Spectacularly envisaged works of art
If you follow the frequency of my reviews then you will be able to analyse that I have devoured the stories from John Gwynne's fantasy epic saga, The Faithful and the Fallen, at an inhuman pace, and the reason for this is that they are spectacularly envisaged works of art. I always find the final book in a series that I have committed about seventy hours of my time into reading is the most difficult to write a review about. This is due to no longer being able to escape within and have my senses bombarded by the unpredictable, exhilarating action of The Banished Lands, which has an emotional impact on me, and also that a certain amount of what I have stated in the previous novels' reviews about characters, techniques, devices and editing are still prevalent here; however, I do not wish to recycle the same points written previously.
The book commences after the bloody battle of Drassil which can be seen at Ruin's finale. The Bright Star's band of varied companions seem to be beaten, battered and scattered following on from the events that were presented at the prior novel's climactic conclusion. Up until that stage, they were truly united by the undying hope that the God Elyon will return and that the macabre dark Satan-esque Asroth will not be made flesh to wreck havoc on the world. The opposing forces lead by Nathair and Calidus are in control of Drassil now, the Giant erected magnificent fortress where the majority of the seven legendary treasures are currently kept guarded within their possession. However, an important issue that haunts both sides as the book begins is the question, worrying all involved because of the impact it could have on the God-War is - where is Corban?
Similar to the previous striking spectacles in the series, there are sparring factions and confrontations throughout the entire landscape of the Banished Lands, however; all involved now seem to acknowledge that they are part of something larger than their own existence with the looming likeliness of a true convergence at an ultimate showdown that hangs the future of the world in a balance.
There are so many epic duels, showdowns, battles, betrayals and bloodshed that Wrath arguably contains more action than a Jet Li highlight reel. The pace is breakneck and constant too after the foundations are set at the start of the story. Family, loyalty, honour and respect are important aspects also. It isn't all dark and despondent. Some characters cross paths who met early on in Malice or Valour and I could relate completely to the emotions felt from the elegance of the writing and the journey that I had walked in the footsteps of these individuals. Whether it is Maquin crossing paths with one of his nemesis' Jael or Veradis meeting Cywen again, who previously respected but never quite understood each others needs or views - some of the reuniting makes for amazing drama. I occasionally was given goosebumps. Although the world and cast are huge, until this story all the players and cities had not been introduced or frequented, respectively. This adds to the level of the excitement as there are still secrets and unscratched surfaces for readers to find out about. This time we are introduced to the Jotun giant race who are very important in Corban's narrative and we follow a certain faction to the believed abandoned grassland plains of Arcona, with the ambition of finding the Starstone Torc. We meet a few people in confrontations that I truly believed were only the work of the world's fables or legends. The history is so well developed now that is almost a living breathing entity in the pages here. In addition, I had a soft spot for the new addition, orphan forest-child Meg who becomes important to Edana and Camlin's storyline. Slightly off topic but I have to state that two of the most interesting members of the epic's ensemble are not human. Corban's Wolven companion Storm and arguably, one the best and most influential characters is Craf, the talking crow.
The warbands are now aligned and set in stone about halfway through this book. The people whose minds we have been floating within for three and a half books meet characters we have also known for that amount of time and their meetings happen prior to the showdown, yet are not always convenient, straightforward and without confrontation. As well as the above-mentioned character reuniting scenes; it is interesting when individuals who know each other often only by notorious, confused or opposing reputations meet. Corban meeting Veradis and Alycon meeting Balur-One Eye are just two fine examples. It is intriguing to see how these characters we have known, loved, hated and despised all intertwine and what effect it has on the overall outcome.
A feature I really liked about this series is that the majority main characters were present in all the stories; of course if they were still alive. So unlike, A Song of Ice and Fire or Malazan: Book of the Fallen where main protagonists are not featured in numerous tales in-between, such as Anomander Rake who appears in Malazan #3 and then does not reappear until Malazan #8, I truly felt close to the created cast of The Faithful and The Fallen.
It is really interesting when points of view characters discuss in their mind people on the horizon, in the battle or in their peripheral vision and I found it quite gratifying being able to acknowledge who they are talking about. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together for the final sections of the series.
Another engaging factor too is that some highly influential characters whose actions and deeds were only presented by other points of view perspectives previously have their own point of view chapters here. Most notably in Nathair. It adds greatly to his already complex character’s depth and I analysed that there is no such thing as either black and white or wholly good and evil within the human characters. Nathair's internal monologues about his mother, about his First Sword and his potential destiny, did make me sympathise with him, made me shout at my page to "wake up", "snap out of it", "you are better than this" and this side of his persona had not been presented before.
The final twenty-five percent is arguably one the best-composed battle sections I have read in fantasy and then the following on resulting events. It is like a game of chess but unlike the Ancient Greek Gods, the humans are the characters that are predominantly in charge, making the moves and the domino effect, ripples and repercussions of certain actions which take the adventure down highly ingenious and unpredictable avenues.
Please do not tell anybody, but I did cry at certain segments whilst reading this book. Occasionally from joviality, however, more often from utter despair. I told my housemate I had some dust in my eye so hopefully he still thinks that I am a cool person. I found the end sequences highly engrossing, satisfying, quite brutal and heartbreaking with some of the deaths but fascinatingly, so much could still happen in The Banished Lands. Gwynne advised me his next book DREAD is set there many generations later. I am intrigued to see if the characters we have followed here and in the previous three books become the new legends and mythical heroes embroidered in his future narrative.
Review by James Tivendale
At Fantasy Book Review we really enjoyed John Gwynne's epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen, which was concluded with the release of Wrath in November 2016. Our friends at TOR are releasing Wrath in paperback o [...]
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