“Truth and courage are the banners I live by. Love, loyalty and friendship shall be my guiding light. I will be the bright star in the night sky, the candle in the darkness. 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. From this day on, until the time of my death.”
— The Oath of The Order of the Bright Star.
I firmly believe that John Gwynne is one of the most gifted, powerful fantasy authors of our age. In the course of this trilogy and the quartet preceding it, Gwynne was able to create a world that feels as real as our own. The lore he wove into each book was fascinating and completely transportive. He crafted a compendium of characters for whom I cared so deeply that I rejoiced and wept with them as if they were my friends in reality instead of merely fictional. And don’t even get me started on his action-scene prowess. The fact that he can keep a battle going for 200 pages and keep everything in such incredibly clear focus that boredom has no hope of setting in and tension is so well maintained that I never once felt tempted to skim is an incredible accomplishment that I don’t think has been matched by any other author I’ve read outside of Brandon Sanderson. I honestly don’t know that anything about the series as a whole or this book in particular could’ve been improved in any way. In A Time of Courage, Gwynne penned an incredible finale that moved me deeply and left me feeling weepy and exhausted and content.
“Take your weapons and face your fear. There is only one hope today. And that hope is you… Take your Courage, and let’s go fight the devil with it.”
As with every other Gwynne novel I’ve reviewed, I won’t be discussing any characters by name as even their mention could potentially be a spoiler. This is because Gwynne doesn’t play it safe at all, and every character, even if they’re a perspective character, faces the very real possibility of death. Gwynne doesn’t hesitate to kill his darlings. There’s no malice or glee in such decisions, and you can actually sense in his writing how much it hurts him to pen such deaths. But he doesn’t shy away from them. These seven books document a war, and realistically we know that war can claim even the best of us. That’s what Gwynne demonstrates in his writing. His heroes are mortal, and mortals die. Remembering our mortality reminds us to live each and every day to the fullest, and his characters do that. There is true loss in these pages, and those losses are incredibly painful. I genuinely grieved over certain characters, alongside those they left behind.
“We are all 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.”
Something I really appreciate about Gwynne’s novels, and A Time of Courage in particular, is his ability to show that no person is entirely good or entirely evil. In this book, there are five perspective characters, two of who are fighting on the side of darkness. These two characters could easily have been caricatures, but Gwynne managed to give them redeeming qualities such as loyalty and their own brand of honor. Did they have any interest in being redeemed and turning to the side of good? No. But even villains are heroes in their own eyes, and Gwynne demonstrates well how they could hold that belief. Gwynne also gently reminds us that his heroes aren’t perfect, but they’re good to their very cores. I love them all.
“Friend. So much of what we are and do is shaped by that. Our friendships. Those we love, those we choose to stand beside.”
While romance is a very small part of this story, I loved the way Gwynne handled each romantic relationship. I could truly feel the joy each couple found in just the sight of one another. I very much appreciated the lack of love triangles here. I feel that it’s a trope that has been done to death, and it was refreshing to see romantic relationships that weren’t muddled by such strain. I also love the way Gwynne portrays friendship. His novels proclaim that a shared bloodline is the shallowest building block of family, and that clans are comprised of those who love each other, regardless of blood or past or species. There are some friendships in this book that are so deep that reading about them makes my heart ache in the best possible way. And the best of these friendships always involve animals in some way. From the first book to the end of the story of The Banished Lands, Gwynne has written phenomenal animal characters whose love and loyalty to their humans pulses from the page. Gwynne has a gift for portraying deep and abiding relationships in many forms, and those relationships are what make these books so powerful.
“You blaze as bright as the sun. The world is a better place for having you in it.”
Even though war plays so strong a role in every Banished Lands novel, there’s an overwhelming wholesomeness at the core of the entire series. The side of good both represents and conveys through the characters who comprise it truth and courage, love and loyalty, kindness and faithfulness. In this way I’m very much reminded of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. While every character has their own depths, the divide between good and evil forces is clear cut. The fantasy world has an abundance of grimdark books, where each side is so gray you’re not sure who to root for, and I think it’s refreshing to read a series where the sides are black and white.
“Stop raging about the things you cannot change. Just be true to yourself and do what you can do. Love those worth loving and to the Otherworld with the rest of it.”
A Time of Courage was a stupendous finale to not just its trilogy, but to Gwynne’s Banished Lands saga. While I would love for him to revisit it someday, I believe that Gwynne wrapped things up perfectly. Not neatly, mind you, as that wouldn’t have rang true. There were losses and loose ends, as there should be in any believable tale with stakes this high. But I found the ending exactly right, giving closure while still providing room for wondering. I wish every fantasy lover the world over would pick up Malice and fall in love with Gwynne’s world and writing. Haïfa and I were the last Novel Notions bloggers to read this book, so I can now say with certainty that it’s a blog-wide favorite for 2020. Thank you so much for all the time and care you put into writing this book and all of its predecessors, Mr. Gwynne. Thank you for giving us an entire world and a plethora of characters to mutually adore. You and Brandon Sanderson are a huge part of the bond the six of us share. We all love you for it.
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