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Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Return of the Knights by Gregory Kontaxis (Reviewed by Matthew Higgins)

 Book Review: The Return of the Knights by Gregory Kontaxis

Official Author Website

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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Gregory Kontaxis is a Greek epic fantasy author who writes about medieval wars, mythology, politics and epic adventures. His characters are ordinary and at the same time complex living with many challenges to face.

"The Return of the Knights" is the first part of his planned pentalogy “The Dance of Light”.

Gregory was born on 17th December 1989 in Athens. He studied Informatics and Finance in Greece and the United Kingdom, and he has worked as a Financial Analyst in Vienna and London. He currently resides in London, where he is occupied with investment risk management and writing.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Palace of the Dawn will soon be stormed. The most ruthless man of all time is one step away from assailing on Iovbridge and dethroning Sophie Delamere. The Queen of Knightdorn is now alone, with neither allies nor an army capable of rebuffing the enemy which is approaching her city. Everything appears to be over, until a mysterious young man, Elliot, makes his appearance.

Entangled in a web of lies and politics, Elliot will try to draw Walter away from Iovbridge and face him in the stronghold of Wirskworth. He will attempt to rekindle relations and revive the old alliance between the Queen of Knightdorn and Syrella Endor, the Governor of Wirskworth. Elliot’s mission will take every fibre of his will and if he fails, so shall the kingdom.

Game Of Thrones meets Greek mythology in this explosive epic fantasy story, packed with war, medieval lore, magic, loyalty and bravery. The first book in the series, The Dance of Light, will take you on an epic journey to a fantasy world of men and mythical creatures which will keep you spellbound till the very end.

FORMAT/INFO: The Return of the Knights was published on May 9th, 2023 and contains 408 pages. It is the first book in The Dance of Light series.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Return Of The Knights is an entertainingly ambitious politically driven fantasy that never quite lives up to the scale it sets itself. With impressive level of thought and detail going into this debut ,and a rip-roaring start, my hopes were high. However, I found it to fall under the weight of its own detail, resulting in long and rambling exposition with characters that never quite grow beyond their archetypes. Kontaxis is to be commended for writing a debut translated from his first language, and fans of classic high and political fantasy will certainly enjoy this tale if one can look beyond the debut pitfalls, however for myself it was a read that didn’t hit the usual depth I look for.

Let me begin this review proper by once again stating the immense breadth and detail of the worldbuilding contained within this world. The flavour of Greek mythology infused within comes from the appearance of several mythical creatures, from Pegasi to Centaur, and when the focus of the narrative is on the mythological it is when it is at its most engrossing. For those of you who know me, this is likely unsurprising as I am a worldbuilding fanatic! Give me all the Elven bards singing their heavenly tales, a thousand plus years of lost history, I will lap it all in! In this book we have most of our mythological creatures locked away in a mountain realm whilst the humans do what they do best, fight over power.

And fight indeed they do! In fact we open in media res with the despicable Walther Thorn charging his way on the battlefield towards the armies of Queen Sophie Delamere. I was really impressed by this fast paced action very quickly investing me into the outcome of this battle! Gregory has an notable ability to rouse the reader in support of his heroes despite any later misgivings. I simply couldn’t help myself but root for these characters because here is not a grimdark morality. Our characters are the best of the good, and the worst of the worst, with Walther Thorn being a particularly despicable cretin of a villain.

Here is where the narrative falters in its presentation of character however. Gregory tries to invest them with different shades, but it never quite works on the page. The main character we follow is Elliott (one must say not the most fantastical sounding name, and the sometimes unusual naming of places and people did on occasion draw me out of the book) a mysterious man who turns up claiming to be the only one who can save the realm of Knightdorn from the villainy of Walter Thorn. For the majority of the novel, Elliott is presented as this almost unstoppable ‘Gary Stu’, and this was a big issue for me throughout. Elliott manages win after win, and is presented in such a perfect manner that it was a real struggle to connect with him, and this extended to the other characters.

Now to offer balance to this perspective, Gregory does introduce some more multi-faceted elements to his characters later in the novel, and we see how Elliott is not always destined to win (despite how it feels). But I feel the point to be made here, is that there is a difference between a personality driven novel, and a character driven one. A personality driven novel, as I would consider Return of the Knights to be, is one driven by archetypal characters; characters that have one or two defining elements central to them Outside of Elliott, the most memorable character is John, a former military man descended into alcoholism, longing for a chance at redemption. One can see from this the archetypes at play here; the mysterious young boy raised to save the kingdom, and the grizzled old veteran plagued by his past.

Conversely a character driven novel is one where the characters further the plot and the plot furthers the character in a great symbiosis; where the characters blur the line between fiction and reality as we grow to know and perhaps even love them in all their many flaws. A character driven novel elevates story through its deep exploration of the world and the characters place in it, by letting the characters themselves tell the tale of their own making rather than have it fall into familiar structures.

Here we are thrust into a world of numerous factions and political manoeuvrings, one which grows increasingly complex. For a reader like myself, driven to drink in all the myriad details of the world and its peoples this is usually part of the joy in the telling. However, Return of the Knights finds itself hampered by an excessive reliance on exposition, and explaining each potential political outcome in great detail. It is certainly understandable why Gregory took such an approach, however the beauty and the success of worldbuilding is in its delivery, and unfortunately here the elements didn’t quite marry up. Something many authors have to learn along their journey is that giving their characters flaws to try to provide some colour isn’t quite enough to bring life to those on the page, and this was the feeling one was left with by the end.

Having said all this, the energy thrumming through this novel is undeniable. Despite the issues I had I was kept intrigued, if not fully invested. As said previously, the mystique surrounding the more mystical elements was the pinnacle here, along with the rip-roaring start. Walter Thorn was an incredibly despicable villain with Gregory injecting high levels of darkness into proceedings through his antagonist and proceedings are left in an exciting manner despite a fumbling conclusion.

CONCLUSION: Overall, it cannot be said this was a book without promise, plenty is to be found, and many fans of classic and high fantasy will find a good time if they can look past its debut flaws. Personally, it was a book I finished with a longing for what it could’ve been, but nevertheless I am confident that the sequel will be addressing some of these concerns and I will be there to cheer on our characters.



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