ARC provided by the publisher—Orion Publishing Group (Gollancz)—in exchange for an honest review.
Wooding strikes a magnificently fine balance between classic epic fantasy and grimdark fantasy, making this a new amazing start to a new trilogy.
To be honest, I feel like the love for classic fantasy has started to dwindle these days and has been replaced with a thirst for grimdark or fantasy with darker tones; most likely due to the fame garnered by the Game of Thrones TV show. This isn’t actually a bad thing, and I have to say that I kind of feel the same. The reason behind this is that classic fantasy is starting to feel too familiar with the majority of books following the same kind of good versus evil structure that’s getting more and more predictable. Reading classic fantasy now is in my opinion like coming home to something incredibly well known; it’s always comfy and you’re highly familiar with it. Readers want new adventures, something unpredictable and fresh, not the same kind of adventures they’ve already experienced time and time again. This is where The Ember Blade will come in and change your mind. Rooted heavily in classic epic fantasy but imbued with the element of the morally grey character found in grimdark Wooding has created a hybrid in this book and the result was amazing. Imagine coming home and there are pleasant surprises to be found; you open your fridge, crack open an egg and you get two yolks instead of one. That’s how it felt reading this book.
The Ember Blade storyline started as highly inspired by typical classic fantasy tropes, with two teenage boys—Aren and Cade—encountering an event that would soon change their lives forever. However, I can guarantee you that 10% in, you’ll soon realize that the story starts to differ from the norm and keeps on getting better. It was gripping, well-paced, and unpredictable. The first half was full of dangers for the main characters and honestly speaking, I’m usually not a fan of this kind of storytelling structure; I prefer characterizations first and dangers later. I don’t mind how slow-paced the book is, because I need to care about the characters first and foremost. This is another great example of why Wooding’s storytelling was surprisingly wonderful to read for me. Despite all the dangers in which he placed the characters in the first half, he made sure to not neglect any characterizations here and there that made me truly care about the characters’ predicament. Where the first half focused majorly on Aren and Cade, the second half of the book slowed down the pacing by introducing a more detailed and well-executed multi-perspectives narration; this made EVERY single character compelling to read. I have to admit that some parts in the first half, where the characters were in Skavengard, went a bit too long for me due to the lack of familiarity and characterizations with the new set of characters that were introduced there, but the second half of the book made up for this minor issue masterfully.
I haven’t read any of Wooding’s work before this, but if his characterizations are as good as those in this book, then I’ll have to make sure to get his preceding series; characterizations always make or break any book, and those I found here definitely made the book shine for me. The characters’ fluctuating emotions and motivations could truly be felt; they were realistic, nuanced, and complex. What made it even better was that the grimdark element ensured that none of the characters were truly what they seemed at first. These characters, and I mean ALL characters with perspectives, were incredibly complex. As good or bad as they may seem, they have their own problems and agendas to deal with. The morally grey characters resulted in a very gripping narrative because it was difficult to predict what the characters would do. The execution of the situation where we as the readers know their backgrounds, thoughts, and secrets while the other characters didn’t was, in a word: greatness.
“To speak from the heart required more bravery than any physical risk. To heal a wound was so much harder than to cause one.”
Although the characters at times were morally grey, this doesn’t mean that it was hard to love them; it was actually very easy to love these characters. The way I perceived it, Wooding placed the heaviest value in this book on friendship and honor. Aren and Cade’s brotherhood for one became one of the strongest driving factors of the book for me. Wooding really knows how to create a situation that will keep the reader coming back to the questions: “will they come back from this?” or “will he/she do it?” and I couldn’t be happier with it.
“A friendship of half a lifetime shouldn’t be broken by a few harsh words.”
Let me say once again that this isn’t a grimdark book. It’s a classic epic fantasy told in a modern narrative to which was added some of the aspects of the morally grey character from the grimdark genre; the tone of the book itself was never bleak. The characters do live in a grim and oppressive world but the themes of hope, kindness, and grand adventure contained in your beloved classic fantasy were always there to balance things out.
“In her lessons, as in life, they’d often find themselves dealt a hand that was less than fair. She’d teach them to overcome a disadvantage any way they could.”
From the excellent characterizations to the relentless chase, from breathtaking set pieces to the intricate world-building, everything was written with finesse. It seriously doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of classic, epic, or grimdark fantasy (even better if all three), there’s a place for you here. The Ember Blade is a book every fantasy fan will feel right at home with, and yet will find new adventures in it. It’s a book that fantasy readers will love to revisit and inhabit longer and longer with every visit. The Ember Blade has been forged to stand the test of time and I sincerely hope you’ll wield the blade yourself.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Official release date: September 20th, 2018
You can pre-order the book HERE!