Anachron Press, 476pp standard paperback,
£7.99 cover price
£1.53 on Kindle (Dec 2015)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
Having recently reviewed a book with the same title and bemoaning the copious typos and grammatical errors therein via Twitter, this title was brought to my attention with an accompanying challenge: “You won’t find any in this book, so there…” they cried. “Well, bring it on,” I said…
I did of course find some, but only a couple, and since I also found a real gem of a story herein —a great take on the ‘traditional military fantasy’ theme that borrows a lot of tropes and merrily rips them apart— all can easily be forgiven.
At its heart, this is a tale of war and betrayal, heroes and villains, magic and violence, love and lust, a bloody siege, and a few other things, not necessarily in that order but pretty close… and all thrown into a magic cauldron that spouts brilliant characters, great writing, and a whopping big smile.
Knight Captain Alyda Stenna heads up the elite troop known throughout the land as The Hammer aka the First Company of Royal Guards. Hard as iron, cold as stone is their motto, and although they do live up to this throughout, I couldn’t help thinking that Alyda herself is forever struggling against this from within despite her cold, battle-hardened exterior. This for me brings a lot of strength to her character: she is so real —frighteningly so— but also consumed with self-doubt throughout. It was especially interesting to see how the author conveys this because never once does Alyda really doubt her own abilities or those of her company, only her self-image and how others might perceive her. This really is a credit to the author and typifies the strength she brings to a lot of the characters: a number of the supporting cast have similar issues, but all are well-realised and willful, in particular Lady Iris ‘Bear’ Berwick is very special indeed, and I defy anyone not to fall in love with this sexually promiscuous but magical character — the clue is in the name, as they say…
Although one could write this off as standard fantasy at first glance, there is so much story and strong characterisation that it’s more about the people and their personalities, with an admittedly glorious, gritty and very bloody backdrop, and yet it also has an over-riding love story at its heart: Alyda’s relationship with Prince Talin is a constant reminder of how any loving union has to endure the constant ebb and flow of good and bad, through thick and thin, etc. not to mention the potential class-divide and behavioural impropriety headaches that are part and parcel of any potential Prince/Knight partnership.
The main siege that forms a large part of the central story is depicted with genuine brutality and a bloody realism that hits hard — the fights are full on, the wounds scream, and the bang-crash-wallops all hurt in that special crunching way that makes you physically wince as you read, but again at its core it is still all the individual characters and personalities that you feel for, especially Alyda, and ironically all of them come more alive with every drop of blood they spill, be it their own or someone else’s.
Brilliant characters, great dialogue, all-round excellent writing, and full to the brim with character, it’s very hard to fault any of this, but I’m going to: the end left me with a feeling of exhaustion and exasperation, and yes while there is a real sense that ‘life goes on’ I just felt a little deflated after such a fantastic, sensational ride.
A great book. A fabulous talent. And a genuine winner for Anachron in my opinion. Read it.
* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society (BFS) website here