LEGENDS AREN'T BORN. THEY'RE FORGED.
Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar's army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people.
First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar's most fearsome warriors, who's vowed revenge on the king for her sister's execution.
Now Dug's on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join - and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that's going to get them all killed . . .
It's a glorious day to die.
Last year I read a terrific debut set with Vikings, and since then I have gotten a taste of the dark and gritty and historical epic fantasy. When I saw Orbit’s publishing schedule for the second half of this year with the release of the debut of Angus Watson’s Age of Iron I knew I was in for a treat. Age of Iron isn’t a Viking story but it is set in England during the Roman invasion times 40AD-ish, so quite the change of scenery but still packs a heavy punch when it comes down to the gritty dark epic fantasy setting. As you can perhaps make up out of the synopsis and which becomes obvious when you read Age of Iron is that it isn’t a book that shows the good times during that age but shows hard times, how to survive. It’s messy, it’s bloody but it’s good. Age of Iron is written by Angus Watson who has written numorous stories as a freelance writer for several newspapers like: the Times, Financial Times and the Telegraph. Age of Iron is his debut.
The story of Age of Iron picks up with the focus of the main protagonist Dug Sealskinner, a mercenary. He is currently residing in the village of Barton, which is about to be attacked by King Zadar who is on returning back from his streak of devastation across England and returning to Maidum Castle. Dug isn’t a young “just-out-of-academy” type of warrior, he is old, in his forties and a well seasoned warrior but he isn’t all that brave actually. Though an attack is imminent the villagers still speculate whether the attack will take place at all because Barton does pay everything to keep King Zadar happy. But Lady luck doesn’t work in the favour of barton and their village gets devastated to the fullest, but as luck would have had it for Dug, he get’s knock-out cold during the battle of Barton and falls unconscious just to wake up in the devastation. Now you would think that having witnessed this in particular Dug would fight to set things right for King Zadar, but Dug has other plans, he wants to join up in the ranks of Zadar’s army. He is still a mercenary, can you fault him for that?
Dug’s character is only the first in the story of Age of Iron that you follow. The second storyline and character that you get to meet up with is that of the young girl Spring, her age is hard to guess but I reckon she is about 7-11 year old category. Dug meets up with Spring when she is out scavenging on a battlefield, Spring is being kept by a big man called Ogre. Dug kindly liberates Spring from Ogre and from there on Dug has another companion, not one that you would think of by an mercenary. But Spring isn’t an innocent girl at all, she defnitenly has some darker shades going on. From the beginning that you get introduced to Spring she is really a mystery, she is shown as a young girl and that is it. Her involvement in the story only becomes apparent later on and that is when it starts to get interesting.
The third and final character that you follow in Age of Iron is Lowa, a twenty-ish year old female archer, from the army of King Zadar. Lowa is one of the best of her trade and is held in high regard amongst the ranks of the army. She is an expert bowman and once she has you in her sights there isn’t nothing that can save you. Lowa and her small squadron of fellow archers get into a trouble with King Zadar... Zadar wants to execute Lowa and her squad, Lowa just barely escapes from her execution. Accidentally or planned by the Gods, Lowa runs into Dug, and perhaps by the charms of Lowa, Dug the seasoned warrior decides to help this “damsel in distress”. But with meeting up with Lowa; fighting against King Zadar, Dug does finds himself on the other side that he wanted to be...
These three characters make up the storyline of Age of Iron. I have to say that Angus Watson really build up his story in a great way. First each of the stories start of individually, where he gives a clear grip and base on every character of the story, only later to have all the three stories collide with each other to great an even better one. The writing style that Angus Watson uses in Age of Iron has a fast pace, and he cleverly switches talking scenes with information that is crucial to the story with several very action packed, gritty and violent fighting scenes. I already tweeted that it is a messy and bloody business and this is shown more than a few times. By alternating the story of Age of Iron in this way Angus Watson created a nice page turner that will keep you reading in the late hours.
I already mentioned the character that make up the main story of Age of Iron and i have to say I was impressed with them. All three of them showed a nice development along the way and foremost Dug proved to be a interesting perspective. He isn’t the likeliest of heroes, he is a mercenary who goes where he can find the best job security and pay, but he is far from the breaveheart kind of mercenary and would rather take a secure place in the back. He is a seasoned warrior and more than once does show that he knows how to deftly swing his enormous warhammer, yes, not a sword but Dug wields a WARHAMMER! Circumstances make Dug’s character to “grow up”, he can no longer just think for his own self but with his companions he has to make sure they survive as well. It a really nice turnaround of events that shape this unlikely hero into one. Lowa also offers a nice perspective on the wars of King Zadar, she was a loyal follower of him right until the moment she was betrayed and hunted down for her own life, now she is hellbent on revenge, King Zadar killed her sister and this is something she just can let be. She also grows thoughout the story when she is all of a sudden no longer able to have everything the army has and being set on her own with Dug and Spring does ask much more than she could have guessed. Lastly there is Spring that has a great air of innocence around her, but she will proof you wrong over many a occasion...
One thing that I liked about Age of Iron was that Angus Watson also shows the perspective of King Zadar, though in a much lesser extent than those of Dug, Spring and Lowa. King Zadar is the bad guy of the story, the King who want to rule it all, and by showing his line of thinking Angus Watson gives another great ring to the dark and gritty setting that features in his story. Because King Zadar isn’t an innocent King who allows his subordinates to go with a simple pad on the back, no you loose limbs or simply don’t walk away from a meeting with him. Though it can be quite visceral at times, for me this only gave a better look on just how nefarious a person King Zadar was and found myself rooting much more for Dug to finally pick up his hammer and swing it...
Epic Fantasy is often accompanied with magic, fiery elemental spell flinging mages. Well Angus Watson goes into a different direction with his and introduces Druids. These are the closest things that come to magic, but it is never actually mentioned. They are more shown as a kind of seers, advisors and healers. Take for example the Druid of King Zadar, Felix, (yes it does get messy) Felix sacrifices children to read the future. But luckily Felix is only one Druid and there are several others that achieve their goals in a more savour kind of way. Nonetheless though many call it all make-believe, later on in the book Angus Watson does spin the story of Druidism in an interesting way and does make you wonder what all else will be possible in the sequel... this definitely caught my attention!
From the start of Age of Iron, Angus Watson got my attention. This was just the book I was looking for, I hadn’t read such a story in a long while, it’s dark, gruesome Epic Fantasy. Given the day and age wherein the story of Age of Iron takes place around 40AD this whole dark setting definitely works it’s wonders and made me see several scenes quite vividly, especially the fighting scenes. The build up of the story with focussing on every character individually then letting the story all converge into something much bigger was done in a clever way that with even though you were given a lot of information, about them all, it was all easy to digest, which was needed given the fact that it has a pretty high page count. Orbit has brought some very spectacular debuts over the last years and they can definitely add Age of Iron as another big success. The story has a great focus on the action scenes but Angus Watson also introduces those hints of betrayal and intrigue into it that gives a true sense of Epic Fantasy. With his debut Angus Watson has managed to hit the rights snares. I am eager to see that will follow in Clash of Iron. In the arc that I read there was already a few words. Look to be another great read.