Simply amazing and almost impossible to put down, A Time of Dread is truly a masterful start to a trilogy which I envision will be crowned as one of the best series I’ve ever read by its end. John Gwynne has proven himself once again to be the constant harbinger of superlative epic fantasy that only the greatest of authors can achieve.
Let it be known that Gwynne is in fact the only author in my list to earn the perfect streak of top quality achievements from me. A Time of Dread marked the fifth time his work has been included in my ‘favorites of all time’ shelves; together with his previous quartet, that’s five out of five books. To do a bit of comparison, neither of my two other favorite authors—Brandon Sanderson and Joe Abercrombie—earned this perfect streak.
I can be quite petty with ratings; I don’t give a lot of full five out of five stars ratings. Gwynne, however, never ceased to impress me with his pure and unadulterated talent, and is one of the few authors who always did everything right for my epic fantasy craving. The Faithful and the Fallen is one of the series that I recommend the most often to every fantasy readers I know, whether it’s on Bookstagram, Booktube, Goodreads, or real life; I’m going to keep on doing that, except that starting from now, Of Blood and Bone will be included.
The first book in the Of Blood and Bone trilogy is a stunning and darker return to the world of the Banished Lands, the same world as his previous series. Creating a new series with a different cast in the same world is risky. The author has to do a lot of things right such as making sure the story will feel different and at the same time, retaining the elements that made his previous work magnificent in the first place; there’s nothing to worry about here, because Gwynne achieved all that. Just from looking at the cover, it’s quite obvious there is a huge contrast between Gwynne’s debut, Malice, and A Time of Dread. Where Malice used a white background, A Time of Dread used black; this captured the tone of the book perfectly. Unlike his previous series, the line between good and evil is more blurry here.
Hundreds of years have passed since the end of the monumental events that took place in Wrath, now called the Day of Wrath. To save future readers of Gwynne’s previous series from spoilers, all I’ll say is that the main plot of this book mainly revolves around a new upcoming threat that’s coming to the Banished Lands. The book reignites all the sparks that made the previous book excel in quality; betrayal, familial love, friendship between humans and animals, wars, deception, a few hilarious interactions, and many more. At the same time, like I mentioned before, the storytelling direction is also different. The first chapter, for example, immediately set the darker tone of the entire book which wasn’t found in Malice; even the source of inspiration is different. Here’s an excerpt from the interview I did with Gwynne back in March 2017:
“Where the Faithful and the Fallen was inspired by Paradise Lost and Caesar’s Gallic War, this new series is inspired by the Volsung Saga, the Fall of the Roman Empire, Atilla the Hun, the rise of the Orders of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, and berserker Valkyries.” –John Gwynne
The plot is also highly addictive to read. By building the tension with each pages turned, the last 20% of the book became one damn fine breathtaking and compelling book to read. Also, for those of you who had trouble with the myriad amount of characters in TFatF, A Time of Dread casts are smaller in quantity, with only four main POV to follow throughout the entire book; Drem, Riv, Bleda, and one side character from the previous series.
Speaking of characters: for me, the driving force of a compelling book depends hugely on its characters. If I have to choose, I prioritize marvelous characterization over anything else. Great plot, thrilling actions, and good prose are all almost pointless if I can’t bring myself to care about the fate of the characters in the book. Luckily, one of Gwynne’s greatest qualities as a writer is his stupendous achievement with characterizations. This book strengthens the notion that he’s one of the greatest SFF authors out there when it comes down to writing lovable protagonists and despicable villains. It’s excellent how he always managed to evoke my emotions through the characters' actions and interactions; they felt so real. Do know however that it’s not only the new characters that stole the spotlight in the book; some characters from Gwynne’s previous series do make an appearance here. Whether it’s in the form of their descendants or, in one case, as one of the main POV, I found all the protagonists endearing and the villains despicable. Hundreds of years have passed, so most of our beloved characters have become legendary figures and their names and deeds are mentioned a lot here. If you’re a fan of TFatF, all the homage paid to those characters is guaranteed to spark a lot of nostalgia.
“And so many of them gone, now. But their memory lives on. We shall never forget.”
I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy books and I’m confident enough to say without hesitation that Gwynne is one of—if not the—best when it comes to writing grippingly realistic battle scenes. The knock of arrows, the clashing of steel, the explosion of blood, the formation of shield walls; his action scenes have always been very cinematic, intricate, immersive and dynamic, and this book is no exception. In fact, in terms of action, this book and its climax sequences make a lot of other series final book pale in comparison; Gwynne is miles above the majority of fantasy authors when it comes to close-quarter combat.
“Sometimes the only answer is blood and steel.”
It’s safe to say that my experience reading this book was enhanced immensely because of my knowledge on the world of the Banished Lands. Realms has come and gone, the state of the world has changed after hundreds of years; there are new factions, new cities, and an altered landscape. However, for longtime fans of Gwynne’s works, familiar names such as Drassil and Starstone Crater are designed to make you feel at home again. Gwynne did a fantastic job improving and reintroducing the established world of the Banished Lands. If you’re like me, not a stranger to this world, it will definitely enrich the already amazing experience of reading this book with the underlying experience we’ve gained. By reading TFATF before reading this, you would have lived through the histories talked about in this book. If you’re new to it, you’ll be just reading through them. In conclusion, the world-building is truly a work of excellence because the lore was actually established in full detail from the previous four books. It’s okay for you to read this book without prior knowledge of the world, but do know that it will spoil you on the events of Gwynne’s previous series. It can’t be helped; it’s this book’s history, after all. My advice? Read TFatF before reading this. You definitely should anyway, because it’s one of the best epic fantasy series out there.
One of my favorite things about reading something new from one of my favorite authors is seeing how much he has improved as a writer. Gwynne has come a long way since his debut, Malice. His prose is now even better, extremely well polished and top-notch in quality. I found his writing in this book incredibly engaging, vivid, immersive and bloody addictive to read. It was immensely hard for me to put down the book every time I start reading it; and when I did put it down, I couldn’t help reaching for it like I was having withdrawals. The fact that I finished reading this book in less than a day should say enough about how addictive it was. His prose is the glue that connected all the incredible plot, characterization, action sequences, and world-building to become one of the finest first books in a series I’ve ever read.
My time in the Banished Lands will always be one of my most treasured memories and experiences in my fantasy literature adventure, and I was beyond pleased to dive back into this world again. TFatF series has earned its place among my top five favorite series of all time, and Wrath is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it will be extremely hard for Gwynne to create a series that tops my love for his first series. However, I’m anxious to see Gwynne prove me wrong after the amazing things he did with A Time of Dread. Even with my high expectations, A Time of Dread still managed to blow me away; it’s truly a monumental start to a series that’s even better than his debut, Malice, by far. By the end of this book, I was already completely intrigued, hooked, compelled, and eager to read the next book in the trilogy.
If you call yourself a fan of heroic or epic fantasy—call it whatever you want—you owe it to yourself to read this book. And IF you’re a fan of Gwynne’s first series, there’s no excuse for you to not read this book. Not only this is one of the greatest start to a series I’ve ever read, Gwynne has truly earned his place among the rank of legendary fantasy authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and Brandon Sanderson with what he has achieved with A Time of Dread and his previous series.
The waiting game for the next book in the trilogy will be painful, but I know it will be worth the wait. Gwynne hasn’t failed me and I don’t think he ever will at this rate; he’s truly the Bright Star of epic fantasy literature.
“Truth and Courage”
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