This is a debut fantasy novel by Angus Donald writing under the pseudonym Angus Macallan whilst we are more used to reading Angus Donald's great historical fiction novels I guess he fancied a bash at the world of fantasy. This is sprawling epic first attempt following multiple POV and for the most part is an exceptional story well told with an eye to the continuation of the adventure. We are join the story as princess Katerina is refused her birthright and forced into a marriage of convenience. Meanwhile on a small Island kingdom we meet Jun a spoiled prince who is about to face the cruellest of reality checks and then there is the sorcerer Mangku who seeks the seven keys of power. And then we have Farhan, con man, chancer, sometime spy. To get the one negative out of the way, is to say that with so many characters and their stories going on the pacing suffered slightly, but only ever so slightly... considering it is a first time fantasy novel the world building was really well done, be it cities or swamps or ice barren plains you really felt you were right there and in a world where political machinations and ever changing alliances rule there is a lot of grey area, so you could feel for each of the disparate groups the only really bad guy with bad intentions through and through is the sorcerer Mangku who just wants to open the gates of hell. Whilst everyone gets their fair share of page time, the main driving force is Princess Katerina and her ambition and burning desire to prove the Male dominated world wrong and seize power for herself starting with the tropical Island of Laut Besar and the Gates Of Stone. To be honest there is not a lot to like with Katerina, who is ruthless, brilliant, strong and determined to destroy or use anything or anyone in her path, but I think the author added just enough humanity to her that you cannot help but root for her. The character with the most growth by far is prince Jun, as his Island is attacked, his father the king killed and the sacred Sword of his people (one of the keys of power) is stolen by Mangku and his band of pirates.... Jun feels himself defined by a moment of cowardice and vows to retrieve both sword and honour, he is aided by a mysterious old servant that is obviously more than he seems and a lowly Fisher girl who carries the weight of a God Inside her, as the rigors of the journey and the enormity of his task sets in Jun has his eyes opened to just how small his 'Kingdom' really is, but this spoiled, rich pretty boy has more about him than first seems.... the question is, will it be enough? Last we have Farhan, a tragic figure, a con man, adventurer, play boy who is facing the fact that he is getting too old for the life he leads, has nothing to show for it and is in fact not even as free as he likes to think himself beholden to debtors and a spymaster and his insidious second Mamaji. Farhan has no choice but to roll the dice for one last time and hope that fortune does indeed favour the bold. All in all this was a wonderful read, with big battle scenes, moments of horror and humour..... great joy and despair and at the heart of it some great characters that I look forward to meeting again! Worthy first attempt indeed.
Angus Macallan is the pseudonym for the author Angus Donald. Mr Donald is the author of the utterly brilliant “Outlaw” series and a two part (so far) series set about the time of the “glorious revolution”. An immensely talented writer of historical fiction. But Gates of Stone is a new direction as it is a proper fantasy novel and one set with a distinct Asian flavour. Given the author’s pedigree it was never not going to be good, it was going to be a question of “how good”. This is a book that asks a little of you, to give it time to get sucked in and properly immerse yourself in. Character setting and multiple points of view take a small time to bed in and before you realise it, you have gone from “this is okay” to “I can’t put this down”. The Asian setting works well with hints of cultures you are familiar with but with enough to make it interesting and different. Our main characters are a somewhat feckless prince who has all he knows taken away from him, a murderous young lady with world changing ambition and a merchant who is sometimes almost as clever as he thinks he is. The story leads characters to the famous Gates of Stone, all for different reasons and with unexpected outcomes. There is plenty of action and intrigue along with some dark humour that fans of Joe Abercrombie will likely enjoy. Some nice side characters too, especially Mamaji who….. No I’m not going to spoil that one, the pleasure is in the discovery. Which is true of the whole book to be honest. A welcome addition to quality and engaging fantasy.
Gates of Stone marks the debut of Angus Macallan, the pen name of historical fiction writer Angus Donald. I'm used to the author reimagining both the Robin Hood legend and the Charles II era, so it came as a surprise to see him curve into Asian fantasy. But, after finishing Gates of Stone, you can tell this was a passion project from the get-go. Everything from crisp dialogue and solid plotting is present but best of all, the impeccable fight scenes. The pen-name is no secret but I'd go as far to say that I'd have recognized the author just from his talent for writing vivid combat. If you're looking for a new fantasy series, definitely consider this one. It could easily be adapted to TV, Netflix - whatever you're using these days.
I have read a friend's copy and devoured this book in a day. Going to order my own copy as this is the type of book you can read over and over. It's a page Turner and you immerse yourself in the characters world. Time raced away when I read this book and that's rare in many books so far.