The Fell Sword. Book Review

by Miles Cameron
Gollancz, p/b, 624pp, £16.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)

Having reviewed Miles Cameron’s The Red Knight for the BFS last year (The Red Knight), and struggled a little with its scope and cast back then; it was with some trepidation I started The Fell Sword. Unfortunately, my fears were entirely ground worthy as this volume packs in an even wider cast of characters, and the return of many of those from the first book (the ones still alive, shall we say). It also ‘benefits’ from no less than three double-page maps, albeit very pretty ones at that, to help keep you abreast of things, as opposed to the single ‘broad canvass’ map from the first book.

I’ve previously said I have no love for modern books of doorstop dimensions and true to form, this 600-page behemoth proved a real struggle to get through — in fact, this is one of the few books I can categorically say actually ‘drove’ me to seek out other things to read whilst I was dipping in and out of this one! That’s not to say there weren’t some very good bits along the way that helped keep me at least partially intrigued, and Cameron’s background as a historian and re-enactment hobbyist certainly counted for a lot when it came to realising the setting and background as well as lending authenticity to some of the gorgeously detailed descriptions of clothing, armour, war etiquette, and so forth. For the most part, however, it was the action-packed battle scenes and a couple of the more intimate character-building chapters that kept me reading. Scenes involving some of the key characters from the first book like Bad Tom and Sauce, and the irrepressible Jean de Vrally, did maintain my focus and attention a bit, but a lot of the rest simply swept past me, even those chapters involving the main man, the fabled Red Knight himself.

In essence we have the Red Knight ascending to Emperor-like status and struggling to pay both his own mercenaries and the kingdom’s troops, as well as trying to protect the realm from internal political revolt and external invasion. Well, actually he doesn’t seem to struggle at all, but that’s a different plot thread. The Red Knight is also trying to balance the ebb and flow of magic and war within this fragile domicile, and is seemingly under attack by the Queen herself (it’s her kingdom he is trying to protect), and of course, his own romantic endeavours prove frequently challenging, too. So there’s definitely no shortage of conflict going on, then?  Well, yes… but much of it is, frankly, just a bit boring.

Unlike many readers, I find it very difficult to skim-read anything, so it’s hard to be positive about something that I feel zapped a small part of my life away — and this volume doesn’t even have the added bonus of wyverns employing aerial bombardment techniques during the battle-sequences! I am nothing if not committed to the cause when it comes to reviewing somebody else’s hard graft, however, so I will say that a select group of fantasy fans who like this sort of thing and level of detail will probably feel they’ve found their own personal nirvana in Cameron’s extensively pocket universe, whereas a lot of it left me merely feeling somewhat detached.

Bizarre as it may sound, this book was an obscure guiding light and stepping stone combined, encouraging me to seek out something else to read throughout whilst still drawing me back when there was nowt else to do. I’m notoriously procrastinate anyway (especially when it comes to my own writing), but this frequently managed to drive me back to my own writing rather than face sitting down and reading more of this volume, which is an achievement of sorts whichever way you choose to look at it!  I don’t honestly know whether to say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Sorry’ to the author, but readers of the first volume will probably have already made their own minds up about this, anyway. Make sure you stick to that decision, secure in the knowledge that it’s probably the right one for you.