It’s been a while since I’ve found time to do a book review (vacations, weddings, editing, writing, promoting, querying-prepping, working, etc), so I figured today I would make up for that by doing an overview of a fantasy series I’ve completely fallen in love with: The Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne. This is criminally underrated. They are the definition of epic fantasy, and something every lover of that genre needs to read. I’m not just saying that because I’m now a huge fan. I’m saying that because these books are incredibly written, take place in a vast world, are fuelled with action, have a variety of characters you instantly love, and tell an amazing adventure that will have you begging for more. Seriously. This series is on par with Game of Thrones. Yeah. Since I’ll be overlooking the whole series, I’ll only post the blurb for the first book, Malice, so as not to spoil anything.
A black sun is rising …
Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage.
The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars.
High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.
Sounds pretty epic, huh? Trust me, it’s more spectacular than you think. So, gorgeous covers aside, let’s talk content. The story is the definition of fantasy. If that’s not usually your cup of tea… Well, you probably already watch Game of Thrones, so you can make an exception. Though I should give you a heads up: These books are massive. I haven’t added the paperbacks to my bookshelf yet (I’m working on it!), but when I get them, I’ll probably be able to do bicep curls with them. Each book is over 600 pages, which means there is a lot of ground to cover. In Malice, that is particularly true. At times it felt like that story was dragging a little, and there wasn’t as much action in the beginning as there would be in the rest of the book or its predecessors. Still, the story and development of many characters, Corban in particular, is enough to hold interest and keep you reading to the end. And believe me, it’s worth it. Book two, Valour, is absolutely mind-blowing and one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read. The action is wild and virtually nonstop and the stakes ramped high enough to make me bite my nails to the quick. By the time I got to Ruin, I knew all the characters and how they would react, gaining some surprises on the way, and grinning at more than one interaction between characters (hey, Lykos, you have something on your face…). It’s hard to delve into the story without giving too many details and spoilers away, but it boils down to this: There is an ancient prophecy that speaks of a Bright Star and a Black Sun, two forces that will collide in the God War. Each side has characters believing they’re on the right path, magical quests to find supernatural weapons, angels and giants, shocking betrayals and heart-breaking sacrifices, demonic possession, wretched pirates, and badass warriors, all of it cycling around a young boy who is growing to be a warrior who will either save the world or fail it. Seriously, how has this not peaked your interest?
Since I can’t really talk about the story without delving into details, let’s move onto the world. It’s awesome. There’s no other word for it. The story spans over dozens of kingdoms and cities, none of which is the same as the last. It takes place in forests, caves, the sea, castles, you name it. There are warrior clans, giant clans, and two variations of angels clashing in this God War. There are kings and queens, both true and false, and a warrior tactic that always reminds me of the Spartans in 300 for reason. The world felt like most fantasy worlds do to me, but when I start an epic fantasy novel that’s what I want. I crave the cliches and the norms because I know it will take me out of reality and bring me into a truly awe-inspiring adventure.
What I crave most in a fantasy novel isn’t just the adventure or the magic or the world. Those are key, but when it comes to fantasy, I want to know about the characters. The Faithful and the Fallen has no shortage of key players and while I can’t get to all of them (seriously, I’d be here all day), I’ll cover some of my favourites: Corban, Veradis, Maquin, and Camlin (Note: my list of actual favourites is enormous and each one is well-developed, but I chose these four because they are key perspectives and have story elements that stick out to me). Working in reverse, let’s start with Cam. A thief with morals, he isn’t someone you might expect to trust, but I adore his character. He’s constantly at odds with his nature and his soul, and watching him interact with Corban’s warband is fantastic. He’s a character who doesn’t know how much he’s valued or cared for, but is learning and strengthening because of it. Maquin is a warrior who really comes into play in Valour, and he’s easily one of my favourites. Loyal, tough, and ruthless in combat, his story took a direction I didn’t anticipate but honestly adore. He has one of my favourite scenes in the whole series during an interaction with Lykos, who is essentially a lecherous pirate with the life expectancy of a cockroach. Lykos is volatile in ways I can’t even begin to describe (all the villains are, which make them so terrifying yet fun to read about), but his scenes with Maquin are the definition of tension. I can’t wait to find out what their next interaction is like (please let it have to do with Lykos’s face again! Please please please!). As for Veradis… *sighs* I can’t remember the last time I read about a character I wanted to both kiss and slap at the same time. Make no mistake– he’s fantastic. A good, crushingly loyal man with insane fighting skills and who soaks up honour and respect like a sponge, you can’t not love him. Until you realize that his loyalty makes him oblivious until it’s way too late. That said, his story took a sharp turn at the end of Ruin, so I’m hoping that means he’ll see the light (and maybe cross paths with a certain sister again?). Finally, Corban, the most central character, who starts of so… normal, the last person in the world expected to enter such an epic conflict. His growth from Malice to Ruin is wonderful. He’s willing to fight with his friends, challenge hardened warriors on the front lines, but is still young and vulnerable when it comes to his love. He’s an amazing leader, and I would stand beside him for any fight.
The action scenes were also a highlight of these books. With so many characters and author John Gwynne not shying from bloodshed and death, each moment was harrowing. I cringed at close encounters and felt my heart break when certain characters met grisly ends (why does it always happen to the good guys?!). The final novel will be brutal to read, but I couldn’t be more excited. I just wish it would get here sooner.
Another side note and warning is that these books end on cliffhangers. Ruin is the absolute worst for that, but Gwynne is a master writer. These are also the kinds of books you can take a break from. It took me almost three weeks to read all of them, mostly because of the page count and my writers retreat, but I never felt bored and never felt that too much happened that I was lost.
I know that a lot of this review was me being vague and gushing about things only readers of the books will understand or appreciate, but that’s because I’m trying to do my job as a reviewer and coax your interest. This is easily one of my favourite fantasy series ever, and it deserves to be read by all lovers of the genre. Do not skip out on these epic adventures!