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4.2 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 January 2014
A number of other reviewers on both the US and the UK site who are familiar with the late David Gemmell's works of heroic fantasy have detected a number of similarities in this book, and, for those that read all three books together, in the whole trilogy. One of the most obvious parallels is between Gemmell's Druss the Axeman and Nathan Hawke's Corvin Screambreaker. A few others have also drawn parallels between Gallow, the main character of this book, and one of Joe Abercrombie's character (Logen Ninefingers).

There are indeed a number of similarities, but these only go so far, and there are also significant differences which help to make this piece into a rather original one and a superb and exciting "page-turner".

With regards to the two main characters, and starting with Corvin Screambreaker, he does resemble Gemmell's Druss to some extent. Both are strong, superb and ageing warriors. However, while Druss may be at times a leader and is essentially a fighter, Corvin is also a general, a strategist, a master tactician, the right-hand man and the long time, loyal and trusted friend of the King of Lhosir. He, more than anyone else, is the one who conquered Marroc and therefore more than doubled the size of his King's kingdom. At times, he also reminded me of Gemmell's Banelion, the White Wolf (who was loosely modelled on Parmenion, the top general of both Philip II and Alexander of Macedon) in Winter Warriors. Corvin seems to be a mix of the two characters.

The other main character - Gallow - owes less to Gemmell. In some respects, he may not be very original since the theme of the former elite warrior who became tired of killing, settled down and founded a family before being inevitably pulled back into a new war is hardly novel. However, the character is made human and likeable through a couple of features related to his divided loyalties. Having renounced the way of the warrior and shaved his forkbeard, he has become an outcast living among the recently conquered Marroc who resent him, fear him and barely accept him. This he did for the love of his Marroc wife (with whom he fights constantly), although he yearns at times for his warrior life and friends and is somewhat torn between his old and his new identity.

Another interesting set of features is the novel's context. The Marroc seem to be loosely inspired by the Saxons, except that if you take a look at the map, you will see that the Marroc coast vaguely resembles that of North Africa. The Forkbeards are more clearly derived from the Scandinavians/Vikings of the Dark Ages, although here again, the comparison is not entirely meaningful. The Forkbeards seem to be some kind of "idealised" Norse/Swede/Danes who, in reality, were much more "sensible" warriors who thought nothing of running away to fight another day if the odds were obviously against them. The Forkbeards are, unlike the historical "Vikings" (used here as `shorthand" for the three above-mentioned groups), always ready to fight regardless of the odds, supremely confident in their tremendous battle skills, and seemingly utterly fearless.

Two other people either take centre stage in this book or as mentioned as part of the general background. The first are the nomadic Vathen. I could not quite find the historical nomad "horse lords" from which they are derived and there are several possibilities including, for instance, the Scythians or the Huns. The second people, who do not appear explicitly in this book but are often referred to because of the remnants of their previous Empire (including their roads and bridges), are the Aulians, Romans and the Roman Empire come to mind.

Finally, there is the story itself, which I will refrain from telling. Suffice is to say that the book is fast-paced, with plenty of action and at least one rather extraordinary rendered battle towards the end that made me think of Thermopylae with a sort of "happy and different ending". Four strong stars for a quite superb start of what I am very likely to find a fascinating trilogy.
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on 18 August 2013
Ten out of ten for the cover art, the publishers have boldly gone with just an image, leaving the title for the back page. It certainly is striking and, I am sure will whet the appetite's of many fans of fantasy fiction.

I found the novel went along at a breakneck pace; this is a strong foundation for the rest of the series. There is a lot of action, (and I know this sounds odd)...perhaps a little too much action. I felt that at times that the fighting swamped the story. Yes it's all thrilling, epic stuff, but I thought the novel really shone when the focus was on the dialogue and interaction between the many interesting characters. Their observations and world-weary humour made this an enjoyable read for me. I would have preferred more development and depth to another description of a warrior being hacked to pieces.

Gallow is an enigmatic and interesting protagonist, but sadly I never felt that I got to know him beyond the tough warrior exterior. Perhaps this is a deliberate ploy, and the layers will be slowly revealed over the series.

Apart from the disconnected feeling I had, this was the literary equivalent of watching something really exciting but without the investment in those involved. I am sure its target audience will really like this, and I look forward to the next in the series, but hope for more characterization and less random violence next time.
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on 7 August 2013
I would say that this is far closer to Joe Abercrombie than Gemmel, the writing style is similar, and Gallow reminds me of Logen Ninefingers. The battle scenes are good, though not up to Cornwells standard, and the story is intriguing. I am a keen fan of this type of fiction and would strongly reccomend it to all the fans of Gemmell, Cornwell, Abercrombie,Lawrence,Kearny,Kristian, and the new Anthony Ryan.
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on 11 March 2014
Unless you're new to this genre this won't be the first story you've read featuring a weary, disillusioned and battlescared veteran whose been dragged back into one final fight.

Put simply it's everything you expect it to be, done well.

I like simple but intriguing plots with a couple of twists and turns. This offers that plus plenty of fights and battle scenes with limbs and innards flying all over the shop.

It's good i enjoyed it, give it a go.
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on 21 June 2016
It's no secret that Nathan Hawke is Stephen Deas is Nathan Hawke. No secret either that this, the first in a trilogy, owes as great a debt to David Gemmell as it does to our modern image of Vikings. But Gallow does seem to be a name mostly unspoken in fantasy circles, and that's a damned shame - here's a hero who deserves a much wider audience.

Grim and gritty, but not grimdark, The Crimson Shield skates between all-out battles, skirmishes, door-to-door fighting, and siege-and-plunder as it tells the story of our protagonist Gallow's attempts to save a comrade, save his village, and save a whole city. An invader who has gone native, Gallow treads a fine line, distrusted by both sides. He's not looking for a happy ending; he just wants to get through this day and see another.

There's a heck of a lot going on in a relatively small number of pages. Despite spending the majority of time in Gallow's head, taking time to relive old battles, backstory, and arguments with his partner Arda, the story rushes along helped by short chapters and very blunt, concise writing that I suspect early Moorcock would also have been proud of. That's not to say that there isn't detail here - there's plenty of that, the world seeps in through the writing, through the attitudes of Gallow and his fellow forkbeards to it and each other.

There's a hint of magic, laid on as superstition as much as anything else, and some epic rivalries and antagonisms. Oh, and the dialogue - Hawke's characters can't say much to each other without some kind of insult. It works far better here than in, say, The Blade Itself, which does take itself a little less seriously. (On the other hand, it also serves to lighten the mood, which might otherwise never lift itself from Bakker-style cynicism).

A few reviewers have pointed out that there's only one named female character in this book, and that she spends most of her time speaking from Gallow's thoughts. That is a fault, true, especially in the more modern age of fantasy fiction. Arda is still a strong presence however, and even if The Crimson Shield does seem like a step back into the past in its absolute masculinity I don't think Hawke is portraying that masculinity uncritically. I'm certainly going to be continuing with the series, not least because I reckon Arda will have a lot more to say in future volumes.

A strong, under-rated "debut" from Hawke then - not flawless, but certainly a polished and highly entertaining read.
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on 6 December 2013
Just not great. Its good in parts and you can see the attempted symmetry with recent trend of dark gritty fantasy, only problem is that the writings just that bit short and Gallow just isnt anywhere near as cool as heroes (or anti heroes) such as Logan nine fingers in the Joe Abercrombie series'. Most of the time I merely wished for Gallow to grow a set and go on a rampage
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on 4 January 2016
A friend of mine, Ian, was sad at having run out of David Gemmell books. I'd heard that the Gallow books were similar in spirit, so I bought this as a present for him, but decided to read it first to be sure that it's any good. Verdict: it is, very! I'm not a frequent reader of fantasy books, but this is very "low fantasy", with lots of superstition, but very little actual supernatural stuff going on.
I've passed it on to Ian with a clear conscience.
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on 3 October 2013
I am not in the habit of writing reviews but in this case i will make an excemption. Started reading this book but i mostly read historical fact or fiction. Found this book to be up with the best i have read.
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A different type of heroic book and whilst its aimed at fans of David Gemmell, it's a book that treads its own path to the readers imagination. The themes behind take the reader in a tale that has a very Norse feel behind it with solid enough action, reasonable enough pace and when added to a cast that add extra texture to the world all round makes it reasonable enough read.

For me though, the book was a title that I had a few problems with, I ended up rewriting a few of the action sequences mentally as I felt that they were a little undetailed and seemed to gloss over the bits I wanted. All in, it was an OK book but for me, I'm going to wait to see what the others have in store before I pass full judgement though. So currently it's a Meh type of book.
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on 4 October 2013
Let me say right from the start that this is an excellent book. I very rarely write reviews on here but felt compelled to with this. Gallow is a fantastic leading character; as another reviewer has mentioned, he reminds me strongly of Joe Abercrombie's fantastic character Logan Ninefinfingers. I don't like my fantasy novels to have much of the supernatural in them and Gallow's world has no magic, witches, demons or monsters. It's just a totally believable, authentic alternative world. Strongly recommended.
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