BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Freshly blooded from the defense of Lissen Carrak, the Red Knight and his company venture to Morea where they find themselves in the midst of a civil war. Elsewhere in the realm factions move one step closer toward total warfare. Alliances are made and schemes are fulfilled.
PROS: Larger-than-life characters; authentic descriptions; densely woven plot; bold scope; high stakes; complex and mysterious magic; enthralling action.
CONS: The large cast of the first book is expanded even further, and while the characters are well developed, it results in a slowed pace.
BOTTOM LINE: The sequel to one of my favorite novels of 2013 continues to deliver on the promise of the first book. This series is bound to please fans of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, and likely even Historical Fiction.
Along with Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, The Red Knight by Miles Cameron was my favorite fantasy novel of last year. This year both books get sequels (as does my favorite fantasy of 2012, Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards) leading me to the conclusion that 2014 is a good year to be a reader. What I loved most about the first book in Cameron’s Traitor Son Cycle was the heart of chivalry beating underneath the blood and mud caked breastplate. The Red Knight and his company are mercenaries — they fight and kill for payment. The combat depicted in these novels is of the gritty variety that is so popular in the Sword & Sorcery sub-genre with the added benefit of being written by a man who understands the restrictions of plate and the weight of a sword. And despite this the stories read like a contemporary take on old Arthurian legends.
The Fell Sword picks up right where The Red Knight left off. The realm is recovering from the massive clash at Lissen Carrak, an unexpected campaign that proved the Wild is still a threat. The Red Knight and his company have accepted a new commission from the Emperor of Morea, but before they arrive at the capital city they find he has been captured and the city is under siege. This new job comes with an array of complications…and opportunities. The siege is lifted but the usurper is not defeated outright and so he retreats to fight another day. The company enters the city and the Red Knight begins to enact plans to rebuild the empire, save the rightful emperor, and destroy his newest adversary. Surrounded by spies and assassins the company soon finds that fighting the creatures of the Wild is preferable to meddling in a civil war.
There’s a ridiculous amount more going on in the world during the Red Knight’s stay in Morea but for the sake of brevity I’ll spare you all the details. The Red Knight boasted a cast much larger than I’m accustomed to reading and The Fell Sword only builds on this. There are a lot of plots and schemes and plans and agendas, and they are all woven together to create a tapestry of deceit and war. If you think there’s a lot going on in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (sorry but I refuse to refer to the series as Game of Thrones) then just wait till you get a load of Cameron’s Traitor Son Cycle. And honestly I hate to use the George R.R. Martin comparison because it feels so overused and cheap but it’s difficult to talk about the current state of fantasy and ignore such an influential author/series.
The fact is that the two series have a lot in common. Both have that sort of historical weight behind them. Both are loaded with schemes and treachery, an aspect that I found could be every bit as thrilling as actual battle when I first read A Game of Thrones. Both have large casts of heroes you love and villains you love to hate. If you enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire then The Traitor Son Cycle is a must read. But the two series aren’t exactly the same and The Fell Sword goes far to prove this. It is very much epic fantasy, in a way that I never felt A Song of Ice and Fire was. There is definite good and evil in addition to the moral ambiguity that permeates the novel.
Once you acclimate to the huge cast you’ll likely find that you enjoy most every character. The Red Knight has been added to my list of All Time Favorite Characters. The Fell Sword sees our hero trying to rebuild a country while dodging assassination attempts and it displays a whole new aspect of the character — suggesting that he’s not just a brilliant strategist and fighter, but also a natural ruler. I’ve developed attachments to the various mercenaries of his company: Bad Tom, Sauce, Wilfull Murder, Ser Gavin, Ser Michael, Gelfred, Bent, Long Paw…the list goes on and on. And that’s just his company. There are numerous POV’s ranging from the Queen of Alba to the powerful sorcerer Thorn and. The Fell Sword gives a fair bit of attention to the Wild, giving it personality beyond monsters from the deep woods. The treacherous Galles also make an appearance, further complicating already complicated matters. What’s great is that no matter the actions of the characters they are also so compelling that I love them all. Except for the King of Alba. I love to hate him.
The book is abundant with magic and most of the protagonists are practitioners of Cameron’s magic system to some degree. In The Red Knight readers got a taste of how the system works but I found it largely obscure. In the sequel we get a much better grasp of what hermeticism is and how it functions through the perspective of Morgan Mortimir, a young man studying at the Academy in Morea. I still can’t say that I completely understand Cameron’s magic system but I now know enough that it makes sense. And it’s awesome.
The Fell Sword features a lot more talking and negotiating than actual action. Considering that The Red Knight was pretty much one endless, awesome siege I can’t complain. With this series Cameron is building towards a cataclysmic war, or more likely given the vast number of moving parts and agendas, wars. What fighting there is to be found is authentic, as I’ve come to expect after the first book. Cameron’s background gives him the knowledge to properly write about pitched combat and he does so with style. Armed combat is brutal. People get hurt. People die. Cameron doesn’t shy away from depicting the butchery of battle and the realities of war and he never celebrates it. He is an author with respect for the subject and it is clear from his writing.
I only have two real complaints to air. The first problem is that because of the abundance of POV’s I felt as though I didn’t get enough of the Red Knight. There was plenty to explain what was going on in his part of the world but I felt somewhat removed from the character himself. This can be attributed to his condition at the end of the first book and his alienation from the rest of the company but as much as I love the character I’d have preferred to spend more time from his perspective. My second problem is a POTENTIAL SPOILER so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it. The Red Knight and his men (and women) do not trust the Princess of Morea, the daughter of their kidnapped employer. It isn’t revealed until near the end why they don’t trust the Princess and it shocked me from the plot. It’s not a surprising reason but the fact that I had read that far in the book without it being mentioned seemed odd. Something that important really should have been expressed more clearly, earlier on.
Fortunately, these are two minor complaints when considering how much sheer awesome The Fell Sword has to offer. I would not recommend reading this book without first reading The Red Knight and I’d go so far as to expect re-reading The Red Knight if it has been more than six months since you first read it — I had trouble remembering some slightly important things when I first picked this up. If you enjoy fantasy books I cannot recommend The Traitor Son Cycle enough. Miles Cameron is steadily building up toward something amazing and I eagerly await the next book in this series.