As originally posted on Fantasy Book Review
I received an advanced copy of A Time of Dread in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank John Gwynne and Pan MacMillan for this opportunity.
The story places readers within the Land of the Faithful approximately 120 years after the conclusion of the novel Wrath, which was an epic, brutal, and fulfilling climax to one of my favourite ever fantasy series. The angel-like Ben-Elim rule the land now from their base at the giant-erected fortress of Drassil. They’ve spent generations uniting the nations and tracking the remaining forces of the grotesque and scarily powerful Kadoshim, their Eternal enemy. The Kadoshim’s leader, Asroth is frozen in metal within the Ben-Elim’s stronghold but that doesn’t mean his faithful aren’t out there plotting, sacrificing innocents and boiling up some horrid actions that could equate to A Time of Dread.
In the first book of the Of Blood and Bone trilogy, we only follow four points of view perspectives so we get to know these characters very well. My favourites were the perspectives of Bleda, a warrior Prince who is superb at using a bow and arrow and Sig, a female giant that rides a huge yet loyal bear – she was also a minor character in Gwynne’s previous saga. There are a great number of important personae, races, and animals throughout this tale that it might appear overwhelming to begin with but it’s worth sticking with. The novel starts slowly as the characters, their allegiances and the history of the world are gently and cleverly massaged into the reader’s mind. The world itself is also vast yet the action here predominantly takes place within a handful of fortresses, forests, and the bitter icy North which is known as the desolation. The story features the same areas and cities as the Faithful and the Fallen but time has changed the environment a degree. The history Gwynne has created is epic when describing events some readers will know from 120 years before, as are the revelations regarding important actions and battles that have happened since. This is cleverly done when elders explain the history to younger cast members. I have to admit that I went a bit teary-eyed with joy when occasionally some individuals discussed their relationships with the characters that I had followed for four books previously, and what had happened to them following the conclusion of Wrath. It shows John’s unique skill as an author that him just mentioning Corban or Veradis had me so emotionally touched and gripped. I finished the Faithful and the Fallen a year ago so my exact memories weren’t crystal clear. The way Gwynne introduces the characters, world, rivalries, and history is sublime, reminding me of the previous stories, however; I honestly believe this would be a great place to start too as the writing is deep, descriptive, and enchanting. This isn’t just written for his current fans. You can lose yourself in this world even if this book is your first visit. 90% of the characters are new and likewise, I think previous readers will enjoy it 10% more with prior knowledge and past experiences yet that’s not to say new readers won’t be engrossed and blown away too. A few old characters are still walking this world. One of them returning made me ‘fist-punch’ the air.
It started off quite slow and steady. I enjoyed the beginning yet analysed this was targeted more at a YA audience. Boy, was I wrong! If anything this is Gwynne’s darkest work to date. I should have known really looking at the awesomely designed cover. A Time of Dread contains amazing action scenes, shocking betrayals, intense battles, and a huge death count. The intensity rises right up until the awesome finale at an addictively gripping pace. Comparing back to the Faithful and the Fallen which has a clear alignment of the sides that were good and evil, those areas are greyer this time with political confrontations and even potential revolutions on the horizon between factions. The Ben-Elim were always heralded as the saviours of humankind. Now some people aren’t so sure. There are many twists and shocking revelations throughout the narratives final half. I tend to be highly analytical when reading and I only predicted one of them. When that twist was revealed in the last chapter – the fact I had guessed what was to come didn’t make it any less amazing.
I was so happy to venture back into Gwynne’s world and mind. Gwynne is a master of his craft and one of the best fantasy writers around right now. With likeable characters, it hits so much harder should bad things happen to them but unfortunately, they do. This is a great place to start or an unmissable next step in Gwynne’s majestic tale of Good vs Evil. A Time of Dread is epic, unpredictable and exhilarating with action galore and characters worth rooting for.