5 Reasons to Read ‘The Faithful & the Fallen’


This article was originally published by Tor.com on 28th November 2016 as ‘The Faithful and the Fallen: An epic tale of Valour in the face of Malice, Wrath and Ruin‘.celtic-greeny-tree

Have you ever found yourself ambling around your local bookstore, mumbling as you search the shelves for something – anything – that will fulfil your need for fictional giants mounted on giant bears?

Search no longer, my darlings! I present to you: The Faithful and the Fallen by British fantasy author John Gwynne.

The Faithful and the Fallen quartet by John Gwynne

Beginning with Gemmell Award-winning Malice (Best Debut, 2013), Gwynne’s series is perfect for readers who prefer their fantasy with a touch of grit and darkness (a la the Drenai saga or the Warlord Chronicles) as opposed to the nihilism that the genre is finding particularly fashionable of late. This gorgeously-jacketed quartet – featuring Malice, Valour, Ruin and Wrath – is epic, but not in that sprawling, distant, ‘wait-where-the-hell-am-I-and-who’s-this-character-again?’ sort of way. It’s bloody but not bleak; traditional, but by no means tropey.

Still not convinced? Here’s five more reasons why you might just love it.


1.

The Banished Lands are Eerie, Atmospheric and Beautifulceltic-greeny-tree


I don’t know about you, but I often reflect on the fact that there just aren’t enough ‘wyrms’ (with a ‘y’) in fiction these days. And no, I’m not talking about bog-standard dragons who’ve changed their name by deed poll to make themselves sound more interesting. I mean Proper Wyrms, the kind that show up in Germanic myths without wings or even legs and looking like pants-shittingly gigantic– well, worms.

The Faithful and the Fallen respectfully eschews elements of ‘high’ fantasy in favour of more unusual, folklore-inspired creatures. Dragons, elves, wizards and dwarves are nowhere to be seen; nope, instead, the Banished Lands are populated with giants, draigs, fallen angels and – yes! –  wyrms. (And giants. Did I mention the giants? Riding bears?)

Malice, Faithful and Fallen book oneGodless, but green: Gwynne’s settings are, in many ways, unapologetically familiar. Appearing at first glance to be little more than another ‘Medieval Europe’, the Banished Lands are infused with nostalgia and a gentle Germanic ambience that enfolds the reader in a pastoral utopia.

But it’s not long before dark, haunting Celtic overtones start to bleed into the Tolkien-esque quaintness. Gwynne’s descriptions are subtly evocative, and carry a rich sense of history – in a similar vein to the works of Miles Cameron or Mary Stewart – which will appeal to folks who’ve visited the greener, untamed parts of Britain.

A significant part of book two, Valour, takes place in a Romanesque setting, while books three and four (Ruin and Wrath) introduce misty marshes and mighty forests; ancient fortresses and windswept mountain peaks. Such vivid variety is a welcome change from the gorgeous, but overly-comfortable starting location.

With its shifting scenery (cinematically comparable to Game of Thrones, Ironclad, Spartacus and Lord of the Rings) and mixed mythological influences (from talking birds to wolf companions to legendary weapons to GIANTS RIDING BEARS) Gwynne’s saga is much greater than the sum of its parts: and is no less than a brilliant blend of Arthurian motifs and Brythonic lore scaled to epic, Norse-like proportions.


2.

The Characters are Compelling (Because Most of Them Aren’t Bastards)celtic-greeny-tree


The Faithful and the Fallen is a geographically-sweeping epic full of wicked and wonderful beings. Nonetheless, it remains admirably character-centred.

The quartet begins with just a handful of PoVs – including the ‘main’ protagonist, Corban. But as the story expands, so too does its cast. Gwynne’s structuring of these PoVs is especially smart: he introduces, and shifts between, new voices in a way that ups the complexity and creates excitement rather than confusion.Malice by John Gwynne

Honestly, I found Malice to be a little slow, and perhaps a little bit laborious: there are times when excessive detail in the child PoVs becomes repetitive. Having read the entire series, however, I now appreciate the first book’s investment in character-building.

While nowhere near the ‘shades of grey’ you’ll find in books by Mark Lawrence or Rebecca Levene, many of Gwynne’s characters – particularly later in the series – show how easy it is to find oneself on the ‘wrong’ side of a conflict, and how ‘evil’ can be a matter of perspective. It’s particularly interesting to watch some of the protagonists develop and change because of careful manipulation by others.

Here are some of the major players in book one:

CORBAN – Just your average blacksmith’s son. Nothing special about him at all. Nope.

CYWEN – Corban’s fiery knife-throwing sister.

SHIELD – Corban’s badass horse.

STORM – Corban’s big-ass wolf.

CAMLIN – Skilled archer and former brigand; fan favourite.

KASTELL – Unwilling heir; gentle giant-hunter (by which I mean he’s a gentle guy who just happens to hunt giants… not a guy who actively hunts gentle giants).

MAQUIN – Kastell’s loyal retainer and BFF. Also, HE – IS – SPARTACUS!

NATHAIR – The Fresh Prince of Balara; a bit of a tit.

VERADIS – Nathair’s first sword and blood brother (4 lyf).

Valour by John GwynneMany of you may roll your eyes at seeing such a male-dominated character list. Rest assured, the gender imbalance is addressed in book two, Valour, with the introduction of more female point-of-view protagonists. And book three, Ruin, is notably populated with strong female characters of all ages, races and stations – as well as one or two non-humans.

Malice (and, to some extent, Valour) carefully builds the web of character relationships that is then brought beautifully to the fore in Ruin. No matter how grand the situation or how large the scale, Gwynne never lets us forget that this entire series is a sprawling net comprised of a thousand little strands of humanity – and it’s this that makes it such an engaging and emotional read.


3.

‘Well, that escalated slowly!’ – The Faithful and the Fallen gets gradually bigger, better, darkerceltic-greeny-tree


The characters who survive Malice – several of whom were first introduced to the reader as children – grow and develop in interesting (and unusual) ways throughout the series. Corban’s tale is almost a coming-of-age story; except that the ‘farm-boy-with-a-destiny’ (as seen in The Belgariad, The Inheritance Cycle, The Demon Cycle, etc.) generally becomes omni-talented within an insanely short amount of time, and their eventual success is never really in doubt.

Corban, on the other hand, is entirely fallible. Love and loyalty confuse his decisions, and he makes plenty of mistakes along his entire journey (not just at the beginning). Furthermore, the skills he does possess are a result of growing up within a hard-working warrior culture.

But it would be reductive to label The Faithful and the Fallen as ‘Corban’s story’ when Ruin boasts a cast of no less than fourteen point-of-view characters. Unlike A Song of Ice and Fire, however – where you have eighty-nine protagonists spread over a million miles and whom you can easily forget about for entire books at a time – Gwynne’s are surprisingly story-focused. Many PoVs are part of the same group, so that often a change in PoV doesn’t necessarily signify a change in time, or even in location. This works fantastically for making battle scenes tense and pacy, and just overall keeps the pages turning.Ruin by John Gwynne

(There’s one extended scene near the beginning of Wrath that utilises this technique perfectly. Short chapters that switch back and forth between two characters left me breathless and desperate to keep reading until the sequence reached its (very satisfying!) resolution.)

I’ve mentioned already that neither Malice nor Valour swept me off my feet. Ruin, however, totally blew me away. By the time you reach book three, you’re invested in the characters and the story, but you’re possibly also wondering if and when the shit is going to hit the fan.

And then you start reading Ruin.

The Banished Lands are at war. No longer charmingly rural, the Celtic settings have become wild and threatening: large parts of Ruin take place in uncharted forests, treacherous marshes and daunting ruins that create a tangible atmosphere of threat and tension. Furthermore, our heroes’ predicament becomes direr with each page you turn; and the author finally gives us a peek inside the minds of some of the series’ most hated characters.

The God-War is not good vs. evil: it’s well-meaning villains and tired refugees; messy skirmishes and small-scale ambushes; confusing conflicts with people on both sides getting lost and making mistakes; losses piling up as constant fighting takes its toll both physically and mentally. The last two books are suffused with a grit and intensity that in the first two books is (for the most part) lacking.

The action comes thick and fast, and it feels as though the reader is right there amongst the combatants: sweating and bleeding and dodging blades and arrows and fists from every quarter. Large-scale battles (which I found distant and impersonal in earlier books) are visceral and immediate, featuring character-driven narratives that make the fighting feel less glorious and more real.


4.

Feels and structure and prose – oh my!celtic-greeny-tree


As the books increase in length and complexity, so too do they become more engaging – a testament to the author’s continually improving skills. Each book is stronger than the last, growing in pace, intensity and sheer readability with every chapter.

Wrath by John GwynneI don’t just mean that there’s more action (although there is!). The author’s portrayal of certain characters’ motives and emotions becomes much more powerful, granting the reader intriguing insights into nearly every aspect of the overarching conflict. With so many disparate groups of characters to keep track of, each chapter is a keyhole through which we glean hints of what might happen, and through which we gain numerous perspectives on events.

With perspective comes understanding, and readers will no doubt find themselves surprised by their own changing attitudes towards certain characters. Viewing a battle – along with its associated victories, losses and deaths – from different sides of the conflict brings humanity to every character, no matter how despicable they may seem. And with humanity comes sympathy.

Ruin is one of the very few books that has ever managed to bring me to tears (a reaction previously provoked only by Robin Hobb and Steven Erikson) and I confess to feeling physically sick with nerves at several points during both Ruin and Wrath while I waited to see what became of a beloved character.

What’s truly special about Gwynne’s stories, however, is that they can be tragic without being ‘tragedy’. The Faithful and the Fallen embraces the underlying hope that traditionally characterises the fantasy genre, that sense of an ever-present light amongst the darkness; the hope that good will push back against evil, no matter how grim the situation may seem.


5.

The Author is a Kickass, Axe-Wielding Writing Machineceltic-greeny-tree


Clearly influenced by the likes of David Gemmell and Bernard Cornwell, Gwynne’s prose is as economic as it is brutally beautiful.

If my words have failed to convince you, however, then let’s look at the facts.

Gwynne has released four full-length novels within the last four years. His first quartet is now complete, so you don’t have to worry about cliffhanger endings and decades-long waits! And with a new series (also set in the Banished Lands) slated to begin next year, Gwynne is a solid bet for those who appreciate regular, reliable releases.

Lastly… who wouldn’t want to read books written by this guy? Really? LOOK AT HIM!

Author John Gwynne, accompanied by dogs and axes


Even the Brave will Fallceltic-greeny-tree


Fans of traditional fantasy will fall in love with The Faithful and the Fallen. Readers who like their fantasy more epic than a flame-breathing oliphaunt, however, should be aware that this series is something of a slow-burn. The weight of history and prophecy and the sheer lore of the world creeps up on the reader rather than smacking them in the face; but although the series takes a little while to get going, before you know it you’ll be hooked. And Wrath is a fitting finale to a worthy series: a spectacularly epic and ambitious tale that delivers everything it promises, and more. Trust me when I say it’s worth the wait.Wrath

So next time you’re in a bookshop and you hear somebody muttering “giants… where are all the giants?” you’ll be able to step in and give them exactly what they need.


celtic-greeny-tree

NaNovember!


October has been ever so slightly crazy. I spent countless hours working on a short story in order to meet a submission deadline (which I did manage in the end – barely!). My ‘currently reading’ list is longer than ever before. NaNo is upon us. And the SPFBO has reached stage two!

SPFBO – Final 10!

We have our finalist!!!
Fantasy-Faction's SPFBO2 Finalist: Dyrk Ashton, Paternus

That’s right: earlier last month G.R. Matthews, A.F.E. Smith and myself announced Dyrk Ashton as our pick for Fantasy-Faction’s SPFBO finalist. Dyrk’s novel, Paternus, is a well-written and exciting tale of myths and monsters in modern-day society. We gave it a collective score of 9/10, and are proud to say that it 100% deserves its place amongst the final ten.

Speaking of which… here they are!

SPFBO 2016: the Final Ten!

Gorgeous-looking bunch, aren’t they? I’ve already begun reading Larcout, and I’m also particularly excited about Path of Flames, Assassin’s ChargeFionn and of course The Grey Bastards.

Not that I don’t have enough to read and review already… like:

Nothing is Ever Simple (Corin Hayes #2) by G.R. Matthews

Corin Hayes #1 and #2 by G.R. Matthews

A couple of days ago, my fellow indie writer (and Fantasy-Factioner!) G.R. Matthews released the long-awaited second book in his underwater SF series Corin Hayes. Here’s what I said about book one, Silent City:

Reader beware: if you suffer from thalassophobia (= fear of the sea), prepare to be chilled to the bone. . . because the world of Corin Hayes is entirely underwater.
[…] Short, entertaining and exciting: Silent City is the start of a series I’ll certainly be following with interest.

Read the full review on Goodreads or Amazon.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

A bloody, uncomfortable, fascinating read. The first in Michael R. Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series, Beyond Redemption pulls us into a world where anything is possible . . . so long as you’re insane. Dark, brutal and highly recommended.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. FletcherYou can read my review on Fantasy-Faction. The sequel, The Mirror’s Truth, is due out in December.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Back in my late teens I read, re-read and re-re-read Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen) more times than I could count. The recent release of Goldenhand unleashed a flood of nostalgia, so much so that I couldn’t resist revisiting the series.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after a decade away from the series I’m thoroughly enjoying dipping in and out of this one. Sabriel sparked fond memories of late-night reading right from page 1, and I’m looking forward to reaching book two, Lirael, which was always my favourite of the three.

On Writing by Stephen King

This is another book I’ve been dipping in and out of. As such, progress is slow, but I’m picking up snippets of wisdom every time I sit down to read a few pages.

On Writing by Stephen King

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of metaphors (or, as some would say, ‘overthinking’). In one chapter, King compares writing to archaeology: the story is always there, like a fossil beneath the ground, and writers should use whatever tools necessary to bring it to light. He goes on to say that you wouldn’t start digging with a toothpick; you’d begin with a pickaxe or even a jackhammer, only bringing out the delicate tools when you’re ready to reveal the details.

For someone like me (whose writing process generally involves obsessive plotting, second-guessing and re-writing) this is very relevant . . . as is the part where King opines that plot is “the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”

Ouch. Point taken. Time to just get on with telling the story. Sound advice (and just in time for NaNoWriMo!)

ARC Happy Fun Times

Because I’m clearly a masochist, I’ve also taken on ARCs from a small selection of awesome authors.

The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher (FB header)

Michael R. Fletcher’s The Mirror’s Truth and John Gwynne’s Wrath are both currently adorning my Kindle, and I’m also lucky enough to have been offered an early copy of Red Sister from one of my favourite modern fantasy authors, Mark Lawrence. Positive reviews for this one have already begun trickling in, and I’m really, really excited to delve in to Mark’s new series, The Book of the Ancestor.

Malazan Art of the Fallen

You may have noticed my re-post of the Malazan article I had published on Tor.com in September. The re-post includes even more stunning art from the talented Chisomo Phiri (Shadaan on DeviantArt) and once again I’m encouraging anyone and everyone to go and check out his work.

'Silanah vs Raest': artwork by Shadaan

‘Silanah vs Raest’: artwork by Shadaan

On Righting

In October I ran two free promotions, most recently over Halloween. Danse Macabre now has another NINE (!) 4*/5* ratings and SIX (!) more reviews – as well as a place on its first ever LIST! (Angela Burkhead’s top Halloween reads for 2016).

Danse Macabre Free Promotion Graphic

Danse Macabre‘s success over the last few months has been a real confidence boost. Reading what folks are saying about it (including a recent review by Eric Fomley at Grimdark Alliance) inspires me to write more, which I think is part of the reason I worked so keenly on my short story submission last month. As such, I’ve made the (absolutely mad) decision to sign up for NaNoWriMo once again.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Participant Banner

In January this year I spoke about my ongoing struggles with depression; about why I closed down my original blog, and why I vowed not to bother with NaNo ever again.

After last year’s absolute failure (and its consequences) I’ll admit that the prospect of trying again terrifies me. But truth be told, I need a kick up the arse. This time, NaNo is going to be a tool with which I can hold myself accountable – not a means of quantifying failure.

So this year, I’m going to beat NaNo. Because I’ve made a promise to myself that this year I’m going to do it right. (Also that if I make it past 50k words by November 30th, I’m allowed to reward myself by finally starting a(nother) new game of Dragon Age: Inquisition.)

If anyone else is participating and wants to add me, you can find me here. Good luck to all, and see you on the other side!

A Beginner’s Guide to Malazan Characters: ‘Gardens of the Moon’


This article originally appeared on Tor.com on September 19th 2016 and features original artwork by Chisomo Phiri.


'Silanah vs Raest': artwork by Shadaan

‘Silanah vs Raest’: artwork by Shadaan

I’ll be honest: I fell flat on my face the first time I tried to read Gardens of the Moon. Gods, assassins, soldiers, mages, immortals – you name it, Erikson’s debut is rife with it. The sheer amount of new characters leaves many readers thumbing through the earlier chapters again and again, muttering all the while about maybe having missed something.

But fear not, new readers! Your friendly Malazan holiday rep is here to save you from this fate. Just sit back, relax and enjoy this handy guide to Erikson’s inimitable characters and the tangled web of factions that connects them.


THE MALAZANS

 The Malazan Empire assimilates each culture it conquers. Most of the books tend to concentrate mainly on its military – but before we begin, here’s a brief overview of those at the very top of the food chain.

'Hunger': Empress Laseen by Shadaan

‘Hunger’: Empress Laseen by Shadaan

Empress Laseen

Formerly known as Surly. Once a bog-standard barmaid . . . until the night she assassinated the previous Emperor, Kellanved, along with others belonging to the Emperor’s ‘Old Guard’—including his chief adviser, Dancer.

Clawmaster Topper

Unhealthily obsessed with the colour green. Commands a faction of elite assassins known as the Claw who, loyal to Empress Laseen, played an important role in her bloody coup.

Adjunct Lorn

If the Clawmaster is Laseen’s hidden left hand, the Adjunct is undoubtedly his counterpart. Adjunct Lorn is the public face, voice, and sword arm of the Empress, and is fiercely loyal to Laseen (like, Brienne of Tarth-scale loyalty). Lorn wears the Adjunct’s traditional rust-coloured, magic-deadening sword, so there’s no danger of not being recognised (and feared) wherever she goes. But beneath the chip on her shoulder and the trappings of authority, she’s just a woman doing her job.


So that’s the capital. But Gardens of the Moon takes place in the field, so here’s a quick rundown of the imperial army’s key players:

 ONEARM’S HOST

 The Malazan army is a motley conglomeration of races, cultures, genders and skillsets. From crossbow-wielding marines and heavyweight frontline fighters to ex-assassins and necromancers, its soldiers are both the heart and the backbone of this series.

Dujek Onearm

Commander (‘High Fist’) of the Malazan campaign on Genabackis (aka. the continent where GotM takes place). Has one arm.

Toc the Younger

Soldier, optimist and son of . . . Toc the Elder! (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.) Desperately needs someone to buy him a t-shirt that reads ‘Wrong place, wrong time.’ Has one eye.

Tayschrenn

High Mage (aka, top dog). Aloof, enigmatic and uber-powerful. Bit of a worm, though . . .

Tattersail

Big heart, big magic, big body. Not so much a cougar as a cradle-snatcher…but we all have our flaws.

'First Ones In...': Bridgeburners by Shadaan

‘First Ones In…’: The Bridgeburners by Shadaan

THE BRIDGEBURNERS 

Remember the “Old Guard” I mentioned above? The ones Empress Laseen is no longer a fan of? Well, most of these guys—now fighting in Onearm’s Host—were as good as part of it. We first meet the Bridgeburners in the aftermath of a sorcery enfilade outside the city of Pale, during which most of their company were “accidentally” decimated by their own side.

Ganoes Paran

Wet-behind-the-ears nobleborn with a habit of inadvertently paving the road to hell. Reluctant buddy of Adjunct Lorn. Recently handed a commission as Captain of the Bridgeburners. Veterans one and all, the Bridgeburners don’t take kindly to highborn officers: Paran is the latest in a long line of Captains, and the grunts are busy planning his “welcome” before he’s even arrived. Poor guy.

Whiskeyjack

Whiskeyjack is The Man: a tough-but-fair, salt-of-the-earth-type soldier. The most well-known Bridgeburner Sergeant, Whiskeyjack also happens to be Dujek Onearm’s BFF and leads his own eclectic squad of Bridgeburner soldiers. Including . . .

Quick Ben

MMGA (Makes Mages Great Again). Seriously, even if you despise mages you’ll hit it off with Quick Ben: he’s smart-mouthed, highly strung, and perhaps one of the cleverest characters in the whole damn series. Goes to extreme lengths to lurk beneath the high-command radar and appear less powerful than he really is. Certified badass.

Kalam

Also a certified badass. Huge and muscled, ex-Claw Kalam seems an unlikely assassin, though it’s true he can probably crush your skull with his bare hands. But he’s light on his feet and quick with his knives . . . and always has Quick Ben watching his back.

Hedge

Sapper. Loves playing with munitions more than he loves life itself. Slightly deranged. Invents card games using the Deck of Dragons (aka Tarot cards that most people are afraid to even share a room with).

Fiddler

Hedge’s best friend. Also a sapper/explosives expert/crazy card-game swindler. Surprisingly prescient. Carries a fiddle.

Sorry

You’ll come across a nameless dark-haired fishergirl in one of the earliest chapters. Keep your eye on her, because it isn’t long before she reappears as a creepy-ass recruit named Sorry. There’s something odd about her, alright…and her presence makes even her grizzled tough-as-old-boots squadmates nervous.


As of the opening of GotM, the city of Pale has fallen to the Malazans. This leaves Darujhistan as the last remaining free city on Genabackis . . . and the location of the story’s big climax.

THE DARU

Darujhistan’s social and political factions are many and varied, but can be loosely divided into four influential groups:

THE COUNCIL

Nasty bastards. Ostensibly the rulers of Darujhistan, their political strategies consist mainly of bitching, backstabbing, and brown-nosing. Of all the fancy-arsed nobles’ names flung around here the only ones you need to pay attention to are Turban Orr, Lady Simtal and the D’Arle family (and of course, Challice. Who the f*ck is Challice?!)

THE T’ORRUD CABAL

'Baruk' by Shadaan

‘Baruk’ by Shadaan

Magic bastards. The real power within the city, these shadowy figures are more interested in peace than politics. Led by High Alchemist Baruk, their ranks also include an absent-minded old scholar…and his familiar, a flying monkey known as Moby.

THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS

A small but passionate community of banjo-playing dwarves.

No, not really.

THE PHOENIX INN CROWD

A shifty bunch of thieves, cutthroats, beggars, scroungers and miscreants. Naturally, these are the guys we spend most of our time in Darujhistan with, so here’s a quick overview of some of the standouts:

Kruppe

Beneficent Kruppe refers to himself in the third person. But Kruppe’s new (and cheerfully unaware) friends should not let Kruppe’s cherubic appearance and rambling demeanour deceive them: oh, no! For affable Kruppe is a master of sleight of hand; and Kruppe assures dear readers that he is, indeed, far more cunning than they might think.

Crokus Younghand

Thief, but by choice rather than necessity. Astoundingly naïve. (Like, seriously. The dude is oblivious. Adorable, yes. But also facepalm-provokingly oblivious. Consider yourselves warned!)

Rallick Nom

Assassin. Member of the Guild of Assassins. Hates it when other assassins rely on magic instead of assassin-y skills. Enjoys assassinations and long walks up haunted towers (to lie in wait before assassinating someone).

 Murillio

Fop. Dandy. Handsome layabout who offers his “services” as an escort to rich women. Also in cahoots with Assassin-y McAssassinface Rallick Nom in a super-secret plan involving their drunken mate, Coll.

Oh, and lastly: be sure to keep an eye out for the mysterious “Eel”. Slippery fellow, that one.


So there you have the Daru. But what about their allies? And what if the Malazans aren’t their only enemies?

THE “WILD CARDS”

Finally, let’s meet a few of the free agents. These fantastical figures are some of the most powerful – and unpredictable! – players in Erikson’s long game.

'Blacksword Visits': Anomander Rake by Shadaan

‘Blacksword Visits’: Anomander Rake by Shadaan

Anomander Rake

Rake is literally the Son of Darkness. As in, his mum is Mother Dark. This makes him sort of a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and Jesus: ageless, intelligent, and powerful beyond all measure, Rake is the brooding-but-badass leader of the Tiste Andii race.

FYI: You know how the elves in Lord of the Rings are tall and majestic and distant and cold and also just a little bit depressing? Picture them with midnight skin and moon-white hair. Now imagine that some of them are also capable of shapeshifting into dragons, while others wield primeval magic and weapons with impossible skill. And then – just for kicks – place them all on a colossal flying mountain and name it “Moon’s Spawn”.

 Are you picturing it? Good. That’s the Tiste Andii.

Caladan Brood

A.k.a. the big bastard with the hammer. (No, not Thor. Different dude; different hammer.)

'Hammer Time': Caladan Brood by Shadaan

‘Hammer Time’: Caladan Brood by Shadaan

Caladan Brood doesn’t get all that much page time. Nonetheless, he’s a huge presence throughout the…which, let’s face it, isn’t all that surprising when you take into account the fact that he’s a not-quite-human warlord carrying the only weapon capable of waking the Sleeping Goddess, Burn. Did I mention he’s been carrying that bad boy around for more than a thousand years?

FYI: Before the events of GotM, Brood and his BFF Rake started a kind of heavy-metal supergroup: Brood’s tribal armies and Rake’s Tiste Andii got together and swore to defend the Free Cities (like Pale and Darujhistan) against the Malazan Empire. They also recruited the legendary Crimson Guard mercenaries, along with other slightly more unsavoury allies. Such as . . .

High King Kallor

The third wheel in the Brood/Rake (Brake?) bromance. This grouchy old git is the naysayer of the group…and yet strangely impressive. Ancient, bitter and universally hated, yes. But Kallor is also no slouch with the enormous sword he carries, and despite his age he’s more cunning than a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford. Too bad allies and foes alike mock his self-styled title; and too bad that, despite lugging his decrepit throne along with him everywhere he goes, in actuality he is—in the words of renowned bard H’etfield James– “King Nothing.”

Speaking of lost glory and immortality . . .

'Imass: Life, Warmth, Craft' by Shadaan

‘Imass: Life, Warmth, Craft’ by Shadaan

Tool

The first T’lan Imass (undead cavemen tenuously allied with the Malazans) we meet, Onos T’oolan is without doubt the most skilled swordsman among the thousands-strong ranks of walking dead. Don’t get the wrong impression, though, because shambling zombies the Imass ain’t.

Fun fact: a friend of mine once told me he imagines the T’lan Imass to look like Iron Maiden’s skeletal mascot, Eddie. To this day I can’t decide if that makes them more or less terrifying. Either way, Tool is metal AF.


It’s all about the little guys

I could happily ramble on forever about ALL THE CHARACTERS in Gardens of the Moon, as well as the factions they represent and the profound motifs they introduce—epic motifs like power attracts power; war destroys the things you love; progress vs stagnation; and mega-shark vs giant octopus

For now, though, I hope I’ve managed to give new readers a glimpse of what (for me) makes this book so special. Erikson’s tale is essentially about the nature of humanity, and he adopts a more intimate approach to character-building than any other epic fantasy author I’ve encountered. He delights in showing us that the gods are fallible just as much as he revels in portraying the quiet heroism of lowly soldiers. He creates characters who are physically alien or barbaric, but in whom we can nonetheless recognise something of ourselves; and he puts each and every one of his little guys through the wringer. Not because he’s cruel—though some would say that’s a matter for debate!—but because he knows full well that the surest way to evoke a visceral response from readers is to simply give us characters that we care about and relate to.


Credit for all artwork featured in this article goes to digital artist Chisomo Phiri. Check out his full portfolio on DeviantArt!

This article appeared in its original form on Tor.com. You can read it here.