Set in the same world as his previous series but 100+ years on from the events of Wrath, ATOD finds the old enemy, the demon Kadoshim vanquished and the Ben-Elim (Warrior Angels) ruling the land in a 'firm but fair' kind of way. But, as you may expect, The Kadoshim are not as thoroughly vanquished as it was believed and it will fall to new heroes to take up the battle.
I will be posting a full review here later in the week but until then, here is an excerpt from early in the story which follows the young trapper Drem and his father who find more than they bargained for in one of their traps.
A Time Of Dread - John Gwynne
Drem woke to a great crashing. Staggering to his feet, furs falling away, wet with dawn’s dew, he looked to his da, who was on his feet, a short-handled axe in one hand, knife in the other.
The stillness of dawn was shattered by a roaring that echoed through the foothills, startling birds from branches.
‘The pit,’ Olin said, and then he was off and running. Drem stooped and swept up his spear, his long legs carrying him after his da, who was already disappearing amongst the pine trees that cloaked the hillslope.
The path curved close to the river, which frothed and foamed with icy water fresh from the mountains. Drem closed in on his da as the ground began to level, and then saw him skid to a halt, twenty paces ahead.
Drem caught up, breathing heavily, staring in disbelief at the sight that had caused Olin to stop. The elk pit was a mass of limbs and fur, a great-antlered bull-elk with head and shoulders scrabbling on the ground as it tried to heave itself out. It was lowing frantically, clouds of cold breath misting and billowing, a terror and agony in its cries.
Because something else was in the pit with it. Or part of it was, its bulk too great for the pit to contain.
Behind the thrashing elk Drem caught a glimpse of white fur, of long claws and a wide, gaping maw full of teeth as they clamped down upon the bull-elk’s muscled neck.
A bear. A giant bear. What’s it doing here, so far south of the Bonefells?
Scythe-like claws opened up bloody tracks across the elk’s chest, the bear gave a vicious shake of its head and Drem heard the crack of bones breaking, the elk slumping, slipping slowly back into the pit.
Even through the fog of shock, Drem realized he’d never seen a white bear before. Beside him his father stood as frozen as he was, awestruck by the savage power before them.
‘What do we do?’ Drem whispered.
The bear’s head reared up from the pit, jaws red with gore, white fur stained pink, and it looked straight at them.
‘Run like hell,’ his da said, pushing Drem back up the path. In a handful of heartbeats they were both sprinting, legs pumping, behind them the sound of the bear extricating itself from
the elk and pit, the thunder of its gait as it lumbered after them, Drem feeling the ground shaking beneath his feet.
They ran amongst pine trees, where the ground was spongy with forest litter and pine needles. Drem’s heart felt it was bursting though his chest, a great crashing behind them as the bear barrelled into a tree, the sound of wood splintering. Then sudden pain, Drem’s foot plunging into a hole, his body flying through the air, crunching to the ground. He tried to rise, but a sharp pain shot up his ankle into his leg and he dropped to the ground.
He rolled onto his back, saw the bear powering towards him, a mountain of fur and muscle blotting all else out, small eyes gleaming in its huge head. Fear coursed through Drem.
Bone-chilling, limb-numbing fear. He knew he should do something, move, run, hobble, anything, as death hurtled closer and closer, but he could do nothing, only stare wide-eyed as it came to claim him.
And then his da was standing over him, axe and knife in his fists.
‘Run, Da,’ Drem wheezed.
Olin drew his arm back and hurled his axe with all his might; the axe spun through the air, slamming into the bear’s shoulder with a meaty thunk. It gave a rumbling growl but surged on. Drem remembered his own hand-axe at his belt, fumbled to draw it from its loop as his da grabbed Drem’s spear and sent that too hurtling towards the creature. Before knowing if the weapon had struck true, Olin threw himself upon Drem, covering him with his body.
The world turned dark, the sound of the bear like a thunderclap overhead, a roar ground shaking as the bear closed on them. Then his da was dragging, pulling and rolling to the side, the bear so close Drem could smell it and feel the air of its passing. He lashed out with his small axe at a paw bigger than his head as it thumped into the ground less than a handspan away, tasted the copper tang of blood on his lips. Scythe-like claws raked the ground, spraying soil as the bear’s momentum carried it on.
‘Up,’ Olin grunted, hauling Drem to his feet. Pain lanced up from his ankle and he almost fell, his da grabbing an arm and hauling it over his shoulder. A score of paces away the bear was skidding to a halt, turning, Drem’s spear protruding from its chest. With a swipe of its paw, the spear was ripped free; blood welled, the shaft splintered. The beast lumbered back towards them.
Abruptly Drem was hoisted like a sack of grain onto his da’s back and carried away from the path. Drem saw the bear lurch after them, pounding through the trees, closer and closer.
Fear enveloped Drem like a fog, snatching his breath away, but through it one thought pierced the haze. His da was going to die trying to save him. A wave of love for his da drove back the consuming fear of imminent death, but a new fear rose up, that his da was going to die.
‘Leave me, Da, save yourself,’ Drem breathed. A grunt from Olin was the only response. Then Drem glimpsed where his da was running.
Towards the river.
And then Olin was leaping, the bear swiping at them with its claws, his da crying out, an arc of blood in the air and they slammed into ice-cold water. Drem gasped in the white foam, then was pulled under, not knowing which way was up, hands flailing, feet kicking, lungs burning. His head broke water and he sucked in a great lungful of air, spluttered as the current grabbed and spun him, slammed him into a rock. He pushed away, glimpsed his da bobbing on the water ahead of him,
speeding through icy spume, then disappearing as the river fell away. He swam after, the current catching him again and sending him speeding in the same direction. Behind him he glimpsed the white bear leaning over the river’s edge, roaring its rage.
Please visit the other posts on this Blog Tour if you haven't already and enjoy your return to The Banished Lands - I know I did