The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.
Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men – or worse, a company of mercenaries – against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.
It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.
The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery it’s just another job. The abbey is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with.
Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be a war . . .
I suspect there are going to be the almost inevitable comparisons between Miles Cameron and the likes of George R. R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. First off, The Red Knight is one massive doorstop of a book, honestly it’s HUGE. Also, much like the novels that make up A Song of Ice and Fire, each new chapter tends to shift point of view between the different characters. Like Abercrombie, Cameron likes to go uncensored when it comes to the violent moments, nothing gets sugar coated here. Be prepared to witness the horror of war and battle in all of its brutal, gory glory.
It helps with a book of this size that there is huge cast of memorable characters to discover. They add a sense of real depth to the plot. As is often the case, I found myself enjoying the characters that were darker in tone. It’s the psychopaths and sociopaths who I always find notable. In The Red Knight there are a number of standouts like Bad Tom who lives for little but violence and the unrestrained joy he finds in the midst of a melee. Or Jean d’Vrailly, the self-styled “greatest knight in the world”. Even the Red Knight himself displays his dark side on more than one occasion. These three characters are undoubtedly flawed in one way or another but it makes them just so damn interesting to read. I’d go so far as to say that they made the book for me, especially Bad Tom.
Cameron also appears to take a perverse delight in naming almost all the characters that appear, including the minor ones. It’s highly likely I’ll never know how the likes of No Head, Wilful Murder and Long Paw came to be named. It’s never really explained just the occasional oblique reference. I kinda like that though. It hints at many untold stories which exist but the reader just hasn’t uncovered them yet, it’s a nice touch.
Though the pace of the novel slows from time to time this makes perfect sense within the confines of the story. A large chunk of the narrative covers the build-up to the final confrontation between the Red Knight’s mercenary forces and the supernatural powers of the Wild. The author follows the characters trying to survive a siege and as things go from bad to worse you can feel the ramping up of tension. With each subsequent chapter the pace starts to pick up. Events build to a crescendo and then an epic confrontation occurs.
From a brutal bear baiting scene during the novel’s early chapters to the full blown, frenetic chaos of main battle near the book’s end things get pretty bloody. Cameron definitely has the descriptive skills when it comes to placing the reader right at the heart of the action. This author’s writing perfectly captures the anarchy and confusion that exists in the heat of the moment. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a debut novel. I have high hopes for whatever Cameron comes up with next.
I was just thinking. It’s typical isn’t it, you wait ages for one book called The Red Knight to come along and then two come along in the same year. They’re like the literary equivalent of buses. (I’m sorry I couldn’t resist, I’ve been waiting for months to use that in this review.) Regular visitors to the site will know that I read and reviewed The Red Knight by K T Davies back in July. The good news is that I found both novels to be great examples of the fantasy genre in their own right. Each story is uniquely the author’s own, the only thing they share is a name.
The Red Knight is published by Orbit and is available from 25th October. Highly recommended but I’d suggest that you go for the electronic version if you can. The physical book weighs a ton*
*Ok, technically it is just shy of 1.3 kilograms** and in fairness I am a bit of a weakling.
** Yes, I weighed it.