When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were scattered across the land, either betrayed, hunted by several armies, or both. Many unexpected losses occurred along the way. Few were yet aware of the ultimate plans of their enemies, or even who exactly their enemies were.
I would now like to point out that everything that follows is a spoiler. This is a review of book 2 of a 4-book series. If you are interested in the story, you should, of course, start at book 1. I happen to have a handy review right here. It’s totally worth reading (the book … not so much the review).
Anyway, Valor picks up immediately where Malice ended. Thinking his sister is dead at the battle for Dun Carreg, Corban and his mother flee in a ship north along the coast with Princes Edana and a sparse collection of survivors. It won’t be long before pursuing armies discover his route and force the small group deeper into an enemy kingdom. And Gar will finally reveal Corban’s destiny, whether Corban wants to hear it or not.
In Forn Forest, Maquin reels from his friend’s death and vows to revenge himself on the treacherous Jael. But Jael has surrounded himself with powerful allies, forcing Maquin’s quest to fulfill his vow to run into an unexpected and deadly detour.
Meanwhile, Lykos grows impatient and decides to collect the spoils of war that he deserves, setting his own plans in motion in the very lands of the king he claims to serve.
Overshadowing all of this is the cauldron. One of the seven treasures, it calls to Nathair from its home in the far north. Nathair believes he will use it to bring peace to the Banished Lands, but someone close to Nathair wants him to find it for a far different purpose.
I hope I haven’t gone too far in my overview. There is, once again, quite a lot going on in this novel. But they don’t call it Epic Fantasy for nothing. So, don’t think for a moment that I’ve given away the action. Hopefully, I’ve whet your appetite for the adventure.
Author John Gwynne continues the narrative as if it never stopped at the end of Malice. The result is a pleasurable reading experience. While there is quickly an obvious endgame to this installment, letting the reader easily guess where the major players will end up, the story still manages to feel organic and open. There are several suprises along the way, unexpected turns of events that lead to unforseen journeys and bring new characters to the fore. Once again, character choices feel legitimate and charcter building, whether on the side of right or wrong, doesn’t stop. It’s a well-organized book that makes me incredibly jealous at how effortless it comes off.
If I had a complaint, it’s that Maquin’s story feels unnecessary in its detail (and its role in lengthening the book). Yet, at the end, I was left thinking that it was playing a much larger role in the overarching story than I expected. I hope I’m correct, because it was a surprising development.
There are several characters from Malice that don’t make an appearance here, or are limited to early chapters. That’s okay, though, because there didn’t seem to be a lot of room for them in this installment. The focus is rightfully on Corban and the gang and their flight from, and into, danger. Secondary focus is appropriately given to various villians and how they use events to further themselves, presumably setting up book 3.
So, times are tough for the pure of heart in the Banished Lands. For fantasy readers, times are pretty good.