After a brief hiatus from reading fantasy, A Time of Dread was an exceptional foray back into the genre. It has everything I love about epic heroic fantasy; ambiguous factions, world intrigue and a mix of magic and mythos, not to mention varying perspectives from exquisitely realised characters. If you’re looking for something to fill the Game of Thrones void, this is the start of the series for you!
Over 130 years have passed since the Ben-Elim fought the demon-horde Kadoshim in the Banished Lands. Now they rule much of this mortal world, extending their influence through offerings of protection and justice to create a powerful empire. But that fragile peace is now threatened, as old enemies begin to rise.
I’ll start by admitting I haven’t read Gwynne’s previous series (The Faithful and the Fallen), but by no means did that hamper my enjoyment of this book. The world-building is phenomenal, plunging you into the Banished Lands without a need to go into too much detail. Gwynne manages that perfect balance of descriptive genius that many fantasy authors lack by including just enough to really immerse and grip the reader, without, what I like to call, too much author-fluff. The history is rich and the present is enthralling, with an addictive tension about the world that’s woven through the main plot.
This book follows four main characters: Drem, Riv, Bleda and Sig, and Gwynne uses a classic epic fantasy structure of POV chapters from each one. This style is one of my favourites if done well, and in this case, it is done with wonderful flair and skill. The threads of each character’s story are wound tightly throughout, with various plot crescendos as they start to converge on one another, and I found myself hungrily racing through to see what would happen to each of them. For those who have read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I found Drem reminded me fondly of Perrin and quickly became a favourite, but Gwynne’s masterful characterisation of each of them meant that I cared for all their fates. There is no ‘main’ character of these four which gives the reader a beautifully rich experience.
Compelling characters aside, the truly epic nature of the book comes from the world around them. The intriguing political landscape surrounding the factions of Ben-Elim, men and Giants is faultless, with muddy waters and grey areas abounding, and that’s without the added insidious enemy of the Kadoshim. There’s a darkness about the world which I found enthralling, a sense that everything is teetering on the edge of a precipice that underpins each narrative, and you don’t know when or what might tip it over. The result utterly engrossing and will have you devouring the book in one sitting.
If you love epic and/or heroic fantasy this is certainly the book for you. The only drawback is that it’s the start of a series, so you’ll be tearing your hair out waiting for a finale, but it’s well worth it.
Excuse me while I go back and read Gwynne’s preceding series!
A Time Of Dread is published by Pan Macmillan and is available here.
John Gwynne studied and lectured at Brighton University. He’s been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing the double bass, travelled the USA and lived in Canada for a time. He is married with four children and lives in Eastbourne running a small family business rejuvenating vintage furniture. He is the author of the epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen including Malice, Valour, Ruin and Wrath.
Reviewed by Amber Mears-Brown
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