Title: A Time of Dread
Author: John Gwynne
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Original Publishing Date: January 11, 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
First off let me say that John Gwynne's Faithful and the Fallen series is one of my top 10 fantasy series of all time. That series really restored my faith in fantasy as a whole and seemed to breathe life into a genre that was getting a bit stale. Another trend that has been happening in fantasy lately is the emergence of grimdark as a dominant sub-genre. To the point where it seems that every other fantasy book being released is filed under grimdark. Due to this, epic fantasy and high fantasy have both taken a bit of a back seat. Well after reading John Gwynne's previous series, I'm happy to say that there is now another author on the scene who is still writing tremendous epic fantasy. I received a review copy of the first book in his new series A Time of Dread a while back and finally had some time to read it a few weeks ago. I was very excited to dive back into the same world as his Faithful and Fallen books to see how things have changed since the events chronicled in that amazing series. I am happy to say that not only did I think that A Time of Dread matched the intensity and great storytelling of its predecessor, but it may even be a shade better in my opinion. That truly is difficult to do considering how great the earlier books were and how much I relished them.
As I said earlier, A Time of Dread takes place in the same world as the Faithful and Fallen series, only about 125 or so years after the events of that storyline. The Ben-Elim, an angel-like race are rulers of the Banished Lands. Locked in their eternal struggle with their hated enemy the demon-horde Kadoshim, it is a time still embroiled in the constant threat of war. The Ben-Elim have spent the majority of their time after the cataclysmic war tracking down and eradicating the remnants of the Kadoshim who still hide in seclusion in small pockets to stave off a possible resurgence that could threaten the uneasy peace that has settled over the land. We are slowly introduced to a number of new point of view characters that carry this timeline of the story and do it quite well. Here is where I think Gwynne did himself a great service as there are only about four main POV characters to focus on this time around. In the Faithful and Fallen series there was quite a large cast to keep track of and I believe that by tightening the scope of the characters in A Time of dread, the story really comes to the forefront and is told in a much more effective manner. Asroth, the brutal Kadoshim leader is imprisoned in the Ben-Elim fortress at Drassil and the remaining forces of the Kadoshim are plotting to free him. This cannot be allowed, which makes the Ben-Elim campaign against the leftover Kadoshim even more urgent. As a result, they are seen in this first book as a race that is becoming ever more ambitious in conquering older kingdoms while also rooting out dissent in their quest to completely wipe out the Kadoshim. The problem is they do not have eyes everywhere and there is a faction of the Kadoshim that are gaining strength and amassing a force that has not been seen in over a century. Can war be averted again, or will the Ben-Elim have to once again face their ancient enemy on the battlefield where the result could be very different this time around. Deception and intrigue are the order of the day in the Banished Lands and just as in the earlier series, John Gwynne takes no prisoners and isn't afraid to put main characters in peril.
I didn't think I could be more impressed with a John Gwynne series than I was with the Faithful in the Fallen. I have to admit that I prepared myself to be mildly disappointed with A Time of Dread because I couldn't see how he could ramp things up after that emotional roller coaster of a series. If this first book is any indication, then we are in for another real treat from the mind of Mr. Gwynne. I especially liked the way John tied the first book of this series in with the previous one without it seeming like just a retelling of the Faithful and the Fallen. This is a totally new storyline but definitely uses the history that is already laid out effectively to give the reader some important context for what is going on now. The idea of a still-existent threat by the kadoshim really builds tension and it carries throughout the entire first book. I felt more connected to the viewpoint characters this time around as well. I'm not sure if that is a product of being more familiar with Gwynne's style but it was something that I definitely noticed. Another thing that John Gwynne does very effectively is write battle scenes. It's no secret that the guy loves viking history and takes part in a lot of battle recreations, so his attention to detail when it comes to that is impeccable. You can almost feel the crushing of skulls and smell the copper scent of blood when you read a John Gwynne book. This one is thankfully no different in that regard. A Time of Dread takes the Faithful and the Fallen storyline and turns it up to 11 in A Time of Dread. What a wonderful fantasy book that hits all the right chords and delivers a first book that makes your mouth water for the next in the series. I just hope it isn't too long before we get to be thrust back into the Banished Lands to revel in this truly fantastic world that John Gwynne has created for us. Highly, highly recommended.