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4.0 out of 5 stars
The Black Guard (The Long War)
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2013
I read the kindle edition of this novel on the back of the book hype and reviews that can be located all over the internet. I loved the sound of the author taking years and years to create the fantasy world and storyline so wanted to get stuck in and couldn't wait for the release of the hardback edition.

I genuinely liked the novel but in all honesty it did drag in places (especially the middle of the book), the final quarter of the story however picks up with action and plot twists and left me with a hunger for more.

I appreciate this is the first book of a vast series so I have given this review 4 stars instead of 3 stars as I think the new authors work will pick up and the story will become more action packed and epic but this first novel just needs a boost of adrenaline.

My other gripe was the 'so called' vast world the author has been creating for the past decade which seemed some what basic and claustrophobic. There are three races of humans who all worship different Gods and for many years have seemed to get along together, however there are 7 enchantresses (witches) who have different ideas and want to stir up trouble in the name of a Dead God and finally in the background there are a weird race of 'dark elf like' creatures who remain hidden in large numbers within forests and very little is known about them, that is basically it? This just seemed very rudimentary to me and I expected a little more from an author who has supposedly devised a master plan for his fantasy series over decades, but lets not forget there is obviously much more to come (at least I hope there is).

I will be reading the next novel in this series as the majority of the book was enjoyable and easy reading, I genuinely liked the main characters and emphasised with them but this story definitely needs beefing up and requires more plot twists, action and adventure !
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2013
The Black Guard is simply put the best dark fantasy book I have read in years. The characters are realistic and hard talking, the monsters are cthulhuian (a particular favorite of mine) AJ Smith has clearly been influenced by Lovecraft and Barker. There is some character death but he does not seem overly obsessed with killing all his characters (unlike some other current fantasy authors. The world is very believable and there is the definate sense that much more is going on than meets the eye. I can't wait for the next episode in this saga.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2014
I will be honest here, I almost consigned this book to the bin. At 20% in I had become fed up with all the info dumping back stories... I bought another book and read that instead... then came back to this one. And I am glad I did. The middle section picks up the pace and the story really moves along with blood, guts and excitement. The ending is good though there was a death that I lamented and didn't see coming from the description - perhaps it was just handled too blithely and without the emotional weight I'd expected.

Worth reading and enjoyable. I'll pick up the next one to see how it develops.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2014
The central plot of the book is more or less exactly what the blurb on the front of the book says - George R.R. Martin meets Lovecraft. It's this imaginative world and main plot which saves this book from the many flaws in the writing. You're given more details of this grand plot and some mysterious beings and races at just about the right amount at a time to keep you reading.

There's a little of the same uncertainty as in Martin's books about which side is going to win in each encounter - just enough for there to be some dramatic tension.

Unfortunately while the writing is fine at some points it never approaches the quality of Martin or Lovecraft - and in some of the worst parts is just poor and below even the average writer.

Some of the main characters lack the depth, complexity and contradictions which make Martin's characters seem real. While some of the dialogue is fine, at other times some of the characters seem like what a modern American would sound like if they were role-playing a medieval knight, Arab or dark age viking - and role-playing them badly.

The worst line is probably when a viking style character shouts "incoming" when his company is under attac by catapults - that temporarily broke the atmosphere in the same way that Warhammer 40K authors sometimes do when they insert modern American military phrases like "shock and awe" into sci-fi books set in an alternate universe.

For at least two characters you are pretty much made to read their life history all at once in several pages in a row - and not written well - the first time you hear of their existence. This is given in far too much detail too. There should have been less detail and just the main points gradually revealed in conversations or their thoughts as the book progressed.

Some smaller details in the book also make little or no sense. At one point a ruler kills one of his nobles in front of the rest with no reason given that seems sufficient to even explain the killing and not only do none of them blink an eye at this, the dead man's daughter stays utterly loyal to her father's killer.

Overall though I did enjoy this book. While the writing is nowhere near Martin's standard the main plot and the races and cultures involved are imaginative and interesting enough that they kept me reading to the end and i'll look forward to the next book coming out in paperback.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2013
As I type this, we're past the midpoint of 2013, which is shaping up to be a great year for Epic Fantasy. When I started at the beginning of the year, like 2012, I had great hopes for the genre. There were some debut writers who I hoped would set a standard, but was generally disappointed by what I read.

I'm pleased to type that The Black Guard is an entertaining debut from an author I want to read more from.

Readers of Fantasy may recognise much of what is here. There's an attempt at a coup, the return of an old God (or its descendants) in a medieval-esque world. We have sieges, catapults, battles on a large and small scale, longswords and beheadings a-plenty.

The author clearly knows his audience and fans of the genre will lap this up.

It must be said that are many similar debuts out there at the moment. In my opinion, The Black Guard is one of the better ones. What works here for me more than other recent debuts I've read is the characterisation. Generally the characters are recognisable and yet different enough to be entertaining. The reader will identify with the good guys and hiss mightily at the bad, though there's a nice touch of greyness in there too. In particular, their dialogue is appropriate to the setting and worked for me, a problem I've had with many recent debuts. One warning: there is profanity and rather bloody mayhem here (it's not really a Young Adult tale) but it was refreshing to find that, unlike some `Grimdark' books of late, it doesn't reduce the overall impact by overdoing the violence or the expletives.

It also helps the suspension of disbelief that the world-building seems logical as well. There's a nice range of different groups here and whilst aspects are familiar, they are pleasingly different. The pantheon of otherworldly beings is quite striking too, and I liked the use of magic and Krakens in this novel. There's a Lovecraftian touch too in that a blood sacrifice is made to the Dead God, which is part of a plan to rebirth Shub-Nillurath and so create more Gods and a new age of pain and chaos.

Some of the battle scenes are terrific and are surprisingly well written for a debut novel. Whilst they're not always epic in scale, they're crafted well enough to maintain pace without losing track of the characters or the plot. The battle at the end in particular is very well done.

Before I get too carried away, it must be said that the book isn't entirely perfect. We could quibble about the huge dollops of set-up dialogue in conversations at the beginning of the novel, a slight lag in pace in the middle of the novel and the occasional over-the-top Conan-esque moment, but generally what happens works well and keeps the reader's attention over a 600+ page book.

Perhaps the biggest complaint may be that there's a lot of exposition here and by the end of the novel there are some major plot points that are unresolved, clearly to be continued in another book. Any reader expecting everything to be neatly solved by the end of this book will be disappointed.

Quite a few other reviewers have mentioned other authors as being `the debut of the year'. For me, The Black Guard is up there too as one of my favourites. Well done Head of Zeus for introducing me to another series I can't wait to continue. Brilliant stuff. I await the next book, eagerly.
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on 14 August 2015
The author starts out with a great many different story lines but ties them together well. I greatly look forward to the next book
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2013
A good tale, mixing modern high fantasy with Lovecraftian overtones. Perhaps a bit cheesy in places, and a touch obvious in taking inspiration from Lovecraft, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. Certainly be looking forwards to the sequels.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 2013
After a slow at times wooden start, this book develops into a rip roaring adventure with excellent character development.

The storyline is poised nicely for a mouthwatering sequel.

I would definitely recommend!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2014
I was looking through the store for something to read and this caught my eye-decided to get the free sample and I was hooked!
The author has managed to create a rich world in which his story is based, with well developed characters that you can really identify with and, as a result, get upset when they suddenly (usually in a gruesome manner) get killed off. There's a feeling that he's trying to echo the feeling of the song of ice and fire books, which works for me mostly-but I get the feeling that some characters are under used as a result.
The story glides along at an impressive pace, jumping from character to character without much slowing down. When the action does die down the conversations and events keep the interest well, unlike some other authors who bog you down with plot then throw you a chapter of fighting to wake you up. There are time when you feel confused about who is actually on the wrong side, a feeling that doesn't go away until you reach the second half. I liked this, as its good to see an author who doesn't mind keeping you guessing.
On the whole, a fantastic read I would recommend to anyone looking for a new fantasy world to enjoy. Just don't get attached to anyone.........
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 2013
I am not a fantasy reader normally. I prefer books which contain forensic crime-fighting, etc. However, work was slow and i borrowed my partners book to read (The black Guard)...I was completely absorbed. You could be forgiven for not understanding the clever way the author has decided to tell the story but i found it facsinating and it drew me in and made me empathis with the characters even more. I found it easy to read without the long conplex word usage that can be used soely to make the author sound intelligent. There were long complex words but nicely used and in context. The detail of descriptions was great and the way in which the book is written, very clever. Changing the current perceptions as the story unfolds. I am impressed with this work and i WILL be waiting to read his next book. I was even thinking about the characters when away from the book. I couldn't wait to get back to it! I highly recommend this book. I read with an open mind and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have been converted!! :)
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