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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

“Malice” by John Gwynne (Reviewed by Sabine Gueneret)

Order “MaliceHERE (UK)
Read An Extract HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Gwynne studied and lectured at Brighton University. He’s been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing the double bass, travelled the USA and lived in Canada for a time. He is married with four children and lives in Eastbourne running a small family business rejuvenating vintage furniture. Malice is his first novel.

FORMAT/INFO: Malice is 672 pages long and is the first volume in The Faithful and the Fallen epic fantasy series. December 6, 2012 marked the UK Hardcover/Ebook publication of Malice via Tor UK.

OVERVIEW:  “Even the brave will fall…

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors, 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.

The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed 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 the threat of a war to end all wars.

The High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. 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, the first book in The Faithful and the Fallen fantasy series, takes place in the Banished Lands, a territory of giants where humans fled after the God War while opposing Asroth, Elyon, and his Ben-Elim. The Banished Lands are composed of several kingdoms, overseen by High King Aquilus, although his authority over the other Kings is only for show. The storyline is straightforward and narrated chronologically through the point of views of the main characters living in different parts of the Banished Lands, with the different storylines crossing and sometimes joining together.

The main character is Corban—roughly half of the novel is told through his point of view. Fourteen years old and the son of a blacksmith, Corban is shy and a coward (or so he seems to think). Yet it soon becomes apparent that there is much more to the blacksmith’s son than meets the eye. Other characters include Corban’s sister Cywen whose storyline is used as a complementary piece to her brother’s narrative. Then there’s Veradis, a young, unconfident man who has just finished his war training and been appointed to Nathair’s personal guard. Meanwhile Kastell, the nephew of King Romar, is set on a path that will take him far from home while giving him a chance to prove himself. Finally, there is Evnis, a middle-aged counselor to King Brenin living in the same kingdom as Corban, who has secretly sold his soul to Asroth for power and is waiting patiently for his time to come.

After the High King Aquilus reveals the prophecy and the signs announcing another God War, Kings become divided, and while some rally to Aquilus’ cause and start preparing, others are not so eager to follow. All the while, Asroth’s shadow becomes more apparent as nations tear each other apart—will they be able to tell good from evil before it is too late?

ANALYSIS: Upon first seeing the cover and blurb to John Gwynne’s debut novel Malice, my initial reaction was that the book looked pretty generic. A young, innocent man with a destiny; a war between Gods and forces of good & evil; a mysterious prophecy . . . sound familiar? If you read fantasy, even occasionally, you probably recognize more than a few of these elements just as I did.

However, when reading fantasy I try not to get caught up in a book’s similarities to other fantasy novels and instead focus more on my personal enjoyment of the book. Was the story gripping? Are the characters interesting? And if there happen to be giants and dragons in the novel, so what? After all, isn’t that why we love reading fantasy in the first place?

So that’s the approach I took with John Gwynne’s Malice, and to be honest, the book was difficult to get into at first—world-building was slightly confusing and the story was slow. Thankfully, I kept at it and was eventually rewarded with a great reading experience. How so?

First off, even though Malice is not presented as a YA novel, I think the book is a great example of what YA fiction is all about—a coming of age story. With all of the main characters at that difficult age where they are trying to find their place in life, often in opposition to their family—Prince Nathair who is desperate to better his father High King Aquilus, Veradis who always felt his father refused to see his worth because of his mother’s death during childbirth, Kastell’s fight with his cousin Jael for King Romar’s favor, Evnis’ deal with Asroth because of his father’s lack of recognition—Malice is a familiar tale, but one that readers can sympathize with and enjoy.

Secondly, John Gwynne’s world of the Banished Lands became real to me. Granted, much of the novel’s mythology is clearly adapted from Christian religion, not to mention the classic medieval setting with the addition of such recognizable tropes as giants and wyrms as well as the perceptible influence of Welsh folklore—all familiar trappings for a fantasy novel—but it is for these very same reasons that it is so easy to wrap your head around the world of Malice.

Lastly, there is a clever subtlety to John Gwynne’s debut novel. Main characters for instance, all start out in a similar situation at the beginning of Malice, but as the novel progresses, each character evolves in very different ways. Even better, it is not clear whose side each character is on (except for Evnis), which leads to some exciting developments once the evil is revealed! Then there is the story which starts out simple at first (a God War, a King trying to ally kingdoms in the fight against evil, etc.), but as the plot thickens, it became harder and harder for me to put the book down thanks to rising tension and chaos, unexpected twists and a gripping rhythm.

CONCLUSION: With three-dimensional characters, a gripping plot, and a world that became real to me, John Gwynne’s Malice is a great debut. In short, this is the kind of fantasy I love to read and I truly can’t wait for the next volume in The Faithful and the Fallen!


Jen Greyson said...

sounds interesting -- though I don't always do a good job of sticking out a book if the beginning is rough.

Anonymous said...

I'm an old granny and I absolutely loved the book couldn't put it down.No housework was done hubby and animals fended for themselves.Can't wait for the next book hopefully

Anonymous said...

Friend of mine picked this up while in the U.K. and said it was excellent, unfort., he forgot it in his room. When will it be available in the U.S., particularly in ebook?

Simon said...

Having just finished the book, I've mixed feelings. The first half was a standard "coming of age" story, and a juvenile one at that, but the second half was better, but still a bit routine. I think the characterizations could have been much better with more ambiguity, rather than just Corban good Evnis bad! As a Welsh speaker, I found the use of Welsh words slightly off-putting as they lacked the complexity of proper Welsh (eg mutations & irregular plural forms) but I realize this will not be a problem for most readers! Worth a read nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Eh, I have to say it wasn't my cup of tea. I found the morals in this book far too shallow and black and white. There were too many characters. And when I say too many I mean the author failed to keep my attention with more than two of them. Its very slow to get started, and I've read so many fantasy books I usually just put the book down when it fails to engage me at first. I kept waiting for the part where it was going to not be completely boring. There's also a pretty bad example of child abuse in a 'good' character in there, for a moral choice that the author just simply thrusts upon you as though you agree that its all bad all the time. Don't think I missed the big 'hit you over the head with my values' moment the author tried to put in, but it felt shoe horned and out of place with the moral bashing in the rest of the book. I dislike when something is all evil all the time. And I found the parallels to Christianity eye-rollingly annoying. If I wanted to hear about God and the Devil, I'd go to a mosque. I did find the female character interesting, so that is an improvement for fantasy. Usually I just skip the token female. She was a bit cleche in many respects, though, and could be better. It also didn't help that she was token at best, and could have been skipped in favour of the main character's point of view for nearly most of the book. It was a strange and confusing choice for her introduction chapter to feature her doing something teeth grittingly stupid. What sort of author introduces a character that way that we're supposed to like? And then shove her in every situation so we have to forcibly forget that she's stupid as nuts and just kinda relax our suspension of disbelief there? I have no idea. I think the author made some wildly bad writing choices. He makes some very good choices, too, don't get me wrong. He has a good flow when he writes, except for the places where he exposition dumps AFTER the revelation scene. 'Oh we ran into giant spiders in the woods? Oh, I forgot to tell you that this guy we only just met, his name is Lamb and he keeps spiders', or some such. There's no set up at all for some scenes. I guess he was trying to save on length, but he could have cut out some of the unnecessary character points of view. I honestly found my eyes drifting away in some of the points of view. I was very disappointed in this book. So many people told me it was going to be good. The cover lied to me.

colin said...

Great read not read a lot of fantasy but will do in the future .*

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