Archive for July 9th, 2014

John Gwynne – Malice

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

It has been a while since I read a new traditional fantasy novel in which good and evil are clear opposites. John Gwynne‘s first novel of The Faithful And The Fallen is called Malice (2012). What makes it different from the usual traditional fantasies is that it finds much inspiration from recent popular fantasy series. I will mention them later on.

Gwynne presents a divided world where the different nations and cultures are actually quite similar to each other. The reader only gets to see some glimpses of different peoples. The background of the story finds inspiration from Tolkien although Gwynne puts in sufficient differences to not make it obvious, except for the experienced reader.

The narrative style is inspired by A Song Of Ice And Fire. The chapters are titled after the character from whose viewpoint the story is told. They are short and in the first part they switch frequently between the different protagonists of the story. It is not altogether flawless. Gwynne sometimes adds in cliffhangers and in several occasions he returned after switching to other characters in whose chapters clearly time had passed so that you get the feeling that things are not sync. This in contrast to some occasions where the next chapter does not switch to a different character but the same.  While it seems that there are several protagonists in the first part of the novel they gradually start to gravitate to one protagonist who then clearly becomes more the main protagonist as he gets more of the centre stage.

Most of the narrative is told from the perspective of teenage characters and much of the their immediate plot involves coming-of-age storylines. The few exceptions are only added to fill in the plot so that gaps or sudden twists have a solid foundation. Most of these teenage protagonists shared certain similarities in their characters and situations. This compared to a plot that tries not to be too complicated, or at least tries to present events orderly and clearly understandable, and the avoidance of adult scenes, swearing and overly violent scenes made this novel feel like Young Adult book. There are some relatively brutal scenes but they do not have that hard an impact. The difference between good and bad characters is often very distinct. Only in a few cases there was originally created some greyness but that shifted later on.

The story itself finds, in my view, inspiration in The Wheel Of Time series. There is an extensive prophecy, a chosen one and an adversary in the great fight between good and evil. The Wheel Of Time already addresses several issues and Gwynne decided to take one of these and give it a twist of his own and that forms the core of this novel. As this novel has such a way of presenting things rather distinctly this twist can be spotted early on, although other readers might not see it as soon as I did, although I must admit that I hoped Gwynne wouldn’t turn things they way he did rather sooner than later.

The story it not all that straightforward and predictable. Gwynne was clearly inspired (again) by A Song Of Ice And Fire to introduce a number of twists with a heavy impact. They are however not presented as brutally as George R.R. Martin has done. Most of them came in the later part of the novel. This does give the novel a different flavour from the usual fare and they are the elements that make the story shift out of the Young Adult sphere somewhat, although I have read Young Adult novels with similar dark elements.

The novel was not exactly what I expected. On some parts I was somewhat disappointed as there are many traditional elements. In contrast to those are influences from more contemporary classic fantasies that give the story a sufficient different flavour that events become more unpredictable. It was an enjoyable and easy read, but a relatively light fare that has a fair number of engaging scenes. The story keeps a good pace and nowhere turns dull. While there are other protagonists the focus of the story is on the one protagonist I was actually least interested in as he has a rather dull and predictable character. Will I pick up the next instalment? I probably will. I won’t be rushing to get it however and that is what defines a really good book.