Publisher - Wildfire
Published - Out Now
Price - £16.99 Hardcover
Violence and death have come to the land under the Northern Sky. The Anakim dwell in the desolate forests and mountains beyond the black river, the land under the Northern Sky. Their ancient ways are forged in Unthank silver and carved in the grey stone of their heartland, their lives measured out in the turning of centuries, not years. By contrast the Sutherners live in the moment, their vitality much more immediate and ephemeral than their Anakim neighbours. Fragile is the peace that has existed between these very different races – and that peace is shattered when the Suthern armies flood the lands to the north. These two races revive their age-old hatred, and fear of each other. Within the maelstrom of war, two leaders will rise to lead their people to victory. Only one will succeed.
Fantasy is often filled with tales of two sides bordering a land where sadly opportunities for war are ever likely. In this debut from Leo Carew we have the mighty Anakim (over seven-foot-tall, internally armoured strong giants) versus Sutherners (the humans). Intriguingly the series is more likely to have to you cheering on the giants for a change!
The story starts with the Anakim having their greatest ever defeat at the hands of the Sutherners in their own land. Subtle tactics and technology allow the Anakim to be mown down and their ruler Kynortas The Black Lord is slain. His son Roper seeing that his mighty army risks complete destruction orders the remaining army to do an unheard-of retreat into their fortress stronghold. This allow the Suthern nobles aided by a wily human Bellamus to start taking over more and more of the Anakim land. Roper, however returns to his citadel in disgrace not just for being viewed as a coward but also finding former friends of his father now seeing him as a mere obstacle to their own ambitions for the throne. Can he quickly learn the art of leading?
I think a reader who enjoys reading about different societies to humans will enjoy this book. There is a lot of focus on the Anakim way of life. A group of giants who can live two hundred years easily with no real written language, but an abundance of stories chanted down over the years really do across as different than just tall humans. Their way of life ranging from it’s secret societies to their views on war and fighting are made to stand out. It’s very much Roper’s story and we see him move from a simple henchman to someone who can command multiple factions and when his loved ones are threatened he is capable of exacting terrible revenge. It has a resemblance to the Godfather as the kind son slowly hardens to war and bloodshed. Over the border we see his opposite number Bellamus himself work to his own goals as a commoner working to get nobles to do his bidding. Bellamus has studied the Anakim for many years and very much wants his own army to see him as a leader in waiting. The story attempts to contrast their rises in power working out various factions.
A strong part of the book is Roper’s internal battle with the mighty warrior Uvoren who has decided Roper is not suitable to lead and his own power base is more than ready to bring the new Black Lord down via loss of public support and if that fails more deadlier means. Roper gets tacit approval from The Anakim’s secret order that protects the wider integrity of society The Krptea and their archivists the Academy to try and beat Uvoren who they feel would be a disaster for the people. But he must do it on their own. Carew really makes the society come alive and when the action focuses on these little group and bits of court drama the story feels most vibrant and watching Roper change over the course of the events is a curious mix of encouraging him on and then saying to yourself oh no don’t go down that path!!
There are however two main issue that get in the way of the story. The first is that a lot of the time Roper gets to win things easily. Starting off in total disgrace he swiftly gets allied to a major faction and married to one of the more interesting characters in the novel – the funny, clever and charming Keturah who swiftly proves an equal at leadership to Roper. But its all done in a single scene where Roper’s good intentions win over a powerful backer. A lot of the time there is no doubt that Roper’s plan (although often a cunning one!) will succeed. That lack of tension does make a lot of the threats he has to fend off a less than satisfying experience. The idea of focusing on politics and winning the people is one I wish more books took to heart but its not as well developed as I’d have liked to see.
The other issue is the pacing. There is a lot of wandering in fields as Roper prepares to fight the Sutherners and sometimes the way characters tell stories of the past to inspire leadership or explain the plot again suck the energy from the tale. Often these scenes are to help Roper decide what action he must next take but it feels mechanical that a tale about an army prank leads to his stunning victory. A slightly tighter pace would allow the story to soar past these moments and often you can see the pieces being moved around the board. Hopefully as the series progresses Carew will now find that after setting the world and factions up he can focus more on the story than explaining the world.
It’s a promising debut with some original ideas and a desire to be more than just a tale of two armies killing each other. A focus on how a society operates with political intrigue is always welcomed but I think in future tales there needs to be a bit more danger to our leads if a few more risks are taken in future novels it could become a much more interesting series to recommend.