This is going to be a short review of a huge series. By huge, I mean huge. Long. Very long.
Each book is long. (Have I said that?) With lots of characters. I felt that in Book One I was being introduced to every person in the Banished Lands. I’m guessing it’s the same sort of size as Western Europe (with/ without the UK…) and that’s a lot of people to get to know (+/- c. 66 million people) including several thousand giants and some talking birds. And that, was the first issue I had with the books. Until around the ¾ mark of Book One, I couldn’t remember who was who. Not helping that were the jumps in time and scenes. I had the same issue with David Gemmell’s Rigante series, which this series is similar to. (I’m sure I caught a blue and green cloak in The Faithful and the Fallen. If deliberate or not, it’s still a nice tip of the hat to Gemmell.) In both series, the story can seem to flip ahead and around. As a result of these two points, I almost quit at the halfway mark of Malice (Book One).
Before I get to the reason why I kept reading, a little more about the books.
It’s classic epic fantasy. You’ve got a vast cast: a reluctant chosen one, meddlesome gods and devious rulers, hardworking gentlefolk, esoteric master swordsmen & women, honourable warriors whose oath is their bond, feisty women, students who outstrip their masters, royal bastards, loving parents who would die for their kids, intelligent animals and a cantankerous crone. There are monsters and non-humans, traitors and bad people who are secretly good. There’s even a soldier who becomes a gladiator/ folk hero and rallies his fellow slaves in the arena. I missed the whore with a heart of gold and the hard-bitten alcoholic with marital problems but who is good at his job (sorry, wrong genre trope) but you kind of get the picture. Maybe I’m coming across too hard. There is nothing wrong with this mix of ingredients – they are a staple of this genre. But they sometimes grated. There are two main reasons:
MINI SPOILER ALERT.
1 – they are essentially good or bad. There is some greyness. e.g. I can think of one ‘baddie’ who is secretly a ‘goodie’ (Camlin), and a couple of characters who are morally ambiguous (Conal and Meical). But what you see is what you get. The characters arrive fully formed.
2 – when it became apparent that there weren’t going to be any deaths of any of the main characters, it took the tension away from the numerous fights. I was reasonably confident that most people would survive except those that ‘shouldn’t’.
MINI SPOILER ALERT OVER!
The action is relentless. There are more fights and battles than you can shake a starstone stick at. That in itself is great. But almost every chapter finished with some kind of twist or reversal, a ‘you’ll never guess what happens next…’ moment. It makes for a great page-turner of a book but it gets wearing after a while. Knowing that each chapter is going to have some kind of sting in the tail, means that each sting doesn’t hurt as much. I would have liked some variety of pace.
But, despite this, I finished the series quickly. Having made this long list of issues, why would I do so?
Because I really enjoyed it. Yes, I’ve been critical about it but it was refreshing to read something I was familiar with: a classic good vs evil story line, familiar themes and characters, and, despite my gripe about the constant twists, it makes for compelling reading. And the tropes? They were part of the attraction. It’s been a long time since I read something with such a simple divide between right and wrong.
Some other points.
- I liked the book not having a wide range of non-human races. I find this more of an issue these days than I used to.
- The names were pronounceable. (Some fantasy authors get carried away with their consonants.)
- There was enough gore to evoke a realism to a brutal world.
- A special shout out (howl out?) for the dogs. They were realistically portrayed and amusing.
- And, finally, there are enough reversals and twists to keep the story interesting. I particularly liked the revelation about the prophecy.
So yes, there were things that didn’t always sit right but I enjoyed The Faithful and the Fallen and will definitely read more by John Gwynne. That, essentially, is all that matters.
PS The covers? Loved them.
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