I received an ARC of A Time of Courage from 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
Published: 2nd April 2020 by Pan Macmillan (UK) & 7th April 2020 by Orbit (US)
No word better describes the result of the time and effort John Gwynne has put into A Time of Courage, the finale of the Of Blood and Bone series. It is a monumental achievement to have wrapped up this series so perfectly and speaks to the care and dedication that the author has put into this work, the love for it permeating every page.
I will spare you any spoilers by not discussing the plot, but I will say this: Picking up immediately after the shocking finish of the previous book, A Time of Courage wastes no time in plunging you into the atmospheric setting of a world on the edge of disaster. The events of the first two books have been ominously building toward a climactic showdown, and the time for courage has finally arrived.
‘They would kill us all. Every living, breathing creature that walks the Banished Lands.’
He raised his hands, palms up. ‘That is why I fight. To protect those I love from death.’
From the first page, there is an urgency to every scene that promises a thrilling, frenetic and captivating read ahead, but I was still not prepared for how unputdownable this book was. Not only did the narrative set an inexorable pace, but it never shied away from spending a few quiet moments with its characters, bringing balance to a tale that could have easily focused too much on the action. It always stays true to its heart, giving testament to the themes this series embodies – family, friends, love, loyalty, truth and courage, blending these quiet moments seamlessly into the countdown to the inevitable showdown, never relinquishing momentum.
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 here that counts. And if we can be called friend, then we are lucky indeed.
The story would of course not have reached the heights it did if not for the brilliant characters; I find this to be another standout feature of the writing, evident across every book in both series. Every single character, be they human, monster or animal, villain or hero, is a fully developed creation who is flawed and relatable, more real to me than people I have met in real life, arousing a gamut of emotions deeply felt. I lived and breathed, fought, laughed and journeyed, hoped, cried and hated with them. I loved with them. And I confess, parting with them is bittersweet. It is a worthy ending, but the world of The Banished Lands has become a place I love returning to and friends I love to visit and I am sad to say goodbye. There is an abundance of superb characters to talk about, but I don’t want to inadvertently spoil anything, so let me just say that John Gwynne has outdone himself. If character-driven stories are your thing, this is as good as it gets. It speaks to the depth of the feelings instilled in me by the author’s talent, that mentions of characters from the previous series, long since passed from this world, evoked incredibly emotional and poignant responses from me, resulting in tears on more than one occasion, and uh… there may have been some ugly sobbing when a certain wolf’s story was told. But there are no witnesses to confirm.
Sometimes the only answer is blood and steel.
One of the most astounding achievements of this last book is the mesmerizing, mammoth final battle; eye poppingly ferocious in its intensity and all-encompassing in its scope. I was so gripped in the thrall of Gwynne’s spell, I completely forgot to breathe on a few occasions! The entirety of the Banished Lands was represented including humans, Kadoshim, giants, draigs, wolven-hounds, Ben-Elim, bears and many more! Everyone was involved and fought for not only survival but for the futures of those they love and care for in a fight of such magnitude and violence that to call it anything other than a brutal, bloodthirsty battle would be an insult to it’s raw, chaotic, savage nature. If you thought you were going to start reading this storm of fury and take breaks anywhere, think again. It’s a relentless maelstrom that does not let up for 196 atmospheric pages to be exact. Yes, you read that right. 196 pages of palpable tension and non-stop action that sinks its talons in you and refuses to let you go. Stakes are raised higher than anything Gwynne has previously written, the dread of not knowing who will survive flapping like a murder of crows above every heart-stoppingly near miss, every anguished cry, every bone-jarring clash of steel. Quick shifts between character points of view reinforce the frenzied feel of battle chaos and being beset by enemies with no respite, every sequence a vital cog in this cinematic final battle of the long war, and all written superbly by arguably the best in the business where close quarter combat is concerned; the fight sequences thrilling, impactful and concisely choreographed. When the dust settled, I was wholly exhausted, my emotions wrung dry.
No surprise then that it took me a while to recover from the impact this book had on me, all thanks to the vivid prose and it’s completely immersive quality. Talk about engaging and addictive! Upon starting A Time of Courage, I spent every waking moment either reading it or wishing to read it, resulting in an endless internal struggle – rush to know how it all ends, or savour this final adventure? I tried to pace myself, but there is a limit to the patience I can display when faced with such temptation. It was over far too soon, bringing my time in the Banished Lands to a close, the trilogy completed. And whilst this series stands perfectly well on its own, it is in essence one half of a two-part puzzle. A Time of Courage is the final piece of the second part, the culmination of seven books in The Banished Lands, delivering an enthrallingly epic and sublimely satisfying conclusion to the overall series that will have Gwynne fans reaching for the rafters in applause when the denouement has passed and the final punctuation mark dots the page. I certainly did.
When any beloved series approaches its end, there is always that nagging worry that an author won’t deliver a satisfying conclusion, leaving you without that sense of happiness and fulfilment. Some do fail at this admittedly difficult task, but most succeed at least partly if not fully, bringing relief from the worry and joy for a story well ended. There is another smaller group though. Exalted in the hearts of readers and deserving of accolades, these authors surpass the loftiest of expectations and are real-world heroes to us book lovers, gifting us exquisite endings that make our bookish hearts thump in all the right ways. A Time of Courage is such an ending, and John Gwynne is such an author. All I can say is thank you.
‘You blaze bright as the sun. The world is a better place for having you in it.’