ARC provided by the publisher—Pan Macmillan—in exchange for an honest review.
A Time of Courage by John Gwynne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Of Blood and Bone (Book #3 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Pages: 672 pages (UK hardback edition)
Published: 2nd April 2020 by Pan Macmillan (UK) & 7th April 2020 by Orbit (US)
A Time of Courage is one of the best final books to a series I’ve ever read in my life. It was truly a bittersweet, satisfying, and masterfully crafted finale to conclude Of Blood and Bone and the entirety of The Banished Lands saga.
Permit me to start this review with words from Gwynne himself:
“So, finally we come to the end of this series, and with it, the end of the Banished Land’s tales. Although Of Blood and Bone is a trilogy that can be read as a standalone series, it is also the final chapter of a longer history that involves the four books from The Faithful and the Fallen series. When read together they form around a one-hundred-and-fifty-year history of the Banished Lands, and a sizeable chunk of my life. Roughly seventeen years have flown by, I think, since lifting my pen and writing down my first ideas. I hope that you’ve enjoyed your time spent here, and that this book feels like a fitting and satisfying conclusion to all that has gone before.”
And what a marvelously fitting conclusion it was. A Time of Courage is the third and final book in the Of Blood and Bone series; it is also the seventh novel that takes place in The Banished Lands saga. Gwynne has mentioned it already, A Time of Courage can be defined as a culmination of the previous six books. Honestly, A Time of Courage feels more like the end of a seven-book series rather than the conclusion of the new trilogy. The final battle is here, and alliances from the entire world have to be gathered and united. It is time for the guardians of justice to unsheathe everything in their power and strengthen their bravery in the upcoming final epic battle of light versus darkness. One out of several things about A Time of Courage that elevated the spectacular quality of the trilogy to a higher level is the return to the tone exhibited in The Faithful and the Fallen. The previous two books in the trilogy—A Time of Dread and A Time of Blood—have been relatively darker in tone, while A Time of Courage read like a return to storytelling style in The Faithful and the Fallen. In this final installment, Gwynne tells a grim story but the themes of hope, love, legacy, friendship, camaraderie, truth, and courage never leave the core of the narrative. I loved this book so much. As a fan of all of Gwynne’s books, it would be an understatement to say that I was emotional during my time of reading through it. A Time of Courage, to no one’s surprise, earned its place on my “favorites” shelf; it is the most heart-breaking, intense, and by far the most action-packed installment in the scintillating trilogy.
“That what we fight for is love and friendship. Not schemes and strategies, but people. Our kind, our friends. Our loved ones.”
Following my tradition of reviewing Gwynne’s books, I’ll refrain from mentioning the names of the characters to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. It’s ridiculously astounding just how well Gwynne, once again, nailed the characterizations of his cast with absolute precision, even more so for the new characters compared to the previous two books. In my opinion, Gwynne’s immense talent for writing characters that become real in my mind is undisputedly one of the best in the genre. The characters have endured a lot of hardship, rage, and grief; their feelings were powerfully palpable. I have praised Gwynne’s characterizations for six novels/reviews now; consider this the seventh because his talent with characterizations remains towering strong with each new book he publishes. Take a look at this short line of thoughts that immediately summed up one of the main character’s personality:
“How have I come to be here, standing before a horde of snarling creatures who want to kill me? I don’t even like crowds.”
It may look simple, but the passage immediately conveys a message to the readers that this particular character isn’t good with crowds and most likely is a reluctant hero. Also, I want to use this review to once again urge you to read The Faithful and the Fallen first before you read A Time of Courage. I genuinely feel sad when I hear that readers are reading this trilogy without finishing the first series first. I can’t even begin to emphasize how much you’re missing out if you read this book without having read through the first series; the knowledge and experience acquired from reading The Faithful and the Fallen is what elevates this fantastic trilogy to an exceptionally spellbinding series. Not only do the names and returning characters from the first series have a more prominent role in the narrative here, but you would also be missing the tremendous emotional resonance and significance of the story that can only be experienced by reading the first series beforehand. I’m serious, even the mere utterance of names of the characters from the first series felt, to me, like hearing about real friends who I can’t see anymore. As I mentioned, Gwynne writes characters that become real in my head. I—along with many readers—have lived the journey of the characters in The Faithful and the Fallen, many of the characters have passed away because the story in Of Blood and Bone takes place more than 130 years after the events of Wrath, but hearing their names, legends, and legacy lives on and constantly mentioned tugged at my heartstrings in a way that I didn’t think would be possible. Please, I beg you to do yourself a favor and read them first. There are still three months before the official release date of this amazing culmination; I’m sure you have some time to treat yourself to read four superlative books that would heighten your reading experience of A Time of Courage.
“We of the Order have sworn our oaths and sealed them in our blood, pledged ourselves to truth and courage. But you who have not said the words, I know that you are the same as us, in your hearts. Warriors, brothers and sisters bound to a cause. Otherwise you would not be here now, standing at ourside, risking your lives. This is the sharp edge of who we are. We will stand and fight, together. There is no retreat this time. We win or we die.”
At the beginning of my review, I’ve mentioned that A Time of Courage is by far the most action-packed installment in the trilogy; this is true, and it is also the most epic and action-packed book Gwynne has ever written. The riveting action sequences are back and stronger than ever. Prepare yourself to be enthralled by the breathtaking battle scenes of magnificence without any pause or mute button; once you opened the first page of A Time of Courage, the brilliantly immersive battle scenes will fully compel you to read this book to its completion. Remember the 160 pages long final war in Wrath? Gwynne increased that page count into approximately 200 pages in the final war of A Time of Courage. If you add that page count to the entire battle scenes spread throughout the book, you’ll have more than 400 pages of terrifically written battle scenes in total, and most importantly, none of them ever felt tedious to read, not even once.
“Truth and Courage. Those are the words that define a warrior of this Order. They are more than words; they are a way of life. Would you choose them? You will be swearing to a life of hardship, a life where you put aside your own pleasures and desires, and place yourself in danger’s way. Again, and again, and again.”
Gwynne is a virtuoso epic fantasy writer; he writes compelling storylines, empathizing characters, and he’s a genius at writing close-quarter battle scenes, either large-scale or small-scale. Seriously, seven novels now and there’s no sign of him slowing down the meteoric rise of his craftsmanship. He loves writing battle scenes. It shows, and he excels at it. Gwynne summoned intricate tempestuous devastations and unstoppable maelstroms of annihilations in his actions; bloody wrath and grim vengeance poured into the pages of this stunning narrative. The ruthless tactics employed were cunning, the brutal ground onslaughts were destructive, and the savage aerial combats were adrenaline-charged. Armies of monochrome wings filled the sky, battalions of ruin shook the land, azure flames conflagrate, and a storm of steels sang throughout the battlefield.
“Sometimes the only answer is blood and steel.”
It is worth noting that the last war in this book featured Gwynne at his utmost best. With his trademarked peerless cinematic perspective changes, Gwynne displayed the calamitous obliteration caused on both opposing sides. Compiling deaths and corpses from both opposing forces at the rapid rate of an Elemental disaster, the final war to end the Long War was a catastrophic clash of humans, steel, arrows, magic, animals, draigs, giants, Revenants, Ferals, Ben-Elim, and Kadoshims. The participants of the concluding battle reached a staggering number in the tens of thousands, and their compulsion for retribution and glory brought forth a plethora of chaotic explosions of blood and bone. Everything about A Time of Courage was maximally epic, elating, heart-shattering, jaw-dropping, and glorious. It has everything I want in a finale, it has everything I want in epic fantasy, and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to read this crimson behemoth of epic that certified A Time of Courage as the most epic installments in the entire saga. You heard that right; I’m not saying this lightly, the finale in Wrath was more poignant but A Time of Courage was more epic in every possible way.
“The defender of the innocent, protector of the weak. I will bring hope to the lost, give my life for the helpless… With Truth as my shield… And Courage as my sword, I shall stand against the darkness.
It’s still January, but I might have found my favorite book of the year already. A Time of Courage was one of the two most anticipated books of the year for me, the other one being the fourth installment in The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson, and let me tell that you that it will be highly difficult for even Sanderson to overcome the greatness of A Time of Courage. A 5 out of 5 stars rating won’t do this book justice. Just like Wrath, A Time of Courage is epic fantasy at its best; it’s a masterpiece that deserves a 6 out of 5 stars rating, simple as that. I’ve been repeating this statement over and over again, and I have to repeat it once more that if you’re an epic fantasy reader and somehow you still haven’t read any of Gwynne’s work, fix that mistake now. If you postpone reading the tales in The Banished Lands, know that you’re delaying yourself reading one of the finest—and completed—epic fantasy tomes out there. In fact, I’m confident enough to claim that the seven books in The Banished Lands saga, as a whole, is one of the best completed fantasy series of all time that I’ve read so far. Yes, I loved the entirety of these seven books as much as I loved The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb and Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. Please do yourself a favor and read both The Faithful and the Fallen and the Of Blood and Bone series; they are absolute master class epic fantasy, and they deserve to be read by every enthusiast of the genre.
“We are just people, all of us the same. Flawed, fragile, stubborn, angry, happy. And life treats no one differently. We are born, and we live, and then we die. It’s what we do while we are there that counts. And if we can be called friend, then we are lucky indeed.
The Banished Lands is one of my favorite fictional worlds, and it may have become almost too real in my mind. That’s why it also feels bittersweet to read this book. The tales of The Banished Lands end here, at least for now. Gwynne’s next book, The Dragons Unchained, will be a new story in a completely new series called The Bloodsworn Saga. Undoubtedly, this is already in the list of my most anticipated books of 2021. A new journey awaits, and I will be there. I hope you will join Gwynne’s Warband of readers, too. Years from now, the eternal legends of the Banished Lands will still be sung, and we’ll be the choir that sang its song of origin.
Thank you, John Gwynne. You’re truly one of the greatest fantasy authors of all time. Thank you for writing these legendary stories for us to read. Congratulations, and I look forward to seeing where your imagination goes next.
Truth and Courage.
Self-proclaimed Chronicler of the Order of the Bright Star
Of Blood and Bone: 15/15 stars
Official release date: 2nd April 2020 (UK) and 7th April 2020 (US)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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