Ruin by John Gwynne

Rating 9.6/10
One of the top 15 books I have ever read

A Recommended Book of the Month

Ruin is Gwynne's third novel in his stunning epic fantasy saga, The Faithful and the Fallen. The fabled God-War is no longer a mythical looming prophecy; it is very real and the events unfolding within The Banished Lands are presented to us by a plethora of vivid and dramatic characters. The perspectives we follow are the previous characters whose minds we have been flaunting through for the last 1500 or so pages in this series. Corban, Maquin, Envis, Cywen, Camlin etc... We have a few new additions to the point of views including King Jael's war captain Ulfilas and the youthful rightful heir to Isiltir's throne, Haelan. These new characters, although vital to the progression and telling of the narrative did not seem as interesting to me as the existing cast many readers already love. These additions seemed more of a device for explaining events so that we get views and opinions of the ongoing action from both sides of the God wars alliances.

Haunting this tale are huge battle scenes, epic sieges and legendary warrior showdowns and the way Gwynne writes makes the narrative extravagantly awesome. How ingenious his knowledge of the mechanics and how well written the battles scenes are, I think that if there happened to be a medieval war these days (it is an interesting thought), I would want Gwynne and his magnificent war mind on my alliances team, sitting next to me in the strategy tent, perhaps having a sip of mead wine before the morrow's engagement.

A lot of the point of views overlap and it keeps the action flowing at a frighteningly exhilarating pace with the events for example, in simplified form; three chapters could be summarised being similar to the below:

1) View from Warrior 1 as he fights in an unbelievable breathtaking duel.
2) View from Warrior 2, who is a member of the other army who watches and fathoms his views of the portrayed action in his mind - "The greatest duel between two men that I have ever seen" then decides how his army will respond.
3) View from a young member of Warrior 1's side who sees the events unfolding and we then hear his thoughts and views and observe the consequential acts in a way that progresses the narrative.

Quite often in fantasy, when a point of view perspective is concluded at the end of a chapter then the writer moves on to an unrelated event perhaps thousands of miles away. Gwynne, with the overlapping character perspective chapters, makes us feel like we are truly privy to all that is taking place. Almost like we are there. I felt emotions whilst reading this book that I have only been given by a handful of stories. Where not only are my eyes and my mind affected by what is happening in the pages but my whole body is shaken, nervous, in awe and whatever emotion Gwynne wishes to put across he does it admirably. *Raises a glass* There are 100's of characters throughout this tale and when we do metaphorically vault 1000's of miles across the world to see happenings elsewhere, without dumbing it down, as fantasy readers are known for their intelligence, Gwynne will ingeniously give brief updates from previous happenings. This is not intimidating in a "hold-your-hand whilst I tell you my tale" way. Just a few quick points, character thoughts predominantly that make the reader go, "oh yeah I remember", then back to the tale.

Whereas Valour followed three main battles, mostly in the West of this amazing fictional word, Ruin seems like it adheres to present and cover the majority of this huge fantastical landscape that Gwynne has created. When the tales progression places the characters and numerous factions to familiar, known territory where they frequented prior, what must seem to them after the hardships perhaps witnessed or received years ago, we remember what happened to them in these areas previously, overtly sympathising following past hardships, or the opposite depending on who we are following, and it helps the development of the characters. Without us necessarily acknowledging, in our subconscious (going scientific now!) Gwynne makes us remember what happened and that aids the characters progression arcs' by clever reminders of what happened earlier in the story. So many of the characters have grown and some have fallen following the narrative. Not that you would, but if you read this book first - you would not recognise most of the characters when reading Malice.

This time, the history of the world seems deeper and completely focused. Well presented, with enough knowledgeable characters still frequenting the tale from the times of the created prophecies, to bring the mythical knowledge to fruition in the present. Many scenes made me go, Wow! from the mere scope of the history. One example was when a legendary warrior returns to the mythical, giant-erected forest bound city of Drassil (which we visit for the first time in this story) and stands before a throne where a corpse sits holding aloft a spear and he reflects on his actions in a past conflict, perhaps 1000's of years earlier. Truly engrossing. Perhaps the history seems deeper and more intense now because the myths and fables we have heard so much about are closer to the reality and current situation. I guess it seems more real now to all involved and to us?

I will conclude this review with a few points that I think are worth mentioning.

In this story, you will be frequenting fights in the "court of swords." This is The Banished Lands equivalent of a rap battle, but with swords. Although a medieval rap-battle might be quite cool. Gwynne, when you release your new series, starting with DREAD, set 130 or so years after the concluding events of Wrath, I think the players would have learned how to rap. A medieval influenced fantasy rap musical could be the next Hamilton.

The undertones are much darker this time. The Otherworld which is Pandæmonium-esque, (the capital of Hell in Milton's Paradise Lost,) is featured a lot more here than previously. Certain characters destinies align so that they can walk this world in what seems like dreams or with magical influence. Homage to Milton's poem is very present. Corban faces one of Asroth’s captain's known as Belial and the fact that the Ben-Elim and the Kardoshim are very reminiscent in the description of the Angel's in the great uprising and battle in The Book of Revelation.

I haven't talked too much about the story this time and you will thank me. I will say, there is an amazing scene where Naithair is reunited with and opens up to Veradis. Another character favourite is an inch from death at one point, floating on the bridge of swords and is given a chance to live or rejoin his friends and family with death. The rivalry and respect of Braith and Camlin is present here too. If you have not read the first two books, these sentences will not mean much, so - go and buy Malice.

There are still quite a few errors here like the first two books. Speech-marks, once again are not inputted where they should be also, I googled it, and "zhere" is not a word and "now. am the last" is not a sentence. This is a shame because I cannot rate this as high as the story telling deserves.

I would, however, say that; this is one of the top 15 books I have ever read. It did everything that an author should aspire to present to a reader. Mythical, magical, intense, brutal, poignant. If you are reading this and have not started The Faithful and the Fallen, stop being silly. Look on Goodreads at his ratings, apart from Malazan and The Stormlight Archive, very few series have ratings this high. That must count for something. I thought it was utterly brilliant and ends on a cliffhanger so I can't even relax over Christmas, I NEED to find out what happens to Corban, Storm, friends and enemies.

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