Review: Malice by John Gwynne

Posted by DarkChaplain at 5/10/2016
The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle. An uneasy peace reigns, but now giants stir once more, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of gigantic worms. Those who can still read the signs see a prophecy realised: sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield.

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors and yearns to join them, determined that he will make his family proud. It is only when everything he knows is threatened that he discovers the true cost of becoming a man.

As the Kings look to their borders, and priests beg answers from the Gods, only a chosen few know that the fate of the world will be decided between two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. And with their coming will be a war to end all wars.
Malice was recommended to me by my girlfriend a couple of months back, and I ended up devouring it, and the two following books in the series. I can't thank her enough for introducing me to Malice.

The Story:
"The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle. An uneasy peace reigns, but now giants stir once more, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of gigantic worms. Those who can still read the signs see a prophecy realised: sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield.

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors and yearns to join them, determined that he will make his family proud. It is only when everything he knows is threatened that he discovers the true cost of becoming a man.

As the Kings look to their borders, and priests beg answers from the Gods, only a chosen few know that the fate of the world will be decided between two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. And with their coming will be a war to end all wars."

The Review
As trope-ridden as Malice is on paper, as predictable as some of the key plot points were to me, I cannot possibly say that I didn't enjoy my time with the book a great amount.

It drew me in with its rather down-to-earth fantasy, its honesty and characters instead of trying to throw more and more contrived shock moments at me or be especially gritty and edgy. While it has gritty moments for sure, and violent combat, it never felt like it existed for its own sake, and always brought the characters a little further down their path.

As previously stated, Malice is full of tropes and, for the average fantasy reader, predictable turns. But I never thought this to be a bad thing. It made the experience feel familiar, relatable, and the characters just clicked together in a way that made them all the more appealing to me. I have gotten invested enough in most of them to want to see their stories concluded, and would like to pick up the sequel right away to find out what happens to them.

Malice does a great job at going back to simpler, more grounded fantasy. Comparisons with A Song of Ice and Fire, I feel, are missing the point entirely. Malice, though plenty dark in a lot of places, is not "grim dark". It actually felt rather uplifting half the time, especially following protagonist Corban around his daily life and warrior training. There is a strong moral component to the story, discussing right and wrong, which I feel is absent from most gritty "grim dark" novels these days. A purity of heart, if you will, to counter the growing darkness in other chapters. As such, I might even see its appeal for younger readers.

Magic here takes the form of more subtle, utilitarian elemental powers. It is rarely if ever used for direct offensive tasks, and more supportive of the troops on the ground, like covering the battlefield in fog. I liked this a lot. It reminded me very much of the old days of Tolkien, where magic was more of an innate ability, an understanding of the makings of the world, rather than a skill that allowed the wizard to throw fireballs all over.
I believe that in many ways, comparing Malice to one of Tolkien's works is fair. The prologue section, for example, talks about an imminent god-war between light and dark, and elaborates on the underlying mythology and relationship between the gods. Elyon and Asroth reminded me a lot of the Valar, and how Melkor betrayed his siblings.

But most of all, the book strikes a balance between tension and calmer moments that made it easy for me to come along and finish it relatively quickly. To some, the pacing may be a tad slow, especially early on with jumping viewpoint chapters, but I would recommend sticking with it. The plotlines converge soon enough, and as the scope becomes clearer and characters more fleshed out, it is easy to get lost in the Banished Lands, and be dismayed when you realize that the book is ending soon.

Malice was an exceedingly enjoyable read to me. I'll certainly be along for the rest of the ride!

Malice on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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