Gary is a small town Irishman with a love for all things historical and fantastical. He works as an English and History teacher at post-primary where he endeavours to instil and nurture a love for reading and writing in students. Tea is his weakness. Reading is his passion. His one goal in life is to buy a castle when he retires.
A bloody brilliant standalone and a wonderful dark fantasy homage to Kurosawa.
There’s no real need to set the premise of The Maleficent Seven since it’s in the title. Most people will be at least familiar with the seven samurai trope (unless they have been living under a rock the last seventy years). What makes Johnston’s take on one of storytelling’s most compelling tropes so good and work so well is that his seven heroes are the vilest, most twisted and downright evilest crew of bastards you can imagine. Like some fantasy Suicide Squad.
Characterisation is integral to a good story and I’m delighted to say that Johnston nailed it here. Each character felt multi-faceted and unique, including their villainous tendencies, inner conflicts, perceptions of things (and people), and even the way they literally speak. Black Herran is a worthy successor to the wise strategist Kambei and gun-slinging Chris Adams (I can just imagine them giving her that famous Robert Redford nod). A natural fear-inducing leader with an eye for the long game, her goal of stopping the fanatical fire-wielding Lucent Empire may seem suicidal but the old demonologist has a few tricks (and demons) up her sleeve.
Title: The Coward
Author: Stephen Aryan
Series: Quest for Heroes
Publisher: Angry Robot
First Published: 2021
A fun fantasy adventure with a lot of heart.
The moment I read the opening lines to The Coward by Stephen Aryan, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Set in the land of the Five Kingdoms, it tells the tale of the reluctant hero, Kell Kressia, on a quest to slay an evil for the second time. However, this is not exactly your run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure, with Aryan taking his characters and story a somewhat different route to what we are used to.
The best thing about The Coward is Kell himself. A living legend renowned for braving the ice of the Far North and slaying the Ice Lich to save the Five Kingdoms, all he wants to do now is live out the rest of his life in peace. But being a hero comes with expectations, and when a new threat rises all eyes turn to Kell to save the day again. The thing about Kell though is that he doesn’t want to. He is not the glory-craving seventeen-year-old that set out with the Five Kingdoms’ greatest heroes a decade ago; he is haunted by what he witnessed and experienced the first time and would rather run away than face the same ordeal again. Unfortunately, circumstance sees him reluctantly back on the same road north, this time with less heroes, and weighed down by trauma. I really like how Aryan gradually delves into Kell’s mind as the story unfolds. Kell might project confidence and charisma but inside he is a victim of PTSD, and that manifests more and more the closer he gets to his destination.
Priest of Gallows is another brilliant instalment in the ongoing War for the Rose Throne series, perhaps the best book yet.
The first time I came across Peter McLean’s work was the lead up to the release of Priest of Bones in 2018. I remember reading somewhere that it was Peaky Blinders meets fantasy and I was immediately intrigued. Like a hungry dog, I devoured it upon release, then did the same thing for Priest of Lies in 2019. I was shocked when I heard that the War for the Rose Throne series was nearly cancelled. Thankfully, the awesome people at Jo Fletcher Books took the reins and made sure that this fantastic series continues because without them we may never have gotten our hands on this absolute gem of a book.
‘One murder can change the fate of a nation.’
Picking up a few months after the end of the second book, Priest of Gallows kicks off with the assassination of the queen. As a reluctant member of the Queen’s Men, Tomas Piety is summoned to the capital and political battlefield of Dannsburg by his superior, the Provost Marshall Dieter Vogel, to help deal with the crisis. What follows is a compelling story filled with secrecy, murder and political intrigue. Whereas the first two books revolved around Tomas’ rise from gang boss to governor, here McLean focuses on the bigger picture. Another war is on the horizon, and Tomas, still haunted by the previous one, will do anything to prevent it from happening, even if it means working with the worst humanity has to offer. Not only does it feel like a natural evolution of the overarching plot but also of Tomas’ character, and McLean handles both masterfully.