A TIME OF COURAGE by John Gwynne (Book Review)
‘Take your weapons and face your fear. There is only one hope today. And that hope is you.’
If I had to describe a book which is my ideal kind of read, the very embodiment of a fantasy that is near on perfect for me, then A Time of Courage is that book. In fact, I would even go as far to say that this entire series is my all-time favourite.
We first began our time in the Banished Lands in Malice, the first book of The Faithful and the fallen quartet. We began a tale of good vs evil, of unlikely heroes stepping up against all odds, we began a legacy of truth and courage. Then during the first two books of the Of Blood and Bone trilogy, time had passed and the Banished Lands were once again rifted with strife. Well, in A Time of Courage, John Gwynne beautifully syncs together all seven books; all the threads finally come together to form an epic finale. And I mean epic – this entire novel is the ultimate climax to the Long War, it is a phenomenal last stand.
Therefore, if you’ve never read a book by John Gwynne before, I recommend starting with Malice. It’s honestly a pleasure to spot all the connections, to watch the world and its characters grow, and to deepen your emotional bond. Dear Elyon, what an emotional book this was!
Whilst reading A Time of Courage I could not help but be reminded of The Lord of the Rings. In particular, a line given by Gandalf in The Return of the King sprang to mind;
“Courage will now be your best defence against the storm that is at hand— that and such hope as I bring.”
I feel that at its heart, this is what A Time of Courage stands for. It’s about overcoming anxiety, focusing your mind, and finding hope and the will to fight against darkness. Knowing Gwynne’s love for Tolkien’s work, I feel safe to say that he pays homage to him in many ways in this book, in fact there were even a few lines which were clear nods to The Lord of the Rings, and I absolutely loved seeing that.
Without delving too deeply into the plot, Gwynne begins A Time of Courage by strategically placing our characters like pieces on a chessboard, and preparing them for the oncoming battle. Kadoshim, Revenants, and ferals, run amok. Evil has been endured for far too long in the Banished Lands. It is time for it to end. Our heroes put old prejudices and grievances aside, and unlikely alliances are formed – may I be as bold to say a fellowship? United in their one goal, to fight for freedom, deliver vengeance – to win a war.
Gwynne has always been an author who I’ve found portrays battle scenes with such authenticity. Ach, but he knows how to write such thrilling warfare scenes. From the council of war chapters, to the shield wall, aerial combat, archers, and all the fantastical creatures, it was truly a heart-stopping visual delight! Giants, white-wing warriors, Ben-Elim, the Order of the Bright Star warriors, Sirak horse clan, bears, wolvens, crows, they all come together to form the most epic warband I have ever experienced in my years of reading! Gwynne even added a few well executed tactical surprises that left me awed. If I had to sum up A Time of Courage in a few words, this would be it; one mother of a battle.
‘His world became a red haze punctuated by lunging talons and snapping teeth, their hissing screams as he tore their lives from them, the burn of muscles and crackle of blue flame as his axe and seax carved through flesh and bone.’
These are scenes which will hit your senses, but just as much they hit your emotions too. At times I would savour every word, and the next moment I had to slow my reading pace down, as I began flying through pages eager to discover what happened next. I was in a state of catching my breath once each chapter ended. That’s the kind of author John Gwynne is, one that leaves you a nervous wreck! As easily as he crafts a character that you laugh with, cry for, and feel for, their survival is never guaranteed. At the turn of a page, your heart can break. And many times, mine did.
I have always admired the way Gwynne balances POV’s from the heroes as well as the villains, and each are fleshed out equally. Heroes fight for a reason, a cause they believe is righteous, but then so do the villains. The two opposing sides both feel justified. And I have to admit, it was a joy to hate the villains, as much as I loved the heroes. However, it is friendship, family and love that is the key in this book. The comradeship between Cullen, Keld, Drem, Byrne and Riv, as well as the crows, bears and wolvens that are bonded to them, is wholesome and endearing. Each of them have personal demons to overcome, but together they grow, they protect each other, and ultimately they serve as a family. You are forever rooting for them to be the victorious ones.
‘We are born, and we live, and then we die. It’s what we do while we are here that counts. And if we can be called friend, then we are lucky indeed.’
When I first started reading Of Blood and Bone, although I loved having new characters carrying on the legacy that was left behind by the ending of Wrath, I couldn’t quite connect to them as deeply as I did with characters from the first series. However, this all changed in A Time of Courage. I very much felt a love for our main heroes, and I think that was because they were much more entwined with the past, driven by the morals and notions established in The Faithful and the Fallen. It felt as though Corban and the gang were living on, embedded within this world and it’s people, which made my eyes teary on many occasions! Seeing these characters, such as a few of my favourite ones which I have previously mentioned, fight for that same cause, it bridged the connection for me.
A Time of Courage is a compelling tale with such depth and heart, it will be engraved within me for many years to come. A relentless pace, high-octane battle scenes and characters who latch onto your heart, John Gwynne is the master storyteller of our time. So, for one final time, Truth and Courage!
‘Stay and die, fly and live.’
ARC provided by UK Tor in exchange for an honest review. All of John Gwynne’s books are out now, so get ordering folks!