Hangman’s Gate by R.S. Ford (Book Review)
The gods are at war. They have selected their battleground – the only trouble is it’s littered with pesky humans. What could go wrong, right?
We’ll come back to that question shortly. First, let’s get our bearings. Hangman’s Gate is the second book in the War of the Archons series, its predecessor being A Demon in Silver. I loved the first book; it had a varied cast of interesting and believable characters, a fast but not relentless pace, it pulled me this way and that emotionally and had no shortage of dark humour and stabby things. Also, I feel I should add, R.S. Ford has created a brilliantly interesting world which never gets so complex that it becomes difficult to follow.
All of the above – I am happy to report – is carried into Hangman’s Gate.
I’m not sure about you, but I sometimes approach sequels (especially if they’re the second book in a trilogy) a little apprehensively. Even in my early reading days, when my eyes were portals to adventure made entirely out of word-hungry enthusiasm, I remember being left a little deflated when book two in whatever I was reading just felt like a bridge between books one and three. I know that in essence, that’s what a book two is, but done right they are every bit as awesome as that first book you fell in love with. Valour by John Gwynne, King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and Darksoul by Anna Stephens are what immediately spring to mind when I think about amazing book twos (though there are many more).
That said, how does Hangman’s Gate stack up? It can have all the ingredients I mentioned above – good character, pace, set pieces – and still suffer from book two syndrome. So does it?
No. Not even a little bit. While the overarching story involves a battle between the gods (or Archons) the story is very much character driven, and by and large, our characters are all mortals – good old-fashioned fragile bags of meat and bone – and that’s where we come back to that ‘what could go wrong’ question. The warring Archons gain power through mortal worship (like Liam Neeson Zeus and Voldemort Hades in the 2010 classic Clash of the Titans) so you can imagine how crafty those naughty little Archons are being to get some props that they turn into Old Testament-style wrath!
Angry deities aside, the story focuses primarily on an invading warlord called The Iron Tusk. Now this dude is all kinds of badass. He wields a great, sod-off double-headed axe for one thing (that’s an instant win for this axe fan), and a huge bladed sword thingy in the other meaty fist. If that wasn’t enough, he rides a giant bear! On top of all that he can seemingly impose his will upon others to the point where all he needs to do to conquer a nation is smack them around until he gets bored and then makes them all his devout followers. He has already conquered the Shengen empire (a lovely twist on classical Rome – or at least that was the vibe I was getting) and has his sights on Dunrun, an old fort stationed by raw recruits and old men who number around fifty in total. Fifty against an invading empire, and the only thing in the way of The Iron Tusk conquering the Cordral Extent.
‘Oh, shit,’ do I hear you say? Oh shit indeed, my wide-eyed wonderer.
So, the race is on for Dunrun to prepare for one bitch of a siege, and THAT is what Hangman’s Gate is essentially about. I will say no more about plot or characters; if you haven’t read A Demon in Silver, I don’t want to spoil who makes it to book two. R.S Ford shares George RR Martin’s penchant for cutting lifespans short, so I’ll let you discover that for yourself. I’m nice like that.
One thing certain readers may not be so hot on is the way some of the story is revealed. There are a few circumstances where old acquaintances meet and we learn what they have been up to through a chapter or two of flashback to bring us back up to speed. Personally I found it did not interrupt the pace or the forward action of the story, but through my own writing I know that some folks aren’t so hot on flashbacks or, dare I say it, backstory. For me, it left me better informed, and in some cases (because it has been so long since I read the first book) filled in a few inevitable blanks. But that is honestly my only real criticism. Well, not mine, but perhaps it might be for you.
It also has what I like to call Goldilocks chapters; not too long, not too short but just right, and at 400-odd pages it’s an easily digestible book. So yeah, if you like great characters, tense battles, and an immersive world with some truly engaging lore, then this is a series you don’t want to miss. I can’t wait for book three!
Review by His Royal Axeness Kareem Mahfouz. Thanks to Titan Books for sending an ARC in exchange for an honest review.