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.

1 comment:

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