I finished this series a few months ago with the final release of ‘Wrath’. I have to say first of all, that I loved these books and I really hope John writes more, hopefully in this same universe. The books are incredible and I was strangely left upset when I finished the last chapter. This review/observation will not contain spoilers though will mention unspecific aspects that you will encounter, with basic stories you will read on the blurbs. Being that is is spoiler free, it will be very short and will be discussing 2 aspects: character development and action/war scenes.
The synopsis (which certainly does not do this series justice), is that you follow the main character Corban, along with his friends and family throughout the Banished Lands. The over arching story is one of evil vs good, though a little more nuanced than this basic observation. Each book presents its own betrayals, wars, personal battles and development, each with fantastic writing. The series if certainly fantasy, though with the same grittiness and believably as the Witcher series and Game of Thrones, if not a little less violent. Overall, the series is a strong one and is certainly easy to recommend.
– Character Development –
The strongest part of this series in my opinion, is its characters and how John develops each individual story. The books, in terms of their presentation, take a Game of Thrones style structure, in that it presents each chapter as a person, not a number. You instantly know the perception of the chapter, with each character title. This overall, is a positive, however, this leads to possibly my only problem with the series, which may be representative of fantasy genres in general. At first when reading ‘Malice’, the amount and names of characters can at first, feel rather overwhelming. Memorising each individual and their stories can be rather difficult. By ‘Ruin’ I was fully confident on each character, however I read ‘Valour’ with some small breaks in between which may have contributed to the lack of memory. More than any other book I have personally read, this series did take considerable investment of concentration and time, to really understand each person. Something that may put some readers off this series. However, I do believe that this eventually was a positive, because I genuinely felt emotions for characters, which is something I have never experienced and is not usually within my emotional capacity.
Throughout the first book, ‘Malice’, the characters are growing and building into fully developed pieces in this story. I have read reviews that say this is filler, however I adamantly disagree. I understand the want and the craving for the action parts and the wars, however, without proper character development, these battles become meaningless. Each death, betrayal or injury in this series would mean very little if John did not take the time to fully develop each character. His writing investment in each character made everything more personal to me. I felt like I grew up with Corban and his family, I felt like each betrayal was personal and I felt empathy for my favorite characters. Again this is so strange for me, as I do not usually experience this level of empathy in real life, let alone in the fiction I read. This type of character development does not stop after ‘Malice’ either. It continues throughout each book in the series, old characters and new ones consistently being built. I personally loved this, I am sure many fantasy lovers will also enjoy this slow pace writing.
I personally believe that each book is a microcosm of what character development should be in fiction.
– Action/War –
The action sections in this series are fantastic, however there some issues that I felt, though I must stress I believe these to be more personal preference, than with the book.
The type of action you can expect in this book is similar to a lot of other fantasy. Swords, bows, axes, armor and shields. Nothing you have not experienced before. However, John writes these scenes brilliantly. You know what is happening at all times and it did not take investment on my imagination in order to find the right image. There are one on one duels, epic scale battles and small wars with rivaling towns. This always fits perfectly with the politics and economy of the land and is always believable in this universe. This again is supported by the character development, as each action scene meant that much more.
The issue I have with these action chapters and battle scenes, is that of confusion. I felt like John was holding back on the violence in certain sections. This book is certainly not for children, with very violent imagery at play here. However, I felt like in most battles, John was trying not to be too violent and bloody, in order to not come across saditic. The violence is not the core of this story, in the same way it is in Game of Thrones, it is a result of the land. I was unsure in the beginning, if I was reading teen fantasy or adult. I really loved this parts I must stress, but the problem was apparent, at least for me. This is a very subject issue to discuss and perhaps my violence tolerance is a litter higher than John’s perceived audience, but I always felt like I wanted more. I discussed this with my partner and she told me I am weird for wanting this, which is understandable considering this series is no walk in the park with rainbows anyway, but the point is still in need of discussion.
The books have built the land to be this beast ridden, backstabbing, violent land full of politicking and war. However, during the combat sections, there was not enough visceral information to experience and reflect this. To put an arbitrary number to it, as it is very hard to explain in words, the battle scenes (once I accepted that I was not going to get the grittiness I wanted), were 9/10 in quality, easily. But, the violence of visual information of the goriness in these actions, was about 7/10. A sword would slash through a neck and that was all that was presented. It did not mention the bone crunching, or the screams of the victim or the arterial spread of the body. The sounds of the slicing, the smells and the reality of the actions were not apparent. It just needed one step up in terms of the details in my opinion, though I do not think this will be for everyone. Sometimes too much detail and violence can just sound sadistic and perhaps be to the detriment of the story, so it is a hard balance to find.
– The Ending –
The ending of a series is always extremely important. The start of the books should hook the reader enough to provide them with considerable investment criteria. The middle should maintain this investment and the ending should make the reader feel that their investment of time and concentration was worth it. This series does this.
I am not sure if this next issue, is because I loved the books up until the last one, but I did have a small feeling that some parts were cut or that parts were rushed. The hardback version I read was 685 pages long, though I do believe that the story would have benefited from being 750-800 pages long. This is of course reductionist, though if the same quality was kept in these extra pages, it would have been brilliant. It is hard to explain with out spoilers, but the interlinking story of each character felt a little brushed aside in the last moments and the story felt a little sequential. In that, this chapter will finish this characters story line, the next character will end this story line etc. That is not to say that the ending was not worth it, no, quite the contrary. The ending was fantastic, meaningful and thought provoking. It was a great ending to an excellent series. I just wanted more.
The only problem is that I wanted more. Usually, if the only complaint about something is that you want more of it, it is kind of paradoxical in its negativeness.
– End –
This was such a fast piece of writing for a 4 book series. The books are fantastic and I just wanted to critique certain elements of it. It is impossible to review without spoilers though this article should have presented enough of a balance to consider investment. If you have read the books, please do let me know what you think and if you agree. If you have not read them, please let me know why and if this will make any difference to your opinion.