The Fell Sword review

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Fell Sword is the second novel in the Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron. The series debuted in 2012 with the excellent debut The Red Knight. Miles is the Fantasy pseudonym of Christian Cameron, author of several historical fiction novels.
There are some things you can pay a man to do. And there are some you can’t. 
Betrayal by one of your own is usually free. 
Hiring experienced mercenaries to protect your throne is not. 
When an Emperor is deposed, the Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand – and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But The Red Knight has a plan. The question, can he negotiate the political, magical, real and romantic battlefields at the same time – especially when intends to be victorious on them all? 
The Red Knight and his company go across the mountains to the Morea and Thrake - those are the kingdoms to the east of Alba - to put down what appears to be a local rebellion and proves to be larger. In the process, the readers will get to see a little more of the meta-plot.
The Red Knight will meet a beautiful princess. Jean de Vrailly will grow in power and worldly glory. Amicia will develop her own power while getting into a quarrel with the church that will have long term effects for everyone. Readers will meet the Faery Knight and the irks are developed as people and not ‘enemies’. The sides shift, and the stakes grow.
In The Red Knight, Cameron introduced a lot of characters and several locations where the action, the scheming and several precisely detailed battles took place. Starting with this basis and with a very large cast and much ground to cover, it's not a surprise that the Red Knight himself, Gabriel, isn't given much page time for at least a hundred pages in the follow-up. Many storylines need development for the story to move forward as a whole. Even if The Fell Sword, as was the case with the previous book, isn't standing solely on the shoulder of the young ingenious mercenary commander, he's still the star of the book and when finally we catch up with him, that's where you realize how great and compelling a protagonist he has become with only one book behind his belt.

The Fell Sword throws Gabriel into another siege, but quite different from the one in the first book.  The Wild is still in turmoil but in the aftermath of the battle of Lissen Carak, the various forces have to regroup, the indigenous human races included. That break up makes The Fell Sword even more of a mess at first than The Red Knight was, where we had to grow familiar with the characters.  Instead of allies fighting for a common cause, we get several groups switching allegiances, fighting for power, fleeing or being subdued by the return in power of the mighty and now corrupted Thorn or the Fae Knight Tapio (only to name a few...). However, for a second time in a row, Cameron succeeds in bringing much of it together, although with less triumph. The scope is even larger and it's hard to make connections between all the players involved. If you consider the fast switches of point of views in all chapters, you get a mighty tapestry woven like no other that eventually shows its beauty but to the risk of being a complete jumble. I hope the author can pull it off for several more books but with a result as stellar as for The Red Knight.

Cameron is clearly the master of big battle scenes where, even if magic plays an important part, you feel as if your living history, taking part of a legendary conflict. The reenactor sure knows how to describe them from inside out.  I admit that this time around, I didn't understand all of it, I'm no expert in warfare tactics but I enjoyed the majority of the scenes. Readers who don't like encounters described in that level of detail may be thrown off by the author's writing, to the point of putting the book down or jumping ahead of several sections. Hopefully, Gabriel is still showing some genius but with much more help from magic, which slightly lessen the ingenuity of some victories.

Anyhow, most of these elements were also part of The Red Knight so your question must be: "Is the sequel worth it? What new elements does it bring to the table?".

It's worth it even if the book isn't on par with The Red Knight. If you take the relationship between the different leaders who appeared in the first novel, the new threads coming from characters mostly out of Galle and the new region of Morea and Livianopolis, its capital and scenery for a big part of the book and the evolution of the Red Knight, individually, you get compelling stories. However, the way they are mixed up isn't the representation of successfully tight writing. A great tale recounted with some hick-ups. You will probably ask yourself questions like ''Why is there so much emphasis on the fur trade?'' or ''Why is there so much time spent on this character?'' and they will be worthy questions that alas show some weakness taken independently.  That's when you have to consider the big picture. It's not always obvious but more often than not, it brings more depth.

The other question was about novelty.  The epic struggle governing the plot of the seven book planned series is progressing, slowly but steadily. Gabriel's part in it seems to be less important for a while, up until everything merge together in term of magic involvement or centers of power.  However, magic is already a known factor and the skills of Gabriel and the other protagonists of note are revealed. So if you are looking for innovation, the second book isn't bringing much to the table but I don't think it was really needed. I think that the readers who were hooked with The Red Knight and the various characters will find satisfaction with The Fell Sword.  In my case, it's quite enough to wait with eagerness for the next installment.

Cover: The Orbit cover (the knight in armor) looks really nice but I prefer the Gollancz cover with the eagle attacking.
Release date: February 15th 2014 - UK (March in NA) (Gollancz)
Map: Yes it looks really good. There's the map of Albia, Morea and Livianopolis
Number of pages: 640 (paperback edition)
Other: No appendices, dramatis personae or glossary

I liked...Was disappointed by...
The battle scenesThe scope of the tale vs its development
The plethora of charactersThe plethora of characters
Gabriel's character developmentThe title meaning... the fell sword doesn't matter much...
The new protagonists and storylines

The similitude with Europe and the colonization of America is unsettling at times... (it's kind of the same for the Church of Christ references)

...looking at this list, it's kind of weird to have similitude between the things I liked and the things I was disappointed by. Some writing choices for Miles Cameron are both great additions and drawbacks for the book...

The Fell Sword review rating :


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