‘The Black Company’ by Glen Cook

The Black Company is narrated through a single PoV: Croaker, a physician and annalist working for a mercenary force called – you guessed it! – the Black Company. The Company have been hired by The Lady (an ancient tyrant) who along with her monstrous generals (twisted supernatural beings known as the Ten Who Were Taken) is intent on defeating the Rebel armies and ruling all the known lands (obvs).

The Black Company by Glen CookCook’s writing style is not exactly immersive. While I would call it refreshingly blunt, others might (and often do) dismiss it as jarring and curt. The Black Company‘s brusque prose and terse descriptions – not to mention the author’s casual tendency to skip over major events in the spaces between paragraphs! – lend even major scenes a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of urgency. This is a somewhat disorientating stylistic choice, but it’s one to which I quickly became accustomed.

I think The Black Company is the first example of ‘GRIMDARK’ fiction I ever read (closely followed by Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself). In fact, I still recall the thrill of reading it for the first time and getting to grips with the fact that this Cook feller had written an actual book about actual mercenaries who are actually fighting on the side of the bad guys. Nowadays, of course, grimdark tales are a dime a dozen. But back then, I’d never encountered anything of the kind. In my experience, fantasy protagonists were heroes. Young wizards. Daring hobbits. Chosen ones. Protectors. Guardians of humanity. Good guys. In stark contrast, Croaker and the rest of the Black Company are entirely motivated by greed and selfishness – at least to start off with. This, I soon discovered, made them just as entertaining as Harry, Ron and Hermione; as Eragon and Murtagh, and the Fellowship of the Ring.

And the characters aren’t the only selling point. Cook has also created a grim, eerie and satisfyingly dark world, which he establishes primarily by dropping carefully offhand hints about the Taken. With evocative (if slightly unimaginative) names like Nightcrawler, Soulcatcher, Moonbiter, Bonegnasher, The Howler, and The Hanged Man, the Taken lurk threateningly on the periphery where, shrouded in mystery, these monstrous creatures add an extra thrill of horror to the already ominous atmosphere.

The Black Company is also packed full of action. However, and most of it happens to be tersely described from a distance. While this befits the premise of Croaker as annalist (think Duiker in Deadhouse Gates), unfortunately it does at times feel like little more than a dull, dry listing of distant events. Furthermore, much of the action is disappointingly hampered by apparent numerical inconsistencies. For instance, although Cook informs us that the Black Company has hundreds of members he only ever lets the reader meet a handful. This wouldn’t be a problem… except that the others are barely even mentioned except when Croaker infrequently refers to the Company as a whole. It’s difficult, therefore, to reconcile that initial image of a small group of mercenaries with the massive force we’re suddenly shown later in the book.

And even the climax fell a bit flat, with Cook repeatedly telling us that the battle involves over 250,000 combatants – yet never quite succeeding in conveying the true scale of the conflict.

One final issue. Every writer knows that the biggest challenge with first-person narration is finding pretexts for the protagonist to witness and (ideally) participate in key events. Cook’s pretexts for getting Croaker in the thick of things – which essentially boil down to ‘get sent on special missions by the Lady again and again, despite not being one of the most skilled fighters in the company’ – are a bit flimsy to say the least.

Still, The Black Company is the progenitor of some truly stellar military fantasy by the likes of Steven Erikson and Jeff Salyards. While it’s a bit iffy to begin with, it soon books its ideas up, and is perfect for fans of the grimdark genre.lauramhughes-sig

‘Three Parts Dead’ by Max Gladstone

I’m going to begin my review of Three Parts Dead by including the official blurb (which does a much better job of summarising this quirky, unique novel’s premise than I ever could):

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

I was a bit unsure going into this one, as many reviews I’d read about Three Parts Dead contained phrases like “acquired taste” and “you’ll either love it or hate it”. I actually neither loved nor hated it, but found it to be a fun read full of interesting twists.

Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1) by Max GladstoneGladstone’s world is fresh, original and dark; a steampunk-inspired blend of gods and magic and technology. The majority of this book is set in the city of Alt Coulumb, ruled by the fire god Kos Everburning and the former goddess of Justice. But the city’s equilibrium is threatened early on when Kos dies under mysterious circumstances. It’s further imperiled by the return of the reviled ‘Stone Men’ of legend, aka. gargoyles.  (A particularly striking concept conjured by Gladstone is of Justice’s servants: an army of peacekeepers who, when on duty, can call upon Her power and transform themselves into the indestructible  – and terrifyingly automaton-like – Blacksuits.)

Three Parts Dead follows Tara Abernathy (a newly-graduated Craftswoman) as she is recruited to a necromantic law firm by one of its partners; she then travels to Alt Coulumb, begins a series of dangerous investigations, is acquainted with new allies and old enemies, and finally reaches the unexpected climax of the bizarre ‘legal’ case. Believe it or not, the main part of the story takes place over the course of a single day and night, and the series of events is pretty thrilling, despite the heavy focus on law.

There are four main POV characters: Tara, of course; the ancient and mysterious Ms. Kevarian; Cat, a Blacksuit; and Abelard the novice priest. Each has their own agenda and their own perspective on the case, and the author uses the shifting POVs to good effect, alternately keeping us in suspense and building momentum. However, the pacing remains fairly slow and steady throughout. The good thing about this is that there’s hardly ever a dull moment; the less good thing is that there are no real ‘high’ points until the end, and even the climax doesn’t quite feel as, well, climactic as it perhaps should. I also felt that there were a couple of things that served simply as convenient plot points (such as Raz Pelham: dandy vampire) but I’m probably just nitpicking.

The world of Three Parts Dead is built really well, and we’re drip-fed bits of information relating to its history without ever being overwhelmed by it. Even better, there are tantalising mentions of other parts of the world which are never properly explained, and some of which we never actually see, such as the scorpionkind, the sea serpents, the Deathless Kings, the wastelands of Gleb, and the Hidden Schools. It makes the author’s fictional world seem bigger and more real, despite the fact that we only ever really see one city, and also gives the impression that further books in the series will (hopefully) finally allow us to see these things.

‘Night of Knives’ by Ian C. Esslemont

Night of Knives is the first of Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan Empire books (intended to be read alongside Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen).The Malazan Empire series by Ian C. Esslemont

Erikson and Esslemont co-created the incredible world of Malaz over thirty years ago; seeing as they’re writing about the same world and characters, I don’t think it’s at all unfair to directly compare the two.

Except that, sadly, there is no real comparison.

Set several years prior to Erikson’s series, Night of Knives tells of an event that has hitherto been only mysteriously alluded to: the night the Emperor disappeared. It’s a great idea for a novel, and the actual story itself is quite nicely self-contained, set as it is over the course of a single night. Unfortunately, there’s something about Esslemont’s writing that makes this short novella feel like a real slog. The plot is slow and clumsy when it should be fast-paced and exciting; the settings are flat and repetitive when they should be evocative; and the characters are distant and passive when they should be sympathetic and engaging.

Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont (PS cover)Esslemont conveys the events in Night of Knives through the eyes of two major POV characters. Kiska is a local-born thief, while Temper is a former bodyguard of the great Dassem Ultor (another legendary figure name-dropped throughout the main series). Though neither of these characters is dislikeable, still I felt a complete lack of connection with Kiska, and had only marginally more sympathy for Temper due to the few flashbacks granting us a little of his history. Esslemont’s characterisation is far from subtle, with Kiska coming across as an irritating, self-centred youth, and Temper’s every action seemingly completely contradicting his thoughts. I found that I had no idea what either character was going to do next, and even less idea of whether or not I cared.

I think one of the main problems regarding the characters is how little they actually do. Characters from the main series such as Tayschrenn and Temper seem to spend most of the story acting like curious bystanders rather than major players and, while it’s nice to see them given more page time here, they seem to have no real impact on the plot itself. Even Kiska spends pretty much the entirety of the book reacting to events rather than participating in them. This sense of passively witnessing proceedings, rather than actively instigating them, is perhaps one reason why Night of Knives doesn’t feel particularly engaging: though Esslemont scrapes together a nice (if somewhat feeble) air of tension, most of the real action happens off-screen; as such, the characters – and thus the reader – seem to be of little importance in the night’s events, and have even less at stake in their outcome.Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont (Bantam cover)

And it’s not just the characters I had issues with. I also felt the pacing of events to be a little ‘off’, with the much-anticipated climax occurring off-screen only to be followed by another series of events with yet another climax. These final events involve a vague subplot comprising an Azath house and a magical attack on the island, the significance of which is never made entirely clear.

In fact, the latter half of Night of Knives feels similarly bewildering – as though two separate stories have been shoehorned together. This confusion is exacerbated by the heavy presence of ‘dark figures’ and ‘men in cloaks’. In these instances, Esslemont’s use of noun phrases rather than names meant that I sometimes had difficulty keeping track of who was who and just what the hell was going on – particularly during the recurring conflict between the Claw and the shadow cultists.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

However, it’d be unfair to say that there are no positives to be found in Esslemont’s debut novel. For instance, I really enjoyed the extended flashbacks involving Temper’s time in Y’Ghatan: these segments reveal a lot about events that have so far been only cryptically alluded to in the main series, and provide a nice bit of backstory for Temper’s character. Bewilderment aside, the novel as a whole actually improves as it progresses, and the author evokes some pretty striking imagery (mystic ice-bound beings, fog, darkness and shadow, monstrous hounds, undead) to create a haunting and eerie atmosphere.

So, the premise of Night of Knives is fairly solid, and its resolution fairly satisfying.  The entire concept of the novel – set on a single night, on an ice-besieged island, during a Shadow Moon – is awesome. It’s just a shame it’s so awkwardly executed, and that the presenting of circumstances seems so painfully contrived (what are the chances an ‘unpredictable’ Shadow Moon would just happen to occur on this night of all nights?). Moreover, I find myself left with a lot of questions, such as: Why is Temper so desperate to involve himself in the night’s events when his current mission in life is to remain under the empire’s radar? What exactly is a Shadow Moon? Why are they so unpredictable, how do they work, and why are they never mentioned in the main series? Who is Agayla? Who was the old man in the fishing boat? Who was the old man in the pub? What was that vague mention of a prophecy all about?

Why couldn’t Steven Erikson have written this book instead?The Malazan Empire series by Ian C. Esslemont

Interview with John Gwynne

John Gwynne’s novels have been nominated within all three categories at the David Gemmell Legend Awards. Book one, Malice, won the Morningstar Award for Best Debut in 2013, and since then the series has received more and more praise with each instalment. John joined me over on Fantasy-Faction to celebrate the recent release of Wrath, the fourth and final novel of The Faithful and the Fallen.The Faithful and the Fallen quartet by John Gwynne

(LH): Firstly, congratulations on wrapping up your first series! How does it feel?

(JG): Thank-you, Laura. Finishing WRATH, and with it, the whole Faithful and the Fallen series, has been quite a moment for me. There are a lot of emotions tied up in it. It feels exciting, fantastic, a Author John Gwynne, accompanied by dogs and axeslittle bit terrifying. And very strange to not be thinking about the next part. Bittersweet is a word I’ve used a lot when thinking or talking about finishing the Faithful and the Fallen. It’s been a part of my life for over fourteen years.

Getting to write Wrath was like present-opening time. When all those threads and scenes I’ve had in my head for so long finally happened. I loved that – writing scenes that I’ve been imagining for soooo long. But writing those scenes was also a bittersweet experience, because it meant it was THE END, and that meant saying goodbye to characters that have become possibly a little too real to me!

Bittersweet is a word I’ve used a lot when thinking or talking about finishing the Faithful and the Fallen. It’s been a part of my life for over fourteen years.

In saying that, it’s not out yet, so saying goodbye to a series in this publishing world is a staggered, lingering, drawn out goodbye. You finish the first draft. Then comes the edit. After that the copy-edit. Then the proof read. And eventually publication. And now finally we’re here. It’s definitely not a clean-cut ending, which in this case is a good thing. It eases the blow a little.

Readers are already saying that Wrath is your strongest work to date. From Malice to Wrath, to what extent would you say your writing has evolved as the series has developed?

The short answer is I don’t really know. I hope that I’ve become a better writer, I’ve certainly strived to. Malice was the first thing I’ve ever written, creatively – up to then the sum total of my writing career was all essays and a couple of Dissertations – so four books later I really hope that I have become a better writer. It’s probably best to leave that up to you and the readers of the series to decide. I would say I think there’s less padding in my writing, now. A little more confidence in seeing a scene clearly and just getting on with it. 

As a reader, I agree wholeheartedly. I found Malice (and to some extent, Valour) lacked the sense of straightforwardness and urgency that characterises the later books. Ruin was utterly gripping, and Wrath is even more so!

Malice by John GwynneFor me, it wasn’t the reviews that persuaded me to read your books. It wasn’t even the blurb. No, it was the glorious sight of Malice adorning the tables at my local Waterstones. Even in paperback, it’s simply gorgeous!

How did you feel when you first saw Malice in print? (Admit it: you had a major ‘Gollum’ moment, didn’t you?)

It really was like that. The magic of receiving author copies of a book never goes away, I love it, but that first time, it really is special. I remember my editor Julie Crisp – now a fantastic literary agent, by the way – sent me a single copy before I received my box of official author copies. She was so happy with how the book had come out and wanted me to have that moment of glee as soon as was physically possible! Opening that box and seeing the shiny hardback of Malice with that awesome red-hilted sword was utterly amazing. It was definitely a ‘wow, this is a real book,’ occasion. There have been a few ‘dance-a-jig,’ moments along the way, and that was one of them.

Marc Turner said something similar when I interviewed him. Seeing your first book in print seems to be *the* universal ‘milestone’ moment!

I’m sure others will agree that you struck gold regarding your covers. In fact, your books are amongst the most beautiful I own. It’s no coincidence that I voted for Paul Young in the Ravenheart category at this year’s Gemmells: just like the others, Ruin’s art is subtle yet epic, and the design is simply stunning.

How much influence did you have with regards to cover design?

I’m so glad you like the covers, Laura. I LOVE them. Paul Young at Pan MacMillan has done an amazing job on all four covers. To me they really are the perfect fantasy cover; simple, with classic weapons, a sense of gritty history as well as epic fantasy, and the backgrounds, subtle but saying a whole lot about the story. Whenever I see them my eye is drawn to them, and I don’t think it’s just because they’re mine (precioussss).

Opening that box and seeing the shiny hardback of Malice with that awesome red-hilted sword was utterly amazing. It was definitely a ‘wow, this is a real book,’ occasion. There have been a few ‘dance-a-jig,’ moments along the way, and that was one of them.

I don’t know how much influence I’ve had on the cover art. It’s a dialogue, and there has certainly been a lot of that between myself, Julie Crisp and Bella Pagan at Tor UK. Concepts, ideas, attempts at setting the tone of each book, and a multitude of images, all are emailed back and forth. I have to confess it is one of my favourite parts of the publishing process, and seeing what Paul Young and the design team at Pan Macmillan put together is always glorious.

They really are beautiful… and, of course, preciousssss.

John, you’ve spoken on many occasions about the late David Gemmell and the great influence he’s had on your own writing, which subtly emulates many features and themes of the Drenai saga. Arguably, the most distinctive of these (aside from the writing style itself) is the ever-present sense of light amongst the darkness; the hope that good will push back against evil, no matter how grim the situation may seem.

The similarities are obvious. But what would you say are the biggest differences between your work and Gemmell’s? (Did you consciously try and ensure that there were differences?)

David Gemmell is one of my favourite authors, and it’s true that a disproportionate amount of my teenage years was consumed by his books. Legend was the first book that I stayed up all night to read, because I just had to know what happened next! When it comes to comparing my writing to Gemmell’s, though, I have to say I’ve never thought about it in terms more detailed than I love Gemmell’s work. Much like you are what you eat, I suppose, there is an element of you write what you read!

Waylander by David GemmellOccasionally I will receive an email from a budding writer asking for tips and advice. I don’t feel overly comfortable in dishing out advice, but the one thing I can say is what worked for me. Write what you want to read. That’s what I did, and I guess the writers that you love to read will have an influence upon what you create. I loved Tolkien’s epic-ness (is that a word?) Cornwell’s historical grittiness (and no-one writes a battle scene like Cornwell) and Gemmell’s flawed, human characters who still manage to say something about courage and heroism. When I sat down to write I made no conscious decisions about similarities or differences from my favourite writers, but I suppose I hoped I might capture something of those elements that stand out to me. Epic and intimate was my mantra, what I strove to create. By epic I mean sweeping, grand vistas and a conflict that rose above border disputes or politics, and by intimate I mean connecting with characters, caring about what happens to them.

A tough balance to strike, but somehow you make it look easy!

Just one more Gemmell-related question:

Your agent is, of course, John Jarrold. I’m curious to know what he first said to you all those years ago. What was the main reason he gave for him scooping you of all people from the top of the pile? (Is it a first-name thing? It is, isn’t it?)

John is a complete professional. He’s worked with just about everyone in the business, whether as editor or agent. He has a lifetime of knowledge and a terrific reputation in the publishing world, and I was over the moon when he took me on as a client. I won’t put words into his mouth, but loosely paraphrasing he said something along the lines of this. To take on a new client, firstly I have to love the manuscript on a personal level. Secondly, I have to believe that it has commercial legs, that it will fit well in the current fantasy market.

Also, he only works with people named John.

I knew it!

Switching the focus to the future: eighteen months ago, you announced that you’d re-signed with Pan Macmillan for another epic fantasy series. You’ve since announced that the first book in this series will be titled Dread (which is VERY cool). When can we readers expect to get our grubby mitts on it? (Also, which drawer do you keep your super-secret manuscripts in? Asking for a friend.)

DREAD is finished. Well, the first draft, anyway. That means there’s still the edit, copy edit and proof read to go. I haven’t been given a publication date yet, but I would guess at the latter half of 2017. But don’t quote me on that.

The manuscript is locked in my office drawer, watched over by a stuffed crow who may or may not shout STEALER at anyone brave enough to open the drawer!

 Nice! Bet it’s no match for Craf, though. 😉

John, you’ve also confirmed that the new series is set in the Banished Lands, aka. the same location as the Faithful and the Fallen. What else can you tell us about it without giving too much away?

Yes, indeed. I couldn’t quite prise myself away from the Valour by John GwynneBanished Lands! DREAD takes place 130 years after the events of WRATH, and is really about how the world has changed as a result of those events. It also explores parts of the Banished Lands that we didn’t see so much of in The Faithful and the Fallen. And of course, not everything is rosy…

Sounds ominous… but not entirely unexpected from a book titled Dread! Speaking of titles… Malice, Valour, Ruin, Wrath, and now Dread. How long do you plan on continuing the tradition of kickass one-word titles? And what happens when you run out of cool nouns to use?

I’ll carry on with one word titles until I can’t think of any more, or I have no more books set in the Banished Lands left to write. I think all ‘Banished Lands,’ Tales should have one-word titles. It’s a little strange, because the original title of Malice was ‘So Deep a Malice,’ which is part of a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost. I still like that title, but Bella Pagan at Tor UK suggested the shortened version, for multiple reasons – the punchiness of it, plus the marketing perspective – back then books sales were shifting towards thumbnails, which has only grown, and so presented another set of criteria to consider in the complex science that is book covers. I have to say, Bella was right, Malice and the continuing one-word titles feel perfect fits for the series.

They’re certainly very striking!

Now, you’ve also written one or two short stories based on characters from the Banished Lands and featuring in anthologies such as Blackguards and Legends II. Do you plan on writing more? Enough for, say, a Joe Abercrombie/Sharp Ends-style collection?

I loved that book! I’m writing a short story set in the Banished Lands at the moment, a tale about how Balur the giant became Balur One-Eye. Because I’m a bit weird and think of the Banished Lands as a semi-historical reality, there are endless stories to tell. It’s a bit like plucking moments from history! So, yes, I think the short stories could go on indefinitely. A bit like Tolkien’s Silmarillion, I suppose. I do have some short stories set in other worlds in the pipeline, as well.

The Banished Lands feel so real – I’m not surprised you (and your readers!) think of them as semi-historical. I look forward to eventually glimpsing these other worlds and characters, too. But for the time being: if you could choose one character from The Faithful and the Fallen to take on a spinoff adventure, who would it be and why?

Alcyon, the giant. He’s got a story that has a lot of room for exploration, and he’s a character that has really grown during the series.

Also Craf, Brina’s talking Crow. I think he’s got a lot to say, and is very good at getting himself into awkward and potentially entertaining situations.

Craf is great! I actually laughed out loud earlier today at one of his scenes. I was reading Wrath on the train, and got one or two funny looks…

You’ve been asked many times before about the writers who influenced you, most frequently listing David Gemmell, Bernard Cornwell and J.R.R. Tolkien in your responses. Are there any other authors who’ve made an impression on you more recently – or even influenced your writing in any way?

Oh, absolutely. I’m always reading something and thinking, “They’re fantastic, I wish I could write like that!” When it comes to prose amongst contemporary fantasy writers I Wrath by John Gwynnedon’t think you’ll find anyone better than Mark Lawrence. There’s a sparse poetry to his writing that is beautiful. Joe Abercrombie is a genius with character, where you can tell who’s who just by reading a sentence of their dialogue. Bernard Cornwell’s mentioned above, but he’s still writing, and reading his work is like viewing a masterclass. I love Christian/Miles Cameron’s books, both his fantasy and historical novels. For me he has that elusive balance in his writing, where everything comes together perfectly. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt is a great series, and I love Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoat’s books – a wonderful blend of rip-roaring pace, loveable rogues and action. Another historical novelist whom I admire greatly is Robert Low, who has written the Oathsworn series about a hard-nosed band of Vikings. It’s fast-paced and fantastic, with prose that I wish I could emulate. Also, Conn Iggulden, what a terrific writer that man is!

I don’t feel overly comfortable in dishing out advice, but the one thing I can say is what worked for me. Write what you want to read.

So many others – Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Brian Ruckley, Giles Kristian, Manda Scott, Justin Cronin…

I think I might be getting carried away here!

 No, no – I love your enthusiasm! That’s quite a list, however… so let’s narrow it down. If you could pick any 3 living authors to blurb your books, who would you choose and why?

Any of those mentioned above! Actually, I’ve been fortunate enough that some of those mentioned above have read my books! Conn Iggulden read Malice and posted his review on Amazon, which blew me away. When I first saw it I just thought it had been written by some imposter, or unlikely namesake, J but as time went on it gnawed away at me – was it THE Conn Iggulden??? Eventually I messaged his agent, asking them to put me out of my misery, and it turned out it was the real Conn Iggulden. That really made my day!

I’m always reading something and thinking, “They’re fantastic, I wish I could write like that!” When it comes to prose amongst contemporary fantasy writers I don’t think you’ll find anyone better than Mark Lawrence. There’s a sparse poetry to his writing that is beautiful.

Also, Mark Lawrence is quoted on the front cover of WRATH, and Christian/Miles Cameron has been heard to say kind things about my books! Thinking about it, that’s pretty awesome!

That really is something! I imagine having established authors praise your books (particularly without being solicited to do so) must feel like a stamp of validation – not to mention an enormous confidence boost.

Though actually, when it comes to praising your work, some of your keenest supporters can be found under the same roof. Anyone who has ever spoken to you – either in person or via social media – knows that you’re a proud husband (to one) and father (to four).Ruin by John Gwynne

In fact, you’ve said before that your family is the reason you write. Is it true that you would never have started writing The Faithful and the Fallen without their (rather forceful!) encouragement?

That’s absolutely true. Caroline, my wife, has said for more years than I can remember that
I should have a go at writing a book. I’m not even really sure why she used to say that. Maybe because of the bed-time stories I’d tell our children. I used to tell her stories, too, but mostly snippets from Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion – this is back before the films had been made. I do recall telling her the tale of Beren and Luthien while we were sat having a coffee whilst out shopping. I remember she cried – though at the time I thought it was because she wanted me to stop, or her bum had gone numb, or something like that!

Ha! So romantic…

I made the definite decision to have a go at writing in 2002, when we all came back from seeing The Two Towers at the cinema. We were all sitting around the table having dinner, and Caroline voiced again that she thought I should write a book. Of course my children all added their voices to that. Initially I told them what a silly idea that was, and gave a few reasons. Some quite important ingredients were missing, I said, such as plot, character, and a significant dose of talent. But the wave of opinion could not be silenced so easily, and after a while I thought, ‘Why not? I’ve been thinking about a hobby I could pursue from home,’ (my daughter, Harriett, is profoundly disabled. I used to teach at my local University, but stepped out of it to help Caroline in caring for Harriett. So I found myself largely at home 24/7, and was thinking about some kind of a hobby, a bit of me-time.)

So I thought, ‘Okay. Let’s give this writing-a-book malarkey a go.’

We were all sitting around the table having dinner, and Caroline voiced again that she thought I should write a book. Of course my children all added their voices to that. Initially I told them what a silly idea that was, and gave a few reasons. Some quite important ingredients were missing, I said, such as plot, character, and a significant dose of talent. But the wave of opinion could not be silenced so easily, and after a while I thought, ‘Why not?’

That was only the beginning, of course, and starting a book is one thing, but finishing it (especially when it just won’t stop growing!) is entirely another! The support of my family, particularly from Caroline, made writing Malice possible, and without her or my children’s support I am certain that it would never have seen the light of day.

Sweet! And now (fourteen years later!) it must be incredibly special having children who’ve essentially grown up with your series in the same way you did with Gemmell’s. Am I right in saying that two of your sons are particularly devoted followers of Corban and co.?

Yes, you are, although, to be fair, they haven’t had much choice in the matter. My eldest son, James, managed to escape much of the madness by becoming a responsible adult, getting a job and moving out. He’s a dairy farmer, works all hours but I have still managed to suck him in! It was his farm field where my author-photo was taken, and he can be spotted wielding a sword in the photos, though he is covered in a lot of blue woad!

A traditional Gwynne family portrait

Awesome! And the other two?

Edward and William weren’t so lucky. I must confess to reading chapters of Malice to them as bedtime stories, and plot twists would often be the topic of conversation around the dinner table. There was no escape for those two, bless them. William has an amazing memory and eye for detail – I think he’s a budding proof-reader – and often pulls me up about errors and inaccuracies I’ve made (hopefully before the books went to print!), and Edward has been my companion throughout the series. My first reader (rule of thumb, if Edward cries, it’s working) and shieldman to every convention, event and book launch I’ve attended. It has made a lot of great memories – stand out amongst them is catching them re-enacting battle scenes from the books! I can tell you, that makes a fantasy-writing dad very proud!

That sounds phenomenal! (No, I’m not crying. YOU’RE crying. *sniff*) Do you think that having your family so closely involved with the writing process affects your stories (in terms of language, plot choices, character arcs, etc.)?

Yes, most definitely. When I started writing my family were my audience, the only people that I was certain would ever read my scribblings. My rule of thumb has always been, ‘write what you want to read,’ but of course I hoped that they would enjoy it, too.

The support of my family, particularly from Caroline, made writing Malice possible, and without her or my children’s support I am certain that it would never have seen the light of day.

The Faithful and the Fallen is not a series of children’s books, but it never became too graphic in its adult-ness (though some of the battle-scenes in the last two books may be pushing that a little!). I’ve never thought of the Faithful and the Fallen as a sermon or preachy morality tale, but it does show characters in dark situations, and hopefully highlights how important individual choices are to our lives. Not just the big events, but the small choices that no-one sees except us. The famous quote by Edmund Burke is wrapped up in The Faithful and the Fallen – “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing.”

You know, I actually noted down a quote from Wrath that sums that up really well. Corban tells the Jotun leader, “If you choose not to fight against Asroth, then you have already chosen him.” Pertinent, and brilliant.

Is there anything you (or your sons!) would say to anyone who hasn’t yet read your books?

I would say, if epic fantasy with a historical twist and a large dose of betrayal is your thing, then give them a go. What have you got to lose?

Ed: If you’re looking for a series with characters that you love like your brothers-in-arms, or hate like they’re your worst enemies, then this could be for you.

Will: Make sure you have some free time if you start reading the Faithful and the Fallen, because once you start, you won’t stop.

*I will be paying Ed and Will handsomely for these spontaneous quotes!

 Spontaneous, perhaps, but both accurate summations!

Before we finish, I have one or two super-serious questions. For instance, who would win in a fight between a draig and a velociraptor?

Oh, a draig, probably without breaking sweat. Think, giant Komodo Dragons, bigger than a horse, on steroids and with anger issues. A pack of velociraptors might have a chance, or at least draw some blood, but one of them! Nope.

Eek! Move over, Godzilla! Speaking of whom…

If you had to pick just one of your characters to defend the world against Godzilla, who would you choose and why?

Maquin, no question. His focus and lack of ego, combined with his all-round badassery, of course, would single him out as the man to get the job done.

Now THAT’S a fight I’d pay to see. Thanks for taking the time to join me, John. Congratulations again on completing the series, and good luck with the next one!

Thanks so much, Laura. It’s been a real pleasure, and thank-you for thinking of me and taking the time to make this interview happen.

Always a pleasure!

Wrath, the fourth and final book in John Gwynne’s epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen, is available to buy RIGHT NOW. Check out my review here.The Faithful and the Fallen quartet continues

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.


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.


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.


‘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.


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.


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.


‘Wrath’ by John Gwynne


Warning: this review contains spoilers for those who haven’t yet read Malice, Valour and Ruin!

Since 2012, John Gwynne has been promising us that ‘even the brave will fall’… and dear god, they have. Each successive instalment in the epic Faithful & Fallen quartet has seen greater numbers of beloved characters succumb to a rising tide of evil. Casualties of war, victims of treachery – with each novel the death toll has mounted, and so have the stakes.

“The time is upon us. The God-War is reaching its end, moving towards its last great battle, which will decide the fate of this land, and all who dwell within it.”

It feels like forever since Gwynne’s debut, Malice (winner of the Morningstar trophy at the 2013 Gemmell Awards) introduced us to Corban ben Thannon, the blacksmith’s son from humble Dun Carreg. In that time, rivalries have grown, alliances have shifted and battle lines have become muddled: moving, merging, melting and then melding again to form tentative but powerful friendships.

“This war has been decades in the making. But it will end soon.”

The battle lines are drawn, and the Bright Star and the Dark Sun begin their last preparations for the war that neither is likely to survive.

Yes: after four years of building tension and assembling armies (not to mention Ruin’s AGONISING cliff-hanger ending!) Wrath is finally here to show us how it all ends. The fight for the Banished Lands will leave none untouched, and everyone – men, women, giants, angels, demons, children – must choose a side.

“If you choose not to fight against Asroth, then you have already chosen him.”

Like all modern fantasy tales worth their salt, The Faithful and the Fallen features well-rounded characters on all sides of the conflict. The dreaded ‘Black Sun’ of prophecy is introduced to us at the very start of the series as just one of a handful of likeable protagonists. Nathair paves his own path towards the darkness using stones of doubt, fear and manipulation. Gwynne’s antagonists are not caricatures; nor are his gods and demons so clear-cut.

Fans of the series will recognise that each book has brought more darkness. Ruin was particularly gritty and bloody. Wrath is grittier and bloodier still.

“We’re going to need a bigger warband.”

But Gwynne’s writing is characterised by an enduring thread of hope, spun by those few genuinely ‘good’ characters who just want to make the world right again. Corban, Veradis, Haelan, Maquin, Camlin, Cywen, Coralen, Brina – all are protagonists that inspire the reader to root for them with every fibre of their being.

“One man, or woman… can make a difference. Can do something. It may not change anything, but we won’t know unless we try.”

 By this point, I wouldn’t say that it’s difficult to choose who to root for (since it’s obvious by now that the antagonists are fully aware of whom they’re fighting for), but that Gwynne never lets us forget that the enemy are human, too. Lykos is immoral and sarcastic; an entertaining voice, and a character all readers will love to hate. Rafe is conflicted, cruel and lonely; hateful, yet strangely sympathetic. Uthas is driven by ambition, as is Nathair – whose desperate need to vindicate himself by justifying his past actions is reminiscent of Geder Palliako in Daniel Abraham’s Dagger & Coin quintet.

“I wish I had been there,” Legion muttered. “I would have smashed their bodies and crushed their skulls, I would have broken their bones and fed from their flesh and danced on their dead and sucked out their souls and—“

“Shut up, Legion,” Calidus snapped.

 These darkly comedic exchanges – mostly involving Calidus, Legion and Lykos – are likely to draw reluctant laughs from the reader, again emphasising that there is humanity on all sides of the conflict. (This may seem bizarre, but Calidus and Legion reminded me of cartoon villains Dick Dastardly and Muttley!)

From Cywen’s anti-draig camouflage to Rhin’s unique and bloody Skype methods, there’s grimness on all sides for sure. But there are also plenty of reminders that the Banished Lands have their roots firmly fixed in Middle Earth (and not, say, the Broken Empire): Gwynne writes with a clear awareness of the fantasy tropes he draws on, and conveys a palpable desire to show the world why these familiar tropes remain relevant.

“Skald, the starstone spear, the axe and cauldron, the great tree. So much history, and yet this same war is being fought.”

The author embraces many traditional (some might even say ‘clichéd’) features of fantasy – most notably the ‘Chosen One’ and his Quest for the Magical Gewgaw(s) – but turns them on their head, tweaking and embellishing without ever twisting them too much.

Wrath by John GwynneOh! And on the topic of writing conventions, I couldn’t help but observe throughout that Wrath also exemplifies the rule of ‘Chekhov’s gun’.

(For those not familiar with the term, ‘Chekhov’s gun’ is the principle that every memorable feature in a story should be relevant to the plot. If the writer says in chapter one that there’s a gun hanging on the wall, then that gun must be utilised in one of the following chapters. Looking at it this way, it’s as if every aspect of the story is a promise to the reader, and the author should only make promises he or she intends to keep.)

Say one thing about John Gwynne: say he’s an oath keeper! Wrath is a spectacular culmination of every hint of foreshadowing, all seamlessly woven to ensure the story goes out with all metaphorical guns blazing. 

“This will be the day we avenge ourselves for those we’ve lost, the day we right the wrongs done to us, or die in the trying. It will be a dark day, a bloody day, a proud day, for this is the day of our wrath.”

Dark, bloody, proud: Wrath reinforces every value that The Faithful and the Fallen – and the fantasy genre as a whole – stands for. It’s about challenging prejudice and breaking expectations. It’s about putting aside grudges and racial enmity to unite against evil. And it’s about standing up for what’s right – even if that means taking up arms against friends and family who’ve chosen differently.

Most of all, it’s about accepting that it’s everyone’s duty to protect the greater good; that if you don’t do it, perhaps nobody will; that even the smallest person can make a difference.

“Who else is there but us?”

 Believe me when I say that Gwynne has crafted a breathtakingly perfect finale to a series that has grown from strength to wonderful strength. Poignant, pulse-pounding and phenomenally paced, Wrath is a satisfying – and heart-breaking – climax that Tolkien himself would be proud to have penned.

Gach fir bàs.

All men die.

The Faithful and the Fallen quartet continues

This review originally appeared on Fantasy-Faction on November 20th 2016.

Meeting Marc Turner!

Yesterday I travelled over hill and over (Roch)dale, through bush and through briar, over tracks with Northern Rail, through tunnels to a different shire… to meet Marc Turner!

Marc Turner, signing

Marc is one of my favourite modern fantasy authors. So when I learned that he’d be signing books at Waterstones in Leeds – which, by the way, is about a thousand miles (uphill!) away from the rest of the shops – I wrapped my copies of Red Tide et al. in my bindle and set off into the big city.


After wandering lost for a while, I reached my destination and spent a delightful couple of hours lurking around the signing table with Marc (who is tall, soft-spoken and very humble) and his incredibly lovely wife (and naturally-gifted cactigrapher), Suzanne.


Books were sold, cacti were drawn (by all!) and photos were taken:


Additionally, I may have been mistaken for a shop assistant on multiple occasions… and been too polite to disabuse the (mostly elderly) customers of that notion.


I left the signing with a grin on my face – and surprise copies of the gorgeous Exile US hardbacks! Thanks, Marc and Suzanne!


Interview with Marc Turner

Marc Turner (header)(Note: ‘Marc Turner Interview’ first appeared on Fantasy-Faction on 21st September 2016.)

Marc Turner is the author of the epic fantasy series The Chronicles of the Exile. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for Fantasy-Faction  in September to celebrate the release of Red Tide, the stunning third novel in this ongoing series.

Good morrow, Mr. Turner! To start, I’d like to mention that I’m rather fond of your work. I picked up When the Heavens Fall because reviewers compared it (favourably!) to classic fantasy series such as The Malazan Book of the Fallen and The Black Company. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and I went on to enjoy your second novel, Dragon Hunters, even more.

How do you feel about the (inevitable) parallels that readers draw between your work and others? Are there any unlikely comparisons that have surprised you?

'When the Heavens Fall' by Marc Turner (cover image)MT: “Since When The Heavens Fall came out, I’ve been compared to so many different authors, I’ve lost count. One reviewer compared me to nine in a single sentence – and five of those I’d never even read before!

“Comparisons can be flattering, but I think they are also dangerous things because they create (sometimes unrealistic) expectations in the reader. I never compare myself to any other author. I can say which writers have most influenced me – Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie – but the degree to which readers see those influences in my books varies greatly.”

You might find this hard to believe, but there are a LOT of people who have yet to dip their toes (eyes?) into the Chronicles of the Exile. With that in mind, could you perhaps give us a quick rundown of what new readers can expect from the series . . . and what the rest of us can expect from book three, Red Tide?

MT: “Readers can expect to laugh, to cry, to wear out the edges of their seats, and ultimately to finish each book in the series with an overwhelming urge to buy the next.

“As for Red Tide in particular, there’s not much I can say without giving away spoilers. But it features an entire nation of pirates, a man who can make his dreams manifest in the waking world, and perhaps a sea dragon or three. It’s my favourite book of the series so far, and the response from readers has been very positive.”

It has indeed – with very good reason!

Following on from that, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what I like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Who, by the way, is currently picking between his rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto his elevator.)

No pressure…

MT: “If I had to describe the Chronicles of the Exile in a sentence, I would call it epic fantasy with a dark edge and a generous sprinkling of humour.Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner (UK cover)

“And your sharks don’t frighten me. I have sea dragons on my side.”

Damn you, Turner, and the sea dragons you rode in on. Looks like you’ll live to write another day!

Speaking of writing and living: what’s the most exciting part of being a professionally published author? Aside from no longer having to sneak around supermarkets slipping photocopies of your hand-crayoned manuscripts inside Weetabix boxes, of course.

MT: “I do that thing with the Weetabix boxes too! Did that too. I meant did that too, obviously.”


MT: “The most exciting part of being an author has got to be seeing a new book hit the shelves, but I also enjoy the build-up to publication. Among other things, you get to sign off on the final version of the manuscript, see the cover for the first time, and hold the advance reader copies of the book in your hands.”

That does sound exciting! And the most daunting part?

MT: “Time management. At the moment, I’m drafting book four in the series, preparing articles for a blog tour, writing two short stories for fantasy anthologies, promoting When The Heavens Fall in Germany (it has just been published there), and doing a load of signings at Waterstones. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. But since I became a full-time writer, it seems like I have a lot less time to actually . . . write.”

Well, you must be doing something right. It’s barely more than a year since your debut dropped but you’ve gained quite a lot of traction within the fantasy community in that time. How does the public’s reaction to your work – and to yourself – compare with any early expectations you might have had?

MT: “I don’t recall having any particular expectations – which is probably just as well.

Red Tide (UK cover) by Marc Turner“If there is one thing that has surprised me, it is the different reactions I receive to my characters. I think it is important that in books with multiple POV characters (like mine), each of the characters should have a distinctive “voice”. Inevitably that means readers will like some characters more than others, but I am taken aback sometimes by the degree to which different people respond to the same character.

“Take Romany from When the Heavens Fall, for example. Fantasy Book Review said the following about her: “Intelligent, cunning, immensely likeable, her affable irritation and eventual humanity in the face of the maelstrom of uber-fantasy is remarkably levelling.” Another reviewer, though, simply dismissed her as evil.

“Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Even if it is wrong. ;)”

Indeed. Romany, evil? Pah! I’d call her chaotic-neutral at worst. 😉

Marc, in the past you’ve spoken at length about the importance of dialogue, and have (quite rightly) pointed out that writers can learn a lot about their craft from other artistic mediums, such as video games. But in a world such as yours – geographically sprawling, layered with history, packed with ‘epic’ elements such as gods, magic, battles and monsters – how would you rate the importance of dialogue in relation to all the other elements?

MT: “I’m not sure dialogue is more or less important than any other element of a fantasy novel, but it’s the part I enjoy writing most. It’s great both for shining a light on character and injecting humour. When I have cause to dip back into my own books, it’s usually dialogue that I end up reading.”

You certainly have a knack for it. I adored the barbed exchanges between Romany and the Spider in When the Heavens Fall, and without doubt one of my favourite aspects of Dragon Hunters was the snarky dialogue between Kempis and… well, everyone he spoke to. Are there any particular fictional characters and/or authors who inspired some of the witty repartee that makes your protagonists so much fun to follow?

MT: “The authors who have most inspired my dialogue are again Erikson and Abercrombie. I don’t think Erikson gets enough credit for his humour – or at least I don’t see him credited often enough. Though oddly when people discuss his most amusing characters, the names that most frequently come up are Tehol and Bugg, whereas I found their humour to be hit and miss. I find some of his other characters far more entertaining.”

Erikson is definitely a master of humorous dialogue, be it subtly barbed or openly cutting. Speaking of sharp-tongued protagonists: am I right in saying that you’re currently working on a short story starring none other than the infamous Mazana Creed? What can we readers (new and old) expect from her?Grimdark Magazine's 'Evil is a Matter of Perspective' anthology

MT: “Yes, Mazana Creed stars in a short story I have written for Grimdark Magazine’s Evil Is A Matter Of Perspective anthology. It is set a few years before the events in Dragon Hunters, and Mazana has been ordered to hunt down a notorious pirate in order to earn a place on the Storm Council. But, being Mazana, she’s going to do things her way.”

Sounds intriguing! Oh, and while we’re on the subject: now seems like a good time to mention that you’ve also written a short story featuring Luker Essendar, who also happens to be the first character we meet in When the Heavens Fall. Do you have any more shorts lurking up your, um, shorts? And if you had to write a collection of short stories set in the Lands of the Exile, which characters would you pick to headline?

MT: “I’m writing another short story at the moment for the Hath No Fury anthology which has been funded on Kickstarter. It will feature Jenna from When the Heavens Fall – probably. In the future, I might do some more stories set in the Lands of the Exile featuring characters from the series. I like the idea of some detective stories starring Kempis and Sniffer from Dragon Hunters. Kempis himself is less enthusiastic about the idea, though.”

That would be epic! Please, please, PLEASE make this happen. (Please?)

Pfft. Fine, Kempis. Be like that. *sighs*

Before we finish, Marc, I have to ask: cats or dogs?

MT: “Ah, that age-old conundrum. Whichever one I choose I’m going to end up upsetting lots of people, so you’re probably expecting me to hedge my bets. No beating around the bush from me, though, I’m going to come straight out and say … neither. Give me a dragon any day.”

Well played, sir. Very well played indeed… though the correct answer was clearly ‘cats’.

Thanks so much for your time, Marc. Good luck with book #4!

Red Tide, the third book in Marc Turner’s Chronicles of the Exile, is available to buy RIGHT NOW. Additionally, you can read Marc’s short story, ‘There’s A Devil Watching Over You’, on Tor.com, or listen to the audio version on his website.

Marc Turner, author of The Chronicles of the Exile

‘Blood Follows’ by Steven Erikson

Blood Follows is Steven Erikson’s first Malazan novella, the first in a series detailing the nefarious exploits of necromantic duo Bauchelain and Korbal Broach.

Buchelain and Korbal Broach (vol 1) by Steven EriksonBauchelain and Broach made their Malazan debut in the third book of the main series, Memories of Ice, in which they played a minor part in a battle outside the city of Capustan. There we were also introduced to their long-suffering manservant Emancipor Reese, and made to wonder just how ‘’Mancy the Luckless’ came to work for his unnatural employers. Blood Follows answers this question in the form of a darkly humorous tale detailing the origins of Reese’s unlucky alliance with Bauchelain and Broach.

Containing all the trademark Erikson features without the weight of a 1,000+ page novel, Blood Follows is a Malazan tale in miniature, a single piece of the colossal jigsaw puzzle that the full-length novels tend to comprise. As such it’s a tightly focused, fast-paced and brilliantly self-contained story, set on an obscure island and focusing on a handful of characters and their macabre involvement in a series of grisly murders. For this the setting of Lamentable Moll is perfect: a city whose houses and streets are built around and on top of hundreds of ancient (and occasionally haunted) barrows.

The novella introduces a cast of characters which is relatively small but also nicely fleshed-out in spite of the very short page count. The main players – both of whom are amusing and likeable – are Emancipor Reese, the aforementioned down-on-his-luck worker with an exceedingly demanding wife; and Sergeant Guld, top dog amongst the city watch but currently struggling with the pressure of hunting down a serial-killing sorcerer (or two…). As usual Erikson also manages to nudge on from the sidelines several awesomely bizarre supporting characters, some of whom are much more than they first appear.

It’s these little touches of weirdness and magic and humour that, for me, really make Erikson stand out as an author . . . and, of course, his ability to weave an intriguing tale leading to an exciting convergence no matter how limited the length of the story may be.

Blood Follows is a ghoulish, hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable Malazan outing that will beckon any reader (with its fat, white, delicate hand) to read more of these Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas.

Marc Turner, ‘Red Tide’ (review)

Marc Turner is without doubt one of the most talented fantasy authors to have debuted in recent years. His latest offering, Red Tide, is the thrilling third chapter in the six-book Chronicles of the Exile, and is guaranteed to leave fans of this series absolutely blown away.

Red Tide (UK cover) by Marc TurnerRed Tide begins just days after the events of book two (Dragon Hunters). The Sabian Sea is too dangerous to sail, and the Storm Isles are floundering in the chaotic aftermath of Dragon Day. But one city’s misfortune can easily become another’s gain, and it’s clear that the opportunistic rulers on both sides of the Dragon Gate intend to take advantage of the situation . . . if only to fight each other for the scraps.

Right from the outset Turner presents us with greed, murder and betrayal . . . in other words, everything you’d expect from a civilisation founded on greed, murder and betrayal. We catch our first glorious glimpse of the Rubyholt Isles: a notorious conglomeration of pirate communities, tenuously led by a greedy, murderous and treacherous Warlord. Within just a few pages Turner manages to introduce not only a brand-new, Viking-like culture, but also two compelling new PoV characters – both of whom are on opposite sides of a tense and unprecedented political conflict. Needless to say the conflict soon escalates, whisking us away to the city of Gilgamar and the schemes of Emperor Avallon and Emira Mazana Creed. Readers should expect to see some familiar faces from Dragon Hunters, as well as other (possibly half-forgotten!) ones from When the Heavens Fall (book one).

Perhaps the most notable thing about Turner’s writing is his versatility. The Chronicles of the Exile boasts a wonderful variety of styles, scopes, characters and tones, which makes each successive instalment feel strikingly different from the last. This gives it quite an experimental feel – particularly since the first two books not only feature entirely different characters and settings but also seemingly-unrelated plots – which is refreshing rather than disorienting. The complex, sweeping epic of When the Heavens Fall is vastly different from its sequel, Dragon Hunters, which is set entirely on and around the island city of Olaire and is written with a much lighter tone.Red Tide (US cover) by Marc Turner

Red Tide has more in common with the latter than the former, continuing the nautical theme and returning once more to the southern coast of the Sabian sea. Most importantly (particularly for those who were bewildered by their seeming lack of connection) Red Tide draws together some of the disparate elements of the first two books. He does this gradually and subtly, which I guarantee will lead to more than one ‘ah-ha!’ moment (or, if you’re anything like me, a flickering lightbulb moment of slow-dawning realisation).

Turner pulls each separate character steadily and irrevocably into the central conflict, then flings obstacles at them whilst also pushing them irresistibly towards one another. In contrast to the masterful slow-build of When the Heavens Fall, Red Tide is far more fast-paced: the tone is lively, and the action is consistently gripping. Best of all, Turner doesn’t exploit every single potential combination of characters. Instead, he teases us with near-meets, creating ‘what if?’ scenarios and then holding them tantalisingly out of reach.

Personally, one of my favourite aspects of Red Tide – and of the entire series – is the way the author conveys the sheer scope of his world without ever going overboard (see what I did there?) with the details. He uses brief conversations, cryptic naming traditions, local legends and stunning scenery to hint at a vast backdrop of unknown elements. In Red Tide, the focus lies on what lurks under the sea: readers can look forward to terrifying glances of The Rent (a vertigo-inducing black hole beneath the waves), the Dragons’ Boneyard (along with its chthonic web-spinning denizen) and of course the deadly coming-of-age trial known only as the Shark Run. Turner gives us the impression that a vast amount of history and lore is straining to just burst into the story and cause untold chaos. Most impressive is his ability to do this without deviating from the main plot whilst also (conversely) raising more questions than he answers.

Why should you pick up this series? Well, if I haven’t managed to convince you how effing fantastic the latest release is, just take a look at the reviews for books one and two. You’ll find a lot of favourable comparisons to other authors in the genre – and it’s easy to see why.

For a start, When the Heavens Fall is threatened by the presence of immortal, crazy-powerful supernatural beings. Turner’s descriptions of these – understated, yet chilling – strongly bring to mind the Taken in Glen Cook’s Black Company. Then in Dragon Hunters the author entertains us with the sort of quirky, rock-hard, dark-humoured characters you’d expect to find dwelling in Steven Erikson’s Malazan series.

Red Tide brings the best of both. Furthermore, the Abercrombie-esque diversity of the characters – be it Amerel’s unforgiving pragmatism or Romany’s sardonic humour; Senar’s wry indecision or Galantas’s arrogant charm – ensures that every PoV has its own way of entertaining the reader (incidentally making it very difficult for the reader to choose who to root for!).

“What was she thinking? This couldn’t be murder; this was war. Killing wasn’t murder if you stole the victim’s country while you were at it.”

So, if you enjoy the novels of Glen Cook, Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson, chances are you’ll love Marc Turner’s stuff. But though the series does have plenty in common with First Law, Malazan, Black Company and others, the world Turner has created in The Chronicles of the Exile is deep, unique and entirely his own. Turner’s star is on the rise: Red Tide is his strongest outing to date, and one of the finest fantasy novels of 2016.

A Motherfuckin' DRAGON

If you’re still undecided about starting the series, you can read a Chronicles of the Exile short story for FREE over on Tor.com.

This review was originally published at Fantasy-Faction.com on 19th September 2016.