First of all, a huge thank you to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for allowing me to read this in advance. It was brilliant. Exactly the kind of fantasy I live for.
Now before I get started, I must confess that this is my first John Gwynne novel. His debut, Malice , was next on my pile to read when I was approved for this beauty so I thought I’d start here. Although I don’t regret it, I do feel like I have missed a lot of cool references to characters of his first series, The Faithful and the Fallen. For that reason, I found the first half of the book fairly slow, as new characters are introduced, the world explained and tales of the original heroes are told. There are a lot of talks and hints about previous characters which I am sure long time readers of Gwynne will love, I just wanted to get started with the new ones. Saying that, the slow start was necessary to making this book (and presumably, series) readable for those who are new to Gwynne and this world, me included. Now I don’t mind a slow pace so this did not put me off reading, but I wasn’t as glued to the story as I thought I might have been after the amazing reviews Gwynne already has for his work. However, I did just read the last 50% in one sitting this morning, so I can say with some certainty that this changes.
A Time of Dread is set in the world of the Banished Lands where warrior angels, the Ben-Elim, protect the humans of the realm against the threat of their great enemies, the demon race of the Kadoshim. Yet this is not a tale of Good vs Evil as you may think with that description. The lines between dark and light blur in this story, leaving you not sure who to trust and what to believe. Gwynne is a master story-teller. He weaves the lives of the four point of view characters excellently, revealing just enough of their personalities and knowledge of the world as they go through the novel for you to piece things together and come to your own conclusions. And then blasts them apart in the last 20%. The one thing I need to enjoy epic fantasy is great characters and A Time of Dread has these aplenty. We follow a young man in the Desolation, who understands the difference of right and wrong and wants the world to know it; a young human warrior in the Ben-Elim’s service, trying her best to prove she is worthy of being there; a ward of the Ben-Elim, taken as punishment from his clan to stop them from fighting; and a member of the people who don’t always see eye to eye with the Ben-Elim, but want the Kadoshim dead too. They each have different motives and feelings about the way their realm is governed and their unique insights are one of the main reasons this book is addictive. Even the side characters are well developed and complex. They all felt real, and as their dramas unfolded I really felt caught up in their adventure at every turn. At one point, I felt a certain character’s pain so strongly I had to put my kindle down and take a breath. This is why I love reading, and this novel truly takes you away from reality and pulls you into their world.
I love stories told from multiple perspectives as you get to see what’s happening in different areas of the world and see the action unfold around each character. This is also a great way to build up suspense. Gwynne had me cursing several times as huge events occurred in one character’s orbit and left you desperate to get back to them as the next chapter switches you across to the events on the other side of the world. So. Good. It is such an enjoyable experience to be in the hands of a great writer, if at times frustrating. But it’s that desperation to keep reading and then find equally shocking and exciting events happening to this character too that next thing you know you’ve finished the last 50% in a matter of hours and you’ve barely moved. It’s that absorbing.
I found that I did predict the revelation of the last chapter fairly early on in the book, but it was one I was pleased to be right about and left me so excited about the next book. I can’t give this the full five stars as I did find the first half a bit too slow, but it wasn’t enough to deter me and I think it was necessary to the story, it set many events in motion even if I didn’t know it at the time. I understand it’s importance but I can’t forget feeling a bit indifferent to picking it up again. But by the end I adored it, so I definitely recommend this to any fantasy fan and as suspected I am dying to read the next one, but will have to settle with starting Malice, and learning about this world as I was supposed to. And looking at the reviews for it, along with now knowing how talented John Gwynne is, I don’t think that is bad thing! I definitely have a new favourite author and I am looking forward to losing myself in the world of the Banished Lands.