We shall never forget.
And how could I ever forget? A Time of Dread served as a brutal and stunning reminder that Gwynne is one of the greatest modern fantasy writers.
The Faithful and The Fallen (“TFaTF”) was a superb epic fantasy series with one of the most well-written stories about prophecies and good vs evil that I’ve read in a very long time. And judging from what I’ve read in this book, I believe Gwynne is on track to surpass what he did in the earlier series. AToD is the stamp of a great writer that never stops learning and always keeps improving. While Malice was a great debut that any author would and should be proud of, AToD demonstrated that Gwynne has once again upped his game.
Over 130 years had passed since the Day of Wrath when the Kadoshim had been defeated. But in The Banished Lands, happily ever after does not exist. The Ben-Elim, purportedly the saviour of all humankind, enforced peace with an almost tyrannical rule that does not tolerate any infringements to The Ways of Elyon or the Lore. However, peace is tenuous at best as the Kadoshim that remain are plotting vengeance.
Gwynne seamlessly brought me back to The Banished Lands and made me feel like I’ve never left, even though it had been over two years since I’ve finished reading TFaTF. Even without rereading that series, I was able to immerse myself back into the world and relive the incredible bonds of family, friendship and companionship that was the hallmark of Gwynne’s stories. Make no mistake, these books are dark; they are brutally honest in the portrayal of good vs evil and the unremitting dangers faced by our beloved characters. However, where we have truth and courage, and love and loyalty, there will always be hope and light.
The characterisation is where Gwynne always excelled the most. If you don’t care for the characters, then the story becomes quite two dimensional with only the worldbuilding and plot to fall back on. The one constant that I’ve always felt while I read TFaTF was this impending sense of doom that someone I care about is going to die. It was so emotionally stressful and yet so rewarding when (some of) our favourite characters prevailed. But the thing is, Gwynne does not pull his punches. You will feel devastated, just as you will also feel vindicated and elated. It’s nothing short of an emotional roller-coaster – one that you don’t want to get off from even though you’re worried that you might collapse from a heart attack.
In A Time of Dread, I grew invested in the characters even faster than I did in TFaTF. For one thing, the smaller cast of characters to follow in this book helped, as we only had 4 POVs. I believed the other key element was the connectivity of some of these characters to those whom we have met and loved in the earlier series. For me, the nostalgia played an immense role in creating an almost immediate emotional link which would otherwise take a much longer time to develop. Whenever the words Truth and Courage were spoken, I was transported back in time to those glorious fist-pumping or painful heart-breaking moments. I felt full and empty at the same time when the names of the previous characters were mentioned. So much had been fought and sacrificed for, and yet the fighting was far from over. In fact, Of Blood and Bone is shaping up to be even darker.
Sometimes the only answer is blood and steel.
No review on a book written by Gwynne will be complete without commending his exceptional skill in writing action and battle scenes. While he may have an advantage of having done reenactments in real life, it is by no means a certainty towards well-crafted and realistic action scenes. Gywnne is an undisputed master of combat sequences that will make you wince and cringe with every slash of a sword, each smash of an axe, and even the wet crunch of a well-landed punch.
As an opening book of a new series, the pacing has noticeably improved in AToD as compared to Malice. Even though the beginning was still a bit slower as the new characters were introduced, the plot development was tighter, and events escalated reasonably quickly. The book couldn’t have had a more appropriate title. As the narrative unfolded, there was this sense of dread that slowly seeped through and gradually enveloped me as I began to put the pieces together; revelations which were brilliantly handled. The ending sequence was pulse-pounding, blood-gushing and heart-wrenchingly classic Gwynne; leaving me with a jumble of emotions; of loss, and hope, and dread.
If you have not read anything from John Gwynne yet, this glaring oversight must be remediated quickly. But I do highly recommend to start with The Faithful and The Fallen first (see what I said about nostalgia above).
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