I loved Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series – you can check out my review of Hounded. So when I heard that he had embarked on an epic fantasy, I was intrigued.
In the city of Pelemyn, Fintan the bard takes to the stage to tell what really happened the night the giants came . . . From the east came the Bone Giants, from the south, the fire-wielding Hathrim – an invasion that sparked war across the six nations of Teldwen. The kingdom’s only hope is the discovery of a new form of magic that calls the world’s wondrous beasts to fight by the side of humankind.
What do you do if you wish to portray your epic world through the eyes of eleven protagonists? Well… there is always the George R.R. Martin option, I suppose. But Hearne has gone for a different approach – he has a bard with a magical ability to take the shape and persona of the characters, who then tells their slice of the adventure to a city of refugees caught up in the war. It’s a nifty device to sidestep the problem of trying to get the reader to keep track of exactly who is doing what to whom – especially as at the start of each performance, the bard tells the audience who will be introducing the character who will be taking the stage.
Does Hearne succeed? I’ll be honest – A Plague of Giants took some time to grow on me. Himself immediately was drawn into the world and kept imploring me to keep going, not that I was tempted to DNF it – the writing is too good, for starters. But I was about 20% into the story before the world seeped into my bones and I was reaching for my Kindle with eagerness. Once I was familiar with the cast of characters and the narrative had taken root, I was won over. Because of the structure, this epic fantasy is completely character-driven and I’m a real sucker for character-driven plots.
As we drew closer to the climax, I was holding my breath because we already knew that the giants had very little wriggle-room – they couldn’t return to their homeland due to the volcanic eruption devastating their island. And because a significant number of the giants also wielded fire as their kenning (read magical talent) they were lethal. I also have to warn you that not all the eleven protagonists survive to the end of the story – I was shocked to discover who doesn’t make it and the manner of their death. Inevitably, the story is somewhat fragmented, given it is told piecemeal by a variety of characters – some of them not human. But I grew to really enjoy this world and the diversity of species who are caught up in the conflict caused by the giants’ invasion.
The ending was suitably dramatic and despite the book being 600+ pages, when I got to the end I was genuinely sorry this instalment of the tale was over. While I’m aware that there has been a mixed reception to this one, if you enjoy well-written epic fantasy that gives an insight into the political machinations as well as plenty of action, both military and magical, then go looking for this one. While I can’t guarantee you’ll love it – if it does tick your box, you’ll really, really thank me.