Friday, February 28, 2014

Divergent: Engrossing dystopian YA

I am wary of YA books. Especially those that have hit the bestseller charts and stayed there for quite long. AND have been commissioned for a movie. Hunger Games wasn’t bad but I didn’t really go gung-ho over Catnisss Everdeen and her antics and a grey world ruled by tyrannical government that pits sixteen year olds against each other for fun? Unbelievable premise but it seemed to work.

And so with Divergent. A sixteen year old protagonist, underdog with the odds stacked up against her set in a world that is ludicrous (Well, most YA dystopian books seem to have a world that boggles the mind and has no logic as to why the world is so!). I haven’t read reviews about this book as I wanted to keep my mind clear of prejudices before I plunged in. 

It was a book that kept me reading non-stop for a while. An intriguing world that is split into factions to avoid friction that would lead to chaos as it did in the older times. It’s interesting as each of the faction believe different “vices” to be the cause of all that is wrong in this world. Abnegation, the people who believe in selfless service and are against selfishness. Dauntless, the fearless and brave who believe cowardice was the cause of the end of the world. Candor, the honest people who believe lies to be the cause. And Erudite, who blame lack of knowledge. There is no mention of what happened to the world before. We live in the broken remains of such a world that mirrors our real world – with glass and steel buildings, trains that seemed to wind through the city going from nowhere to nowhere, guns and such. Veronica doesn’t delve into details but we don’t care. For we are swept into a taut, nerve-wracking account of 16-year old Tris’ life that will change this day. The day of her choosing which faction she would belong.

Our protagonist Tris, originally born Beatrice into an Abnegation household is bit of an oddball. She’s short, skinny and is not selfless. Well not the sickly sweet servile type that most Abnegation guys are like. And she has balls of steel. So well, Dauntless seemed like a natural choice for her and the day of choosing, she defies traditions to be one of the very rare Abnegation to choose Dauntless as her life faction. The build-up of the book towards this is like how most books do. Information expository dialogs and the churning conflict ridden thought-processes of Tris as she mulls over life’s choices and the unfairness of it all.

But once inside the Dauntless compound, while actually right from where the Dauntless initiates and members hop into a running train, the book picks up speed and goes into overdrive. Choosing to go first-person narrative (Actually most YA-dystopian do that. Living inside the confused muddled head of a teenager vaulting over issues of love, loyalty, friendship and choosing a future) is an excellent choice. For Tris is an entertaining person. despite being a short skinny Abnegation transfer, she adapts well to this life. Most training sessions seems meaningless but we are so wrapped up within the proceedings that we don’t really care. Veronica’s prose packs a punch, she keeps it minimal, realistic and grim. The brutal life within the Dauntless compound is presented without fuss and we’re rolling with the flow. Tris’ friendships, her forbidden love, roiling emotions and conflicted loyalties make for a pretty engrossing jarring read. The tight-rope tautness however falls loose in the final bits of the book where Tris has to make her final choices. I would have expected some things a little more world-shattering to follow but Veronica decides to keep the narrative within the folds of her unexplained world.

Now coming to the title. Divergent. A set of people who are talented enough to be transcending all four factions. Why are they dangerous? What do the rest of the Divergent do for a living? Where are they? What is beyond the cities that the Dauntless are said to be protecting? These are questions left unanswered. Tris is a worthy protagonist of our affection. A YA book that I kind of liked and might be willing to invest time in. Three-stars. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Soulwoven: An alluring tale of magic and dragons

SoulWoven by Jeff Seymour has been a big hit on the indie scene – having garnered more than half a million readerviews on the popular social site, Wattpad and is the product of a kickstarter project. So when Jeff approached me to read/review this book – as this was hitting the bookstands on Feb 20th – plus the mention of a vengeful god in the form of a dragon (oh wait, did you say a dragon? Hell yeah! And look at the menacing cover!!), I was nodding my head and scrambling to read the same.

SoulWoven brings alive a beautifully created world – empires in conflict, enchanting myths, ancient races, shape-shifting wildlings and a wonderfully intricate system of magic – while touching upon a myriad of topics like religion, brotherhood and societal pariah. It’s an ancient tale steeped in magic and tells of the awakening of a great evil that can subsume the world and how a rag tag band of misfits try and avert this disaster. It is definitely an opener to an ambitious saga of blood and magic as is evident by the ending of book one and we eagerly await the next instalment that would come in late 2014.

So the tale follows the fate of two brothers Litnig and Cole – ordinary farmer folks whose life is overturned by a dream. The elder brother Litnig, a big hulking simpleton dreams that the dragon Sherduan awakens from the dark and then his whole world is being razed down. For myth has it that when Sherduan, an ancient God on a vindictive mood, arises, the world will end. This chilling dream has far-reaching consequences. All around the world, different sets of people have realized the same in different manners. A prince, an acolyte training in a temple and an Aleani (a race different from men – darker and shorter) The same night within Eldan – the Temple where Ryse, a childhood friend of the two brothers is training to be a soulweaver, two necromancers go on a slaughtering spree in a bid to destroy two of the heart dragons (statues of the dragon)– the destruction of all four statues in this world would precipitate the unchaining of Sherduan.
Quay – the prince of Eldan, a conflicted empire preparing to defend itself from its neighbouring states – is determined to get help and in this process, stop this catastrophe. To do this, he must undertake an epic journey. To protect the rest of the heart dragons spread across the world – and that’s how he forms this fellowship of the heart-dragon (if you will); a rag-tag bunch of misfits with unknown talents thrown together in a desperate last ditch attempt to save the world. The book follows the group through their adventures as they discover the wonders of this beautiful yet dangerous world and in that process, themselves.

Now – an epic journey of a band of misfits towards the ends of the world to save it from a prophesied evil is a fantasy trope done and cooked till burnt and black –  from since the times of Tolkien. But Jeff’s treatment of his characters and his absolutely gorgeous prose is what elevates this book from sinking into obscurity and been there done that cauldron. This stew is perhaps old food but cooked with some new “masala” in a refreshingly original manner. The world-building is top notch – myths and histories, ancient races and magic – oh my god – the magic. It just blew me away. To come up with this intricate entirely original magic system in today’s genre crowded and bursting with so much talent is a brilliant achievement. The magic known as “soul weaving” that involves manipulation of souls of the dead around us to do one’s bidding – be it healing or an exploding ball of fire used for offensive action – has been portrayed pretty well and forms a crucial part of the entire plot.

For the journey to be interesting, there needs to be conflicts – crackling interaction between the characters and growth or evolution in each of the individual’s story arc or plot. With a maniacal single minded focus, the leader of the group Prince Quay becomes the least interesting of the lot. Apart from him, the lot is actually a pretty colourful bunch. Each with his/her own crackling backstory and baggage. The blurb of the book doesn’t actually do justice – Apart from the Jin brothers, we have a lot of interesting characters in this book. Take Ryse – an orphan who was adopted by the Temple to learn the secrets of soulweaving – with her past coming alive to confront her, Ryse is struggling to maintain her sanity and also use her powers to protect the group against the dangers of their journey. An Aleani who’s got his own demons to deal with, Len is perhaps the only non-human of the group. But his was the story that was the most poignant and actually grabs you by the neck to slam you against the walls to watch unfurl. Dil, a girl with her own big secrets actually is my favourite of the group – her interactions with Cole make for some of the most tender moments of this book that is otherwise pretty chock-a-block with some cool slam-bam action. What about the brothers you say?
I am in two minds there. I am on the wall about Cole. But Litnig blew me away. A conflicted elder brother with no magical powers – actually with absolutely nothing special about him – who decides to come on the journey simply because he has an unspoken duty towards his brother and an unrequited love. His tormented soul goes through a lot. Not to mention his body ( that is pummelled and beaten black and blue !) but wait for the final revelation which, trust me, will blow you away.

That being said, the novel is a slow burn. Especially the first half of the journey. A lot of fat that could definitely need with trimming. The only thing that kept me going was Jeff’s gorgeous prose. Analogies that are simply too clever and knock you out with its simplicity. Atmospheric and evocative, the world that Litnig and his group explores comes alive in his words and paints a picture where details sparkle so bright. But stick around. Trust me, come for the magic and the dragon. But stay for the beautiful world and some torn conflicted characters who would steal your heart. And the action. While it takes its time to get to more dangerous territories, once the narrative plunges into it - the swords sing and axes fly - there is no looking back.

This book is a comfort read. A world inspired by the medieval ages perhaps – castles, farm boys, magic and an ancient evil. For us having grown up on traditional high fantasy, it’s sort of coming back to the centre of our worlds. But the verdict is, that Jeff can spin an alluring tale of magic and dragons. And spin it so well that we’re willing to let the tropes lie by the roadside while we enjoy this old-fashioned tale thoroughly. And be hungry for more. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Glimpses of Radiance

As we move closer to the publication date of one of the most eagerly anticipated epic fantasy books from Brandon Sanderson, everywhere pictures are popping up comparing the size of this mammoth humungous doorstopper epic to its previous book, The Way of Kings.

For lack of a better analogy- this one makes TWOK look like a underdeveloped geeky runt standing next to the hunky star quarterback in High School. Yeah well maybe I exaggerate but hells fire and brimstone, that is one huge book there.

So Brandon's been kind enough to give us mortals peekaboo into the next book - excerpts posted on here!

As the war between humans and Parshendi explodes into more dangerous territories and Shallan and Jasnah to uncover the mysteries of this world and Kaladin discovers more about himself and powers, we eagerly wait for glimpses of radiance.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4Trailer #2 - Vengeance

I realize that I've forgotten most parts of what  must be the greatest
fantasy tale ever written. I ordered Dance of Dragons the very first
day it released and yet haven't touched it since. There are those who would stone me and yet there are those minority who would see the reason and light beyond the crags. As we wait with bated breath for a bearded old genius to finish his tales.

HBO Series that has now become almost a household name, even here in
India (especially in India you say?!!!?) bravely rolls on into it's
fourth season. the red wedding is over and now people thirst for revenge
as the crows prepare to feast on the dead bodies.

Valar morghulis. All Men Must Die.

Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres: A solid but predictable start to a new series

Peacemaker is a brand new series by acclaimed Australian author Marianne De Pierres, her first partnership with the Angry Robots publishing house. I was super revved up with the initial press release and excitement that surrounded this announcement as this promised to be the beginning of a new wonderful series giving us iconic epic characters, a no-nonsense tough as nails sharp-shooting heroine Virgin Jackson and an American cowboy “Marshall”, Nate Sixkiller.

The book is set in a futuristic Australia – where Virgin is a senior park ranger at the last natural reserve in this world, Birrimun Park – a tourist attraction and the center of ecological preservation inside a huge coastal city overrun by urbanization and exploitation of nature.  When Virgin is paired with a new “marshall” – fresh from the rodeo drives of texas, a handsome hulk who looks like he’s stepped out of male underwear billboard advertisement – but with his clothes on and a pair of shiny six-guns holstered by his hips – things turn topsy-turvy in her perfectly orderly life.
Virgin has a vision from her long forgotten childhood – an owl (“disincarnate” as the phlegmatic Sixkiller calls it) a sighting that is mostly a premonition for trouble. And with the discovery of a murder within the park, Virgin’s world is plunged right into a maelstrom of trouble. Least of which is her angsty relationship with her new partner and the ghost of her father, the unsolved murder mystery that torments her day and night.

My first impressions after I whipped through the book in less than a day’s time were this: a really earnest attempt at combining some new elements to form an interesting cauldron – urban fantasy and a bit of magical realism couched within a wrapping of the western. Although pretty enjoyable a read, the whole final product seemed a little washed out to me. Like Marianne was holding off on certain pieces and still arraying her pieces on the board for a longer innings. Some intriguing mythologies combined with blistering action set within dark ghetto-like surroundings, creepy psychics and lots of good looking hunky men. That is what I remember most about it, a day after having wrapped up this book. Try as I might, the story or the plot didn’t stick to me.  Overall, I would say this book was a bit underwhelming for all the hype that surrounds it. Take away that PR-generated heat and the book looks like a beginning to an interesting series, but unfinished and not out of the ordinary.
In Virgin Jackson, we get a conflicted heroine – one who is not afraid to plunge into the sea of issues that threatens to drown her, finger on the trigger and a pretty balanced head on her shoulders. And yet all the travails that Virgin falls into, she relies either on her best friend, Corah or the hunky cowboy Nate to fish her out of. Not to forget the male stripper boy Heart Williams who plays her on-off boyfriend/lover boy who makes your heart-ache with that perfectly formed derriere of his. Yeah. Can’t really fault our girl here who is lost and confused huh? Add to the mix, the bumbling tech-whiz who goes beetroot red and has a fetish for dolls and a larger-than-drops-of-jupiter crush on our heroine. A pretty mix you say? Oh it gets worse. We even get a blink-and-miss heartthrob assassin who takes a liking to Virgin and is like her guardian angel. With four such angels, how the hell would a girl get in trouble you ask? Oh mistaken you are – she still manages to drag herself into all sorts of issues.

Downtown Australia after sunset is a weird creepy place. Full of spear and javelin wielding natives who don’t like their areas encroached and react non-favorably, gangster papas who cannot say “fucking” properly, mind-reading psychics who love a big Indian bindi ( ahem, a large dash of vermilion splashed on the forehead for either religious or fashionable purposes!) and a huge bull who snorts and runs but doesn’t really threaten to much damage. Confused? Yeah. There is a lot going on and Marianne writes without giving us much breather. Events flow pretty smoothly one after the other and we are left devouring page after page. Even Virgin talking to herself to figure out the mess and the pieces don’t help us piece things together. I kept thinking, where is all this heading to?
Another theme that runs throughout the background is the mystery surrounding Virgin’s dad’s supposed murder within the park. Sadly we never really dig into much meat as the novel wraps up abruptly setting up for the second book where the stakes are higher (obviously!)

Overall, with a scattershot directionless narrative that goes into overdrive, I felt the book suffered from being a little loose and we are left with just enough skeletal fragments to piece together a confusing plot. Peacemaker is perhaps the start to something good – the great things about this book are a well realized world that suffers from over-urbanization and has lots of “other worlds” spinning around us, tons of nail-biting drama and one kickass heroine. But the sum of parts never really overwhelmed the whole and the first in a series seems to be just that. A placeholder for greater things to come. I liked it but my feelings don’t anywhere near “YAAY! Loved Virgin Kickass Jackson!”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castell: A delightfully fun debut.

So Traitor’s Blade from Jo Fletcher (An imprint of Quercus Books, who in the recent past have come up with some very interesting debuts that push the ever-fluctuating boundaries of genre fiction, having given us abundance of talent like Aidan Harte, Tom Pollock, David Hair etc) came to me, courtesy the #GreatCoats competition and a NetGalley request that followed the same.  Coming in from such a brilliant stable, I knew Traitor’s Blade wasn’t going to disappoint. And man, was I right! 

So Traitor’s Blade marks Sebastien De Castell’s fantasy debut and is fast scorching up the blogosphere. Here read an interview of the author with Civilian Reader to get to know what makes him tick. I count myself lucky to be one among the early birds to get this work and am incredibly proud of myself(smirk!)

Ah – now to the book itself. Termed to be “The Three Musketers meets Game of Thrones”, Traitor’s Blade is definitely the most delightful fun I’ve had in epic fantasy reads and marks the perfect start to a rib-tickling swashbuckling adventure series that would be high up on anyone’s list of 2014 Fantasy books. The book had me actually laughing out loud at several occasions with its dry humor and the light tone that pervades the entire adventure. It’s an old fashioned tale (if I may say so!) but couched in a delightfully funny overtone that forms for an excellent reading experience. Full of relentless action exquisitely detailed (Thanks to the author’s in-depth first- hand experience) and a breathless adventure that starts right from chapter one (Ahem, who wouldn’t be sucked into a book that ends the first chapter with a naked female assassin, huh!)

The Traitor’s Blade is narrated in the dry, humorous first person narrative of Falcio – the First Cantor of the GreatCoats (sort of the Knights of Round Table, travelling magisters who deliver justice by the blade to different duchies within the Kingdom) and features mainly Falcio and his remaining GreatCoats – Kest and Brasti. The story follows the fate of the three GreatCoats who are probably the only surviving members of this group after the King who brought the group together was executed. Now the world is in a miserable state of disarray – with lawlessness and corruption roosting at every corner and the various Dukes out baying for each others’ blood and laying claim to the throne. Falcio, probably the last “valorous man” in the kingdom is a romantic with the heart of gold who still clings desperately to the ideals of the King’s Laws. And as we read further, we rally behind this absolutely lovable character who sets out alone to right things in a world that has gone to rot. Lending color to the proceedings are his best cronies – Kest, the best swordsman in the whole world perhaps and Brasti, a lovable rogue who is the devil himself with his bow. As the story proceeds, we meet the rest of the characters: tumbling straight out of a Fantasy textbook. A young duchess out to claim her inheritance, a young girl (the damsel in distress) the sole survivor of a night of fire and madness, a retired Captain and his flock of caravan guards, a Tailor with a mysterious past. As we soon find out, Falcio’s sense of ethics and moral codes drag him straight into troubles he need not court and makes for pretty much all of the intense quagmires the group gets into.

Skillfully balancing the present narrative with poignant flashbacks from Falcio’s first encounter of his King till his execution, the novel keeps a brutally fast pace. Written in a clear lucid engaging prose, De Castell establishes the central theme for the book with this juxtaposition of this tumultuous present with Falcio’s troubled past. A sense of justice that lives beyond mortal lives and that it takes more than just traitorous tyrants to snuff out the good things in life. In terms of world-building, De Castell takes his time to establish the lawless world the GreatCoats live in but a lot of interesting things like magic, potions, mythical creatures, the natives of East etc are just tidbits that the author just pecks at – to keep us invested. Hopefully he will explore the world further in his next books. 

In terms of characters, Falcio forms the perfect foil for this narrative as we witness his pains and his motivations. Despite this, I did sometimes feel that he played things very close to his heart and kept the reader suspended. The narrative flows like Basti’s clean shooting – straight as an arrow till the end – where De Castell surprises us with a couple of massive plot twists.  The action as I said before, is unstoppable and every five-ten pages, there explodes a sword fight. So marvelously detailed that it is like taking a fencing lesson yourself. It could have gone a bit heavy-handed – what with Falcio pandering to you about the technicalities of the overhand riposte or the Harlot’s foible that is supposed to rip through your heart and such blah. But no, it’s delightful and just about enough. But between the fights as you take a breather, the jovial jibes and the delightful bantering of the three GreatCoats keep you in splits. 

Nobody’s going to fault the author for keeping the tone light. In today’s epic fantasy crowded with the “grim dark” – this book is like a much needed whiff of fresh air. Laden with scents we’ve forgotten that have been a part of this genre from a long time. Romanticism and valor and gallantry. Traitor’s Blade is a thoughtful book that is just super super fun to read. If you are feeling down and out after a hard day of work – read this book. It will cheer you up and rightfully remind you that there are a lot of things in this world worth fighting for. With valor and a heart of gold.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

BlackBirds by Chuck Wendig (Miriam Black # 1)

I hadn’t met Miriam Black before. And I’m kicking myself that I haven’t made the acquaintance of this absolutely wonderful human being before. It’s such a visceral balls-to-wall experience being inside this psychotic chick’s head that once I got onto the drive on the wild side with Mr. Chuck Wendig, I never wanted out. Nonstop thrill ride without brakes. Reading Miriam Black and her exploits is like bungee-jumping off the volcano bungee at Pucano, Chile without the safety harness. You know it’s dangerous. But you are addicted to the thrill and the purest form of terror and that uncontrolled adrenaline rush. Wham!

What a book. I haven’t been consumed by a need to finish a book like this one before. It’s a psychological need, a deep craving delirious desire to see if Miriam and Louise survive. A want that surpasses your need for sleep, food and coffee. Am getting ahead of myself here. Visceral is the closest word that comes to the reading experience of Wendig’s writing. It grabs you by the scruff of your neck, slams you against the walls and holds you there until you have given up, gasping for breather. But not until you’ve read the book, consumed…subsumed by the same. And trust me when I say this, you feel exhilarated. Almost like that bungee-jump. Soaring high above the roaring flaming lava and reaching for the stars. You’ll feel just like that. Friggin awesome does not even come close.

Mr. Wendig – you’re probably the find of 2014 for me. Gratuitous sex, foul mouthed profanity that would make a sailor blush and hide, a deranged, completely whacko heroine whose mouth travels faster than the bullet trains from China and an absolutely fantastic premise about this psychic who can see your death when she touches you. It’s an explosive package you got there and make no mistake, there are no kid gloves for preparing you on this ride and definitely no safe landing here. It’s all black exhaust smoking, gravel crunching, burning-rubber, tire-skidding as you tear through the pages in a hurry to find out what happens in the end. 

Forewarned is forearmed. But nothing prepares you to experience Chuck Wendig. It is crazy dark like a wormhole that sucks you in as you go from page one to three hundred eighty four in a headlong whooshing pace, rivalling the speed of sound. Guns, twisted psychos from your darkest nightmares, drugs (lots of meth!), a blood-red balloon and blackbirds. I cannot even begin to describe this book but if this were to be made into a flim, I know it has to be Mr. Quentin Tarintino who would bring this alive with full justice. Snarky black humour fly off the pages thick and fast, levitating what otherwise would have been an all dark, no stars plot. Chuck keeps it pretty tight – wound up closer than a choirboy’s backside as Mr. Wendig is wont to say and that is the beauty of the book. Along with the wanton prose that is like a rail-gun gone crazy loaded with the most ludicrous analogues, contemporary, real-life and absolutely shocking at the same time. Roach brown, baby-shit yellow. Who the hell but the mad sweltering genius of Wendig can think up such things!

So a little about the book. Miriam Black is a mess. A floater moving from motel to motel, hitchhiking through dusty highways much like she does through life as well. An aimless drifter who’s got this one gift. Or a curse. She knows when people would die. Right down to the exact nano-second as to when and how the death would happen if she makes physical contact with the “victim”. But as she calls herself, she is always just a witness and never a participant in these deaths. A crow on the battlefield, a chooser of the slain. That is until gentle giant Louis happens to her. A trucker, as much a drifter as herself, Louis comes across a real “nice” gentleman after all the creeps who just want to paw her. That is until he shakes hands with her and she witnesses Louis getting murdered. And the last name he calls out before he dies is hers. From here on, the story just takes off on jet-fuel and doesn’t pause for a break until the shuddering high strung intense climax.
With a sure-footed prose that is peppered with the most inventive foul language you can dream of (Call it edgy, raw, brutal, gritty whatever but be warned that the book contains some R++ filthy language that will make you want to rinse out your potty mouth with acid and then some.), a sizzling plot jets along at break-neck pace and draws you in further into the sinking quagmire as you go along. I’m not sure if it qualifies for Urban “fantasy” – but it sure falls into the “dark” “gritty” category.

It’s not a pretty book. It doesn’t have any redeeming quality about it. But that is probably the draw. We like to read about broken messed up human beings. Tough as nails on the outside but vulnerable and seeking that thin line of Silverlight in life. A book so dark with some extremely funny laugh out loud moments and a heroine you cannot help but cheer as she digs into some of the darkest places within the stygian depths of her shattered soul looking for answers. It will blow your mind guaranteed and you will be Chuck Wendig’s biggest cheerleader if you but read the first page. That was how it happened for me. The first few words did me in and now there is no looking back. I hear there are couple of more books where I get to hang out with that odd-ball suicidal-depressive-maniac chick with an odd penchant to read your death time-table. Want to jump on?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Red Knight: A sprawling mix of historical fiction, enticing magical system and epic relentless action.

Red Knight was another impulse buy on Kindle – I hadn’t read too many reviews about the book though I knew this was one of the blockbusters of 2013 when it released. Now I understand why.

Red Knight, Book one of the Traitor Son cycle marks the fantasy debut of Miles Cameron(widely believed to be the pseudonym for historical fiction author, Christian Cameron). The book’s got the richly satisfying feel of reading an actual account of historical fiction – swarming with strikingly authentic details about the Knights order, the religious unrest, the war-machinery and the planning and execution of sieges on forts/palaces of medieval times. But mixed up with the narrative is one of the most enticing magical systems that plays a crucial part in the narrative. Which unmistakably elevates this book into one of the stars of epic fantasy today – complete with intense gripping action scenes that rolls the sprawling plot forwards. 

The eponymous hero, Red Knight is contracted by an Abbey to investigate the brutal murder of one of the sisters of the convent and rid the Abbey the problem of attacks by an unknown monster from the Wild. (Yeah notice that in capitals, Wild? It’s much like the barren wilderness beyond the Wall from the Song of Ice and Fire – albeit a little more fleshed out, colorful and very interesting – chocked up with intelligent races that would push the limits of your fantastical imaginations. )Red Knight, a captain of a mercenary group with rising fortunes built on the continental wars outside the Kingdom of Alba takes up the contract only to be sucked into a swirling turbulent conspiracy that involves the whole race of Men against the Wild. 

Don’t be taken up by that picture of man against the dragon. Here the cover symbolizes the raging fight of Man vs Wild. (Yeah, pretty much like the full on Discovery Channel program. Add swords, boulder-throwing trebuchets, flashing green magic and tons of super cool daemons to that sizzling broth. It comes close to this novel.) The Dragon is the last thing you will encounter (Ahem, pun intended) but the creatures of the Wild – straight out of Miles Cameron’s fertile imagination are frighteningly realistic, cunning and have a soul. The whole book revolves around the fight to occupy Lissen Carak, the last outpost of the Kingdom on the north-west frontiers – beyond which thrives the Wild. Who now want to reclaim their old lands and enlist the help of an aged Magus – a strange mystic called Thorn who used to be the King’s Magus once upon a time.  The struggle is epic in scope and pretty much, drags the entire Kingdom into this boiling cauldron of magic and clashing swords. Did I mention magic? Oh yes I did. But the magical system as described by Miles Cameron is complex and the author doesn’t do the readers any favor by even attempting to explain the same. For the better, I say. The inscrutable principles of Hermeticism that is the basis for magic in this novel is mystical and enchanting and unexplained. Heavy stuff really – try as I might, I could only get as far as surmising it to involve some bit of mind travel, a lot of complex symbols and names of saints and green and gold flashes of fiery light that consumes and chars up anything in its path. Enough said. 

You might be mistakenly led to believe that the story revolves around this gallant mercenary captain  known as Red Knight who chooses against his better senses to protect the Abbey and thus be the figurehead of this epic battle. Attracting all sorts of unwanted attention. True that but Miles Cameron populates his story with enough and more colorful characters who would fight for your waning attention span. It becomes so crowded that initially the whole cart is too heavy and seems to crawl. The pacing takes a severe hit in the opening chapters. Rapidly switching between multiple POVs that provide near simultaneous perspectives of the same action sequences can be pretty exciting in the beginning but it bogs down the narrative pretty badly.

So we have a bunch of drovers herding cattle down to the last outpost for sales before winter sets in who get caught in the furious action. A disgraced Knight of the court who seeks redemption in the Wild. An arrogant supercilious foreign knight convinced by his mad angel that he would attain everlasting glory in this battle. A slave in search of his identity and future who joins the Wild in this fight. The captain’s squire who attempts to keep a diary of the daily siege and finds love. The whole bunch of never-do-goods who figure in the mercenary company under the Red Knight. Hell, even the King features a POV. But the best ones that I loved were these. Queen Desiderata – with her needle sharp wits is the magical equivalent of a C4 explosive wrapped up in a cloak that oozes and drips sensuality. She is one whom I would watch out for in the second book. Next up that scored high was the ageing Magus Harmodius – the mandatory Gandalf equivalent in any magic story, though a much more light-hearted and fun-loving version. A magus who is a practical man, given to fear and witty repartees. Not to forget the foul-mouthed Ser Thomas – Bad Tom who grins and revels at the mad prospect of fighting to death against the daemons of the Wild.

Clearly, Cameron sets up the first book to be the Red Knight’s vehicle for redemption and heroism. But you cannot help love this guy. Young enough to be barred from drinking in certain countries(!), the Captain has a certain mystic aura around him that thrills and draws you in – taught to command from his childhood, armed with a sixth sense for danger and a well-balanced head on his shoulders for planning and executing battle plans, the Captain is the bastard child of some nobility. And despite all the odds, he commands and keeps his company of the social outcasts together.  Commands their respect and his daredevilry almost always gets them out of tricky near-death situations. His identity which is slowly revealed in the latter half is another thing that keeps the narrative poised on a knife-edge.

Miles Cameron has an interesting manner in dealing with the names. Long Paws, Wilful Murder, Low Sym, Bad Tom, Sauce. Ahem you get the drift. It is definitely colorful and meaningful. Miles starts cautiously – regaling us with flowing descriptions and multiple scattershot narratives. The slow start and the scattered narration that hops all over the place has you in knots by the end of the initial chapters.  Perhaps a deterrent to the reading experience but I would advise you to hang in there. Once the plot gathers momentum, there is nothing to stop it from whizzing away. An angry bull that crashes through your senses – intense, furious onslaughts on the fort, the gripping, bloody encounters with the creatures of Wild, the sweeping battle plans. It all packs a punch – forming an explosive package, written in a competent flowing prose that smacks of deep authentic research on the Medieval art of war and settings. The dense plot rolls on unnoticed as you are swept into this magical tale that almost reads like a retelling of some historical siege.

While the Red Knight is a satisfying standalone story, the author beautifully sets up enough material for a sequel by the end of book one. Expositions are quick and efficient and don’t weight the plot down. But for me – personally – what makes this book a winner – was that despite its mammoth size, the reading experience was like a hot knife sliding through butter. Smooth. Sure, there are a lot of POVs that can be sliced away without affecting the story much. But it never gets too fragmented and we always return to the thick of action without losing steam.

This story reads like a myth. Almost sounding at times like a real historical event. Wrapped in layers of intriguing magic, wrought with an earthy authenticity and filled to the brim with non-stop stirring brutal action. As I read on fantasy-faction, why settle for one hero when you have nine. A great addition to the Fantasy world and with the Fell Sword is releasing just around the corner, I’m sure the Traitor Son Cycle series is going to be something spectacular.