Malice by John Gwynne, The Faithfull and the Fallen #1

A black sun is rising …

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage.

The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars.

High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.

Malice is John Gwynne's debut in the fantasy genre, and was set as a big release back in 2012. I am always a sucker for a good epic fantasy story and Malice promised to be one, the synopsis already pays well into it and with mentioning a part coming-of-age tale I knew that this book was a treat. While I added this book on goodreads I saw that John Gwynne won the Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Debut, well to be honest if you win such an prestige award, your book has to be good!

The first thing that fell to note was the tone of the book, in the introduction to Malice there is short narration about the past of The Banished Lands and that peace has been more of the exception than the rule. The humans have clashed plentiful times with the Ogres and battles have been ruthlessly won or savagely lost. This history has shaped The Banished Lands, but a war is brewing again and one king seeks to unite the whole of The Banished Lands to lead men into battle one last time... but only if it were that easy. The introduction that John Gwynne road in Malice did really cast a dark spell on the story, that continues all throughout and really helped to produce the right mood for this book. Especially as the story continues and nears it's end it becomes darker and darker, something that I have come to enjoy in recent epic/high fantasy.

Soon after the introduction you are thrown in the depths of an immense character cast and you start to follow six storylines and one of them follow the I think main protagonist of Malice young Corban.  I enjoyed reading Corban story a lot. he is a young boy when you first get to meet him, constantly being bullied by other kids, but he doesn't give up and let them get away with it, yes he is beaten up but from the first time that I read it, it felt that he wanted to show those bullies just what he is made up off. He starts to train to become better and better, and this coming of age theme for Corban worked well. Not only is he changed by the bullies but when the action in the end finally takes place he is shaped and changed by these events as well. If you would compare the young Corban with the grown-up one in the end of the book, they are worlds apart but the transition, over the whopping 600+ pages was done in a great manner. Even more so was the intervention with the witch and the sense created that there is more to Corban's character than meets the eye just yet. I have found a favourite character that I hope to see grow more and more all throughout The Faithfull and the Fallen series. Besides young Corban there are perspectives shown from Cywen the sister of Corban with a fiery and protective attitude, she might be a bit to overprotective towards Corban. Cywen doesn't hesitate to let her knife throwing speak for her. There is also Nathair, the Prince to the Throne of Tenebral and son of the High King Aquilus. You follow his perspective indirect via his first sword Veradis, his story help to drive the story further and several things start to unfold in Nathair's story. Nathair proclaims himself according to the prophecy that he is special, and by this proclamation forges questionable alliances. If you would have to compare Corban with Nathair they are water and fire, direct opposites. At first I started to sympathize with Nathair, that he has a rough time, but now that I have gotten to learn more and more about his character I am of the opinion that he might think to highly of himself which may cost him dear on the long run, especially with his more unsavory actions. This is just a glimpse of the many characters in Malice and each one is well fleshed out and all contributed in a great manner to make this one solid story. 

With all these many perspectives you might think that the story will diverge a lot, well this might be initially with setting up every storyline but soon you start to see overlap and possible links between each story. If you have read the introduction you can make out that there is a war brewing. The war that is brewing is remnant to the earlier God-War between Elyon and Asroth, wherein Elyon is considered the good guy and and Asroth the bad, their respective champions are called Bright Star and Black Sun, but who they actually are remains still to be discovered. Along the way you can perhaps make up your own mind as to who is who, but there are no concrete hints given. This among other was something that I liked, revealing who is who puts an early label onto the characters that could have potentially consequences for the sequel, I do hope to see this explored in the sequel Valour out this spring. John Gwynne does a perfect job in writing this first installment, he introduces you not only to some great characters, but invests a lot of time in building and setting up his world. I think in Epic Fantasy you want to see and epic story is this is exactly what you get. Malice is 600 pages and if you would cut out all the details I think you would be left with half that many pages. John Gwynne creates a well established foundation to further build-up the epic story of The Faithfull and the Fallen. 

Now there is one thing that I always like to see in fantasy and that is magic! This is not overlooked in Malice. John Gwynne does however keep this to a minimum that really peaked my interest early on and I was waiting for a final colorful performance. In Malice the magic is referred to as Elemental and the Ogres are still able to control it. To a certain extent, it has was way more powerful back in the old days and now only remnants remain. The parts of Elemental that I have been able to glimpse did proof to be very powerful, but moreover new and fresh and again something that I hope to be seen explored as the serie progresses. 

As you can make up from the word above, Malice is an outstanding debut that for me only has a lot working in it's favor. Earlier this year I read Brian Staveley's debut, The Emperor's Blades and I have to say that the epic fantasy up until hasn't let me down and Tor again proves that they have some mighty fine titles in their line up. As for Malice, John Gwynne has justly won the Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Debut, the story that he introduces you to in Malice is the real deal. It's EPIC FANTASY that deserves it capitals. It might use existing tropes, good vs. bad and a war but they all work more than well together. The major strenght of Malice are the immense character cast, they are all neatly fleshed out and well developed and John Gwynne also takes his time to really let you get to know his major characters, some books falter in terms of world building when the focus lies heavily on the characters but this isn't the case for Malice. Each storyline more or less takes place in a different environment, so  by this you get to learn of the different places of The Banished Lands. Truly a story of EPIC proportions. Malice is a must read. 


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