This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

14 August, 2013

REVIEW: THE RED KNIGHT

Cover art by Michael Jones

THE RED KNIGHT
BY
K. T. DAVIES

ISBN: 978-0-9572615-1-8
Pages: 476
Publisher: Anachron Press
First published: 20 September 2012

On the cover:

A thousand year shave passed since the Clan Lords and the Fey commanded dragons and raised mighty citadels. The remnants of their ancient power lie dormant and a new conflict threatens the kingdom of Antia.

King Daris rules a peaceful and prosperous land. But his conniving brother Jerim covets the throne and civil war looms.

But there are worse threats to Antia than mere human greed.

Two people will stand against mortal and demonic enemies: Alyda Stenna, captain of The Hammer of Antia returns from campaign to a hero's welcome after prosecuting war abroad with brutal efficiency.

Garian Tain, the spymaster's apprentice, hunts for an assassin through the streets of the capital while the knights bask in the adoration of the crowds.

This is just the beginning.

Both will fight overwhelming odds in a bid to save the kingdom. War and betrayal will test them to their limits. One will rise; one will fall; both will be changed forever.


   This is one of those Epic Fantasy novels that show how far Epic Fantasy has come since the birth of its modern incarnation in 1977*. There is of course elements that you will recognise from the Fantasy novels of the 1980s, it wouldn't really be Epic Fantasy if there weren't, but this is a novel that shows how Epic Fantasy has "grown up" in the last 36 years.

   I was quickly dragged into the story by Davies's writing, and after the first chapter I was already invested in the story, and the characters.
   When we first meet the main character, it's on the battlefield, a setting that Davies brings vividly to life, both here and later in the novel. But I want to begin with the main character, Captain of the First Company of the Antian Royal Guards, Alyda Stenna. 
   Davies does a great job with Alyda, she's a great warrior and a great leader, but she never stops being a female. Neither is she a character that in any way is a male in "women's clothing", she is just a female soldier who has risen to lead, and in the world Davies has created that is something completely natural.
   What it really boils down to is that in Alyda we get a character that is very realistic, while being "larger than life" in the way a heroic lead of any work of fiction needs to be to make it through the trials and tribulations they are given.

   Alyda isn't the only great character in this book, making characters that feel fully alive is one of Davies's strengths. There are no cardboard cut-outs here, but complex living people who have their own hopes and motives for what they do.
   We are firmly in the upper reaches of society when it comes to the main characters, but that doesn't really matter, in that it is necessary to tell this exact story. There is however many supporting characters that come from lower in the ranks, this is not solely a story of the aristocracy.

   I mentioned the word "ranks" above, and it is a central theme there, we are mostly in a military setting. Something that brings us to the middle of the central conflict. A conflict I might add that is what really gives us the basis for a great story.
   We see what is happening through few eyes, and because of that we don't get a ringside seat to everything that is going on. It does however bring us much closer to the events that are described. The story is almost intimate in nature because of the viewpoints used, and for Epic Fantasy my experience is that can be a bit hit or miss, here it is a bullseye.

   Davies writes in a way that really makes you invest emotionally in what is happening to the characters she has created. As the story progresses that creates a lot of tension. The story goes its own ways, and you just have to come along to see what is happening. You're never really sure what is going to happen, because Davies's storytelling doesn't follow a formula. What we get is instead a complex tale that really comes alive.
   It's also told in a raw and honest manner. There's no "Hollywood style" sanitized violence here, it's brutal and at times uncomfortable. Davies doesn't filter, but gives it to us straight. That isn't always pleasant, but it makes for great authentic writing.

   It struck me when I read this how much really happened, and how much I learned about the world the story is set in. There's very little travel to show you the world, and we don't get passages where we are subjected to extensive infodumping. Still I felt I got a good grip on where all of this was happening, and also a sense that there was much outside of that yet to discover.
   I've tried to come up with a good way to describe the feeling this was giving me, and the closest I can come is "dense", but that is not really correct either. This does require concentration, but that is not conscious. Davies lures you into her world, and you are so invested that it takes more effort to pull yourself out. I think maybe rich and vivid is the words I'm looking for, or maybe alive. -It doesn't really matter, I'm sure you understand by now that this was a story that I really got into and enjoyed.

   As you probably have gathered by now, I think this is an excellent debut by Davies. My only "complaint" is that I wish there was more to read, I really didn't want this book to end.
   This is an Epic Fantasy novel that showcases the genre at its best, a book you really don't want to miss, every Fantasy fan should have this in their collection. Davies is an author we hopefully will be seeing much more to in years to come, I know I'll be eagerly awaiting her next novel.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author.

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*1977 saw the publication of The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks) and the first Thomas Covenant book Lord Foul's Bane. I don't remember where I saw this mentioned as the birth of modern Fantasy, but the article made a very good case for it. And since I use it here, I obviously agree.

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