Valour, the second in the 'Faithful and the Fallen' series by John Gwynne (the first being Malice).
Early days on book 2 so can't comment too much on it, but anyone looking for a good fantasy title could do an awful lot worse than grab the first in the series.
To save me some time, here is the Amazon review that I posted on it (ignore the shameful plug for my mate's debut - buy his book though!)
Snowy on Amazon wrote:So last night I finished Malice, the first instalment in a new fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen and the debut from John Gwynne.
I picked this up on the back of the Amazon recommendations function, which has yielded some gems and some turds in its time. To set the scene, I had just finished another lengthy fantasy series which I had enjoyed a lot, and found myself without a read. I had Malice along with a couple of others bought and sat on my Kindle waiting to be read, and remembered that it had got good reviews, so I started to read.
I read the first chapter, thinking `so far, so similar', nothing particularly novel or new to the way the story begins. Following the introduction of a villain in that first scene, we are treated to the musings of an ancient giant, reciting a story of the past. At this point I felt that the story was pure hackneyed pulp fantasy and put it aside, starting a different book.
Thankfully for me, the other book was terrible.
I went back to the Amazon pages, wondering how I had bought two dud tales, and re-read the comments and reviews for Malice. Hold on, Conn Iggulden, an author I enjoy, praising the title and likening it both to the late (and greatly missed) David Gemmell and GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire? Other customer reviewers posting huge reviews praising it?
So I went back in, gave it another chance, and what a book!
It is a real slow burner, it creeps up on you and hooks you so gently you don't even realise you are hooked. There is definitely a whiff of Gemmell's Rigante to the setting - in my view no bad thing, the Rigante series were standouts in Gemmell's work for me. Mostly though I think the trick is that the book runs believably - the characters are normal, flawed, likeable, unpleasant, but not in a blatantly stereotypical way, the reader can associate with them. As other reviewers have posted there are some standard tropes in here, wise woman, mysterious teacher etc but they don't feel hackneyed, they just are who they are.
Gwynne also has a rare talent for combat, or rather the description thereof. Many books, especially in the fantasy genre, struggle to convey combat in a way that feels authentic. Gwynne's combat sequences are exceptionally well realised and believable.
Two other elements that I liked:
- There is very little magic in the book. What there is, so far at least, has had a druidic feel to it, which I didn't mind, it was not intrusive. I am not a fan of overly magic-centric fantasy novels.
- The world building is very light-touch. Gwynne has the rare talent to be able to set a scene for you, the reader, with a few sentences to paint you a picture. Hugely detailed world building in novels tends to put me to sleep; firstly, it is often not particularly inspiring; secondly I have read the entire Wheel of Time, so have spent all the time I want to reading the descriptions of a fantasy world! Gwynne's touch is reminiscent of Elmore Leonard in his ability to set a scene in few words, or more recently Matthew Pritchard (whose crime thriller debut Scarecrow I hugely enjoyed recently).
Special mention goes to the plot. It will keep you guessing as the story unfolds, with characters that you initially find likeable turning out to be anything but. Whilst the overall theme of the book is not overly original (and I would challenge fantasy readers to argue that they often are...), this is a deftly handled and exceptionally well written book. I was devastated when I came to the end, knowing I have over a month to wait for the second instalment and who knows how long for the third and any subsequent ones.
So - a five star review, this really is a belter, buy it now and enjoy it for yourself.