The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
J. P. ASHMAN SAYS . . .
Wow! A friend recommended this to me and oh how well he knows me.
The Red Knight is a must for fans of fantasy and medieval history both. Cameron’s knowledge of armour and weapons and knightly accord comes from his historical fiction work as Christian Cameron and it shows. I truly felt like I had stepped back into medieval Europe, but a past of ours that included all the mythical creatures and beings from all those heraldic devices. Wyverns and hulking trolls, demons and wyrms.
The battles are gritty and real, the characters more so. From knights to squires and nuns to priors, the way the characters interact is sublime. There are a lot of POVs of all classes and personalities and abilities – and I like that.
If you like your knights traditional and authentic, your beasts powerful and horrifying, and your magic system unique, then The Red Knight is for you! I highly recommend it and cannot wait to get the next in this awesome series.
LAURA M HUGHES SAYS . . .
Firstly, it has to be said that The Red Knight is slow in getting off the ground. I struggled a lot with the first hundred pages or so, finding the prose to be somewhat heavy and the descriptions of duels, complete with the names of guards and stances and such, to be pedantic, and not really my cup of tea at all. However, I did start to enjoy it a lot more as the story progressed, and what begins as a slow introduction of multiple threads does build up to a climactic convergence towards the end.
The majority of The Red Knight’s story is set during a siege, which takes place over the course of a fortnight. The eponymous Red Knight and his company of mercenaries have been hired by the Abbess of Lissen Carak to provide protection for her nuns and to investigate the violent murders that have been taking place in nearby villages. It quickly becomes apparent that the murders are not isolated incidents: in fact, they herald an imminent invasion of Alba by an enemy host, and the Red Knight must use all his strength and cunning to defend the nuns’ mountain fortress against an incursion by the fearsome creatures of the Wild.
Despite the novel’s title, only around half the story is actually told from the point of view of the Red Knight himself. The rest of the book alternately follows a range of other characters, perhaps ten or eleven in total, in their own individual conflicts which ultimately become different strands of the main story. The regularly shifting POVs are jarring at first, particularly as each and every transition is heralded by the name and location of the next character, almost as though the author doesn’t trust the reader to keep track. There are also a few characters who felt superfluous to the story, such as Peter and Gaston, and I found myself impatient for their segments to end. The Red Knight himself is something of a mystery, and spends much of the novel nameless and faceless, which makes it hard to sympathise with him. However, hints about his identity are leaked gradually enough to keep the reader intrigued, and he becomes much more human and likeable as the main events unfold. As the story progresses and the reader becomes more familiar with the characters, the multiple POVS actually help to enhance the plot-driven story, giving it a cinematic quality so that you can almost visualise a Game of Thrones-style TV adaptation, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.
The way the author uses multiple points of view to create epic convergences is strongly reminiscent of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. However, generally speaking The Red Knight reminded me more of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy in that the main character is more than he first appears, has fallen from high station, and leads a company of morally reprehensible men and women on a quest for glory. There are also clearly influences from the works of Tolkien, and the concept of the ‘Wild folk’ being kept from civilisation by a protective wall has the ring of A Song of Ice and Fire. Despite this, The Red Knight didn’t actually feel too derivative. In fact, what sets it apart from pretty much all other fantasy I’ve read is the fact that the characters fight in head-to-toe armour (or ‘full harness’) in the style of medieval knights. Somehow the big battles feel all the more realistic when seen from the point of view of characters who have limited vision and are gasping for air due their obstructive helmet visors, and who are hit with multiple swords and arrows during a fight, surviving only because of their heavy armour. And the grim realities of battle are driven home that much harder by showing us thoroughly exhausted knights whose armour is so heavy and restrictive that it requires at least two people to equip and remove it, and whose muscles and joints hurt constantly from bearing its life-saving weight.
Despite the initially confusing multiple points of view, the entire story of The Red Knight actually takes place within a relatively small area of a single country. The author doesn’t feel the need to make vague references to hundreds of obscure places that will never be heard from again, instead concentrating on no more than four or five main locations. This, along with the pleasantly simple map at the beginning, is actually very refreshing. However, there were parts I had difficulty with. I found some of the battle scenes to be overcomplicated and confusing, particularly towards the end of the book; and the way the author swaps out names and noun phrases also occasionally caused me some confusion as to who exactly was doing what, and led to me quite often having to go back and re-read entire paragraphs, especially at the beginning when lots of new characters are introduced. I also sometimes struggled to get past the numerous typos (which were both surprising and disappointing on the part of the publisher), including cases where character or place names are spelled differently throughout the book, sometimes even within the same passage (Sossag/Sassog, Qwethnethog/Qwethenethog/Qwethenog, Emota/Emmota, demon/daemon/deamon, etc.). These inconsistencies and errors continued to repeat themselves throughout the book and became something of a distraction, as did one or two occasionally bizarre descriptive passages (the Queen had “lashes so long that she could sometimes lick them”? Eh?)
To sum up: I found reading The Red Knight to be something of an uphill struggle during the first act. Once I’d got the hang of it, I did become suckered in to the story, but I still wouldn’t describe any part of the book to be an easy read. However, The Red Knight compensates for its slow start by being packed with gritty descriptions and bloody action, and has a really interesting take on the relationship between religion, magic and the fae. I’m quite interested in seeing how the Traitor Son cycle continues, or perhaps in trying something different by Mr. Cameron.