Malice by John Gwynne
Malice by John Gwynne is the first installment of the Faithful and the Fallen series. It’s a book that manages to be entertaining even though it suffers from mistakes in the details and holds not much new for fantasy genre veterans. While clichés and tropes aren’t inherently bad, they can hamper the enjoyment of a book and make it more easily predictable. Predictability might be another problem of the book. This book held no real surprises for me and I think I have a pretty good idea on where some of the plotlines are headed. This doesn’t mean I could not be pleasantly surprised in later installments.
The most interesting part of the book is its setting, which remotely reminds me of a viking/barbarian-esque setting with grizzled warriors and shield-brothers, the wars being fought warrior against warrior in duels, without much cohesion. At least until now, as one of the characters adopts a roman-style shieldwall technique that makes his warband a force to be reckoned with. This tactic even proves effective against the giants, ancient enemies of mankind.
These giants were actually the first race to inhabit the world and the humans are often living in or close to the remnants of the giants’ civilization, who are now forced to live in remote or inaccessible parts of the world. After a war between good and bad (yeah, that’s nothing new in the fantasy genre) the world was torn asunder. Now signs of these ancient war surface again and prophecies tell of dark times in the near future.
Prophecies can be done pretty well, especially if they are very vague or ambiguous. The prophecy in question is rather straightforward and I doubt it’ll hold a surprise for a reader. The characters themselves might be deceived, but there’re too many hints for the reader to actually go along with the characters and “misinterpret” the prophecy. Again, there’s still room to actually surprise us readers in the next books, but that would really be an unforeseeable turn in the plotlines of the series.
To get onto something different next, I want to talk about the protagonist, Corban. If you’ve read some more of my reviews and posts, especially of the later ones, you’ll know that I like training sequences and following the protagonist from an early age on. This is something we have here. Corban is young and we’ll get to witness how he becomes a “man” and learns to fight, how he stands up to the adults the first time and acquires his “sidekick”, a wolven (similar to an intelligent wolf), and how he grows into the “promised hero”. I think he lacks a clear and prominent flaw, rather seeming not only a kind and righteous person, but a skilled fighter on top of it, with nothing to counteract this “true hero”-characteristic.
With his name, Corban, comes another problem that makes the beginning of the book somewhat confusing. Because there are actually three PoV characters that start with the letter C. Especially Corban and his sister Cywen are easily confused with each other, because they are very close to each other for large parts of the book. The third character is called Camlin. Not only do their names all start with the same letter, they are very similar in length, all things reader use subconsciously to distinguish characters from each other. I think using different names for these characters would have been better for the readers and it would not take anything away from the story.
Since I’ve already mentioned problems in regard to details, I’ll now elaborate this. It contains situations from the second half of the book, but I’ll make them as non-spoilery as possible. I don’t think they take anything away if you haven’t read the book yet, but you’ve hereby been warned:
One scene has a group of characters following some kidnappers into the forest. They find the kidnappers when those camp for the night. Still in the middle of the night, they kill one of the guards, now it comes, and decide to wait until morning before taking on the kidnappers, who actually have more men. So why is that wrong?
- First, they already have a way into the camp of the unsuspecting enemy by being able to kill a guard without anyone noticing. They could take on most of the enemy while they sleep and then take out the remaining guards one after the other. The darkness is no problem, because the kidnappers have a fire. Waiting for the morning light to be able to distinguish friend from foe should be no issue with that knowledge and they are close enough to definitely be able to notice the light from the fire.
- Second, one guard alone isn’t stationed throughout the whole night. There will be shifts. So after having killed one guard, there would definitely come someone else to take his place a few hours later. And that guy would notice the disappearance of the first guard and maybe even notice some blood. That would give away the pursuers instantly and make a surprise attack impossible.
- Lastly, they are pursuing kidnappers, so the kidnapped people should be our group’s first priority. That goal is the most easy to fulfill in the cover of night and while most of the enemies are sleeping. Attacking at daytime, even very early, carries much more risk for both our group and the people they want to rescue.
Other problems are mostly in regard to strategical decision at the end of the book that make no real sense for people who train and make war for most of their lives.
The book’s main potential lies in its charm for newer readers of the fantasy genre. While veterans might not see enough individualism in the book to be fully satisfied, it makes for a good recommendations for people just starting out in the fantasy genre. If they are teenagers, the book holds even more potential for them because of its protagonist.
Concluding: Again, I’d recommend the book for newer initiates of the fantasy genre. It holds a large potential for younger reader that like a bit more mature books too. Seasoned veterans of the fantasy genre will recognize many clichés they know from other books. If you have nothing against a young prophesied hero that excels at many things you’ll not go amiss in buying the book. If you stay clear of the series you won’t miss out on anything important, at least in the first book.