Overall Series Rating: 9.5/10
I love doing these types of posts. For me, these “Why You Should Read” posts encompass the best thing about being a book blogger, gushing about books that I love. John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series is one of my favorites and I can’t wait to tell you why!
“Both the brave man and the coward feel the same. The only difference between them is that the brave man faces his fear, does not run.”
John Gwynne knows how to connect a reader to the characters in his stories. As I was reading this series, it continually amazed me how much I cared about not only main characters, but the side characters as well. I’ve often tried to figure out why exactly I felt this way and I believe that one of the biggest reasons is that Gwynne knows how to write believable, deep relationships. Whether it was parent to child, friend to friend, king to warrior, or even romantic relationships, John Gwynne knocked it out of the park. The understanding that John Gwynne clearly has about these types of relationships is clear and described in such a way that evokes completely raw emotion from me every time I read of a character being hurt or dying. These characters are family to each other and because of that the bond is felt and incredibly moving. At least half of the main characters that are followed are in their teens to start the series as well. This gave John Gwynne an excellent opportunity to explore their character growth in depth and over the entirety of the series each character has believable and earned growth.
“It will be a dark day, a bloody day, a proud day, for this is the day of our wrath.”
If you are a fan of epic battle sequences, put down whatever you are reading right now and read this series! I’m not sure that I’ve seen anyone do epic battles better than John Gwynne does. John Gwynne does not pull punches, does not spare main characters with the dreaded plot armor. You WILL lose characters that you love. You will find your pulse pounding as the stakes are high from the beginning and continue to increase as the story develops. Not only that, but the language used to describe actions in battle is not repetitive. The combination of the uniqueness of each battle’s description, the tension of the overall plot, and caring about each character deeply makes for some of, if not the best battle sequences I’ve ever read. War is never glamorized in this series either, it is shown as the ugly, hard, but necessary beast that it is. Not only did that lend a certain credibility to the narrative, but it also just made the characters more relatable as we are able to see the fallout that comes of great loss in war time.
“He had had a taste of war now, though, and the thought of more of it filled him with dread. He was not scared, not of battle, anyway. It was more the knowledge of what came after – the loss of life, the grief and the heartache.”
Blend of Modern and Classic Fantasy
When you look at the plot synopsis below, most people would get the feeling that this series is what a lot of people call “classic” type fantasy. They would be correct, but only in part. John Gwynne takes the best of many classic fantasy tropes, paying homage to them, but also subverting expectations left and right until you hardly know what to expect. Gwynne uses tropes to lure the reader into a false sense of security before completely changing the expected narrative in a way that worked to shatter my expectations quite a few times. I remember quite a few moments of just pausing in appreciation of the masterful way that this series’ plot was written.
Another thing that I really liked is that there are genuinely good people in this story, but also those with a more gray morality. I know that grimdark, and gray morality specifically is huge right now, but for me I need at least somewhat of a hopeful outlook to really love a book. The characters who were good were not naive or unrealistic, they faced reality head on and chose to do the right things in spite of the harshness of The Banished Lands. Even the morally gray characters were incredibly relatable in why they made their choices. There were villains that you sympathized with and could understand along with the ancient evil type villian. This combination worked to both ground the story to a more human level, while still giving the reader a sense of awe and foreboding of the evil that threatened the world.
“Family. Friendship. Loyalty. These things have been my guiding stars, my light in these dark times.”
Storm the Wolven is perhaps my favorite animal companion ever. Only Nighteyes from Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series even comes close. I have never felt so connected to an animal in a story before. The connection between Storm and Corban is just amazingly well written and full of emotion. The pure love, loyalty, and sacrifice that is shown through the actions of both show how deeply a bond between a human and an animal can be. There are other animal companions in this story including Craf (a snarky, talking Crow), Buddai (Corban’s faithful dog growing up), bears bonded to Giants, and a few others. If you are a person that really loves animal companions, this is a story you need to read.
I could continue to rave about this book, but I’d rather you read it and then we can talk about how I’m convinced that John Gwynne is sustained by the tears of his readers. So what are you waiting for? Read. This. Series! I have included a synopsis for the first book below and links to buy either the first book or the whole series (Amazon link) in the header above. Come join the warband and let me know what you think when you inevitably pick up The Faithful and the Fallen. Truth and Courage!
Synopsis for Malice (Book 1)
A black sun is rising …
Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage.
The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars.
High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.