Friday, 30 November 2012
Malice - John Gwynne
The plot should be familiar to any seasoned fantasy reader. Long ago, evil was defeated by the creator, but the creator retreated from the world and left his world to its own devices. Thus, Eden was lost, and with it magic was forgotten.
John Gwynne gives us a lot of information and background about the world, but it's not until now when I'm actually thinking about it I realise how much I know. The exposition is cleverly integrated into the story and is made part of the narration, or just told by the older generation to the younger ones. It's all too easy to lose yourself in the world John Gwynne created.
Back to the plot though.
A prophecy is promising the return of the dark one, Asroth, and his herald, the Black Sun. The creator might have retreated, but it does not mean all hope is lost, there are still those who believe in fighting evil. One such man, a king, summons the other kings to form an alliance to prepare to face darkness when it returns.
That's the 10,000 feet view, down on the surface it's a story about people, a teenage boy and his family, to be specific. In a world brimming with great warriors and powerful people it's this boy who is dreaming about gods, and is presented with a choice. He just isn't sure what he is choosing.
John Gwynne skilfully interleaves the story of young and old, by letting the children be children with the problems suited to their age, but still giving them room to take their first step towards becoming adults. Something I have recently struggled with when reading books with protagonists of a similar age.
The world building is impressive, which I find essential for epic fantasy. You want the rich lore, the multitude of races and cultures. All the best fantasy seems to avoid the vanilla fantasy races of elves and dwarves, which is also the case with Malice. John Gwynne instead makes use of giants as his 'elder' race, a race who was once masters of the land, but was driven off by humans. Humans instead provide the variety when it comes to culture, and we get to meet people from all over the world. One thing I enjoyed with Steven Erikson's books was the multitude of places he showed us, and I really hope John Gwynne can do the same. So far John Gwynne's world is not as exotic as Steven Erikson's, not necessarily a bad thing.
The style of writing, and the world, is perhaps most similar to George R R Martin's creation. Not as quite as decadent and uncomfortably violent, it's a much more pleasant reading, but without compromising on the age rating. It's still a brutal world full of violence, and in times of war it is of course hard to avoid.
Malice is one of those rare books with multiple points of views, but each and everyone one of them was as interesting as the rest. This, made it almost impossible to put down. How can you, when every chapter is at least as good as the previous one? I loved the characters, which were all full of life, realistic, but also hard to predict. It's a very black and white plot, unlike Joe Abercrombie's world, which is more shades of grey, but still John Gwynne's characters manages to obfuscate their allegiance and even surprise you once or twice.
Malice is easily one of the best fantasy novels i read this year, and one which will appeal to most fans of the genre. With such an epic debut novel, John Gwynne is a writer to watch from now on.
Malice weighs in at 672 pages, and is published by Tor. It will be on a bookshelf near you in December 2012.