BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Red Knight and his merry band of mercenaries take a commission to rid an Abbey of a monster problem. It turns out that the monster problem is more complex than any could have imagined and the whole kingdom of Alba is in danger of being overrun.
PROS: Highly descriptive, furious combat, huge array of colorful characters, intricate plotting, great pacing, pervading sense of chivalry.
CONS: Minor clarity issues with the magic system, so many characters that some of them are left underdeveloped, over-extended falling action.
BOTTOM LINE: I feel greatly honored to have read an ARC of The Red Knight. This is more than a genre novel, it’s a contemporary myth. I can’t wait for the next entry in The Traitor Son Cycle.
When I returned to reading fantasy after years of focusing on science fiction, there was an emphasis on dark and gritty that I found immediately appealing. There was one thing I found lacking, and I didn’t even realize it until recently; a sense of chivalry. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read about great heroes in the past few years, but they rarely display the knightliness (for lack of a better word), of stories from my childhood. Of course I didn’t even notice this deficiency until I read Miles Cameron’s The Red Knight.
The is a mercenary captain, a bastard of high birth. He is courtly and educated. He is a devilish gentleman rogue. He is young but commands respect. He is a businessman in addition to a skilled combatant. He is a sharp thinker but can be distracted by hormones. He is one of my favorite new heroes. The Red Knight is a young man that has cast aside the future chosen for him and overcome hardship to lead a group of dangerous men (and a woman). He is not without fear, in fact it surrounds him, but he faces it head on. He is inspirational, really. He has flaws and doubts but he is a strong character that takes charge of his own destiny. Despite monetary incentive, the captain comes to find other motivation for fighting. At his core, he is very much a knight.
The Red Knight is by far the strongest character but there is an abundance of lively protagonists. The mercenaries are precisely the kind of men you would expect to fight for money. They are rejects in the main, but rejects bonded in ties forged in fire. It would be hard not to like characters like Bad Tom, Sauce, Michael, and Gelfred. And those are just the members of the Red Knight’s retinue! Then there are personalities like the merchant Master Random, the foreign knight Jean de Vrailly, Amicia the novice, Ser Gawin Murien aka “Hard Hands”, Harmodius the king’s magus, Thorn who could be mistaken for Treebeard’s evil brother, and the Abbess. Harmodius was a personal favorite, a mage capable of going toe-to-toe with Gandalf the Grey.
The Red Knight features a lot of POV’s. I tend to like my stories concentrated and I hate slogging through superfluous POV’s to get back to the ones that interest me. This was not a problem with The Red Knight. The sections are brief and the setting and characters are so interesting that I was happy no matter who I read about. It did take some effort to remember the occasional character at the beginning but by the end, all were clear. Also, with so many perspectives some were bound to be left underdeveloped.
The humans are pitted against the Wild, the “evil” forces of nature. Hunting creatures of the Wild and waging war against the Wild itself are perilous prospects. All manner of beasts inhabit the wild. There are boglins and irks (not to be confused with goblins and orks) and daemons and trolls and wyverns. Cameron’s portrayal of such creatures sidesteps the tired tropes of the genre quite successfully. There are also free men that live amongst the Wild. They seem strange to outsiders but their customs are like that of “civilized” men, they just don’t lie or put pretty names to awful deeds. It’s not so much about man against man, as it is about the ingenuity of man against the feral ferocity of nature. The conflict is furious, the clash of arms heavy and violent. Wounds dealt are gruesome and slaying creatures of the Wild comes at a high cost. Combat between magi is titanic. The Red Knight features soaring victories and tragic defeats with unexpected reversals of fate. The medieval combat is written with an accuracy that demonstrates experience with the subject matter from an author who is a military veteran, a historian with a degree in Medieval History, and a reenactor. It shows. He knows his arms and armor and it gives a tinge of precision and a weight of realism that infuses the fighting.
The magic system is one of the most difficult and interesting ones I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. At first there is an issue of clarity regarding hermeticism. It could be that I wasn’t reading closely enough but as I read on it did grow to be more comprehensible. That’s not to say that hermeticism is any less mysterious having finished the novel, just less obscure. The system is very cool, but it feels organic. It’s obvious that there is an underlying structure but readers won’t be bludgeoned over the head with it continuously.
The plotting is dense and intricate – without sacrificing pace. The exposition is brief but effective, the rising-action is gripping, the climax is powerful, and the denouement…well that is a bit over-extended. The fighting is vicious and varied, the lulls in combat provide opportunity for character development, and there is even a complex and believable romance angle. The Red Knight is a gratifying standalone but there is a lot of foundation set for the forthcoming sequels in The Traitor Son Cycle. Sequels that I’m confident will make a major impact on the genre.
The Red Knight is a modern myth, a legend to substitute the traditional tales of heroism and valor. It has all the trappings of a great knightly tale with contemporary sensibilities. There is violence and moral ambiguity, but at its core is the beating heart chivalry. Traditional idealism may be tempered with realism but it makes for a rousing read.