Malice by John Gwynne is the first book in The Faithful and the Fallen series, and it is an epic fantasy that has flown under the radar of a lot of fantasy aficionados. After reading it, I can understand that to some extent, because – in this time when grimdark and its close cousins are all the rage – Malice is more of a classic fantasy story with many of the tropes that go along with that term. However, where some novels might flounder under those classic themes, Malice embraces them, turning them into a very engaging and entertaining story; one that any fantasy lover will find themselves enjoying.
The story begins in the familiar vein of a disgruntled young man turning to evil entities for power. In this case, it is one Evnis, who, as the second son of a noble house, feels himself mocked and overshadowed by his older brother. Thus, he turns to an ancient demon for succor, and so finds himself standing before a magical fire, watching as a man is sacrificed to call forth his chosen benefactor. This ancient enemy of the world promises untold power to Evnis in return for Evnis himself. With some doubts, the youth agrees to the trade.
From here the tale skips forward in time several decades. (A plot devise that I generally hate, but here it fits nicely.) Now, we see Evnis as a man, married with a child and grown in power, as the chief counselor to the King of Ardan. Perhaps he is not the ultimate power in his land, but Evnis is still an important figure at court, and he is happy with his life. His love for his wife having overshadowed his hunger for power and cast back the darkness within himself for a time. However, Evnis’ wife is deathly ill, and with her death, there looms a chasm of darkness, not only for Evnis but for all the lands.
For in The Banished Lands, there is an ancient prophecy of a coming war between the gods. A time when the great demon himself, Asroth, will seek to destroy the world. But before this calamity takes place, there will be by dire signs of its eminence: bleeding stones, war between man and giant, and a day when the noon day sun turns black. At this time, there will arise in the land the champions of the gods: The Bright Star (champion of good) and The Black Sun (champion of evil), and all people will choose sides with one or the other, as the whole world is swept up in war and darkness and death.
From this point, Mr. Gwynne uses multiple characters to develop the story, and even if many are standard fantasy fare, they are well written, fully developed, and uniquely entertaining.
On one side of the land, we have the Kingdom of Ardan, where the young boy, Corban, is growing up in a small fishing village outside the walls of Dun Carreg, fortress-city of King Brenin of Ardan. Young Corban’s life is an idyllic mixture of friendship, family, and faith. He deals with childlike concerns even as he learns the fighting skills to become a man. And beside him much of the time is his sister Cywen, a dagger throwing, tough talking, and ferocious young woman, who is always in the center of the action. Plus let us not forget that the villainous Evnis lurks nearby; the darkness twisting within his soul only waiting for a time to erupt and consume all his enemies.
Seemingly a world away from Ardan is the Kingdoms of Tenebral and Isiltir. Here we are allowed to experience the complex pattern of human nature by Veradis and Kastell. Two young nobles from different kingdoms, who find themselves coming together as friends before being swept apart by their choices and fate itself.
Veradis is a warrior born and bred, sent to the capital city of Tenebral to earn both respect and experience in service to his king. Soon, however, our young swordsman finds himself the fast friend of Prince Nathair of Tenebral; a brilliant youth who is the epitome of all a king should be: handsome, strong, eloquent, brave, and enlightened. And Veradis finds himself rising to heights of authority and power he had never dreamt of attaining, but he soon finds that the web of friendship, respect, and adoration that ties him to Nathair also has a dark side, for the Prince of Tenebral dreams of more than following in his father’s footsteps as king but of becoming something even more legendary: The Bright One himself.
Kastell, on the other hand, is a man bereft of his home and family, having been raised by his uncle, the King of Isiltir, and embroiled in a life long rivalry with his cousin, Jael. A rivalry that has evolved to the point that it has become a life or death contest; one that cannot be quenched even by order of the king. Thus, Kastell and his ever loyal friend Maquin find themselves attempting to find their own way in the world away from the shadow of the throne of Isiltir. However, no matter how far they run from Kastell’s cousin fate seems to draw them back; the inevitable confrontation of Kastell and Jael surely to result in the death of one or both of them.
When you add these entertaining characters with great lore, some nice battles, ferocious giants, sinuous wyrms, mighty draigs, and fearsome wolven, you have a really enjoyable classic fantasy tale. Sure, many might say the story starts off a little sluggish, as Mr. Gwynne gets the set up put in the place and introduces all these characters, but once the tale starts moving forward it is quite the enjoyable ride.
Does Malice reinvent the fantasy genre?
Is it worth a read?
Absolutely. It is a solid start to an intriguing epic fantasy series. I enjoyed it immensely by the end and look forward to reading further about this world. Hopefully, you will give it a try and join me in this journey through the God-War.
Netgalley and the publisher provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.