What started out as a simple classic tale of Good vs Evil fantasy turns out to be not as simple as I thought. As the story progressed, the genre evolves gradually into Dark Epic Fantasy while keeping the theme ‘Good vs Evil’ at its heart. Have this theme been done before in the past? Yes, more than a million times already. Will I ever get bored with it? No, never. It’s my favorite kind of story, it’s the essence of every epic fantasy books, video games and movies. What this theme requires to reach greatness has always been a touch of creativity, to make the story unique, make it the author's own story to share and this, John Gwynne did phenomenally.
Taking place in The Banished Lands where the God War--which broke the world in the first place—happened in the far away past, a prophecy foretold that the ancient war is coming back and anyone with the knowledge about the prophecy, must unite to prevent the destruction it will cause since the opposite side will do exactly the same for the opposite result. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, it’s told in the prologue. Malice as the first book in the series, managed create a huge amount of groundwork for the sequels. In fact, the first book is more like an introduction into its rich world, legends and characters. It's not until the end of the book that we finally get to know who the real faces mentioned in the prophecy are, providing I'm not proven wrong in the sequels. This is all I will tell you about the story. Look, I’m doing you a favor, jump into this as blindly as possible. If you want to know more of the basic premise of the plot, this is one of the really rare circumstances where it’s safe to read the blurb of the book and that’s really all you have to know. I insist.
Although this dark fantasy grew more complex, brutal and poignant with each pages turned, at the same time it’s filled with familial love and friendship that will warm and break your heart. It never goes into Grimdark territory where the characters are morally ambiguous. Told from 3rd person narrative, Malice introduces you to a wide variety of lovable and great characters with fantastic developments spread throughout the book. Other than the obvious villains that were written to be loathed, every single POV in the book is highly engrossing. Containing coming of age, friendship, responsibility, bravery, pride, ego, deception, and malice, these characters are written with its own unique narrative to read, no POV ever felt as if they were told with the same voice. I must also mention a huge bonus if you’re a lover of friendship between human and dogs like me, you’re in for a treat here.
As pacing goes, Malice started really slowly since it’s a character driven book. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any actions to be found though, you’ll be entertained with a lot of mini actions spread sparsely which I must say, are all written with great details. Not to mention that the last quarter of the book are really high paced with tons of intense actions in its climax sequences. This is my favorite type of structure in a book, it allows us to get to care about the characters in the story, know how they truly feel, their motivations, their purpose and their fate. Every favorite series of mine have this element. Without any compelling characters, I seriously can’t give any huge investment towards the series. Luckily, John Gwynne is amazing at writing lovable characters, world building and plus, his writing is really easy to get into, it's immersive, vivid and felt raw with emotions, providing another rich experience.
I absolutely loved almost everything about this book that in fact, I only have two really minor cons.
1. The amount of names that were introduced at once can be quite overwhelming since they were all introduced right from the beginning consecutively. It took a quarter of the book for me to truly memorize all the names of the characters and places. This is possible with the help of a beautiful drawn map in the beginning of the book.
2. Some of the physical aspects of the characters are quite hard to envision since they lacked some necessary descriptions and explorations.
That’s it really, it’s a tiny annoyances but I got used to it really quick.
By the end of the last page, I find myself filled with satisfaction of getting to read such a great first book of a series., not to mention that this is also John's debut work. Other than the two minor cons at the beginning of the book, I absolutely enjoyed everything about Malice. It’s a classic story of Light vs Darkness at its best. Right from the beginning, the characters and the plot gripped me and never let go until the end. Among all the so called “If you loved Game of Thrones, you should try this” blurbs and recommendations, this is probably as close as it gets in terms of complexity and its harsh world. I do believe that this series will be superior compared to A Song of Ice and Fire (and hey, the series is completed already) by the end of it but I’ll reserve my final judgment until I read the last book, Wrath. I don’t usually recommend any completed series until I finished the last book but this is an exception. I’m an idiot if I don’t recommend this right from the start. I highly recommend this to anyone who loved dark epic fantasy with lovable casts of characters.