A black sun is rising … Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.
Malice by John Gwynne, the first book in The Faithful and the Fallen series is the sort of epic fantasy that utilizes many of the familiar tropes of the genre, while attempting to make them something, if not novel, at least fresher than readers might anticipate.
The story includes a prologue, which may put off some readers, and in this case, it concerns The Banished Lands, a place where a tenuous peace holds after countless battles with giants. But, word is spreading that now a new war is brewing. Of course, the solution is for the lands to be united against a common enemy, but nothing is that simple. This fact casts a long shadow over the rest of the book, and it’s a fact that touches all of the characters in some fashion.
There are a number of protagonists, and for anyone who doesn’t want to follow multiple storylines, it will prove a bit confusing, but each chapter follows one of these characters, so the plots stay organized while forming a mostly cohesive whole.
Corban longs to be a warrior under the banner of King Brenin, and he does get what he wants, but there’s a high price for it. In the course of his journey, he evolves from a boy bullied by others to a warrior. His journey to learn swordsmanship encompasses the other life lessons that are essential to any epic fantasy novel with any sort of heroic journey.
Another, Evnis, tired of feeling that his older brother is pushing him further into obscurity, decides that the best thing to do is to consult an ancient demon in order to gain power. In return for great power, Evnis must offer himself to the demon. Proving that he hasn’t thought things through, Evnis agrees, and the story fast-forwards several decades to the present day, where the consequences of his actions can be seen and his story continues.
Other characters include Nathair and Veradis, both of whom are young nobles who are seeking to plan for the future, that of their families, and handling politics, as well as the looming spectre of war.
The story is brought to a reasonable conclusion; while leaving the fate of characters uncertain, in jeopardy, or grappling with the ways in which their lives have changed uncertain, to be dealt with in future books.
(Received a copy from the publisher)