There are books that you eagerly anticipate from favourite authors. And then there are the delightful surprises. Books you opened on a whim, or that someone recommended, but you weren’t expecting all that much from them, because for starters, they’re not set in your favourite sub-genre. When you find something that whisks you away to somewhere remarkable. Unexpectedly. Which is why I LOVE books and reading…
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 snaps shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip your 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 requires 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 abbey 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 war…
You see – military medieval fantasy generally doesn’t do it for me. I’ve read plenty in my time, and until my husband nagged me to try this book, I’d more or less decided I wouldn’t shed any tears if I didn’t ever read any more. But this… is different. For starters, Cameron knows what he’s talking about. He’s been involved in role-playing, martial arts – he’s actually jousted in tournaments… And it shows in the writing. Most writers toss in a bit about the armour getting a bit heavy as they’re slashing at the enemy with their swords – with Cameron, you can never forget his knightly protagonists are wearing full armour – because they are reduced to looking at the battlefield through eyeslits.
I also felt that Cameron’s world is fully feudal, with men and women defined by their rank and women regarded by most fighting men as fair game. Which is pretty much as it was – no matter how much we’d like it if it wasn’t. So much modern fantasy stories set in this period glosses the fact that everyone was supposed to act according to their station – never mind glass ceilings, trying to overcome a low birth was more like breaking out of a lead-lined box.
The narrative is action-led, that is – the character progression and story unfolds as the campaign progresses and intensifies. Again, not my favourite story structure by a long country mile, but Cameron handles a large cast of characters and constant scene shifting with impressive technical skill and at no time was I floundering or – my general default in books of this type – skimming one particular character/plotline in favour of another. It was all gripping and highly readable, with many of the main characters having intriguing back stories that unfold throughout the book.
So, as it steadily heads towards the major confrontations in the climax, does Cameron manage to provide sufficient excitement and drama after the steadily building tension throughout most of the book? Absolutely. The fight scenes are well depicted and cinematically sharp with the brutal consequences of hacking at each other with heavy metal weapons clearly documented – without any unnecessary lingering on the inevitable blood and guts. It is a fine line to tread and Cameron pulls it off – if every fight scene had descended into a gorefest I would not have managed to get through this book, even if it was a cracking read on all other counts.
The magic is beautifully handled. Again, there is a price to pay for being able to use such powers and even high-born gentlemen take care not to be too open in their use of such talents. Overall, this book is a joy – but don’t take my word for it, go and hunt down a copy and read it for yourself.