Fell Sword by Miles Cameron – Book Review

The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron
Book Review

Fell Sword US CoverWhat 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.

Liviapolis Map

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.

Last to Rise by Francis Knight – Book Review

Last to Rise by Francis Knight Book Review

Last to Rise CoverFantasy-Noir. That was all I needed to hear before I hit the “buy” button on amazon for this series. Delving into the subgenres of fantasy has been a fun and rewarding experience as I come across books that aren’t the traditional “knight saving a princess.” These books are even, in many cases, leagues better than those types of books. Last to Rise is the end to what has grown to be one of my favorites in recent times. While I’m sad to see it go, Francis Knight ends the book in a picture-perfect way that left me smiling in approval.

The towering vertical city of Mahala is on the brink of war with its neighboring countries. It might be his worst nightmare, but Rojan and the few remaining pain mages have been drafted in to help. The city needs power in whatever form they can get it — and fast. With alchemists readying a prototype electricity generator, and factories producing guns faster than ever, the city’s best advantage is still the mages. Tapping their power is a risky plan, but with food in the city running out, and a battle brimming that no one is ready for, risky is the best they’ve got…

The run down city that built up instead of out, Mahala is one of the hallmarks of the series. Our final installment has us running up and down the many levels, and subsequent social standing, of the city giving us a true look at the current state of the inhabitants as the siege rages on outside. While I know what the author was going for when she introduced the “phantom bacon” smell I was a little put off by the fact that seemingly no one else noticed but Rojan. In a city full of starving people the greasy deliciousness that is bacon should have been more of a thing amongst the populace. I did however enjoy the reveal of what the “phantom bacon” smell actually was though and it was a weird piece that had me grinning with the thought process that must have gone behind it. Little touches like this are where the majority of faults can be found in the book. Each of these are small enough details that they can be overlooked without too much hassle on the part of the reader so they can enjoy the overall story. Most of the characters return in standard form over the course of the story. Pasha remains fiercely devoted to Jake, Lise remains spunky and immersed in developing new tech, and Perak juggles the cardinals and a corrupt government while enemies try to break down the gates. Jake takes a side role and Erlat, the prostitute with a heart for Rojan, takes her place in a spot closer to center stage and keeps the looming threat of the Black from consuming Rojan’s sanity. Rojan returns in fine form for the conclusion. This pessimistic hero constantly faced the impending battle outside the city and never gave up. While this is standard amongst fantasy heroes it shines all the brighter in Last to Rise as the theme of sacrifice plays a heavy role in the book, from the magic system, to the character motivations, to the city itself. Knight is smart to keep her world from falling prey to the idea of redeeming a dystopia. Instead she grounds her finale in a realistic, for the world, ending that left me a little speechless at the end. Pain and sacrifice are very real and very important to a book with pain mages and darkness that looms around Mahala. I’m glad to see Knight stay true to that idea and away from any rainbows and butterflies on the final pages.

Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Book Review

Breach Zone by Myke Cole
Book Review

BreachZone_Final-1I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my fantasy. I love the idea of knights and castles, djenn and ifrit, even the muskets and magic emerging recently. I never thought I could get into the idea of a military fantasy. Luckily for me Myke Cole came along and changed my mind. Except to call his Shadow Ops series, and the third book Breach Zone, only a military fantasy would be a huge disservice. It’s so much more than that.

It’s a story about love, hard decisions, identity, and so much more. Myke Cole has switched the main protagonist in each book. The perspective shifts to what was once a secondary, or unknown, character, giving a broader scope of the world as it’s seen through fresh eyes. Instead of growing bored with a character the bond can begin anew. I’ve grown connected not to a handful of characters shallowly but a range of characters in depth.

Scylla, the villain of Breach Zone is a tragic character, twisted by circumstance to be the enemy. Control Point and Fortress Frontier made Scylla out to be the worst of the worst. She is a crazed psychopath who uses her power of decay to kill and destroy. Breach Zone gives us another look at this woman, a woman named Grace.

Harlequin, the SOC aeromancer, is our guide through the third book in the Shadow Ops world. Cole has done something special in the structure of this book in giving us two stories, one set in the present the other the past, and interweaving them until they climax at the finale. It’s a tricky move and could’ve easily backfired if the stories weren’t properly balanced. Instead, I thought they were paced exceptionally. Teasing the origins of Grace/Scylla and matching those thoughts to the woman we thought we knew all along while she invades Manhattan.

Breach Zone MapBreach Zone is set almost entirely on the island of Manhattan in New York City and it’s apparent that this is Myke’s home. The Breach to the Source is on Wall St, gangs are hiding out in China Town and Tribeca, and the HQ for the defense is at Battery Park. Each was imagined so faithfully that on a recent visit to NYC, I couldn’t help but picture Gahe, Roc’s and Goblins swarming over the skyscrapers only to do battle with aeromancers and other SOC sorcerers.

Myke Cole was the author that got me to step away from “traditional” fantasy and really explore the subgenres. It’s military fantasy imagined with all the intricacies that come with magic reappearing in a modern world filled with tanks, drones, and soldiers. He’s pushing the boundaries of fantasy both in his writing structure and the level of depth and emotional connection to his characters. This is a series filled with trials and personal journeys. It’s a series that must be read. Myke Cole knows how to tell a complex story in a richly imagined world and for that I thank him and politely shout for more.