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Friday, March 13, 2015

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron (Reviewed by Achala Upendran)

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Order The Red Knight here

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern's jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men - or worse, a company of mercenaries - against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it. The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he's determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it's just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can't deal with.

Only it's not just a job. It's going to be a war...

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Finding a book that plonks itself comfortably into the genre of old fashioned chivalry and heroism, without sounding trite and tried, has become increasingly hard. I was beginning to think that it couldn’t be done, that G.R.R. Martin’s canny, pragmatic, decidedly not-shining protagonists were a sign of where fantasy was going, who our new ‘heroes’ were going to be. And then Miles Cameron showed up with The Red Knight and proved why some fantasy clich├ęs are going to stick around.

Written from a staggering number of viewpoints (think Robert Jordan’s last few Wheel of Time books, or even the increasing number of characters with a voice in Martin’s saga), The Red Knight is set in the tantalizingly familiar land of Alba, where the Wild wages an eternal war against the civilized world. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, the Wild, after being contained for many years, has surged up again, and this time it’s got a powerful and terrifying leader: the once-human Magus Thorn.

He brings the considerable power of the Wild to bear on the town Lissen Carrock, and its Abbey . To protect her domain, the Abbess engages the services of a band of mercenaries led by the man who calls himself the Red Knight. A young man with a past and power of his own, he and his fellows are tested to their limits in the fight against the Wild.

Cameron’s narrative spins through a world at once achingly familiar to readers of Arthurian fantasy, as well as jarringly different enough to disconcert and intrigue long-time enthusiasts of the genre. For instance, though the social power of chivalry and knighthood has a strong grip on the populace, and the social system is a feudal one, there are strong hints that ‘Alba’ is not an isolated nation. It has ties—both martial and economic—with its neighbours, the France-like Galle, and the Morean Empire. Similarly, though religion is a strong force in this world, it is complemented by the Power, a magic that some of the holy orders display as well.

The characters do, however, have a tendency to be one-dimensional, and I had a problem with the manner in which Cameron tends to sentimentalize their actions and conversations. The Red Knight, for instance, a very compelling character, becomes a bit of a do-gooder in a decidedly sudden fashion, his naivete a startling contrast to the worldliness and cynicism he had displayed at the start of the narrative. Similarly, Harmodius, a court magus, seems to have been set to play the part of the absent minded but powerful mentor, and that is a role he doesn’t stray from at all. He becomes, at points, a caricature that irritates rather than inspires.

The character I absolutely loved, though, was Desiderata, the Queen of Alba. Feisty, amusing and, above all, so obviously out to get her own way, she shone as a brilliant counterpoint to all those others who got weighed down with obvious morality and occasional sermonizing. Desiderata’s sections were effortless in a way that none of the other characters were—maybe because Cameron let her speak entirely for herself and wend her way through her storyline without dumping his own chivalric and religious explication on her.

The book does tend to drag in sections as well, especially for long drawn out battle sequences. It is difficult to write a large-scale battle sequence that holds readers’ attention consistently unless it involves displays of supernatural ability (just ask Robert Jordan) and Cameron does falter at points. But long practice should make him better, and for a first book,the Red Knight doesn’t do all too bad a job.

CONCLUSION: In spite of these drawbacks, I would heartily recommend The Red Knight for all fans of fantasy. It’s obvious that Cameron has constructed his world with great love, and intends to inhabit it for a while. For all their drawbacks, the characters are engaging, and I found myself wanting to know what was in store for some of them in the next installment. Thankfully, there is going to be a next one. What can I say, we fantasy fans truly do believe there is no such thing as a one-hit wonder, and the grass only gets greener three books in.


Unknown said...

Good Review.

Laura said...

The Fell Sword came out over a year ago, and number three, The Dread Wyrm, comes out in October.


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