Category Archives: epic medieval Fantasy

Review of The Sentinel Mage – Book 1 of The Cursed Kingdoms series by Emily Gee

Standard

I had enjoyed Gee’s romantic fantasy offering Thief With No Shadow – see my review here – so was delighted to pick up this book at Fantasycon last year. Would I also like The Sentinel Mage?

thesentinelmageIn a distant corner of the Seven Kingdoms, an ancient curse festers and grows, consuming everything in its path. Only one man can break it: Harkeld of Osgaard, a prince with mage’s blood in his veins. But Prince Harkeld has a bounty on his head and assassins at his heels. Innis is a gifted shapeshifter. Now she must do the forbidden: become a man. She must stand at Prince Harkeld’s side as his armsman, protecting and deceiving him.

This is an enjoyable set up, but also cosily familiar. Something nasty is emerging after being let loose so long ago that everyone who knew how to handle it has long gone… And magic-wielders are both feared and hunted down in most of the cursed kingdoms. So when one of their elite units, including Innis, are sent out to scoop up Harkeld, they have to keep their shape-shifting and magical activities to a minimum. That said, I’m not going to reject a read on the grounds that it isn’t original – I’m far more interested in whether it is well-written, engrossing and enjoyable.

I was surprised to find Harkeld rather a priggish pain. Despite spending a lot of time up close and personal with the band of mages, other than his bodyguard, he refuses to let down his guard. He is determined to find them repellent – even after their courage in saving his life several times. It’s a brave decision to continue to make one of the main protagonists so unappealing. However his sister, Brigitta, is far more engaging and her storyline was the one that drew me in the most. From being the victimised, helpless princess used as a pawn in her father’s power ploys, she transforms into a far more nuanced, intriguing character who makes some interesting choices.

As regards the main storyline – the journey to the first anchor stone to try and break the curse – the narrative is smoothly delivered and Gee handles the fight scenes well, providing plenty of tension and drama. I was sufficiently caught up in the story to power through it to discover what happened next. Any grizzles? Gee is evidently a capable and experienced author – but I do feel she could trust her readers a tad more. There is a lot of repetition. Harkeld spends a lot of time gritting his teeth over having to travel with these nasty old mages… Brigitta’s armsman is either being mocked and taunted by the other guards, or eating his heart out over her… Innis is regularly worrying whether she’s spending too long in one shape… As Gee writes very short chapters, and the viewpoint scenes change regularly, having each character revisit these concerns quite so frequently starts to grate a little, as well as slow up the overall pace, which otherwise is pleasingly snappy in a genre with often takes more time than it should.

What she doesn’t do, is spend pages and pages in a lot of complicated exposition about the ancient history going back several generations – a genre convention I’m delighted to see the back of… Will I get hold of The Fire Prince? Probably. If you enjoy a relatively straightforward medieval fantasy read told by an author who knows how to tell the story at a reasonable clip and handles action scenes well, then give this a go.
7/10

Review of The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

Standard

This is a really good swords and sorcery fantasy, with all the necessary ingredients to make it a fast-paced, thoroughly entertaining read…

thecopperpromiseThere are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel: some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths. For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him… and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done. But sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes it pays to listen. Soon this reckless trio will become the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.

If the blurb sounds like this is a rip-roaring adventure with plenty of swash-buckling action, fuelled with oodles of blood, guts, nasty villains and big nasties crashing around. Yep. All of that. Along with three interesting heroes. Well, three and a half, really… and this isn’t so much grimdark as gleedark. There is a boisterous energy that doesn’t diminish the danger or unpleasantness or threat facing the world, but I put the book down with a grin on my face.

Williams has managed to pull off a really tricky feat – and make it look easy while doing so. Her trio are an odd bunch – and for my money, Wydrin, the copper cat, is by far the most compelling. She is a greedy adrenaline-junkie with a tongue on her sharp enough to slice and dice the villains confronting her before they are even aware they are being properly insulted. Great fun.

Her companions are no light-weights, either. Lord Frith spends the book reeling from the action that opens the book, while Sir Sebastian has his own particular issues – which only get more complicated as he becomes an unlikely father… The narrative is mostly powered through the third person viewpoint of these protagonists, though occasionally we get slices in the point of view of one of the host of antagonists they find themselves facing.

The pace doesn’t let up as the trio find themselves bouncing from one tricky situation to another as they slide towards the main confrontation, which brings the book to a triumphant conclusion. I read this offering in three greedy gulps, unable to put it down until I’d discovered what had happened – something that hardly ever happens with fantasy featuring sharp pointy weapons. Or hardly ever used to…

If you haven’t yet encountered it, get hold of a copy. It’s an enjoyable feast of a book.
9/10

Review of The Providence of Fire – Book 2 of The Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley

Standard

Anyone who regularly reads my reviews will have gathered by now that epic fantasy isn’t necessarily my favourite sub-genre. Having said that, I’ve read some impressive examples so far this year, such as Elspeth Cooper’s Wild Hunt series – see my review of Songs of the Earth here – and another gem is The Unhewn Throne, see my review of the first book, The Emperor’s Blades here.

providenceoffireThe Annurian Empire’s ruling family must be vigilant as the conspiracy against them deepens. Having discovered her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies. But few trust her until she seems marked by the people’s goddess in an ordeal of flame. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn has fallen in with forces mustering at the empire’s borders. The terrible choices they face could make war between them inevitable. Fighting his own battles is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the capital with two strange companions.

As you may have gathered from the blurb, the story is told in third person pov by each of the orphaned siblings struggling to survive in an extremely hostile environment, while trying to gauge the level of threat against their family. And it works. The limited main characters keep the focus tight and the narrative constantly moving forward. Each of the siblings are shaped by their very different training and are forced into a series of difficult decisions.

The characterisation is wonderful – I love the fact that this epic fantasy is completely driven by Adare, Valyn and Kaden and their mistakes, their successes and talents. I also very much enjoy how the backstory to this empire slowly unfolds through their adventures, rather than the pages of exposition describing the gods and ancient, powerful beings that are once more stirring… Instead Kaden and Adare find themselves confronted by these characters. It gives this series an immediacy and punchiness that I often find missing in epic fantasy.

I really enjoyed The Emperor’s Blades and worried that The Providence of Fire wouldn’t be able to sustain the same narrative tension, the constant stream of surprises and steady unfolding of information about the characters, their family history and the nature of the empire they are trying to hold together. Be warned, though, this adventure is more than a little blood-drenched. Of course, if you are a fan of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, then you probably won’t even blink. Other than that warning, I highly recommend this series and am eagerly waiting for the next instalment, while hoping Staveley writes fast…
10/10

Review of Songs of the Earth – Book 1 of The Wild Hunt series by Elspeth Cooper

Standard

With my customary pin-sharp organisation, I’d blundered into the middle of this fantasy series when I picked up Trinity Rising, – read my review here – and was impressed enough to want to go back and read the first book – not something I do all that often.

songsoftheearthNovice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire – until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames. With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

The Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.

I really liked Gair. While Trinity Rising focuses on Teia’s story, this book is all about Gair. Cooper has a knack of writing really likeable, sympathetic characters who still have plenty of obvious flaws and more than a few edges, which has me thoroughly rooting for them. Unsurprisingly, given his upbringing, Gair isn’t the most outgoing, trusting sort which can be as much a weakness as a strength, especially in times of trouble. The storyline is classic epic fantasy fare – a misunderstood, degraded magic system showing signs of wear with a troubled history and hostile religion ranged against its use. And a nasty character in the wings all set to use it for his own dark ends…

The unpleasant antagonist works very well in this book – Cooper builds up a real feeling of dread around him. The fact we’re not completely sure about his motives – other than he implacably hates Gair – worked well for me, as it built up an aura and narrative tension that now has me tracking down the third book in this fine series.

The other thing I liked was the deaths of a couple of major characters. While it initially winded me and can certainly be overdone – George R.R. Martin’s habit of disposing of a whole cast of characters I’d come to like and trust was a major reason why I didn’t get past A Storm of Swords – it stretches the bounds of belief to depict a major, bloody confrontation and yet still have all the main protagonists breezing through unharmed. Still, it takes a measure of confidence to pull it off such that it increases the stakes, adds gravitas to the suffering survivors and increases the narrative tension. All of which, Cooper triumphantly achieves.

If you enjoy classic epic fantasy, but find some of the recent grimdark offerings a tad bleak, go looking for this first book in Cooper’s Wild Hunt series. It’s a thoroughly well written, engrossing world.
9/10

Review of Trinity Rising – Book 2 of the Wild Hunt by Elspeth Cooper

Standard

I saw Elspeth Cooper in action at Fantasycon, where her sharp wit and even sharper intelligence were evident in the panels she took part in. So I was delighted when I saw this offering on the shelves and immediately scooped it up, despite the fact that it was the second in the series.

trinityrisingThe future holds nothing but blood and death and Teia fears there is nothing she can do about it. Her clan is riding to war, but her secret, untrained gift of foretelling has shown her they are riding to their doom. Meanwhile Gair is mourning his past but there is no time to dwell on his grief or hunger for revenge. Pursuing an artefact from the Founding Wars, he travels deep into the hostile southern deserts, where religious tensions are rising…

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I’m willing to divulge, but as you can already gather, we are in the realms of epic Fantasy in a familiar medieval setting. So is there anything to distinguish this offering from the many others out there with similar storylines? Well, it might not break any major new ground – but that doesn’t prevent it from being a really strongly written character-led story.

The tale is mostly in the heads of the two protagonists, with a couple of small slices in the head of the ‘big bad’. I wasn’t totally convinced by those interludes – he seemed rather two-dimensional, especially when placed alongside both Gair and Teia. And it is when reading these sections that this book springs to life.

I particularly loved Teia’s story. Cooper gives her a compelling storyline and provides a wonderful slice of the nomadic life of the tribes. Her depiction of their daily routine and how Teia gets swept up in a powerplay by a driven ambitious woman and a minor warlord who becomes her mouthpiece. Without losing any of the pace or tension, we get a ringside seat to this drama. I would just mention that is you have a pre-teen or early teen who enjoys your Fantasy offerings, there are a couple of sex scenes in this book that make it unsuitable for this age group – at the very least check them out first before passing it over. There is depth and passion in the characterisation that made me really care about Teia and kept me focused on her story.

So did I skim Gair’s sections to get back to Teia? No – because Cooper is good enough that I also cared about her other main protagonist, despite the fact that this was obviously the main character featured in the first book, Songs of the Earth. Gair has also got edges – and there are times when I wanted to shake him very hard. But that’s just fine – what that shows is that I was very invested in him and that Cooper has pulled off the nifty trick of having her main protagonist making an obvious mistake. I’m all in favour of that – far too often, main characters seem to be able to dance through highly confusing, dangerous situations without putting a foot wrong. As well as giving them a sense of invulnerability, it also makes them a whole lot less believable.

Am I going to track down the third book, The Raven’s Shadow? Oh yes. Trinity Rising managed to hook my attention all the way through – and managing that in epic Fantasy, which isn’t my favourite sub-genre by a long country mile. I’ll also go looking for Songs of the Earth – and if you do enjoy your Fantasy set in a medieval backdrop with enjoyable, well depicted protagonists and believable dilemmas, then I suggest you do the same.
8/10

Review of Taste of Darkness – Book 3 of the Avry of Kazan series by Maria V. Snyder

Standard

I’ve read the first two books in this series – read my review of Scent of Magic here – and while it doesn’t pack the same punch as the Poison Study series, I’ve enjoyed it. So does Snyder manage to satisfactorily tie up the loose ends and provide all the necessary information to make the magic system work?

tasteofdarknessPowerful healer Avry knows hardship and trouble. She fought a plague and survived. She took on corrupt King Tohon and defeated him. But now her true love Kerrick is missing and Avry fears he’s gone forever. Yet she faces a more immediate – and deadly – threat. The Skeleton King plots to claim the Fifteen Realms for his own. With the territories’ armies in disarray and the dead not staying dead, Avry’s powers are needed more than ever.

So that’s the blurb. And once again, the lovelorn couple are yanked apart by circumstance and foul deed, as Kerrick disappears right at the start of the book. It wasn’t all that long ago I read the second in the series, which was a great advantage. While I rarely read a series straight off – once I start spotting an author’s foibles I find it really interferes with my reading enjoyment – the fact I could clearly recall the plot of the second book, Scent of Magic, stood me in good stead and I’d recommend that you don’t leave an overly long gap between these books if you want to get the best out of them.

Snyder has an entertaining cast of supporting characters which I enjoyed throughout the series and liked how she gave most of them their own story arc within the tale – no mean feat in a trilogy of average-sized books. Avry’s bossiness has grated at times, but in this slice of her adventures she wasn’t so much at the hub of all the action as in the last book, which I’d begun to find annoying and on the edge of believability.

The action rolls forward at full tilt from the start of Taste of Darkness and the pace doesn’t let up until right at the end. Indeed, there is a great deal of stealthy sneaking through the forest as fast as possible… But it all hangs together and I found this book grabbed me more firmly than the other two as I genuinely wanted to know what happened to the characters.

As for the final denouement, yes, it worked. What I really liked about this particular magic system, was that no one really knew all the consequences of the plants’ magical properties. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be. I get a tad tired of books where the magic behaves like a well-trained dog. Magic should be difficult to control and never fully predictable – and this is an aspect that has run through this readable, entertaining series. If you enjoy strong heroines rushing around woods in medieval fantasy settings full of incident and adventure, you could do a lot worse to banish those winter blues by getting hold of these books – starting at the beginning of the series with Touch of Power.
8/10

Review of Fool’s Assassin – Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool series by Robin Hobb

Standard

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

foolsassassinOn a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

There you have the blurb to this first book in Hobb’s new series. It was a real thrill to actually see her at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in 2013 – see my reviews of The Dragon Keeper here; City of Dragons here and Blood of Dragons here. Hobb has set all her books in her world, the Realm of the Elderlings, with the exception of her Soldier’s Son trilogy. So this book, the first in her new series, is actually revisiting a character her fans already know well – FitzChivalary Farseer. Although Hobb is far too canny a writer to make it necessary to have read the previous two series featuring Fitz, the Farseer and Tawny Man series, my recommendation is to at least get hold of the Farseer series and read them before embarking on Fool’s Assassin, as you’ll get a lot more out of the book than if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.

I was immediately pulled into the narrative, once more bonding with Fitz as the dual narrative largely features his story – until the story suddenly took a left turn and I suddenly couldn’t put this brick-sized tome down… While I loved the story of the dragons and the Soldier’s Son trilogy holds a special place in my heart, Fitz bounces off the page with special vividness. He is such a layered, complex character with such a rich backstory that this tale of his retirement holds precious little peace or contentment – even at the start of the story, when in theory he should be enjoying a well-earned rest.

Do be warned, though, if you appreciate your Fantasy adventure brimful of action – Hobbs doesn’t start the story with a bang. Her smooth, accomplished style brings Fitz to life with Molly and his daily routine at Withywoods. When the sense of wrongness begins, we aren’t even completely aware what is happening – Hobbs is very good at pulling the rug out from under her readers’ feet and I was spun around several times before I began to grasp exactly what was going on. Hobbs is regularly compared to George R.R. Martin – they both weave complicated worlds packed full of politics and scheming. However, while Martin juggles a cast of dozens with plotlines snaking all over his books, Hobbs depicts the complexity of her world by centring the action and dilemmas around one or two characters. Hobbs deserves to be read every bit as widely as Martin, in my opinion – and if you haven’t yet done so, then track her down. You’ll be thanking me if you do…
10/10

Review of The Emperor’s Blades – Book 1 of the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley

Standard

This was an offering scooped up by Himself, who has a particular fondness for grim-looking book covers featuring sharp, pointy weapons. So I didn’t pay it all that much attention, until he plonked on top of the swaying pile by my bedside. “Have a go at this,” he said. “It’s really good.”

He reads a lot. Easily three or four times the number of books I manage – so I listen when he recommends a book. Particularly when it is in a sub-genre with all those long complicated names and sprawling plots featuring a cast of thousands. Yeah – I generally avoid epic Fantasy these days, unless it has something different to offer.

emperor'sbladesThe Emperor’s three children are in training. His daughter, Adare, is studying how to look after the financial side of running an empire, his eldest son Kaden is right on the edge of the empire at a monastery, studying how to master the art of becoming empty. While his younger brother, Valyn, has elected to become a cadet for an elite fighting force, where the training is merciless. These are the Emperor’s young blades – and each one has to surmount major obstacles, before facing trouble on a wholly different scale…

I’ve seriously mangled the spoiler-littered blurb on the grounds that if you read it, you’ll be robbed of several major surprises that kept me turning the pages waaay after I should have gone to sleep. Staveley has provided a gripping coming-of-age novel, keeping to the three main characters who I really, really cared about. The narrative flipped between each of them smoothly and because of the clear, unfussy style and sensible names, I knew exactly who was whom. While the book is about the three youngsters, it is not YA in tone or feel – the themes, action and progression were dialled to adult tastes. I liked the fact that magic is regarded with hatred and suspicion by the main characters – along with the majority of the population and while there are a couple of magic users in the story and they are important to the outcome of one of the main narrative arcs, is it from the viewpoint of someone on the outside of that world who has to grapple with what they can do. A refreshing change as a starting point in any Fantasy story.

One of the delights is the very different backdrops. Staveley manages to keep a constant sense of claustrophobia with his canny choice of setting. The island where Valyn is training is isolated and while he has a few friends he trusts, most of the cadets are too busy trying to survive to expend much energy in bonding with each other. And he certainly has his share of enemies. While the ancient monastery perched in a mountain range is as cold and comfortless as The Blank God the monks worship and the young heir is set a series of humiliating and pointless tasks by his overbearing new mentor, Tan. And Adare is right in the middle of the social shark tank that is the imperial court – trying to ensure that she is able to fulfil her responsibilities.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this gripping account and despite the fact that paperback version is over 550 pages long, I powered through it in no time flat in my quest to find out what would happen next. If you are an epic Fantasy fan who hasn’t encountered this gem, then go for it – and if you’re not, still go for it. This is a really enjoyable, action-packed ride – what epic Fantasy really should be and so often isn’t… We have the second book The Providence of Fire on order and I can’t wait to get hold of it.
10/10

Review of Antiagon Fire – Book 7 of the Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

Standard

The hard-won battles fought in Imager’s Battalion have earned the imager Quaeryt a promotion to commander, as well as an assignment to convince the stiff-necked Pharsi High Council in the nation of Khel to submit to Lord Bhayar’s rule. Joined by his pregnant wife, Vaelora, who is also Bhayar’s sister, Quaeryt leads an army and a handful of imagers, deep into the hostile lands once ruled by the tyrannical Rex Kharst.

antiagonfireAnd that’s part of the rather chatty blurb. I read the first three books in this series and thoroughly enjoyed them, then lost track of the subsequent books – until I noticed this one on the shelves. So I haven’t read Imager’s Battalion – if you have, then I’d skim-read the first chapter which effectively fills in the subsequent storyline. I’d like to say  it wasn’t rather clunky – but it was. However Modesitt’s normally smooth prose resumed once we dived into the main story.

I like the way Modesitt builds up the world by the constant dripfeed of small details as his main character, Quaeryt, tries to get through this adventure without getting himself killed. While keeping the inevitable death toll down… It’s always a challenge depicting a really powerful protagonist with awesome abilities without it becoming an anti-climax. After all, if you have the capability to collapse buildings and sink ships, then you’re not exactly vulnerable, are you? So why would the reader really care? Except – I did. I really wanted Quaeryt to succeed in his dream of a united continent where the downtrodden peasants who make up the majority of the population would have a chance of a fairer life. Where the law protected everyone – not just the rich and powerful. Where imagers would have a safe, stable retreat where they could hone their skills and live with others of their kind, rather than become powerful tools of tyrants, constantly under threat.

As well as his ideals and his guilt at the deaths he’s caused when unexpectedly finding himself serving in the army – the other attractive trait Quaeryt displays is his love for Vaelora. She has unique abilities of her own that haunt her, the gift of being able to see into the future. It often surfaces at times of stress or great danger as a warning, but Vaelora is terrified of confiding in Quaeryt in case she changes his actions or behaviour such that the future timeline she envisages doesn’t come about… It creates a fair amount of tension between them, despite their obvious affection for each other.

Modesitt is good at depicting a strong relationship without turning it overly sugary – the domestic conflict points and minor disagreements work nicely at highlighting their equality in a world where women are so often abused chattels. It makes the final climactic moments of the book far more meaningful, giving a memorable finish to this accomplished slice of adventure in the series.

Any grizzles? Hm. One that became increasingly annoying throughout the book… As the historical setting is late mediaeval, they travel everywhere on horses. We get details about the weather, the state of the roads, how comfortable and clean their lodgings – and next to nothing about the horses, apart from a couple of throwaway sentences on how fond Quaeryt has become of his loyal mare. Anyone who has ever travelled anywhere on a horse for any length of time will know their temper and pace varies from day to day. This sometimes depends on the weather – they are invariably a lot more skittish on a windy day, or when bad weather is approaching; they will be stiff and sore if the going underfoot is rough; travelling through woods tends to cause them to spook at shadows or unexpected noises; and each animal will have its foibles anyhow. Given how well Modesitt depicts his world through the little things, I found this omission a real shame – it wouldn’t have taken too much more to have added this layer on an otherwise convincing world. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker – I enjoyed too much about this accomplished addition to the Imager series.
8/10

Review of Breed by K.T. Davies

Standard

Well this is fun! I encountered the author at Fantasycon. She is cool, charming and funny – I had a hunch she was a good writer. And I was right.

After being chased by a dragon, tricked by a demon, almost killed by a psychopathic gang boss and hunted by a ferocious arrachid assassin, Breed’s life really takes a turn for the worst…

breedI’m not going to continue with the rather chatty back cover blurb, and in case you think I’ve already given away too much of the story with the above sentence, know that all that happens in the opening section… Yep. Davies writes with the brakes off. This is an OTT protagonist who has been brought up on the wrong side of – well, everything, really. Breed, unsurprisingly, has Mother issues as his isn’t exactly brimming over with fond maternal feelings for her part-human son.

Here’s a thing – my enthusiasm for anti-heroes has somewhat waned. So how did I get on with Breed? Initially I thought I might have a problem, but Davies is far too canny to ringfence Breed as a mere grotesque with no moral compass. We learn of his vulnerabilities as he is pitchforked in the middle of his full-on adventure – not that he wears his heart on his sleeve. In fact, I’m not even sure he has a heart… But the humour certainly lightens things up and there isn’t an ounce of self-pity in his characterisation. Additionally, he doesn’t undertake his quest alone – along the way he picks up several companions.

The first is a scholarly priest, Tobias. I don’t think I’m revealing too much if I let on that they don’t meld all that well as a team. The tension between the pair of them creates all sorts of enjoyable tension and comedy, as well as pulling the story forward. The second companion is a revolting vagrant who is happy to answer to Breed’s name for him – Tosspot. Surprisingly, this mismatched trio, with another character also thrown into the mix, manage to more or less muddle their way through most of the plot, before events overtake them.

While the storyline follows the classic epic Fantasy narrative – a quest to find a particular artefact with great power for good or evil, Davies’ choice of protagonist and his happy band puts quite a different spin on this setup. Most other books featuring anti-heroes and starting with an epic fantasy scenario soon deviate into something else. However, Breed holds true to the classic epic fantasy trope, which gives the story an interesting twist right at the very end, which I absolutely loved.

All in all, this outrageous, riotous blast of adventure delivers in all the ways that matter and I am eager to read the sequel – soon as you like, please!
9/10