A black sun is rising … Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.
It can sometimes be hard to get into a story that starts being so spread out and includes multiple characters; especially when each chapter is often named for a different character and from their point of view. There are six focal characters, the main one being Corban, and this structure continues for the whole book. However, if you can get past that, the pay-off is so worth it!
John Gwynne manages to intricately weave a story that is essentially about good vs. evil. A favoured fantasy trope to be sure but it’s the delivery and the writing that makes it stand out. There is so much here that makes fantasy great – epic battles, heroism, magic, betrayal and love. Not to mention characters like Corban that you love, those that you love to hate and some that just plain make you cry, it’s all here in this wonderfully engaging first book.
I don’t think I could explain the plot if I tried, there is just so much and I find myself wanting to point out specific bits and go ‘See what I mean?’ The battle scenes were very well realised, gritty and visceral and my emotional response to some of the things that happened were audible and a few were downright teary.
Gwynne’s writing is very crisp and clean, and I loved the language style he used. Not ye olde worlde, but not totally modern either, and it just fit the story perfectly.
The pace sometimes felt a little jerky due to the way the point of view switches. There were also some short time skips but they didn’t affect my enjoyment, instead they allowed time in the story for some things to occur naturally, rather than being forced into the narrative.
The world is extremely well realised and steeped in history, and you learn most of it from a diary entry at the start. The delivery made it more interesting and gave you a sense of how things came to be in a very short space of time. The map also lets you envision it even further – who doesn’t love a good fantasy map.
I feel John Gwynne pays homage to several amazing authors; David Eddings, David Gemmell, Raymond E. Feist and George R.R. Martin, spring most to mind, but I also feel he doesn’t attempt to emulate them.
Reading Malice is like watching a finely balanced chess game being played out and I can’t wait for the next book in this series!
Malice is on the long lists for all three categories in the 2013 David Gemmell Legend Awards. The long list poll is open until the 31st July.