The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron
The Fell Sword is a direct sequel to The Red Knight. It is entirely possible that this review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read book one. As ever, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Loyalty costs money.
Betrayal, on the other hand, is free.
When the Emperor is taken hostage, The Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand- and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But the Red Knight has a plan
The question is, can he negotiate the political, magical, real and romantic battlefields at the same time – especially when he intends to be victorious on them all?
The second book of the Traitor Son Cycle picks up shortly after where The Red Knight left off. The outcome of the siege at Lissen Carak is still causing political fallout and the ramifications are being felt everywhere.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear before we go any further. The Fell Sword, like its predecessor, takes a bit of time to read. It’s around six hundred pages long so chances are that you’re not going to rattle through this in a single sitting. I think it’s also fair to say that the text can get quite dense in places, knights of old enjoy their archaic, florid forms of address after all. I do think it’s worth persevering though, because when the book really hits its stride there is a wonderfully entertaining tale to uncover.
The battle scenes are always welcome as they have a furious pace, and kick things up a notch. All the flowery language gives way to furious action. Cameron’s descriptive powers come to the fore and do an excellent job of creating some action-packed vignettes. The spectacle of many knights mustering on a battlefield is pretty awe-inspiring. You get that huge sense of scope here. Chaos doesn’t seem an appropriate enough word to do these moments justice.
The fantastical elements in the novel are sometimes quite subtle but in other cases wildly overt. The mythical beings that inhabit the Wild are starting to play a larger role in the plot, and more and more are being introduced. I particularly like when Cameron lets his imagination run rampant and he throws everything at the reader, including in one truly instance a large quantity of giant’s excrement.
I was pleased to discover that my two favourite characters from book one both return. Bad Tom remains as grimly cynical and uncouth as ever. Whenever he appears, a sardonic quip is just a breath away. You can tell that beneath all his mutterings and objections he has a soft spot for the Red Knight. I like their constant back and forth bickering. Their relationship feels natural and never forced. Meanwhile, Jean de Vrailly, the self-proclaimed “greatest knight in the world”, is still the same raging egotist he was before. He’s so damned self-righteous it’s genuinely intriguing to watch him going about his business. One monarch makes the ill-advised move of suggesting de Vrailly would make a good tax collector. Needless to say things get very bloody very quickly. Whenever Bad Tom or de Vrailly appears it always raises a smile. They’re both so much fun in a sociopathic nut-job type fashion.
As you might expect from such a large book, Cameron has plenty of room to explore the motivations and outcomes of various character actions. The plot includes multiple elements from every facet of the medieval society that Cameron has created, everything from politics and religion to commerce and espionage. There are some nicely insightful ideas about the nature of wars and violence, of good and evil.
…have you ever considered what victory and defeat actually are? They’re ideas, like justice. Different things to different men.
The only real issue I have is trying to keep track of the enormous cast of characters. There is no getting around the fact that this book is massive, both physically and metaphorically. I would have found it really useful to have a list of all the characters. There are a handful of maps, which are undeniably useful for setting the scene, but a cast list would have been good too.
Overall, this is a hugely accomplished work. Yes, it might be a little tough to get through in places, but ultimately, it’s well worth the effort. Cameron is a historian at heart and on top of that he knows how to craft an engrossing tale. If you enjoyed book one then I’m in little doubt that you’ll enjoy book two.
The Fell Sword is published by Gollancz and is available now. If you have the option, I’d go for the electronic version if you can. Like I mentioned before, the physical book is a humongous tome. That said, if you fancy some exercise at the same time as reading, then perhaps the physical novel would be a more invigorating option.