Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar’s army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people.
First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar’s most fearsome warriors, who’s vowed revenge on the king for her sister’s execution.
Now Dug’s on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join - and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that’s going to get them all killed . . .
It’s a glorious day to die.
Age of Iron was a surprise win for me, all the more so because it wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to get sweeping epic descriptions of crafts, language, landscape with equally epic drama thrown in. What I actually got was something that, in terms of genre, kind of fits into the historical fantasy niche, but it is also something that is entirely its own. The story takes place just before the Roman Occupation of Britain and Angus Watson offers his own take on what happened. Age of Iron is also very charming, dramatic, evocative and often extremely funny.
The characters are the main draw for this book with the history almost in the background (although it is, of course, partially what drives the characters). Dug Sealskinner is probably one of my favourite types of character – grumpy, getting on a bit, reluctant to get involved and curses a lot and in the most inventive of ways (and slightly obsessed with badgers). I wouldn’t even say he’s a reluctant hero – more an accidental hero that ends up doing the logical thing. That doesn’t mean it’s always the nice thing, but I adore him anyway.
Lowa Flynn is an extremely gifted archer but she took a bit of warming up to because of where she starts from, but she eventually became a character I definitely wanted to root for. She’s feisty, sarcastic and practical, even when slightly unhinged with her need for vengeance. An Amazon with wit and attitude.
Spring makes up the major cast, a young girl whose age seems to vary depending on who you ask and who both is precocious and strange. She could so easily have been a major stumbling block for this book but Watson manages to make her intriguing, appealing and funny. Yes, she has her frustrating moments, but there is usually a good reason why.
The bad guys – Zadar, Felix and the 50 – were pretty much very bad. It goes along with the gory side of the book and you learn very quickly that there is nothing redeeming about them, even if Zadar thinks he is right. One of that side I do have to mention is Weylin. Poor, poor Weylin. If there was a more unlucky fellow who just tries to do the bad thing, I don’t know of him. He’s horrible though so you can’t like him but… poor Weylin.
There is magic present and the druids who use it are a rather interesting bunch. Felix is a completely evil psychopath, whereas Drustan seems to be on the right side… Ragnall is naive and a bit dodgy (but that might be because he’s a bit young) and the rest of the druids seem to be raving lunatics… perhaps too many herbs?
The plot is very simple but that simplicity doesn’t take away anything from the enjoyment of Age of Iron, if anything it enhances it. The pace of the story unfolds very well and I think it’s well judged, flowing nicely without mad rushes and then periods of not much happening.
All in all Age of Iron is a compelling, entertaining and funny read but with enough gore and sombreness to balance it out. Trust me, this book is not what you expect – and that is a very good thing!
Age of Iron by Angus Watson (Orbit) is now available as a paperback and eBook.