A Time of Blood by John Gwynne

A Time of Blood book cover
Rating 8.4/10
Bigger, bolder, bloodier featuring incredible scenes that are cinematic and deadly.

Following on from the catastrophic finale of A Time of Dread, this is a high action, high tension blinder of a read. When you pick it up that first time, be prepared not to put it down until the last page. It follows standard film sequel rules: bigger, bolder, bloodier. There are all kinds of monstrous creatures chucked in, perhaps running a little too far with it… I’m looking at you Ulf and crew. Still, it makes for some seriously incredible scenes, cinematic and deadly. Even with all this action, the absolute standout was the characters, or one in particular: Drem. He is the heart of this book, the one to stand with and cheer for. What he considers to be his limitations are the very reason his thoughts and actions are so meaningful, he overcomes them, pushing through his boundaries to be the hero everyone else knows him to be. He feels the most real, especially as he’s the one person who genuinely develops in this offering, there is real change and growth. If there is a Bright Star here, he’s it.

Which feeds right into the problem with this series, for me at least. I just don’t love these people anywhere near as much as I do those in the Faithful and the Fallen. Yes, yes, I know how rubbish a reader that makes me. It’s like I broke up with someone and can’t move on. But the memory of the past is too strong and its influence is everywhere here, from the battle call ‘Truth and Courage’ to the statute of Corban and Storm that stands outside Dun Seren, from the sword dance to the shield wall. Details big and small pervade every aspect of this series, so much that the story actually relies on it. There is an inescapable commemoration of the people and events from the original series, it might be history here but it’s far from forgotten. The tales of heroism and sacrifice are not just myth, they remain in the memories of the long lived and have been passed down in ways which have ensured they form the political, cultural, and emotional foundations of society. Even when negatively framed, communities are still constructed as a direct response to the past. And all it does is make me miss it more. Intellectually, I know how ridiculous and unrealistic this is. John Gwynne can’t write about the same people forever no matter how much I want him to (and that kind of thing never works anyway), but I can’t help but feel the emotional connection is lacking in comparison. It’s exacerbated by the relative lightness of this series, there’s not as much time or space for development of new characters, again leaving them to be defined in part by the past. It circles round and round again.

In any case, if you know John Gwynne then you know that things end on a pretty dire note. And perhaps you also realise how much of an understatement that is. I think I can get away with saying that there are insane battles. That nobody is safe. And that I really hope John Gwynne knows how he’s going to get people out of this goddamn mess, because I sure don’t… 

ARC via Netgalley
Emma Davis, 7.7/10

Superlative fantasy! I cannot even begin to express my sheer excitement whenever I get the chance to read a book by John Gwynne. He is one of the few authors that I have read, who are an automatic buy for me on day one. Limited edition? Signed copy? Hello Splurgeville. Groceries? Pffft. Who needs ‘em.

His debut series, The Faithful and the Fallen, is on my all time favourites list and when I heard he was writing a new series in the same world set about a century later, I was both ecstatic for the return and downhearted thinking about the inevitable march of time, and how this was going to impact the characters and world that I had come to love previously. I was also worried that it might not live up to The Faithful and the Fallen because of the well earned corner that series holds in my heart, but A Time of Dread was like a bridge over troubled water, it eased my mind and surpassed my expectations in every way, bringing back a few beloved characters, introducing new ones, and providing many reminiscences on characters from the age gone by. It is a fantastic piece of writing, weaving both old and new together to form a captivating story that slays any doubts there might be about returning to this familiar stomping ground. Look at me, I might just write a whole new review for that book!

A Time of Dread ended on a dire note, and the story here picks up shortly after that ending. I won’t say much about it though, for fear of spoilers. Our heroes have just escaped from the clutches of the Kadoshim and… other vile creatures. It is a tense and poignant opening as not all of them made it, but the title is not A Time of Bunnies, and for good reason. The survivors are racing to warn the forces at Dun Seren of the imminent danger, but they first have to outrun their pursuers.The Banished Lands is a hard place to survive in, and it will become much harder before the end of this story.

I have mentioned many a time that characterization is king for me, and Gwynne is a master of the art, once more expanding the list of characters I love and making me feel like a part of the family. I would fight for them. I would live for them. I would die for them. That right there feels like it encapsulates the cornerstone of his writing and the stories he tells. These characters would do anything for each other. Family, love, friendship, loyalty, honour, truth and courage - these are the foundations of their being and the stories Mr Gwynne writes.

While the story is told through the eyes of the protagonists once again, this time we get to experience an antagonist's viewpoint as well. It adds a very interesting counterpoint as we explore this person's motivations, and is an inspired decision on the author’s part, adding another layer to the story of good versus evil. Drem, who is on the autism spectrum, is the standout for me though. He has come so far since the first book and is developing into a marvelous character.

A Time of Blood is definitely a faster read than its predecessor, not wasting time getting things going, the action punching its claws in early on and never really releasing it’s grip with brisk pacing and succinct writing. The fighting, the battles, duels - the author is singular in his writing where these are concerned. If you have not yet read a John Gwynne battle scene, then you are missing out on an exhibition of genius. A Time of Blood lives up to its name with numerous scenes that will have you holding your breath. There is a particular large scale battle at the end of this one though that is etched in my memory. With every moment impactful, gripping you in the tense life or death atmosphere accompanying the jarring of blades, axes, hammers; the bone-crunching confrontations, the eviscerating slices, bludgeonings, puncturing stabs and hair raising wails, the rending of flesh by ragged edged claw and razor sharp fang, howls and roars reverberating through the air, the dread of malicious, preternatural creatures approaching out of the murky, malevolent blackness. Every moment has been portrayed in exquisite, heart-stopping detail.

I had this plan to take my time and savour the story, stretching out the experience as long as possible. As with the best laid plans though… I felt like I had hardly started before only a few pages were left in my hand, the end in sight, and the wait for the final book on the horizon. That is how it always goes with the very best books though, right? They tend to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you long to get a chance to read them, and then the time finally arrives, bringing the ineffable euphoria of visiting a world and characters you want to stay with forever. On the other hand you cannot help but inhale the tale, you want to know how this ends, the pages turned in the blink of an eye, the book done and that sad sense of longing for more returned.

We are lovers of stories though. These may be our burdens, but they won't keep us away. When a Time of Courage arrives, I will be waiting in line with the rest of you.

Truth and courage!
Eon Van Aswegen, 9/10

This A Time of Blood book review was written by and Eon Van Aswegen

We interviewed John Gwynne on 2017-05-04

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