I had heard a lot of talk and good things about The Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne so I decided I would take a look for myself and see what all the fuss was about. Malice is book one of Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series and my initial reaction is wow, just wow. This book blew me away and has risen to one of my all-time favourite books. The prose immediately struck me as elegant. Gwynne’s world is beautifully described and brought to life characters whom I quickly found attachment to.
The setting is a realm called the Banished lands, a late iron age/early medieval style fantasy setting. The setting had a real feeling of post-Roman/ Dark-age Britain, but yet not at all Britain, this is a place with its own unique feel. It is a place of thatched wooden houses and farmsteads, and mail clad warriors and honour, a place of wild and as yet untamed country. The larger towns of the Banished lands had been built on the old ruins of an ancient race of giants, with men unable to recreate the stonework of a forgotten age. The culture Gywnne has woven feels rich and easily imaginable as realistic.
There are several point of view characters, each telling a part of the story from various realms across the Banished lands. I would say the main protagonist is Corban, a young lad coming of age in the fortress town of Dun Carreg, in the realm of Ardan. He is involved in a bitter rivalry with an older boy named Raffe. We also see the story from Cywen’s point of view, Corban’s older sister, who’s story is entwined with Corban’s. Also in Ardan is Evnis, a lord and advisor to the king who appears to have sinister allegiances and designs on the throne of Ardan.
We have Veradis’ perspective, a lords son from the kingdom of Tenebral who swears into the service of the high king’s son, Nathair. We have Kastell, another warrior-noble and his protector Maquin who lock horns with his spiteful cousin, Jael as they vie for favour with their uncle the king of Isiltir. Also there is the perspective of Camiln, a woodsman and bandit from the forests working for sinister overlords.
There is a whole host of other characters not yet mentioned, some fantastic villains, I won’t say who as I don’t want to spoil it but some are not noticeable on first meeting, and of course there is Storm (you will have to read it for yourself to find out who that is).
There appear to be great forces in motion and the characters of the book are embroiled in an inexorable wave of events sweeping them each onto either the side of good or evil, yet which side is which is not always obvious and even at the end I was eager to discover more. There are some cool monsters and giants too, but yet it’s done really well and is quite believable. There are some emotional moments, and I felt at times joy and humour, and at others, genuine sadness and shock – which is a testament to Gwynne’s writing. The intrigue, plenty of exciting events, sometimes intense jeopardy and various switching character arcs drive the reader onwards, making this book a fast paced joy to read. The book starts off intriguing and quite light but slowly descends into darker times, and I get the sense has potential to get darker still with only the truth and courage of the righteous to light the way. It is not particularly high fantasy but neither is it low, yet somewhere in between. One thing it could be definitely described as though is epic. This is some epic fantasy right here.
If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book and as mentioned it has taken a place on my shelf of favourite books. Everyone needs to read this book and take their own journey into the Banished Lands.
Thanks for reading,