Posts Tagged ‘Brown Books’

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Sometimes there’s a book that makes work seem like a nuisance as you just don’t want to stop reading. Yet, you also don’t want it to finish. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan was one of those books for me. Check out the blurb below…

Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world.

Book one in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy, Ryan’s Blood Song is epic fantasy at its finest. Introduced to the protagonist Vaelin Al Sorna when he is a child, the first part of the novel focuses on his journey from boy to man, from a lonely child to a feared warrior. His training by the Sixth Order is brutal, teaching and forging Vaelin into a powerful instrument of war. Along with his band of brothers, Vaelin undertakes numerous challenges as each year passes, whittling out the weak and leaving only those skilled enough to survive the hardships and harsh tests.

However, the book quietly builds as intrigue and mystery begin to insinuate themselves into the story. Vaelin’s life is threatened and a number of times he thwarts attacks against his fellow Faithful. In his final exam, a test of his martial skills fighting three criminals to the death, Vaelin realises he has killed an innocent man. Embroiled now in a web of deceit and political intrigue which pits his place in the Order against the King of the Realm, Vaelin’s infamy and legend grows with each battle. Before long Vaelin is commanding a company of men, sent on a mission designed to cause war.

It is here that the true character of Vaelin becomes clear, as all the losses and lessons that have made the man coalesce. As the novel draws to a close, the plot rises to an uncertain crescendo echoing the title of the book. Ryan’s skill in telling the tale, using the ending as the beginning and focusing on Vaelin makes for a wonderful, fluid read. As each new intrigue is added the book builds and builds, driven first by the characters and then by the stunning and gripping action.

The author has created a fantastic world of fractious nations, civilisations and religions. It’s a brilliant backdrop to Vaelin and his brothers in the Faith and their adventures. But, it’s the depth of the book and how Ryan allows certain elements, such as the curious and fascinating notion of magic, to rise up out of the story that makes it such an absorbing read. Thankfully the second in the series, Tower Lord is already out and I can’t wait to read it. In short, Anthony Ryan is highly recommended.

Review copy
Published by Orbit

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Angus Watson was kind enough to take some time and answer a few questions about his debut, Age of Iron, the idea of ‘grimdark’ and British sense of humour.

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For those yet to read Age of Iron, could you give a brief outline of the novel?

The trilogy rewrites how the ancient Britons defeated Roman general Julius Caesars’ unstoppable legions and his druid’s dark magic (which actually happened, possibly without the dark magic bit). In book one, a skilled but lazy warrior, a beautiful, revengeful archer, a weird mystical child and others unite to defeat the evil forces of southern Britain’s tyrant king.

I’ve heard that the novel was born from a newspaper article you wrote, could you explain how your debut came about?

I wrote an article on Iron Age hillforts for the Telegraph. There are loads of these gigantic forts – ditches and ramparts dug around the flattened top of a hill – all over southern Britain. The Iron Age was a busy, massive, but totally unknown part of British history despite being relatively recent (Age of Iron is set just over 2000 years ago. Egypt’s pyramids that still sit next to KFC in Cairo are 4500 years old). Walking on a hillfort with an expert called Peter Woodward, I asked him if the British Iron Age was like Conan the Barbarian, full of muscle-bound warriors rescuing virgins from snake temples. He said that as far as we know, yes. I decided to write a novel set in the period there and then.

Whilst there are obvious differences, how did your journalism background feed into your novel writing?

Economy. My hillforts article for the Telegraph, for example, was 800 words long but I could have written 30,000. I learnt to cram everything I wanted to say into fewer words without it feeling crammed. At least that was the idea. The Age of Iron trilogy is about the same length as famously long War and Peace, so some might disagree.

The Iron Age is an intriguing setting for a novel – how much research was involved and what was it like to infer and extrapolate from the little available history to create your background?

Because the ancient British didn’t write and any oral histories have since disappeared, there is very little research that can be done. So I read all the available books, went to three museums, climbed a load of hillforts and that was that. Then I very much enjoyed building a world within the parameters of known history.

I’ve described Age of Iron as ‘grimdark’ what are your thoughts on this type of classification?

The book is grim and dark in parts but I don’t think that is the overall feel, considering that the real centrepiece, possibly, is the platonic relationship between a jaded man and an enthusiastic child. However I realise that books need to be categorised, and if Age of Iron is being put into the same category as Joe Abercrombie’s excellent novels (which aren’t that grim or dark either) then I’m very happy.

However, your novel (and many of the characters) displays a fantastic sense of humour – what were the roots behind that?

I think there’s an amazing prejudice against people in the past. We see them as one dimensional and stupid and I think that’s utterly wrong – they were as passionate, clumsy, manipulative etc etc as we are. So, if you go into any office or factory or school or army barracks or wherever today, you’ll find witty people making funny jokes. I think it was the same in the past, so that’s why many of the characters have senses of humour. As to the book itself having a sense of humour, I think you can either cry or laugh at the world and I choose the latter.

There is some great scepticism and discussion around religion and the Druids – could you unpack your thoughts on why your characters have such reactions in what was, seemingly, a religious age?

See previous answer. People in the past were the same as us. Today we have a new religion called climate change. Some believe fervently and will scream hatred if anyone says a word against it, some defend it passionately but still drive Range Rovers, politicians and business exploit it to make political capital and money, and some people, while not necessarily denying that climate change exists, observe the others’ behaviour and mock it. Christianity got the same treatment when it was big, as did the Roman gods, so think it’s safe to say that the Iron Age gods provoked the same reactions.

I was also intrigued by the very modern attitudes of the British women and your strong female leads – would a Lowa have existed back then?

I’ve got a half-baked, badly-researched idea the Romans subjugated women through their own culture, then by changing Christianity into the form that’s been passed down. Before the Romans conquered Europe and the Roman version of Christianity conquered the world, women were seen as equal to men. It’s a theory, it would probably fall apart if someone who knew what they were talking about debated it with me, but I like it and I believe it. The theory is slightly backed up by the most famous British rebel against the Romans – Boadicea – being a woman.

The mix of historical fact and fantasy was inspired and your magic system was fittingly subtle – what was the thinking behind the magic and those who wield it?

I like the idea that there was a bit of magic around at the time. Plenty of people believe that Jesus could do a few tricks less than a hundred years after the events in my books and I don’t think Spring, Drustan’s or Felix’s magic is any weirder than his. There’ll be more about what that magic is and why it’s gone in the next two books.

Dug and Spring are wonderful characters with a funny and touching relationship – can we expect to see more of them?

There will be more of both of them, but they’re going to face challenges that make the Monster look like a baby rabbit (there were no rabbits in Britain during the Iron Age, so they won’t face any actual rabbits until one of them goes to Gaul (France) in book three).

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There’s a debate in fantasy about the category ‘grimdark’: Joe Abercrombie seems to embrace it (just check his twitter handle) whilst Mark Lawrence thinks it pointless. I’ll not argue with either of those titans of fiction. Angus Watson’s debut, however, fits the criteria for that category well as his novel is definitely grim and, at times, very dark. Set in the less than understood Iron Age of ancient Britain, Watson may not have created a new world but he has been brilliantly inventive with the sparse information historians have of that period to produce a superb fantasy story.

Following the self-reflexive and humble warrior Dug, we’re soon introduced to the way of the Iron Age from the everyday village full of crafts people to some very nasty and power drunk Druids and Kings. After finding himself on the wrong side of a battle (more accurately a slaughter) against the very King he was hoping to enlist with, Dug’s simple plan for an easy life becomes very complicated. He first meets Spring as she and her companions scavenge for treasure amongst the battle’s dead. Spring turns out to be an extremely strange ten-year old girl with some impressive talents. After deciding and failing to mercy kill her and then deciding to abandon her, Dug soon finds himself entangled in helping Lowa, an archer from the very army responsible for the earlier slaughter.

Lowa, once a heralded soldier in King Zadar’s army is now on the run after narrowly escaping an execution that claimed her sister, and hell-bent on revenge. Dug, enamoured by the young warrior, decides to help. Spring tags along being equally hilarious and helpful exactly when needed. After numerous scraps, treacherous encounters and betrayals, the gang find themselves fulfilling Lowa’s plan though not in the way any of them thought. From Dug’s opening ruminations, the story gathers pace and momentum becoming more complex and intense until the fantastic set piece conclusion.

Age of Iron is a brilliant tale of vengeance packed with action and a tumble of vibrant and canny characters. Watson’s novel is also highly informative, showing how ancient Britain and it’s people lived (who apparently held some fairly modern attitudes). There’s some great chapters on the notions of power, religion and mysticism and even a little digression on the pleasures of long distance running. Coming in at well over 500 pages, the novel is hefty but what it does is allow Watson to wonderfully describe and uncover both his setting and his collection of actors. The book never feels slow or ponderous but reads at a decent pace as it gathers steam for the big finale.

From the intriguing blend of historical fiction and fantasy elements to the engaging sense of humour that underpins his main characters and their interactions, Watson has created a brilliant and confident debut. At turns the book is equally funny, thrilling, horrifying and informative. Dug and Spring are a truly fantastic duo bringing light to the dark and grim setting of an ancient Britain in the throes of tribal warfare and the threat of an approaching Roman invasion. If you like your fantasy packed with blood thirsty Druids, hammer-wielding heroes, strong female leads, action, intrigue, betrayal, and a brilliantly conceived world then Age of Iron is for you.

Review copy
Published by Orbit