The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron
What does a true medieval fantasy look like? It is the most accepted and stereotypical settings for fantasy novels and yet few authors consider the subtle intricacies of the time period in regards to building their new fantasy world.
The world of The Traitor Son Cycle is constructed as a full-fleshed fantasy world in the realm of the medieval, without being limited to Europe and instead taking into account North America, Egypt and more. He explores the medieval life instead of taking the obvious trappings and inserting them into his narrative. The armor and weapons are much as they were in the medieval age and the magic system is based around the idea of memory palaces, a real historical concept device that was even explored in the latest season of the BBC’s Sherlock.
In The Fell Sword the Red Knight and his company go across the mountains to the Morea and Thrake – those are the kingdoms to the east of Alba – to put down what appears to be a local rebellion and proves to be larger. In the process, the readers will get to see a little more of the meta-plot.
The Red Knight will meet a beautiful princess. Jean de Vrailly will grow in power and worldly glory. Amicia will develop her own power while getting into a quarrel with the church that will have long term effects for everyone. Readers will meet the Faery Knight and the irks are developed as people and not ‘enemies’. The sides shift, and the stakes grow.
The biggest complaint about the first book, The Red Knight, was the high number of point-of-view characters. There were at least 30 by the end and 90% of those could have been cut and the story may well have been better for it. While I didn’t get a chance to count this time around, The Fell Sword definitely felt a bit more focused in this regard. There were still plenty, maybe even too many, but they were largely interesting and important to this and future stories.
Perhaps the best addition was Morgan Mortirmir, a 16-year-old “barbarian” mage attending the Academy at Livianopolis. Nicknamed the Plague, Morgan is a brilliant student who only just comes into his magical ability. He has the potential that could one-day rival or top Harmodius or other major players on the field. So much that Morgan is poised to take a central role in the coming installments of The Traitor Son Cycle. In a book where the main character is developed and worldly, Mortimir is a fresh look with an ample mind that explains the mysteries.
The introduction of the Faery Knight and the irks as a civilization, among other denizens of the Wild, is a masterful stroke that expands the unrealistic black & white view of the fist book into one with many shades of grey. As the great wyrms maneuver and old powers awaken it will be interesting to see if humans and the Wild will be forced to set aside differences and work together to defeat a common foe.
It takes three chapters of multiple viewpoints and subplots before we truly get back into the helmet of the Red Knight. Much as the first book, the Captain, or Gabriel as we come to know him, steals the page every time. A fascinating history that is uncovered piece by piece by the Queen’s subplot coupled with his complex personality and motivations make for a compelling character that drips with humor.
The historical accuracy may put people off when it comes to Cameron’s female characters as there is a fear women were just around to play to their husbands whims. Well Cameron makes those fears unfounded as he gives us strong female characters that are more than a knee-jerk reaction and instead are complex, smart and really just fun to read. Whether it’s Sauce, the female knight in the Red Knight’s group, Mag the seamstress and magical heavyweight, or Queen Desiderata, a beacon of light and talented individual who uncovers more of the hidden plot.
As he did in The Red Knight, Cameron shines in the realism of battle and medieval life. A medieval historian by degree, a military man by career and a reenactor by hobby, Cameron brings an intensity and “in-the-helmet” experience that puts you deep in the Wild and heart of the action. Each battle is easy to imagine visually, even as invisible blasts of phantasm (magic) strike the battlefield.
The Fell Sword expands on the magic that was introduced in the first book. Hermeticism is defined and more readily displayed, both in battle through the Captain and in the classroom through Morgan. The use of a memory palace and the complexities of the system itself are exceptional. Cameron gives enough information to excite the imagination while holding more back in the shadows to keep you gazing in wonder at the things he accomplishes.
As more of the hidden plot is revealed, The Traitor Son Cycle is shaping into a classic epic fantasy as immense powers of good and evil do battle with what amounts to champions of their cause. Hopefully in the next book Miles Cameron will strike the perfect balance of point-of-view characters and delve fully into the Captain and the great powers of this medieval world.