The last new fantasy book I tried was Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes. Technically, there was nothing wrong with it. It did belong to the then newer, more brutal fantasy series that followed in the wake of the success of Game of Thrones. So, haven’t really found anything to draw my eye with one exception, which got my eye a few years back.
Turns out there’s a new guy on the scene with a quartet called The Faithful and The Fallen and, more impressively, it completed in November 2016! This is quite unusual now, but I jumped on-board just as the third book came out.
Now, this was not a totally blind gamble - Gwynne was being talked of a successor to the kind of fantasy tales David Gemmell was known for, no small praise that. So, I grabbed a large paperback copy of the first book Malice on the cheap, read the first 50 pages and concluded: Yeah, the Gemmell influence is definitely there. It’s very hard to define fiction by nationality, so let’s go with that American and British written fantasy differs and Gwynne’s felt right, in a British way. (The terms are probably the wrong ones, but the point remains that you can tell where Gwynne is based by his fantasy writing.)
However, with a then incomplete series and who knows when it’d complete, I opted to bag it in large paperback / hardback format and, when complete, read the lot when I had time. Just like I’d planned on a couple of other series too… So what forced my hand? Gwynne’s got a new series starting Jan 2018, a trilogy. So, I really need to see how good this is in order to decide to bag that new hardback.
Turns out it was quite a bit better than good, this guy really knows what he’s doing.
One of the things that stood out is that he finely balanced the brutality and realism - this is not a romanticised fantasy, but neither is it a depressing pit of bleak awfulness. The other trick he pulled off was in killing off characters in ways that never felt excessively cruel or unfair, in a story sense, he managed to achieve a sense of things just happening and the reader never got tipped off to what was coming. In a way, it matches both Martin and Erikson, but Gwynne makes you care about his characters more effectively.
All the usual ingredients of fantasy are here, but Gwynne’s brewing them up quite differently, which says to me the way the rest of the series will play out will have more than a few surprises.
Talking of which, I’ll be starting on book two tomorrow, Valour…