I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I loved getting to revisit the Banished Lands, which is among by favorite fantasy worlds. On the other, seeing the way this world has changed in the over a century since the events of The Faithful and the Fallen (TFatF) was painful. But that’s part of the point.
While Gwynne’s original series set in the Banished Land had a lot of warring and sadness and character deaths, I wouldn’t call it grimdark. There was a hopefulness to the story that in my opinion negated that genre. However, I would say that this first book of the followup series is undoubtedly grimdark. The brightness that managed to shine through in the first series isn’t present here, which made me sad. That said, I get the reasoning behind it. The world that the cast of TFatF fought for has been preserved, but at a high price. It has been undeniably altered, and not for the better. Looking back on the events of the first four books, this alteration saddens me because it makes the fight feel like it wasn’t worth the cost. But that’s not true, and I’m hoping that in the second installment of this followup series, we’ll see a bit more of the hope that defined TFatF.
We have a cast of mainly new characters who had no part in the events of the first series. This makes perfect sense, seeing as over a hundred years have passed. But we do have a couple of carry-over characters, which made me incredibly happy! I won’t tell you who they are, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but anyone who loved TFatF will be pleased to see some familiar names. Gwynne did a great job with his four point-of-view characters; they all brought something different to the table and showed four very different views of their world in its current state. Three of these characters, Bleda, Riv, and Drem, are new and young, and have been raised on stories of past. The characters of the original series are legends to these three, which is always an interesting leap for readers. Also, Gwynne continues to write wonderful animal characters, and great relationships between man and beast. That was one of my favorite aspects of the first series, and I was very happy to see that continued in this book.
The setting of this book is very dark, at least compared to the preceding series. I don’t want to give anything away by explaining why it’s so dark, so I’m just going to say that you need to prepare yourself for a nearly unrelenting atmosphere of darkness when you pick up this book. There was some disturbing stuff within these pages. I feel like I would have enjoyed it more if I would have been more in the mood for something this bleak. However, Gwynne did end the book on a high note, which alleviated some of that bleakness for me. I really appreciated that writing decision.
While I didn’t love it as much as the first series, I’m really excited to see where Gwynne takes the story. His writing has improved (though I thought it was wonderful before), and this series is already less tropey that the one before it. While I enjoyed the first series because of the tropes, I’m incredibly interested to see what Gwynne does outside of them.
If you haven’t read Gwynne’s first series, The Faithful and the Fallen, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you read those before reading this book. While this is the start of a new series, it’s going to pack a lot more punch if you’re already familiar with the world Gwynne built in TFatF. There are a lot of things that I caught and loved that would have fallen flat had I not read those four books before picking up this one. Also, that series was simply wonderful in my opinion, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!