5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Great next step in the series,
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This review is from: Valour (The Faithful and the Fallen) (Hardcover)
4.5 stars again: Another good read and a great second instalment to the series. Exciting to see that John Gwynne can match the pace and quality of his debut, and he will continue to be one to watch in the fantasy world.
(Review has some spoilers - look out for --!SPOILER!-- and skip that paragraph if you haven't read it yet!)
Corban is on the run with a mixed band of survivors, having just escaped a maelstrom of shocking betrayals and power plays at Dun Carreg, and begins to deal with a fate he can no longer hide from; Cywen lives life on the edge behind enemy lines, and relies on wit & luck to keep her head; Evnis is carried along by the plan he set in motion, and nervously tries not to get swept up by escalating events; Maquin is steadily being consumed by shame & a thirst for revenge, and battles to stop this taking control; Nathair proves a terrifying blend of zeal, ruthlessness and ignorance as he pushes forward with his misguided mission; Veradis finds his loyalty challenged by the company he keeps and the decisions he is forced to make; and we meet Coralen, a feisty soul searching for truth & meaning in her life… sounding good yet?
The big strengths of John Gwynne’s style are all here in full force - naturally evolving situations, conflicts and characters - all a real joy to read, and so fresh in the genre! The politicking and shifty motivations of the villains will keep you guessing, and the earnest underdog nature of the heroes keeps you firmly rooting for their self-discovery and resolve to do what is right against terrible odds.
I really enjoyed the filling out of his world in this novel, and was glad, (and perhaps guiltily pleased to see my prediction validated), that we see greater detail emerging on the side of the giants. The relationships and dynamics of that community were very well expressed, and as ever there is a good balance of mystery and revelation in character profiles & plot as the story progresses.
The conflict at the centre of the narrative expands very organically, and it is a very skilful example of how to get the reader to authentically experience the characters’ feelings: the rising sense of unease, of being caught up in events much larger than any would have guessed, and the gradual erosion of things that seemed solid and dependable. It’s brilliantly done step by step, and I prefer this approach to the sudden, climactic meteor-strike of a threat you often see in today’s narratives (especially in blockbuster movie scripts!)
You will stay hooked to the unfolding of the plot, waiting to see what happens when different parties collide and looking forward to seeing the consequences of big decisions made by the characters.
In short, really enjoyed this instalment and felt it was an appropriate mid-saga novel, with both a good cliff-hanger and genuine progress in the plot (unlike classic filler novels that don’t add anything to the overall story, and give false climaxes - e.g. some of the later novels in the Wheel of Time series).
Even though it’s a small part, Rath deserves a special mention. The build up to this character and his role in the story was fantastic, I loved hearing the giants talk about him and how they were so wary of his reputation. It was totally authentic and I couldn’t wait for him to turn up.
A couple of things that I wasn’t quite as keen on (feel like I have to do this, as the series deserves a proper review):
I can see how these sections are necessary to the plot and fill out the world, and they do provide a genuine source of threat and evil for the protagonists to fight against. However, I didn’t especially enjoy reading the chapters - the unpleasantness was a little off-tone for the rest of the novel, and the arcs were a bit too classic.
The fighting pits & control stone (think Aes Sedai collars or Harry Potter’s imperius curse) are well-trodden paths and it was clear which way things would go. It was the only part of the novel that felt a little contrived - wouldn’t be worth mentioning in a review for something else, but John Gwynne seems to me to be capable of more originality. Slavery with forced fighting & being made to aid the bad guys are devices for conflict, as it prevents characters from trying to make decisions - they are made for them. This is fairly clear by the resolution as the fighting pits are destroyed completely, Maquin escaping & proving himself still honourable, and the stone is destroyed so the queen can right the wrongs & now has a motive for action. I am definitely nit-picking here, as it all works and is told in a much more engaging and enjoyable way than many other examples, but I believe John Gwynne is capable of a lot more. (If you read this, John, sorry I’m being an idiot! You’ve raised my standards for the series!)
CORBAN & GWENITH (& Gar I suppose)
These characters are brilliant, and the author is excellent at making classic tropes stand out from the crowd & feel fresh and interesting again - so any comments here are again just because John Gwynne has set his own bar so high! I felt frustrated with all three characters for different reasons:
CORBAN never asks the one question that would be on the very tip of my tongue in this story (unless I missed it or am remembering it wrong): WHY is this happening to me? Why am I chosen? - I just can’t believe he wouldn’t ask that of Gar & Gwenith, or the others who turn up later - I don’t think he even asks it of himself in his internal monologues. This is the only thing that I felt let down by with Corban. If it’s being held back for the plot, the reveal didn’t have to come here, and could have been hyped up more if the question had been asked.
GWENITH & GAR were still great characters, I really like the less-is-more approach to their speech & actions, just makes them both feel very real; I like the way Gwenith’s desperate anxiety & solid resolve are communicated very subtly through her interactions and expressions, and the way Gar’s struggles with himself and his mission come through. However, I couldn’t help thinking that they was too easy on Corban. If they have lived in secrecy for that long, and had such self-control as to not spill the beans and to keep laying down their lives for Corban, it seems to me like they wouldn’t shy away from telling him what he needed to know. Their convictions carry them through their actions through the first novel, but then suddenly aren’t enough for them to tell Corban the hard truths, even if he doesn’t want to hear. I’m probably being unfair here.
I was sad to see Gwenith die at the end; I couldn’t shake the feeling of inevitability with this right the way through. It was sad, especially as she & Gar seemed to be getting on well & working through their grief together, but it also felt like it was made to happen rather than needed to happen. After so many lucky escapes & deft plans, it just seemed too careless of the team that she becomes Corban’s last line of defence. (Again, I am nit-picking, sorry…)
I also generally thought that more could have been done with Heb and the old magic woman (can’t remember her name and book not to hand! But you’ll know who I mean… is it Brina??) They were really nicely portrayed and I enjoyed their relationship, and their sideline relationship with Corban.
Anyway, that’s enough from me - it’s a great read, and The Faithful and the Fallen is shaping up to be a superb addition to the fantasy canon, indeed to fiction in general. Get it, read it, and love it.
FINAL THOUGHT (if you can be bothered!)
I’ve read some reviewers talking about cliches and familiar tropes in the story, and I just think it’s worth a comment - I feel the problem with a lot of writing is that it is only concerned with finding some kind of new angle or new idea all the time, perhaps due to shortening attention spans and a ‘gimme stuff’ consumer mentality to everything (think Netflix meeting demand with entire seasons of shows coming out in one go for the ‘binge watcher’!) which often leads to weird scenarios featuring characters the reader can’t relate to (personally, couldn’t cope with the Locke Lamora book. Writing was impenetrable and the concept wore thin pretty fast; just felt like Oliver all over again but without the fun or redeeming qualities).
On the other side, when familiar tropes are used in a bad way, it’s immediately apparent and dull to read - but the reason these things are classic in the first place is because they are brilliant ideas that have been told fantastically well countless times. If the idea per se was boring, it would not have continued to exist post Ancient Greece.
John Gwynne goes back to what makes a story actually any good in the first place, which is the writing. His characters feel real, the plot unfolds in an authentic way, and the prose is just enjoyable to read. If you want a counter-example, I thought that the David Eddings series was really poor: dull writing and dull, re-used ideas - and yet this is regarded by some as a classic in the genre.
Anyway, that’s just my 2p (or 2 cents if you’re across the pond). Sorry for going on - can’t wait for the next book in the series - buy Valour and support great new writing!