This review was originally posted on TerrorTree (www.terrortree.co.uk) around August 2015
Right, before we get started, please be aware that Ruin is the third of four books that make up ‘The Faithful and The Fallen’ (the two previous are Malice and Valour, book 4 is, I believe, to be titled Wrath and is currently a Work In Progress). You need to know this because you really don’t want to pick up Ruin not having read the two previous volumes – trust me, you would not have a clue what was what, who was who. Also, weighing in at just under 750 pages and currently in Hardback, this book is HUGE!
To be fair though the size of the book is a fair representation of the size of the story. Ruin picks up directly from where Valour left off. Our heroes are, as you would expect, separated and in various parts of the land, the ‘enemy’ seems to be growing stronger and the dangers and battles just continue to get bigger and bigger. Our main hero, Corban, thought to be The Bright Star, the ‘chosen one of prophecy’, fills the role of village lad turned hero ably but unlike some heroes he doesn’t always seem happy with his lot. You get the idea that he is doing it because someone has to and it might as well be him. As a character I like him a lot.
On the other side of the coin we have the ‘bad guys’. We have Queen Rhin, who is just Evil and High King Nathair who we have seen grow from spoilt brat type in the earlier books to Corban’s opposite, the one he is destined to face in the final battle (although he did start out thinking that HE was the Bright Star). As a character he has probably had the most interesting ‘journey’.
The chapters are done as viewpoint chapters (a la Game of Thrones) so the story never really stands still for too long. The downside to this for me (and this is only my point of view) is that after finishing chapters featuring some of the characters I found myself rifling through the pages to see how long until I was coming back to them. I guess there were just some storylines and characters I found more interesting or held my attention more.
As for the world itself and the peoples of it, there is a nice map in the front (useful for keeping track of who’s where) and a cast of characters, with a few words to remind you of who’s done what and where we left them at the end of the last book – both of these were invaluable. I did feel that some of the place names were reminiscent of Tolkein in their pronunciation, but again, that’s not a bad thing.
Where John Gwynne really shows his strength, in my opinion, is the battle scenes. The guy really knows his weaponry and tactics. The battles are brutal and bloody, just as they should be (especially when you chuck giants, bears, draigs and huge wolf like beasts into the mix). All through the book it builds, the smaller battles leading towards bigger and bigger ones and leading to a climax that will knock you for six (I had ideas of what was coming but I never expected what did). As a middle book you would expect to have a lot of wandering around to get people and artefacts where they need to be for the big finale of the final book but this never really felt like that. I have no idea how things will end up in the great scheme of things but I know it isn’t going to be an easy ride for Corban, his allies and the readers.
Gwynne’s writing has improved over the course of the three books so far and I have no reason to doubt it will continue through book 4. This is a big book in a big series by an author who looks like being one of the main players on the British, indeed Worldwide, fantasy scene for many years to come, so put yourself some time aside to lose yourself in this epic. Just don’t expect to come out of it with your heart in one piece