Monday, 11 January 2016

Book Review: The Pagan Night (The Hallowed War #1)

Written by Tim Akers
Published by Titan Books

'Ruling with an iron hand, the Church has eliminated the ancient pagan ways. Yet demonic gheists terrorize the land, hunted by the Inquisition, while age-old hatreds rage between the north and the south. Three heroes—Malcolm and Ian Blakeley and Gwendolyn Adair—must end the bloodshed before chaos is unleashed.'

I get a little nervous when starting to read a new epic fantasy novel; I have a whole world to learn about and understand, as well as new characters and plots to remember as the book unfolds. There are a lot of epic fantasy stories out there and this book from author Tim Akers is the first in a new series of novels, so any help to ease me into the story would have been nice.

There's an obligatory map to make sure you know where you are - which, as it happens, I simply didn't need as I didn't feel that geography played a huge part in the story - and another map that details the battle lines that have been formed for a conflict, which was a little annoying as that tells me that there's a huge fight on it's way, so there's a little of the mystery of what's to come a ruined straight away.

Along with the uninspiring cover, which is a fine piece of art but I feel lacks the atmosphere and imagery that's inside the book, things did not bode well.

However, the book got off to a pretty good start. A mysterious figure unleashes a powerful gheist, an old god that is no longer worshipped, that travels the land causing trouble - a neat idea, and handled really well in the book with men of the Church hunting them out, and the people knowing they're a threat and protecting themselves accordingly. It's as if there was a period of history where devils and demons were driven out by the Church, and not in a metaphorical sense, but physically and at great cost. This makes for an intriguing and somewhat colourful world, but also a relatable one.

On the back of these annoying old gods we have an age-old conflict between the south and the north; the south are a Church-fearing land, while the north seem to hold on to their pagan past. Tensions are brewing between the two lands and Malcolm Blakley of the north, a hero of a previous war that almost tore the land apart, and his son Ian are caught in the middle. In addition, a hunter named Gwen Adair joins the fray to try to save the day.

Now, this is all well and good - you've got your age-old conflicts, war brewing (which you know is pretty much guaranteed to boil over into conflict, thanks to that map in the front of the book) and characters with some depth all thrown into the mix. The relationship between Malcolm and his son is familiar but different; they're at loggerheads and not because Malcolm is some damn big hero who wants his son to follow him, but because Malcolm knows the horrors of war and Ian wants to make his mark, and throws himself into danger almost haphazardly. Its a great relationship between the grizzled war veteran who knows the truth, and the young warrior who knows the glory.

Then there's Gwen, who I really hoped to have a larger part in the story other than strong-willed lady with a bow, but I never really felt she was fleshed out very well and she feels a little wasted. Perhaps I'm selling her short, and perhaps her story gets more complicated as the Hallowed War unfolds. Perhaps, with all the gheists, raging Inquisitors, gory body horror and potential wars going on I simply lost sight of her character, but if she was a stronger character then I'm sure she would have stood out a little more.

Tim Akers has a great ear for dialogue and it sits well with his descriptive narrative. The conversations feel natural and the exposition - a pet hate of mine, although I'm well aware of it's necessity - is handled well. The descriptions are lengthy enough to be informative but short enough so that you don't feel like you're reading about every blade of grass in the field. This means that there's a lot going on and, in the first half of this fast-paced book especially, the large canvas that Tim has created has been given some broad strokes and the scene has been set for what promises to be an entertaining series of books.

My issues with the battle map and Gwen Adair aside, this is a good book and at no time was I bored or frustrated. I started each chapter eager to know what was coming and I look forward to the following volumes. The Pagan Night is an epic fantasy story with action, intrigue and a good story, and that's what you want in a fantasy novel of this type.

Recommended.