying man, but if he makes it known then he risks escalating the traitors into early execution of their plan. All the while, Adare is party to the trial of her father’s murderer, fighting for justice and not least a little bitter vengeance.

The characters carry the book. Whilst the overarching theme of ‘something evil this way comes’ is ever present, and alluded to in snippets, it’s fair to say that the debut focuses more on Kaden, Valyn and Adare as they complete their tuition and come into their own.

Kaden’s chapters focus on his pursuit of the vaniate – what the monks call ‘The Empty Mind’. Think = blank canvas. The sub-elements of this include a photographic memory, the ability to see the world from another’s perspective, and to ignore the physical presence of the body and emotion, and remain detached to the world around you whilst still interacting with it. Sounds like some monk-matrix-meditative stuff, but this is nicely interwoven to the plot, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Staveley develops this in the future. Kaden’s chapters also link into the greater evil at play, which might not be evil in the sense of black leathers, eye of newt, and pointy horns, but it still spells doom-and-gloom to the human race all the same.

Valyn’s story, to me, is the most interesting. As a recruit-in-training, we follow him on exercises, and later the trials, required to become a Kettral. The Kettral are an elite group of soldiers, formed of snipers, magic-using leaches, demolitions experts, weapons specialists, and birds with 70ft wingspans (pilots not included with each bird purchase, but required all the same). I’d liken them to squad-based ninja-legionnaires crossed with modern-day marines and paratroopers. From my own experiences I am more than happy to report that Staveley handled the military elements more than adequately, introducing enough black humour, barrack slang, and cussing, without going overboard and boiling it down into over-used stereotypes that only know how to curse colourfully and stab people. Valyn is the one to uncover the conspiracy to kill the Emperor’s heirs, and it’s down to him to save him brother (and sister!) before the traitors take over.

Adare’s involvement is limited to the Imperial Court and City. And I say limited carefully. It’s not a criticism in this book, as her role is to tie-in the trial of the Emperor’s murder, but if there was space for further ‘world building’ then I’d argue it’s her pages. Staveley’s world is rich with unique creations – from the unhewn throne to the Skullsworn assassins and the pantheon of gods – and being set in a non-western medieval backdrop, I’d have liked to see more of this. After all, it’s one of the key differences between this book and the current fantasy-offering in the market e.g. yet another Game of Thrones copy, or Elves, Dwarves and Dark Lords aplenty.

The story is executed with all vigour and excitement of a newblood, and whilst Staveley succumbs to a few rookie ‘stumbles’(I won’t say amateur, as it’s clear he’s put in a lot more effort than some of the professionals), the finished product is a breakneck race to the finish line. It’s by no means a short read, coming in at over 450 pages, but the chapters (particularly Valyn’s) fly by thanks to the author’s calculated pacing.

From what I’ve read, it’s safe to say that ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ has well earned its hype, and its high time that the author be recognised as a rising star in the fantasy field. I for one am looking forward to the second book, as now that the scene is set I want to see where Staveley takes it next.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Guest Post: 'Gandalf's Hand Sanitizer' by Brian Staveley



 
Yesterday I introduced you to the one and only Brian Staveley - writer, editor, father, teacher (in no particular order, of course). Brian's a busy man, and when he's not doing any of the above he's sharing his thoughts and opinions on topics within the fantasy genre. From swearing in fantasy to what motivates the bad guys, Brian isn't afraid to sugar coat his insight into the fantasy realm. It's a refreshing take on things that we either overlook or forgive our favourite authors for. Brian posts these articles on his blog, but he was kind enough to submit one here, on Written-With-A-Sword.

So, without further ado, I give you Brian Stately and 'Gandalf's Hand Sanitizer - The Wounds of Fantasy.'

A very partial list of the things that could kill you in the absence of modern medicine: bees, thorns, nuts, horses, mosquitoes, childbirth, chicken, spinach, farming, dogs, rats, rusty tacks, ticks, and shit.*
 
If you live in a part of the world without access to cipro and epi pens, doxycycline and tetanus shots, penicillin and measles vaccines, chances are one of these things will kill you. To feel the gravity of the situation, just try the following experiment: go somewhere remote. Hike a week into the backcountry or get dropped off by a float plane. Now break your leg with a rock. Take notes about the experience so the rest of us can appreciate your observations after your death, which will probably be imminent. Without a hospital nearby, a broken leg can be a death sentence. In fact, everything starts to look like a potential death sentence. Appendicitis is easily treatable when you live in Columbus, Ohio. Get it while mountaineering in the Brooks Range and you die.
 
In traditional epic fantasy, of course, no one has access to modern medicine. You’d rarely know that, though, from the way the characters carry on. Wounded soldiers will occasionally battle infection, the odd woman will die in childbirth, but by and large the heroes and villains appear blithely unconcerned by the mortal threats surrounding them. During the American Civil War, two out of every three soldiers fell to disease or infection.  When was the last time you saw a fantasy character die of tetanus? Or malaria? Or anaphylactic shock? Or salmonella?
 
I get it, of course. A fantasy novel in which the main characters languish in the grip of chronic illness hardly sounds like delightful reading. If the Lord of the Rings played out in the real world, Sam would collapse of dengue fever contracted in the Dead Marshes, Gollum would be long dead from some raw-trout-borne illness, and Frodo, rescued from the taint of the Morgul-blade, would succumb to a staph infection. No one wants to read that book, least of all me.
 
Moreover, to be fair to writers of fantasy, magic often fills the void left by the absence of modern medicine. Lizard men leave a nasty gash in your shoulder? Heal it up with a little magic salve. The unpleasant end of a dagger stuck in your leg? Have the local witch lay hands on it. That arrow straight through the gut? A few runes and a muttered incantation ought to do the trick. This is the whole point of healers and potions in games like Elder Scrolls. Without magic no one would ever win. Ever.
 
The magic-as-medicine approach works, and can work elegantly. It does, however, invite a sort of macabre escalation. When the rules of healing are murky, there’s no reason for an author not to raise the stakes in every battle, and it is oh, so tempting to raise the stakes. The escalation of physical violence is an ancient authorial impulse – Beowulf isn’t content to wrestle Grendel; he rips his entire arm off and hangs it from rafters – but it’s encouraged by the calibration of the modern reader.
 
If you cut sliced your hand open with a dirty knife tomorrow, you’d probably be irritated but not terrified. The most inept emergency room in America could have you out the door in an hour and your life expectancy would be excellent. As a result, a slashed up hand just doesn’t impress us. We’d be pissed off if Aragorn keeled over from an injury incurred during food preparation.
 
In fourteenth century, however, a knife wound was serious shit. If you hacked into your palm while gutting a goat, there wasn’t much to do but stare at the wound, offer a prayer, and try really hard not to die. And if mortality rates are any indication, the stare-prayer-try method wasn’t all that reliable.
 
Hence an interesting predicament: modern writers and readers of fantasy are out of tune with the gravity of the injuries about which we read and write. Wounds large enough to impress our super-size sensibilities would almost certainly annihilate any character without magical protection. Plausible wounds, on the other hand, are boring.
 
This isn’t a call to action. As I said above, I don’t really want to read a whole lot of books in which elite mystical assassins succumb to the ravages of food poisoning. Great battles and horrifying wounds are a staple of the genre (all of which is quite bullish for the potion-brewers and incantation-mutterers), but I’m sure that Gandalf has room, somewhere in that voluminous robe of his, for a small bottle of Purell.
 
* A good example, incidentally, of the value of the Oxford comma, which places beyond all doubt the idea that the ticks can kill independently of the shit. Although I’m sure that shit-dipped ticks could also be deadly.
 
Brian Staveley's debut 'The Emperor's Blades' is published by Tor, and is available from all major bookstores and Amazon. 
You can find out more about Brian on his blog bstaveley.wordpress.com.
 

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Author Interview: Brian Staveley

'The Emperor's Blades' - UK cover on the left, US cover on the right.

The Emperor's Blades has been one of the most highly anticipated d├ębuts of 2014. I first invited the author, Brian Staveley, to WWaS last year for a guest post, and you can expect another of these tomorrow, as well as a review in the coming days.
 
Between Brian's busy schedule of running trails, splitting wood, writing and editing, and baby-wrangling, I caught up with him recently to discuss the release of his first novel, playing April Fool's pranks on his editor, and what it feels like to be a published author.
 

Brian Staveley - Image copyright Laura Swoyer.
 
 

Hi Brian, welcome back to WWaS. For those readers who have yet to ‘meet you’, tell us a little about yourself.

I like hoppy beer, peaty scotch, and orange juice without pulp. I’m the worst dancer in my family – that includes the two-year-old – but out of the three of us I am hands-down the best sledder. My son’s not even close, and my wife doesn’t sled at all. I studied poetry for an impractically long time, both as an undergraduate and in grad school, arriving belatedly at the dismaying realization that no one pays anyone to write poetry. Fortunately, I had a lifetime packed with fantasy and science fiction novels, and after a little over a decade teaching high school English and history, I decided to try writing one of my own. The Emperor’s Blades is my first novel. 

 
So, how did you go from teaching to writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

As I mentioned, for a long time I was fixated on the writing and translation poetry, but gradually my focus shifted. After more than a decade obsessing over tiny poetic details, testing cadence after cadence, banging my head against line breaks and medial caesurae, it was a great gust of fresh air when I turned my attention to the central concerns of speculative fiction: character, plot, and world-building.

Teaching made the writing possible. It paid the bills and provided me with vacations in which to put in unbroken weeks of work on the book. It didn’t hurt that I loved the job itself, the chance to work with curious young people and to study pretty much whatever material interested me.

 
You taught history, religion and philosophy for more than a decade – and in your debut novel ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ it’s easy to see how much of an impact this has had on your writing. Which of the subjects do you think has had the BIGGEST impact?

I taught a course in ancient world history, which was really a hysterical task, sort of like moving a whole beach with a pair of tweezers. The curriculum required us to cover everything that had happened in the world from the Neolithic to the 16th century. A person might take a decent stab at that task if she had twenty or thirty years; we had eight months.

The upside, of course, is that if you can’t do what’s required, you can do whatever the hell you want. At least, that’s how I looked at it. Every year we’d go in a different direction with the class, find a different lens through which to focus on world history, and every one of those lenses helped when it came to the writing of The Emperor’s Blades.

The world of the books is invented, of course, but even the most audacious fantasy author doesn’t invent things ex nilho. In my case, real-world history provided inspiration, context, and models for various political structures, characters, and events in the novel. Which isn’t to say there’s a one-to-one correspondence between the real world and my invented one. Annur isn’t Tang China or the Khmer Empire or Rome, but without real-world history, my own world would look like a cheap cardboard movie set. I really hope it doesn’t look like a cheap cardboard movie set.

 
Seeing we’ve mentioned it, tell us about ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ in 50 words or less – what’s your ‘elevator pitch’?

Three adult children of a murdered emperor – a monk, a politician, and an elite soldier – attempt to uncover the conspiracy behind their father’s death, all the while trying to stay alive.

 
How long did it take to plan and write the ‘Emperor’s Blades’? Do you have a writing routine?

Five months. Or five years. Depends on how you count.

I quit my teaching job and moved to Asia for a year in order to write the first draft. Laos and Cambodia are wonderful places to write: warm, inexpensive, rich in history and culture. Better yet, I didn’t know anyone over there, didn’t know the language, so there wasn’t much in the way of distraction. I’d write for the morning, get chased by stray dogs during my long afternoon run, write some more in the early evening, drink a beer, and go to sleep.

By the end of five or six months, I had a book. In fact, I had way too much book. That draft ran to about 300,000 words, which is awesome if your first name is George and your last name is Martin. Considerably less awesome if your first name is Brian and your last name is Staveley. Literary agents welcome 300,000 word manuscripts from unknown authors the way they might welcome boxes filled with used diapers. I went back to my teaching post and spent the next five years reworking the thing over the summers. And by reworking, I mean, “cutting mercilessly.”

 
Now that ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ has been released into the wild, are you happy with it? Anything you’d change?

Some readers I’ve chatted with want a larger role for Adare in the first book, and if I had it to do again, I’d shift some of her plot from book two into book one, giving her equal screen time with the brothers. Luckily, anyone jonesing for more Adare is going to be very happy with The Providence of Fire.

 
What was the hardest part of writing ‘The Emperor’s Blades’?

Writing the monks just about drove me crazy. The Shin train from a very early age to eliminate all emotion. It’s a nice goal for a group of monks, but absolute misery for a writer who relies on human emotion to drive a story forward. Luckily, none of the monks, even the most adept among them, has truly mastered this emotional emptiness. They have urges and angers, if deeply repressed, but the handling of those feelings is so, so dicey. Too much emotion, and they seem like shitty monks. Too little, and they lose all individuality and character.

 
The story follows three major PoV characters, all children of the Emperor. Kaden the monk, Valyn the Kettral soldier, and Adare the finance minister of the Annurian Empire. How did you come up with these vastly different characters? Are they based on anyone you know?

I wanted three characters with very different psychological profiles; at the most absurdly simple level, Kaden is calm, Valyn is tough, and Adare is smart. Of course, if you stop at the absurdly simple level you end up with a lousy book, and the characters twisted and resisted as I wrote them. As a result, Valyn has some moments of real weakness, Adare makes one very foolish decision, and Kaden loses his cool when it matters most. All three have grown well beyond the initial impulse that gave birth to them, accruing tics and foibles, secret wells of strength and conviction that I never anticipated. As I write my way into book three, I’m astounded at how far they’ve come (those who are still alive) from their younger selves in The Emperor’s Blades.

 
Of Kaden, Valyn and Adare, which do you most connect with?

Adare. While certain elements of Kaden’s and Valyn’s training are familiar to me, I’m not a military guy, and I’d never be able to hack it as a monk. Adare, on the other hand, does a lot of reading, her success or failure depends primarily on her ability to use her brain. I’m not saying I’d ever rise to the level of Minister of Finance, but if I ever tried out for the Kettral I’d be kicked off the Islands inside of a week.

 
I’m pretty sure that you’re not the son of an emperor (and if I’m wrong please forgive my transgressions oh’ your mightiest of mighties!), nor are you a monk, soldier, or minister. How did you go about researching the characters’ roles and ‘getting inside their heads’?

I rely on the holy trinity of the fantasy writer’s research: reading, chatting with real people, and making shit up. For example, I read quite a few books involving monks and monasteries, everything from The Rule of St. Benedict to Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West. A guy who lives down the street spent seven years in a Zen Buddhist monastery, and I enjoy picking his brain. And, of course, since I’m not writing about any denomination of real monks from our world, it’s possible, even necessary, to improvise, explore, and invent.

 
What would you like readers to take away from ‘the Emperor’s Blades’? Is there a moral to the story, any life changing lessons?

I'd be overjoyed in a reader had sweaty palms, stayed up too late reading, or cursed loudly at a character in the middle of a tense chapter. As for Morales and lessons... I've always been suspicious of literature that wants to teach me something.
 

 
What can we expect of the sequel?

The characters really hit the ground running, swords swinging, burning eyes blazing in The Providence of Fire. Training is definitely over.

We explore a lot more of the world – six or seven new locations, depending on how you count. There’s a lot more Adare – as you might infer from the cover, she’s really at the center of this second book. There’s also a new point of view character, someone you’ve already met in book one. And more Pyrre. I love Pyrre.

 
Recently, you posted that during the writing of book 3, you realised that you had to go back and change a large chunk of book 2. Does this happen a lot with your writing? Is it a straight forward beginning-to-end process, or do you go back and edit as you go?

You might be thinking of an April’s Fool’s prank I played on my editor. Book Two is about to go into copyedit, and I told him I needed to scrap 150,000 words of it. He was less than excited.

In all honesty, though, writing the third book is terrifying. I’m firmly convinced that the key to a good ending lies in the handling of the story’s beginning, and now that the beginning is set in stone (limestone tablet version now available from Amazon), I get nervous. I have the end sketched out, of course, but I’m horrified that I’ll realize, on Book Three, Chapter Thirty-Six, that I should have set up some detail in Book Two, Chapter Eight. Of course, there’s nothing to be done about it, but that doesn’t stop the fretting.

 
Do you read other books in your own genre? Who is your favourite author?

Ursula Le Guin is just staggeringly good. I almost always have one of her novels going, alongside whatever else I’m reading.

 
You have your own blog, on which you post thought-provoking articles around writing, fantasy in particular. Do you have any pearls of wisdom (particularly from your philosophy background) that you’d like to share with would-be writers?

I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a would-be writer. There are people who are writing and people who are not.

 
'The Emperor's Blades' is published by Tor, and is available from all major bookstores and Amazon.
 
You can find out more about Brian on his blog bstaveley.wordpress.com.


 


Monday, 7 April 2014

Book Review: 'Valour' by John Gwynne.

The axe isn't just for show...

Valour – John Gwynne.

The Good: The stuff of legends, for fans young and old, page-burning pace.

The Bad: Overcomes the ‘difficult second book’ syndrome and whilst it lives up to the debut I felt that the overarching plot was second to the characters’ journeys.

The Ugly Truth: The ‘Chosen-One’ offspring of George R R Martin and J K Rowling, raised on the bedtime stories of Tolkien and whipped into fighting shape by David Gemmell…but still 100% Gwynne.

For Those That Like: Epic battles, Coming-of-age epics, fantasy with a pinch of fairytale-dust, and world-ending prophecies.

Battle is joined in the Banished Lands.
A crusade sweeps the land. Kings are put to the sword. Traitors lurk in every shadow. Ancient weapons emerge from forgotten histories…
But the war of the Gods has only just begun.

King Nathair has declared war on Asroth the Fallen. With the allegiance of kings, queens, corsairs giants, and the angelic Ben-Elim, Nathair marches to defend his kingdom from the coming of the Black Sun, avatar of darkness. The prophecy has come to pass – ‘at Midwinter’s height, bright day shall become darkest night’ – and as the chosen ‘Bright Star’ Nathair is the last hope for the Banished Lands and those faithful to the benevolent god Elyon.
Or so it seems…
Corban and his companions are on the run. Battered and bruised, but not yet broken, the motley company head for sanctuary in a foreign kingdom. Hunted across the land, Corban cannot escape the company’s pursuers, or his encroaching destiny. Trained daily in the sword dance by the mysterious Gar, and schooled in the fabled Earth Power, Corban is coming to realise that a certain prophecy might just have a ring of truth to it.

Whilst the Banished Lands are plunged into war, dark forces in the Otherworld prepare to enter the fray. The final struggle is nearing, and the Fallen will destroy the Faithful.

John Gwynne comes out swinging in ‘Valour’, second novel in his ‘The Faithful and the Fallen’ series. Comes out swinging a big axe that is! ‘Valour’ is a saga true to form, set in a richly-realised world, and populated with a cast of heroes, heroines and hell-spawn.

‘Valour’ picks up directly from where ‘Malice’ left off, following Corban and company as they flee their home. Nathair’s pursuit is delayed by the politics of the realm and the squabbles of other kingdoms, but his attention turns to greater rewards, namely the Seven Treasures as they once war emerge from the forgotten corridors of history. Maquin should be dead – and he believes he’d be better off that way after witnessing the murder of his friend, Kastell. Driven by the need for revenge, Maquin crosses land and sea to exact his bloody judgement. Cywen has been abandoned by friend and family alike, but she cannot escape the attention of Nathair and his advisor Calidus. If she ever wants to be reunited with those she loves, she’ll have to slip past her guards, a traitorous swordmaster, a giant, a draig, and the ever watchful eye of a god’s avatar.

Returning to the Banished Lands is as if you never left. The world rushes out to meet you for the pages, the backdrop of myth and legend enriching every detail. The story is wrought with a master plan in mind, and as the plot progresses you can see the pieces moving on the board. Gwynne plays for the long haul, never once revealing his ‘full hand’, giving the reader just enough to keep them hooked. When the checkmate does come in the final chapters it’s so masterfully done that you’re not quite sure if you’re rooting for the winning side, and who exactly is meant to be the hero.

Whilst I did feel that ‘Valour’ directed the reader away from the overarching plot and instead favoured the individual characters’ journeys and development, I welcomed the cast’s evolution which added further weaves to the ever-thickening tapestry. It’s a hefty tome too, but no sentence is spared. The pace was not sacrificed in light of this, as the book goes from page-burner to page-turner. I snatched time to read between taxis, trains, planes and coffee breaks, and the book in turn snatched me from the real world so much so that I read late into the night and early in the morning.

Gwynne has gone from strength to strength in the past year, earning critical acclaim, securing further publishing contracts, and winning no less than the David Gemmell Morningstar award. In the past other authors have been backed into the corner with the ‘difficult second novel’ but Gwynne delivers hard-hitting and gutsy. For an author still cutting his teeth in the big blue ocean that is the mainstream fantasy catalogue, John Gwynne wades in with a depth of world building that’d see most newbie authors flounder.

With both ‘Malice’ and ‘Valour’ setting Gwynne’s standards high, it’s safe to say that one of fantasy’s newest authors has raised the bar for his next offering.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Book Review: 'The Red Knight' by Miles Cameron



 
Note from the reviewer: After the Malice review David tracked me down to my lair at Sharpe Towers – trekking through a maze of Oracle manuals, six nations programming, theories on the Blacklist and the occasional beer to  ask me for another review.  So here we go...)

As I said in a previous review – 2013 was a great year for books, one of which was The Red Knight by Miles Cameron.  The book follows a band of mercenaries commanded by the Red Knight as they ride to garrison a fortress in a Middle Age English world.

 Sounds simple, like it’s been done before.  Well don’t be it hasn’t… and it’s bloody and brilliant (I put the and in as I am polite).

Bloody in that Miles Cameron is a re-enactor and he writes battles be they one on one or a cavalry charge against infantry very realistically and people die, some suddenly some bloody.

Brilliant in that it combines multiple POV’s in a believable world, with multiple believable magic systems – well a first glance they are different.

The book has a great cast of characters, where Miles got the some of the names from I have no idea. – There’s the Red Knight, Sauce, Bad Tom, Wilful Murder and Mr Smythe.

The “villain” of the book would be sympathetic if he wasn’t so pompous – his reasoning will, I am sure, be expanded in further books  the other “villainous” character Jean d'Vrailly, the self-styled "greatest knight in the world – must be the most obnoxious man in the Fantasy genre at the minute.  So much so that you want the Red Knight or Bad Tom to introduce him to Mr Slap.

 At over 600 pages this is a hefty book, so don’t expect action all the way, Miles has paced it just right as there are lulls in between the various skirmishes for both the characters and the readers to catch their breath.

Then at the very end of the book – BAM – Miles expands the plot and you realise that all is not what it seems and that there are other things going on and the red Knight will be a very busy chap.

I have two complaints about this book – firstly the editing is a bit shaky, bad grammar the company going west when the map says east.  Secondly the character of the Queen of Alba doesn’t really do a lot – but I am hoping that gets rectified in future novels.

All in all a great start to what I hope will be a future classic series.

And lastly !!!!!!!

Lachan for Aa  (read the book you’ll understand).
 

Rob Sharpe when not writing Oracle IT code is a keen reader. 
Rob first started of with Tolkien, Donaldson and Eddings before moving on heroic fantasy  - especially Brirsh heroic fantasy and the late great David Gemmell. 
Rob can be found, if you can track him down, busy reading books by John Gwynne, James Barclay, Joe Abercrombie, Anthony Ryan, Richard K Morgan, GRRM, Miles Cameron and a host of others.