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Sunday, May 15, 2022

Ruin by John Gwynne (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)

 


Official Author Info: 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. He is the author of the epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen including Malice, ValourRuin and Wrath.
 
Official Book Blurb: The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures. At his back stands the scheming Calidus and a warband of the Kadoshim, dread demons of the Otherworld. They plan to bring Asroth and his host of the Fallen into the world of flesh, but to do so they need the seven treasures. Nathair has been deceived but now he knows the truth. He has choices to make, choices that will determine the fate of the Banished Lands.

Elsewhere the flame of resistance is growing -- Queen Edana finds allies in the swamps of Ardan. Maquin is loose in Tenebral, hunted by Lykos and his corsairs. Here he will witness the birth of a rebellion in Nathair's own realm.

Elsewhere the flame of resistance is growing -- Queen Edana finds allies in the swamps of Ardan. Maquin is loose in Tenebral, hunted by Lykos and his corsairs. Here he will witness the birth of a rebellion in Nathair's own realm.

Corban has been swept along by the tide of war. He has suffered, lost loved ones, sought only safety from the darkness. But he will run no more. He has seen the face of evil and he has set his will to fight it. The question is, how?

With a disparate band gathered about him -- his family, friends, giants, fanatical warriors, an angel and a talking crow he begins the journey to Drassil, the fabled fortress hidden deep in the heart of Forn Forest. For in Drassil lies the spear of Skald, one of the seven treasures, and here it is prophesied that the Bright Star will stand against the Black Sun.
 
Format Info: Ruin is 743 pages long divided over Ninety-Three character titled chapters. Narration is in third person via Ulfilas, Corban, Evnis, Maquin, Fidele, Uthas, Camlin, Tukul, Cywen, Veradis, Coralen, Lykos, Haelan, Rafe.
 
This is the third volume in the Faithful and the Fallen series. It was released in 2015 by Tor Books (UK) and the cover artist was Paul Young.
 
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:  Ruin is another step up from John Gwynne, continuing to raise the stakes of the god war ravaging the Banished Lands, chock full of heart and action from beginning to end. Gwynne is at his strongest in writing visceral action sequences, and the smaller intimate character moments, perfectly building the bonds of the wonderful found family we have in this series. Whilst not all the twists worked for me and I was looking for Gwynne to go just a little further in some of his emotional moments, this was a rip-roaring yarn harking back to classic fantasy. If you love animal companions, to be swept up in epic battles, and just a feel-good classic fantasy read, this will be for you.
  
Minor spoilers for the first three books may follow
 
 
Ruin follows in the horrifying aftermath of Valour, our various factions of characters scattered across the world. Though they are vastly spread across the Banished Lands, they are all singularly focused on playing their parts in the prophesied god war, much of the attention focused on collecting the fabled seven treasures together. Corban, as the bright sun, is still coming to terms with the responsibility thrust upon him, even Meical the captain of the Ben Elim looks to Corban for leadership as they decide where to turn to next. Edana is facing a similar struggle in the swamps of Ardan, becoming a leader of the mounting rebellion soon ready to explode and engulf Queen Rhin’s forces in their snare. Our third major protagonist King Nathair is having to come to terms with the revelations he learnt at the end of Valour and his decision will choose the fate of all in the Banished Lands. There are of course many more characters in the large cast, my favourite being the grizzled warrior Maquin whose tale in this book takes an unexpectedly heart-warming turn, but I shall say no more on that and let you enjoy that for yourselves.
 
By the end of the book, I really had a sense of the themes that Gwynne is building here, family being the most prominent with one of my favourite ‘found family’ examples in all of fantasy. With our three major protagonists having to learn to shoulder such responsibility, the question of what it truly means to be a hero and leader, whether it’s something predestined or learnt is starting to be explored, and I really hope Gwynne takes the opportunity to lean into this in Wrath
 
The broader themes of the book really help to deepen the narrative beyond a simple good vs evil fantasy, which elevates the Faithful And The Fallen series from good to great. You feel the blood, sweat and tears of these characters as they fight for their futures, and Gwynne is really fantastic at giving the reader a sense of the passage of time, so you truly take the journey with these characters.
 
The pacing in this book is superlative, with Gwynne’s multi POV approach working strongly in his favour, enabling chapters to end in ways that will keep you turning the pages into the early hours of the morning. It’s actually quite remarkable as it holds together so well. With so many different plot threads having to come together, it could have easily been a house of cards caving in. Typical chapters are short and sweet, and I can’t remember a single chapter where I didn’t want to instantly read more of that POV’s story!
 
As a mood reader, I did take a break about 50% in, but this is a big chonky book after all!  Coming back in at 50% felt just like coming home. That’s what it is, cozy fantasy bringing you right back to those beloved classic tales such as Lord Of The Rings. As much of the setup has been done in previous books it was an absolutely fantastic second half. The emotions are high, the battles epic, the stakes ever increasing. 
 
To return to the characterization, I'm glad Gwynne pushed the emotional journey of many characters, Maquin in particular, and who could fail to fall in love with the stellar animal companions such as Storm. I won’t reveal their fates here, but let’s just say if they have already or will meet their end, there will be book rage! The characters bonds truly shine and it leans into that “found family” feeling, being all the better for it. The fact we care about each and every character is a triumph. Even for the villains, one of whom I wrote at the time is ‘a disgusting pig and I hope he gets his comeuppance’ still I wanted to keep reading him! Perhaps this was a harsh statement, but readers of the book will know which character I speak of and understand! 
 
 This is why as a reader we are invested. Because the characters are so real. We laugh and we cry with them. We fist pump and cheer for them. We start as strangers, and leave as best friends, carrying them with us forever.
 
Through such stellar characterization, Gwynne has shown remarkable growth in his  craft as the series has gone along, that make the outliers stand out so much to me. It’s unfortunate because I really did have a blast reading this book, but on occasion I did wish Gwynne stayed with the emotions a little longer, pushed a little harder. It did take me out of the moment a few times when I was on the precipice of tears before the next thing came on.  However, I do tend to like the books that leaves one’s soul crushed in emotion so it may just be personal preference. For many this is their favourite series in fantasy, and it is clear to see why.
 
I for one was glad we got to see more of the demon realms as that part of the tale in particular fascinates me, and I do love to get more of the lore. I know that for many, info dumps can be slow and boring, but for me I am always hungry for more of the lore and worldbuilding. We also got to see more of the giants in this story, and though some I felt were underutilised, others worked their way into my heart. 
 
This is definitely a story with a twist in the tail too, Gwynne still managing to surprise me! Whilst there were a couple of out there twists that although shocking felt unearned, there was one in particular towards the end that I am so excited to see the consequences of because it could truly have a profound impact on the direction of the tale.
 
It would also be incredibly remiss of me to fail to mention the visceral action sequences that truly help bring this world to life. Gwynne definitely brings his wealth of experience as a Viking re-enactor, creating bloody and brutal scenes when he needs to. When John brings it, he really brings it! I normally glaze over action sequences, but Gwynne is the first author whom I could truly see it in my mind’s eye, and ever since a whole new world has been opened to me, so thank you to John!

CONCLUSION: I truly truly enjoyed my time here and can’t wait to see the conclusion to this epic saga. Throughout my read, I was mostly noting down about the characters and events, which I believe shows the sheer immersion levels the reader has into the Banished Lands. Ruin is an exceptional return to classic fantasy in a modern style. In a way I see it like the MCU, it does have its formula that it tends to stick to and on occasion I wish it pushed just that little bit further. However, the formula works so well, entirely in the upper echelons of the genre that you can't help bu
t cheer and fist pump along, be swept up in the epicness of this grand tale. Each book has shown an improvement in the craft and I sincerely believe Wrath will be the best one yet!
 
Truth and courage folks! Thanks for reading 

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