Do you ever have this feeling, just after you finished reading the first book of a series, you knew immediately there’s a huge potential for the series to become one of your favorite series of all time? Malice, the first book in The Faithful and the Fallen quartet by John Gwynne is one of those rare cases for me.
What started out as a simple classic tale of Good vs Evil ended up being not as simple as I thought. As the story progressed, the story evolved darker gradually while keeping the theme ‘Good vs Evil’ at its heart. Has this theme been done before in the past? Yes, more than a million times already. Will I ever get bored with it? No, never. It’s my favorite kind of story; it’s the essence of the majority of epic fantasy books, video games, and movies. What this theme requires to reach greatness has always been a touch of creativity, to make the story unique, make it the author’s own story to share and this, John Gwynne did phenomenally.
Taking place in The Banished Lands where the God War—which broke the world in the first place—happened in the far away past, a prophecy foretold that the ancient war is coming back; anyone with the knowledge of the prophecy must unite to prevent the destruction that the war will cause; the opposite side will unite to achieve the chaos. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, it’s told in the prologue. Malice, as the first book of the series, managed to create a huge amount of groundwork for the sequels. In fact, this installment is more like an introduction to its rich world, legends, and characters. It’s not until the end of the book that we finally get to know who the real faces mentioned in the prophecy were; assuming I’m not proven wrong in the sequels. This is all I will tell you about the story. Look, I’m doing you a favor here, jump into this book as blindly as possible. If you want to know more of the basic premise of the plot, this is one of the really rare circumstances where it’s safe to read the blurb of the book. That’s really all you have to know.
Although this epic (darker tone) fantasy grew more complex, brutal and poignant with each page turned, at the same time it’s filled with familial love and friendship that will warm and break your heart. The novel never goes into the grimdark genre where the characters are morally ambiguous. Told from third-person narrative, Malice introduces you to a wide variety of lovable and great characters with fantastic developments spread throughout the book. Other than the obvious villains that were written to be loathed, every single POV in the book is highly engrossing. Containing the themes of coming of age, friendship, responsibility, bravery, pride, ego, deception, and malice, these characters were imbued with its own unique narrative; no POV ever felt as if they were told with the same voice. I must also mention there’s a huge bonus of reading this book if you’re a lover of friendship between human and dogs like me; you’re in for a treat here.
Pacing-wise, Malice started really slowly because it’s a heavily character-driven book. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t any actions to be found though, you’ll be entertained with a lot of mini-action sequences spread sparsely which I must say, are all written with great details. Not to mention that the last quarter of the book was really high-paced with tons of intense actions in its climax sequences. This is honestly my favorite type of story structure in a book. It allows us to care about the characters first, know how they truly feel, their motivations, their purpose, and eventually their fate. Every favorite series of mine have these elements. Without any compelling characters, I seriously can’t be invested heavily towards a series. Luckily, John Gwynne is amazing at writing lovable characters, world-building, and his writing was really easy to get into; it’s immersive, vivid and felt raw with emotions to provide a rich reading experience.
I absolutely loved almost everything about this book that in fact, I only have two really minor cons.
1. The huge amount of names can be quite overwhelming since they were all introduced right from the beginning consecutively. It took a quarter of the novel for me before I was able to memorize all the names of the characters and places; this was possible with the help of the beautifully drawn map at the beginning of the book.
2. The physical aspects of the characters were quite hard to envision because they lacked the necessary descriptions.
That’s it really, it’s more of tiny annoyances than cons but I got used to them really quick.
By the end of the last page, I found myself filled with the satisfaction of getting to read such a magnificent first book of a series, not to mention that this is also Gwynne’s debut work. Other than the two minor cons in the first section of the book, I absolutely enjoyed reading Malice; it’s a classic story of Light vs Darkness at its best. Right from the beginning, the characters and the plot gripped me and never let go until the end. Among all the famous “If you loved Game of Thrones, you should try this.” blurbs and recommendations, this is probably as close as it gets in terms of quality, complexity, and its harsh world. I do believe that this series will be superior compared to A Song of Ice and Fire (and hey, the series is completed already) by the end of it but I’ll reserve my final judgment until I read the last book, Wrath. I don’t usually recommend any completed series until I finished the last installment but this deserves an exception. I’m an idiot if I don’t recommend this right from the start. I highly recommend Malice to anyone who loves epic fantasy with lovable casts of characters.
Review originally written on February 23rd, 2017 and posted on Booknest.eu
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)