Clash of Iron

I adored Age of Iron, the first book in this series and was waiting eagerly for this second book to be released. I sometimes have worries about whether a sequel will live up to the first one, but I think because of Watson’s irreverent style of writing, I didn’t worry about this book and I was very happy to be proved right on that score.

 LEADERS ARE FORGED IN THE FIRES OF WAR

Iron Age warriors Dug and Lowa captured Maidun castle and freed its slaves. But now they have conquered it, they must defend it.

A Roman invasion is coming from Gaul, but rather than uniting to protect their home, the British tribes battle each other – and see Maidun as an easy target.

Meanwhile, Lowa’s spies infiltrate Gaul, discovering the Romans have recruited bloodthirsty British druids, and Maidunite Ragnall finds his loyalties torn when he meets Rome’s charismatic general, Julius Caesar.

War is coming. Who will pay its price?

I adored Age of Iron, the first book in this series and was waiting eagerly for this second book to be released.  I sometimes have worries about whether a sequel will live up to the first one, but I think because of Watson’s irreverent style of writing, I didn’t worry about this book and I was very happy to be proved right on that score.

Clash of Iron turns a few things we thought about certain characters from the first book on its head.  The most notable are Ragnall who takes self-absorption to a new level and becomes one of the enemy, even if it was by accident and a sense of his own self-importance.  The other characters are from the original 50.  Chamanca, who I now think kicks ass in a slightly icky way but she has undeniably won me over; Atlas who is just solid, likeable and is as loyal to Lowa as he was to Zadar; and Carden who can find the humour in any situation.  Those three are just awesome.

Lowa and Spring have grown beyond their experiences in the first book with Lowa learning to be the Queen of Maidun and to not repeat the mistakes Zadar made, while Spring is learning to be the best she can be and looks up to Dug and Lowa.  I keenly felt her frustration with her magic and not being able to understand how it worked, especially when it came to people she cared about.

Dug, thankfully, is just Dug!  Still badger profanity obsessed, solid, dependable but now just wants a quiet life.  I kept rooting for him and Lowa to reconcile as they so clearly wanted to be together but battles, events and timings meant it proved difficult.  I was surprised he managed to keep out of it for as long as he did but I do admit cheering when he entered the fray.

For the bad guys, they are too many to mention in this but oh my goodness, some of them are horrible.  Methods of torture for amusement or questioning is never going to be pretty but the author managed to get pretty damn inventive here.  He also managed to make some of it macabrely amusing.  King Hari the Fister’s trials come to mind there (you will know what I mean when you get there!).

I loved the way Caesar is portrayed, perhaps slightly out of convention with history but it worked very well for me.  His famed journal being an account of what he wanted to show he did rather than being what he actually did and his penchant for referring to himself in the third person was brilliant.

Felix, ahhh, Felix.  You were a surprise and I could quite happily see you go through every one of the torture methods mentioned and not shed a tear.  I really hope you get your comeuppance!

Characters aside, the story is well crafted with Watson’s own take on that period of history and it flows well and kept me reading.  Betrayals, heroism, horror, despair and gory battles are all ingredients for a decent fantasy novel but Angus Watson’s talent for writing those with realism and humour amidst it all is what raises this series from decent to fantastic.

Bonus points for the inclusion of a few famous Gauls.  I utterly, utterly loved that!

Bonus points taken away for making me cry at the end!

Overall this was a brilliant, exciting and engaging second book and I can’t wait for the third now, to see if some things are permanent and if so, how the remaining characters will give Felix and Caesar the punishment they so richly deserve!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Angus Watson
  • Series: The Iron Age Trilogy (2)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Age of Iron

 LEGENDS AREN’T BORN. THEY’RE FORGED.

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.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Angus Watson
  • Series: The Iron Age Trilogy (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)