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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Scarlet Tides by David Hair (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Scarlet Tides HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Mage's Blood
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Hair
Read Inner Selves, and Writing What You Know by David Hair (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Hair is an award-winning writer with two YA fiction series, The Aotearoa (set in New Zealand), and The Return of Ravana (based upon the Indian epic The Ramayana). He likes mythology and history, both of which he studied at the university level. Mage’s Blood, his first work of adult fantasy, is the first in his brand new quartet which draws upon both these subjects. He was raised in New Zealand, and after living in Britain and India and travelling the world, he now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Moontide has come and the Leviathan Bridge stands open: now thrones will shake and hearts will be torn apart in a world at war. A scarlet tide of Rondian legions is flooding into the East, led by the Inquisition’s windships flying the Sacred Heart, bright banner of the Church’s darkest sons.

They are slaughtering and pillaging their way across Antiopia in the name of Emperor Constant. But the emperor’s greatest treasure, the Scytale of Corineus, has slipped through his fingers and his ruthless Inquisitors must scour two continents for the artefact, the source of all magical power.

Against them are the unlikeliest of heroes. Alaron, a failed mage, the gypsy Cymbellea and Ramita, once just a lowly market-girl, have pledged to end the cycle of war and restore peace to Urte.

East and West have clashed before, but this time, as secret factions and cabals emerge from the shadows, the world is about to discover that love, loyalty and truth can be forged into weapons as strong as swords and magic.

ANALYSIS (Liviu): I expected to enjoy The Scarlet Tides as Mage's Blood grew on me quite a lot as time passed, but I did not expect the awesome novel it was, so much so that at least temporarily it jumped to my #1 SFF spot of the year - of course time will tell if it will stay there, but The Scarlet Tides has really everything one wants in fantasy: excellent world building, superb adventures, hair rising escapes, great characters, very intriguing storylines, narrative momentum, an almost perfect place to end all the 4 main arcs, while there were some pages that were so funny that I couldn't stop laughing out loud for a few minutes - overall the book stands more on the adventure side of the genre than on the "new gritty" one, though it blends the two aspects quite well.

For a proper review of the universe and of the main characters of the series I refer to the review of Mage's Blood linked above.

All the main characters shine in The Scarlet Tides, though I would say that Ramon's war mage persona - so the view of the crusade from the ground up, as of course he is assigned as supporting mage to the worst legion of the army and there to the lowest of the low company, namely the supply one, where he corrupts the commanding tribune and they start running a perfect Ponzi scheme with all the army's gold and much more, while he gets as fellow mages, the incompetent, the stupid, the vain and the ones that annoyed powerful people so:

"Can we count on them in a fight?’ Ramon asked.
Prenton snorted amiably. "A fight? Dear Kore, this is a Crusade, lad, not a war. There’ll be no fighting, only endless days of marching around from ruin to empty ruin. There may be a bit of looting and pillaging thrown in, if we’re lucky. The Keshi don’t fight back. They run and hide." He pulled a face. "The biggest risk is their God-awful food."

(while we readers know that this time, the Keshi have quite a few battle magi of their own, not to speak of modern weaponry like gnosis powered aircraft...) - and Gurvon Gyle's Javon story where his cynicism and "you gotta be realistic" persona are staple new gritty done pitch perfect, were the most directly compelling arcs, but Alaron's saga with quite a few surprises - not least having Malevorn part of the Inquisition posse after him and meeting some strange people in his flight - had its great moments as had the story-lines of Ramita, Kazim or Elena - as of course one knew beforehand that she wouldn't remain possessed by an enemy mage for long.

Here is one quote that illustrates the action part:
 "If we can find Gyle, we will kill him before they march," Gatoz put in.
 "How will we find him?" Jamil asked.
 "I will find him," Magister Sindon put in, his usually mild voice vehement. "I know Gyle, believe me. I have used his services before, and he trusts me."


Sindon turned and made a sign, and the door from which he’d emerged opened again, allowing more hooded figures to enter the courtyard, fanning out as they came.
"Magister Gyle, we’re so grateful,’ Sindon said, offering his hand.
Sordell saw Gyle go to take the offered hand, when he abruptly froze
Sindon’s pupils went wider. The game is up, those eyes said.
It is. Gyle swore softly. "And I have too few pieces on the board"

(and a fast and furious battle with spells and swords follows pitting Gurvon Gyle's mercenaries against the renegade Sindon and his Keshi dark mage strike commando)

There are a lot of twists and turns too - including double crosses, strange allies, unexpected connections and as I really do not want to spoil the book, I will just emphasize again that while Mage's Blood takes a while to get going and understand what's what, The Scarlet Tides is how modern epic fantasy should be from the first page and raises the series to the top level of the genre.

One more quote from one of Alaron's close encounters with the Inquistion:

"There was nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. He’d landed near a narrow channel that wound from the waterfall above towards the ocean miles to the east, but it was only a few feet deep. He’d dropped his sword as he fell and couldn’t see it anywhere. Brilliant … "

"Fatalism filled him. There was no way a lowly quarter-blood like him could get out of this. He tried to summon mental images of the people he loved: his parents, Cym, Ramon … Anise – thank Kore I didn’t tell her to wait – and that was about it, really. Not so many to farewell"


"Kore’s blood, you’ve been a nuisance," the Inquisitor said, "but I’ve got you now." Mage-fire blossomed from his left hand and blasted into Alaron’s midriff. His shields failed and his wet clothing sizzled as the energy jolted through him. He curled up, stricken, trying to breathe. The Inquisitor put the sword-point to his throat. Alaron looked along the straight steel blade and wished only to die. "I, Acolyte Seldon of the Eighteenth Fist, arrest you in the name of the Inquisition."

Seldon’s call resounded through the aether and Malevorn rolled his eyes as he followed the call back to the east. Damn. Muttered curses echoed dimly through the aether as the Fist’s mental links conveyed the mix of relief at the finding of their quarry and annoyance at losing the wager.


"As Alaron stared along Seldon’s blade, watching gnosis-energy crackle along the steel, a dark shape rose behind the Inquisitor..."

ANALYSIS (Mihir): The Scarlet Tides is the second volume in the Moontide Quartet and begins in the same way its predecessor did.The crucial difference being that we get the next part in the epic conference of the Rondian emperor's council and things are no less dire as the Guvron Gyle and the empress bring out the second part of the plan to make the crusade a resounding success.

As the story begins we begin with where we left all our main characters, betrayed by their allies, besot with danger and forced to run. Alaron, Elena, Ramita have to overcome massive challenges. There's a new POV introduced in this book and that's of Alaron's best friend Ramon who does his best to profit in the war. His chapters were dark and yet humorous enough to keep me thoroughly entertained. The author then focusses on Alaron & Cymbellea as they run with the scythe. Elena is forced to deal with Cera's betrayal and must try to gain back her footing to save the kingdom. Kazim is further entranced by Shihad and revelations about his father that lead him on a dark path. Ramita is forced to learn the Magi ways as she and Justina (her daughter now) must try to forge a path with Antonin Meiros' plans. . There's also POVs from Guvron Gyle, Malevorn and a couple of other characters who make up the antagonist bunch.

All in all the author thoroughly expands his world and showcases a war that is englfing almost every known nation. With the expanded POVs the author however manages to avoid the GRRM trap of the story losing its focus. Kudos to the author for managing this vast storyline and avoiding the bloat. Many of our esteemed epic fantasy authors can definitely learn a thing or two from Hair with regards to writing a tight epic fantasy saga with a set number of books and consistently producing them. The author also further reveals a lot of the gnosis and how the Three Hundred came to be, in this volume, a lot of secrets are revealed about the magical prowess of the Eastern practitioners.

 What I loved with about this book is that it showcases how absolutely brutal war is and even those not directly in its path are still savaged by it. The author makes a fascinating comparison of executives meeting before going on a cataclysmic path, in this regards, the prologue makes so much sense is chilling in its scope. The characterization is superb dealing with both genders and among various age groups and sexual orientations. David Hair is truly writing one hell of a series and by saluting tropes but subverting them none the less,  he manages to make the Scarlet Tides a sequel that is magnificent and a better book than its predecessor in every factor of consideration.

CONCLUSION (Liviu & Mihir): Lastly the book ends on a few cliffhangers with regards to a couple of characters which will have you wanting Unholy War desperately. But the overall conclusion presented leave this story and the readers gasping and yet wanting more. As far as stories go, that is what authors strive for and here this Kiwi author strikes bullseye again. Overall, The Scarlet Tides represents modern epic fantasy at its best.


Liviu said...

Scarlet Tides was my top sff for 2013 - as I read the UK edition - and it still stood there when I reread it recently for the UK release of Unholy War which also delivered to my high expectations and will be again in my top 5 novels of the year; immediately following Scarlet Tides, Unholy War is very similar in structure, twists etc and takes things further along to a good stopping place.

If time/energy allows I plan to have a longer review, but this review of Scarlet Tides here will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect in Unholy War too and I want to reiterate that this series is just superb fantasy of the highest class


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