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on 21 August 2014
Couldn't stop reading this book. I know John Gwynne explains his inspiration are the works of George R.R Martin and David Gemmell. He writes chapters based on each main character and their view of events, not unique, but helps when the list of characters gets long enough to confuse me. I wanted Corban, the main character to fulfill his promise. Much like Harry Potter, Corban is much vaunted by a number of people, but in actuality doesn’t do anything which warrants their adulation. he himself spends this book unaware of his importance to the forces being drawn up against him. In truth in this book it is never explained why he is the chosen, he doesn’t particularly excel and often fails to come good under pressure. But, its fabulously and descriptively written with rich content and a well-crafted world build which spawns some wonderful characters with a terrific plot line about who exactly is the good and just who then is the bad. I loved it
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on 26 September 2015
This book had an amazingly slow start and if I have to be completely honest, I was not sure myself I would end up giving it 4 stars until the very, very end.

However, at 90%, I am unexpectedly in tears – I was surprised myself, it is not any book that gets to my emotions so easily. I do think the end (or should I say: the introduction to the next book in the series) made up for many slow moments throughout the book – which is huge! Not only it’s quite a long book, but it also requires all of your attention as otherwise you’ll get lost when you pick it up later. Therefore, yes, I admit that reading this book when your amount of time is limited, is a challenge.

In one sentence, Malice is your typical Epic Fantasy done right. But amongst the many cliches and tropes – the most obvious similarities relate to Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire. Now I don’t mean this is as a completely negative remark as I do think Game of Thrones is brilliant but of course, it does place the author in a difficult position should we begin to compare this book to A Song of Ice and Fire series. I thought that while some elements might be rather generic to the Fantasy genre, others might bring back too many memories specific to the aforementioned series.
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on 4 December 2012
About two years ago John Gwynne messaged me via the comments box on one of my review's and asked me 'not to laugh' but could he send me a chapter or two of this book he was writing to see what I thought, me having read more fantasy books than Elton's had facelifts. Of course I said I would be glad to have a look and promised not to laugh (though I was already worrying how I would break it to him if I thought it was as bad as my scrawlings!)
Several days later I was e-mailing him urging him to finish the book because I needed to know what would happen and advising him to get an agent because he was that good, and it comes as no surprise at all to me that he has secured the book deal that brings you to this page of Amazon now.

Malice is a fantastic balance between traditional fantasy and the dark modern breed of fantasy so in vogue over the last 5-10 years. It starts deceptively softly; a young boy wanting to be a warrior, intrigue in the royal court, so far, good trad beginings but then explodes out into a hugely complex world of conflict, betrayal, jealousy and blind ambition. Very modern and quite grim. But undercut with friendship, magic, courage and perhaps a refreshing absense of cynacism.

But unlike GRR Martin at present, the author does not shy away from epic battle scenes and giving us the odd triumph and hurrah. And unlike Abercrombie he does not try and work out what he thinks we want to read and then seemingly write the opposite!

This is a hugely complex book that will please and shock you in turns and you will genuinly not know what is going to happen next. People you care about will die and victory is not assured, but this does not undermine the central thread and draw of the story or stop it being 'uplifting' a thing some of ultra grim modern fatasy books have lost of late.

The books roots are steeped in Lord of the Rings but it has grown it's many gnarled branches in the 21st Century of contemporary fantasy and is I think a hi-bred that will please lovers of both schools.
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on 16 December 2013
Malice is the debut novel of fantasy writer John Gwynne, and is the first book in his new series The Faithful and the Fallen. Despite being fantasy, the book has a Celtic, almost historical feel, with character and place names such as Dun Carreg, Cywen, Gwenith, Mordwyr, Dath etc., and with its use of dialect, such as `aye' and `bairn'. I actually really liked this: it creates atmosphere and helps when imagining both the setting and the character accents, and also makes the story feel more real. At the same time, however, the book also has a strangely dystopian feel, being set in desolate lands in an era following an apocalyptic event known as the Gods-War. It's an interesting combination.

I found Malice to be a little slow to begin with: there are times when it felt like I was reading every little detail of everything that happens, particularly to the children, and I felt that this made it a little bit repetitive. However, it picks up after a while, and by the end I wanted to start straight away on the next book (which unfortunately isn't available until next year). The characters are interesting as well as ambiguous, and the way the author switches between different points of viewcreates tension and pace very effectively, often reminding me of A Song of Ice and Fire in this respect.

Another aspect of the novel that I felt was reminiscent of GRRM was the characters themselves, several of whom are morally ambiguous. Yet most of them are likeable, or at the very least sympathetic, and it's really interesting to see them change, particularly those who are being subtly manipulated. The characters are all very different - we have the blacksmith's son Corban (my personal favourite PoV), his fiery knife-throwing sister Cywen, the skilled archer and former brigand Camlin, the gentle giant-hunter (and unwilling noble heir) Kastell, and finally Veradis, the first-sword and blood-brother to an unwitting servant of Asroth. All these characters are very different in their own ways, and it's not immediately clear how they relate to one another, but as the plot unfolds we begin to see how they each might be involved in the grand scheme of things.

The Faithful and the Fallen is clearly intended to be a sweeping epic series, with conflict spreading across the entire world and involving gods and monsters. However, there are some nice personal moments that stand out in my memory, namely involving Corban, such as the naming of his horse (Shield) and his defence of the wolven cub Storm. It would be nice to see more of these, and perhaps more character-driven scenes within battles, which are often described in ways that give more of an overview than a one-to-one account.

Malice won the Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut novel earlier this year, and although I haven't read any of the other books that were shortlisted for this one, I can understand why this one made the list. Slow to start with, but intriguing, and improving in pace and intensity with every chapter. As Conn Iggulden announces on the cover: it's a `hell of a debut'. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
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on 20 April 2013
This is a book with a storyline that has true potential to pick you up and grab you. Unfortunately, it is let down by the manner in which the author has chosen to describe everything. There are a large number of "main" characters and the book chops and changes between them like a kid with the tv remote control. At no point is it really possible to truly engage with a character because just as you are about to, the chapter ends and you won't see them again for another 30-40 pages. Many of the characters lack any real depth and some of them are exceedingly bland to the point that they are virtual 'yes-men' for one of the other characters, even though the chapter is supposed to be about them. As I said before, the potential is definitely there within this book, but unfortunately it is let down by the presentation and characterisation. If the author had felt able to dedicate a few chapters at a time to each character rather than a mere one, I think that it would make it a much more enjoyable and engaging read.
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on 19 December 2014
Love this, it has all the elements for any fan of this genre and a great read for those who are new. I mainly read historical fiction and a little fantasy, Malice is a great blend bringing together the best of the two with a deeply rooted feel for the history of the world that Gwynne has created. If you are a fan of Roman, Saxon or Samurai warrior style historical fiction I recommend you give this fantasy a try.
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on 22 December 2014
This book is clearly heavily influenced by Game of Thrones, hence the 4 stars. Having said that, it is definitely one of those books you start reading then find very hard to put down! It's well written with great characters and rattles along at a great pace - really looking forward to reading the next in the series.
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on 16 October 2013
By far the best book I've read in the last couple of months, I found myself easily and almost immediately sucked in and feeling the world and story in John Gwynne's Malice. 4.5 stars really! Set in a time of feudal kingdoms formed after the defeat of powerful and hostile giants, we follow several characters through the beginnings of a rising conflict set to break apart all peace and stability - and it seems like bigger and more ancient forces could also be at work.

Loads of good things to say about this story, here are a few (sorry for going on a bit):

- Characters

Each chapter follows the viewpoint of one of a set of characters, and amazingly, every viewpoint is one that's worth reading. The pacing is great, with every chapter giving something to the reader and advancing the story.

The main protagonist of the novel is Corban, a boy just entering manhood and learning responsibility, honour and courage. His point of view was very refreshing to read, as it avoided many of the traps I've become used to in fantasy fiction - he is generally un-melodramatic, and in many ways quite unremarkable; he genuinely seems to learn actual lessons about life and responsibility by experiencing problems and observing other people, and you get a real sense of him existing in a larger world, just looking to discover where his niche will be. In other words, though the story is about him, it's not all about him - he is not self-obsessed, and people treat him fairly normally, just as a boy who occasionally lets curiosity get the better of him. We meet his friends, his family and those in the village happy to take him under their wing, and join him as he witnesses several of the story's key moments.

I may be way off the line here, but I just found it much easier to accept the world and enjoy the story whilst reading through the eyes of a fairly normal boy who exists in a world where strange and difficult things are beginning to occur, than read through the eyes of characters who have some kind of magical power, hackneyed difficult home life, or some kind of 'razor sharp' wit stemming from the author's attempts at manly banter... It also makes it even better when there actually does seem to be something special emerging about the boy as the story progresses. I found myself almost as excited as the villagers in a couple of scenes. That said, perhaps his unique pet wolf is a bit too similar to the pets of a certain Stark family.

Corban's older sister Cywen was also a refreshing read, as a female character with more concerns on her mind than her identity and life as a woman. So too was Gwynne's handling of female characters in general, who don't drone on about men or childbearing etc. (can't stand this about many fantasy novels!) but seem to be people who actually exist in society. Corban's discussion with his mother at one point was great, very subtly done.

Kastell and Veradis have quite similar points of view as young men seeking approval and a place in the world. They also experience most of the action and events from the sidelines, giving us a great view of the escalating conflict, and allowing us to have different opinions to them about what's unfolding. Veradis in particular was great to read, as you want to shout warnings to him about what's happening in several places.

Nathair is a fantastic kind of character, though I don't think we really get to see a lot of him in this story. I was really swept up by the nervousness that accompanies his storyline, and I hope Gwynne is able to keep painting the picture as skilfully when he begins to take a larger share of the plot in later instalments.

Evnis is also a good villain, as I was never totally sure about his motivation or ultimate goals. Things kept appearing in the story that challenged my views on him.

I was also really glad to read kings who seem to deserve the title, who realistically assert their position and carry a sense of responsibility and wisdom in their dialogue.

- Language & writing style

I know some people were frustrated by very small amounts of descriptive work in the story, especially around character appearance, but I thought this was actually a great strength. I didn't have trouble imagining any of the characters, and was actually glad to be mentally shaping their appearance based on the things they did and said rather than endure overly detailed descriptions of unfamiliar clothing and physical quirks (cuirass, harness, hose, lips curling??) that either create odd cartoonish appearances in my head or force me to use wikipedia.

Characters also seemed to speak in very believable ways to me, again avoiding the classic fantasy writing pitfalls of hammy swearing, leaden banter and 'gritty talk'. With a few other novels I've felt like I'm reading cheesy camp pirates in a musical or something, but the people in Malice felt real to me. It made the story a lot more interesting to read, and the twists and turns of the plot were more colourful by contrast for the fact that people responded to and spoke about them in believable ways. The localised vocabulary also stayed consistent and was realistic enough not to grate when reading as some attempts do - e.g. "I've bin thinkin', 'e ain't ne'er com'n back"... "Ay gaff, that ther'uns truth 'n no m'stake"

A mark of how well this all works is that even the well-recognised and dreaded tropes of the strident, no-nonsense wise woman and the quiet, mysterious teacher aren't irritating to read, even though their character profiles are so easily exaggerated (classic bad example - Brom & Angela from Christopher Paolini's dragon series. In fact those books are almost exactly the opposite of everything good about Malice)

- World building

Everything in Malice locks into place naturally, from geography to culture to war to history & religion. I thought the idea of the Ben-Elim, apart from having one of the best names for that sort of thing, was really well expressed, so that whole dimension felt present but not oppressive to the plot. I was kept guessing as to what is real and what's myth throughout.

The giants and their history were also fairly well introduced, though I have to say I'm slightly waiting for the inevitable hammer blow of the opposing point of view (i.e. when we see things from their side). They are perhaps the least well-built part of the world & plot, as by giving nearly no information about them it seems obvious there is more to the conflict, we are just not told about it in this instalment of the series. It gave me a sense that most everyone in the story is very headstrong, rushing into battles and decisions without too much thought (i.e. the giants are enemies and that's that!), but perhaps that's deliberate, and we're meant to have our doubts about the way the central characters behave.

- Stop rambling and summarise

Read the book! You won't regret it, and I suspect you'll really enjoy it. I can't wait for the next instalment of the series, just get the feeling John Gwynne is a writer who really knows how to tell an epic tale. Foreshadowing, wise & unwise decisions, intriguing characters and histories all combined with a skill in knowing what to write in and what to leave out make Malice probably the best book I've read this year.
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on 7 April 2014
The idea here is brilliant and deserves much better than this book.

the problem is that the author seems convinced that we, his readers, are all idiots.
Basically, his idea is that there are two main protagonists and a prophesy for a Prince of good and a Prince of evil.
(I'm going to try not to give any actual spoilers, but he doesn't worry about that at any point in his book).

it would be brilliant if you genuinely didn't know which was going to be which, I'd have lived to have spent this book guessing at who would be which, what might happen to tip one or the other over the edge. But instead one is absolutely flawless and really loves his mum. The other keeps mumbling about how "the end justifies the means" and "wouldn't it be easier to fight the evil if this was all one big empire?"...

The rest of the book is made up from the author trying to fit in every cliche that exists in fantasy writing
Oi, there's a local bully...
Oi, I've been dared to visit the local healer that everyone thinks is a mean old witch...
Oi, I've just made friends with a big scary wolf...
Oi, the local stable master is very friendly with my family and has an air of nobility...
Oi, this secret passage way into the castle probably won't be useful at any point...
Oi, that friendly bandit doesn't seem all bad...
Oi, that giant white worm was scary, best brick up that wall to make sure no more come out...

the list could go on and on. it feels like your watching one of those really bad south American sitcoms. The shear number of cliches would be bad enough, but the author seems to think that we won't be able to spot any of them. he goes on to drop planet sized hints and allusions to his "subtly" developing plot. As a result nothing is a surprise, nothing is unexpected, it's just a relief to get the various plot points out of the way.

(The combat and battle sequences are really hammy as well, although to be fair I have just finished the red knight which is brilliant)

It is a real shame, as the idea of the story is good, just don't believe the reviews.
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on 24 October 2015
What an adventure John Gwynne took me on. This his debut novel is a little slow to start but you really ought to push on and you'll be glad of the time you spent in the Banished Lands.

His words weave through the many character's personal adventures, leading to a barrage of battles at the end.

Being a fan of George RR Martin's, I feel this book, indeed I'm sure the series will be, of the same ilk. There is a slight link to Martin's world, around the wolven cub in this, and whether it was done intentionally or not, I liked it.

This is a well written, well versed book, and I certainly will look to get my hands on book two. Valour: Book Two of The Faithful and the Fallen (The Faithful and The Fallen Series 2)
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