A Time of Dread by John Gwynne
When I received the offer of an ARC of this book, I pretty much jumped at the chance (and counted myself very fortunate to have somehow way blagged my way into the cool kids’ club). Wrath was an awe-inspiring, frenetic finale to one of the all-time great fantasy series – The Faithful and the Fallen – and I’d just finished reading it when I heard John Gwynne’s new project would also be set in the Banished Lands, but a few generations into the future. Excited was not the word; Wrath ended perfectly, and whilst I knew I would miss the characters I’d come to know and love, I also knew that to spend too much time with them after such an epic conclusion would put the relationship at risk of growing stale. I’d already imagined their futures, and after all the hardships they faced I wanted peaceful mornings, bacon, and juice for them. That’s it. Thankfully “A Time of Eggs” was knocked back by either John’s editors, dogs or highly accomplished children, and “A Time of Dread” found its way into existence… and onto my doorstep.
This new series is set in the time of Corban and his crew’s great grandchildren. The Ben Elim have partnered with an elite fighting force of humans known as the White Wings as they seek to purge the last of the Kadoshim from the lands, but all is not well. The Ben Elim have banned warfare between human factions, their reasoning being the numbers are needed for something more important, enforcing this with an iron hand and some decapitation. They have begun demanding a flesh tithe from the humans under their protection/rule, leading many to scatter to lands not under their dominion. Finally, Ben Elim and humans are starting to mix on more fronts than just the battlefield, with years of living together resulting in some forbidden romances. No one ever said establishing a new world order would be smooth sailing.
The characters in A Time of Dread are fantastic, with Drem being a particular favourite of mine. He is the son of a trapper but has grown up knowing very little about his mysterious father or long-dead mother. He is a good and honest young man, full of doubts about his own self worth and, rather endearingly, displays a few unusual coping mechanisms, like taking his own pulse to calm himself down and constantly reminding himself that his raw honesty is rarely appreciated. I can’t help imagining myself in this sort of situation, and I hope that I would have the strength of conviction and the moral compass Drem displays when looking after his friends and family. There is an earnestness to him, and Sig sums him up to a T:
“Sig liked what she saw in Drem. There seemed to be no falsity to him, no bluster or hidden ways. He spoke the truth as he saw it and displayed very little bravado.”
Riv, Bleda and Sig are all just as well written and show us some different viewpoints from which to take stock of A Time of Dread’s new world – as well as a touch point with the past. They give us elite fighting units, rampaging giant-carrying war bears, masters of horse riding and archery and so much more epic stuff. It’s mind-blowing. If you have any doubts that John will be able to top his last series, I urge you to dispel them.
One thing I particularly enjoyed this time out was the lack of ‘bloodline of destiny’, ‘foretold one’ or any prophecy that could have been invented or changed, etc., etc. It really is a mess out there, with the chips falling just about everywhere, but it’s a really fun place to jump in. There are some great reminders of the first series found in the descendants of those we knew so long ago, including Storm’s, but this is a whole new story. If you’ve not read the first series, don’t hesitate to start here with this one and then go back later to read the “prequel’. A Time of Dread is going to be on every ‘Best of’ list, and quite frankly you’d be daft not to move it to the top of your ‘must read’ pile.