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.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron – Review

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

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Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men – or worse, a company of mercenaries – against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with.

Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be a war. . .

I had the fortunate pleasure to receive an early copy of Miles Cameron’s debut novel, The Red Knight. Never have I been more pleasantly surprised and impressed with a writer’s skills, which far exceeded my humble expectations. While Miles Cameron has written before, this is his first attempt at a fantasy novel, and it certainly will not be his last. The Red Knight is medieval-fantasy at its finest and well worth anyone’s time and effort.

The central conflict, at its essence, revolves around the denizens of the Wild against civilization and humanity. While the forces of the Wild include fantastical creatures such as irks, boglins, and trolls; the conflict is far more basic in nature, and one that our own world struggles with. The conflict is a critical view of the expansion of humans and encroaching civilization against the untamed, lush forests of the Wild. Despite the fantastical creatures that appear savage and cruel, the reader is cleverly manipulated to empathize with the creatures as we are treated to scenes of humanity’s own savage tendencies to those they deem “uncivilized.”

Thoughts of the colonization of the America’s by the Europeans come to mind, both for their views and treatment of the Native Americans and the inclusion by Miles Cameron of the Sossag, an equivalent to the Native American people. The Sossag were one of the more fascinating sections to read as they offered a unique view of the borderline between civilization and the denizens of the “Wild.”

The protagonist, known only as the Captain for the majority of the novel, is a realistically written man who does his best with what he is given. An anti-hero with a conscious, the Captain is a devout atheist living in a time when one’s devotion to God surpasses any other bond. Such as any other great novel the Captain undergoes a transformative inner journey as he defends a nunnery from siege. It is this journey that makes the Captain so fascinating to read.RedKnightUK

The cast is extended further with numerous other viewpoints, which range from the Queen, to a crazed holy knight, all the way to an escaped slave turned native, the aforementioned Sossag people. Each time I felt I would grow weary of a character a new one would step in to take his place and offer a new view on the events of the world.

Perhaps what I am most impressed with, other than the characterization, is Cameron’s fantastic depiction of combat. It is rare for an author to be able to capture the chaos and fear that accompanies a fight, let alone a fight involving ghoulish irks and other frightening creatures as they scrape and claw at a man in restricting steel armor. Coupled with the realism that in war the body will feel every ache and pain, which is conveyed wonderfully, the reader will find the line separating the real world and the world of the book slowly disappearing. The author is a known re-enactor and medieval historian and he uses this knowledge to great effect in order to craft a story and a world that feels as authentic as The Red Knight.

Concepts such as Hermeticism or the Memory Palace have their place in our own history and it is refreshing to see Cameron adjust these concepts to suit his original magic system. Combined with an eye for detail regarding arms and armor, as well as siege tactics, make parts of this novel read as an alternate history rather than fiction.

One of the only drawbacks is also Cameron’s greatest strength, his familiarity with the medieval era and method of life. The terms and vocabulary he uses are very specific and I found myself referencing my dictionary more than once. That being said, once you grow more comfortable with the vocabulary you really appreciate and notice the passion Cameron has for this time frame in our history.

Despite Red Knight being Miles Cameron’s debut fantasy novel it is superbly written with particular care given to the characters and the action. If you’re a fan of characters that are incredibly realistic and battles that put you right in the sweaty, gritty action, this is a book for you. I have high hopes for the Traitor Son Cycle and will be eagerly looking forward to the sequel.

 

*Check out the review as it was originally published over at Fantasy-Faction*