It’s so difficult to review the third book of a series without spoiling anything from the previous books, but I’m going to do my best. Ruin is the penultimate installment of John Gwynne’s amazing series, The Faithful and the Fallen. Each book in the series picks up pretty much exactly where its predecessor left off, making for a series that feels like one giant novel split into four parts, which I enjoy immensely. This is a tale of good versus evil, of light battling darkness, and of love binding unlikely people together. So much of modern fantasy takes place within shades of gray, and it’s refreshing to have a bit more clearcut black and white in a story. Not that gray isn’t present, but it’s not the main moral coloring in the series by a long shot. Honor and valor, love and loyalty are attributes too selfless to reside within shadows.
“Family. Friendship. Loyalty. These things have been my guiding stars, my light in these dark times.”
I began reading Malice, Gwynne’s debut and the introduction to this series, in February. It took me a bit to get into the story, but I ended up loving the book. I read the second installment in April, and loved it even more. It’s now nearing the end of September, and I just finally finished Ruin. If I loved the series so much, you might be wondering why I waited so long between installments. Five months in a pretty long span of time. Sometimes, if I really love a series and I’m reading it for the first time, I stretch out my experience between books to make my enjoyment last longer. So my wait between books actually speaks highly of the series. When I decide to reread (and I will) I will do so much more quickly than I read them the first time. Now that I’ve explained myself, back to the book!
This is the longest installment of the series, but it didn’t feel long. I was so caught up in the action and the way the plot is progressing that I flew through the pages any time I had a chance to read. As no character is safe from destruction, I will refrain from using names in this review. But those who are on the side of good shine brightly in this series, but do so in this book especially. Friendship and loyalty and the love that binds people together are all so central to the theme here, and there were two scenes in particular where a group’s love for their leader and friend and their expression of that love had me reading through tears. There was also a good deal of romance in this book; one couple in particular actually did make me shed a few tears when their love was declared.
“Two for vengeance. One for love.”
But this is war, so not all love stories are going to have a happy ending, be they romantic love or brotherly love. Because in war, there is death. There is loss. Loyalties are tested, and bonds are sometimes stretched too far and broken beyond repair. There is betrayal, be it intentional or past good intentions that were misplaced coming to light. There is heartbreak, some of which might never heal. Where there is light, there is a shadow cast, and within the darkness of that shadow lays destruction, biding its time and itching to make its move.
Something that I deeply appreciate in Gwynne’s Banished Lands is the plethora of different people groups, be they giant or human, and how those groups interact with one another and band together in spite of their differences when they have a common goal. I also love Gwynne’s animals; they are always characters in their own rights, with personalities and fallibilities and death hovering just as near to them as to their human counterparts. Animals are no more safe from the arms of death than men or women or giants, but they live to the fullest in the time they have. The relationships that Gwynne breeds between animals and the people they have attached themselves to are some of the best I’ve read in any book or series in my life, and I’ve read a lot of books.
Finally, my very favorite part of this series is the religion and philosophy behind the God-War. I’m a sucker for philosophical books, and this series checks that box for me. I love the Judeo-Christian influence behind the doctrine in The Faithful and the Fallen, but I love even more the differences that Gwynne included, and how the faith he has created is the backbone of men and the war they wage. And when that faith is tested, I’m moved by the characters’ responses.
The Faithful and the Fallen is shaping up to be one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. I’m definitely not going to be able to wait five months between this book and Wrath, the final installment in the series. I heartily recommend this series to fantasy fans, historical fiction fans, religious fiction fans, war fiction fans, and anyone who likes their fiction with just a tinge of Scottish influence. Basically, I recommend this series to anyone and everyone who reads. It’s vibrant and wild and it moves me, and I have no doubt that the majority of those who decide to pick up the first book will feel the same by the series’ end.
“Truth and Courage!”
My wonderful friend Petrik gifted me this book for my birthday. Sorry it took me so long to get to it, darling, but what a gift!