Gathan Beaga

Recently Read: The Modern World

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This is the third in a fantasy series. Yeah yeah, I can hear you all groan with boredom even thinking about it:

  • all those linguistically improbable (not to mention downright silly) names;
  • those creatures drawn from the same, near dried up pool of Western European mythos that Tolkien first drank from;
  • the young/low status individual finding their destiny through some sort of perilous quest for yet another magical fucking macguffin ;
  • the strange way that the authors invent a back history that involves cultural stasis in a kind of Middle Ages for thousands of years with no technological advances at all;
  • the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pages, book after book, and most so poorly written that I don’t even bother trying anymore.

This series isn’t like that though. Each book is short, so short that you actually wish they were longer… but without being unsatisfying. And Swainston writes vividly and compactly: battle scenes make you flinch; flying scenes exhilarate; but often I have to reread paragraphs because I’m so used to skim-reading the bloated verbiage of others that I tend to lose bits of Swainston’s story.

So, what’s it about? Does it matter? These things always lose in the description. OK. We’re in the Fourlands, led by an Emperor and his circle of immortal, but not invulnerable, champions. The narrator is the Emperor’s messenger, Jant, an immortal and winged man who can fly (this is unusual in the context), but who also has a great liking for drugs and sex. The Fourlands are locked in a 1400 year war with the Insects, a kind of giant but mindless nest-building cockroach (which when you think about it explains the [almost] technological stasis quite neatly – the rulers are immortal, and their principal enemy does not change).

I’d run through the plot, but I can’t be bothered. The books stand on their own as well-written stories without me having to anyway.

Best to grab the earlier books first (The Year of Our War and No Present Like Time ) – they’re also economical and damn good reads. Thoroughly recommended.