Publisher: Titan Books
Reviewed by Richard Williams
'Of Bone and Thunder' was recommended to me with the words "it's like Lord of the Rings meets Full Metal Jacket". That's a recommendation that I can't very well ignore and so it was with many high expectations that I read this book. And, despite my doubts, it largely managed to live up to those expectations.
Firstly, let me just dispel the notion that this is at all like Lord of the Rings. It simply isn't. Not in tone, style, level of high fantasy or in scope. Not that I hold this against the author since, as far as I know, he isn't the one that made the comparison. Also, let's be honest, when was the last time you heard that so-and-so was the new Tolkien and actually found that to be the case? pretty much never. Nonetheless this is a well written, engaging and enjoyable book.
As to the second part, being like Full Metal Jacket, this one is right on the money. Or, at least, the comparison to a movie about the Vietnam war. This is not accidental but entirely the author's intention and I have to say that it works really well and he has done a fantastic job of finding fantasy equivalents for well known elements of that terrible conflict. There is the close intensity of jungle warfare where you never see your enemy unless you're lucky enough to kill them, the drug addiction, problems of racial integration, the assassination of the nation's leader, a wonderful take on napalm in the form of dragon fire and even manages to include the dark machinations of a powerful covert government agency called the Dark Rangers (read: CIA). Readers who know their history will enjoying spotting the references but even those who think they might, maybe, have heard of the Vietnam war will still enjoy this entertaining tale of war at it's most pointless and harrowing.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed was the characterisation, especially the way Chris Evans managed to really capture the lingo of the soldiers. Their own way of cursing, nicknames for the enemy and the terrain and they reflexive way they respond to certain words or phrases that only the initiated would understand. Having said that I do feel that some of the characters came across as a bit two dimensional, although that could well because there are a lot of them. Even some who had really juicy character hooks, such as one with a drug habit, seemed to have their problems solved a little too easily, almost inconsequentially.
There's a lot of action in this book and a few unexpected deaths, which always adds a decent bit of suspense, and the use of magic as a military weapon is nicely handled.
Overall I found this to be a highly enjoyable, well paced and nicely imagined story and I hope the author sets more stories in this universe. After all, the Vietnam war went on a long time, so there's no reason why this couldn't.