A black sun is rising…
Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage.
The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars.
High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.
This book had an amazingly slow start and if I have to be completely honest, I was not sure myself I would end up giving it 4 stars until the very, very end.
However, at 90%, I am unexpectedly in tears – I was surprised myself, it is not any book that gets to my emotions so easily. I do think the end (or should I say: the introduction to the next book in the series) made up for many slow moments throughout the book – which is huge! Not only it’s quite a long book, but it also requires all of your attention as otherwise you’ll get lost when you pick it up later. Therefore, yes, I admit that reading this book when your amount of time is limited, is a challenge.
In one sentence, Malice is your typical Epic Fantasy done right. But amongst the many cliches and tropes – the most obvious similarities relate to Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire. Now I don’t mean this is as a completely negative remark as I do think Game of Thrones is brilliant but of course, it does place the author in a difficult position should we begin to compare this book to A Song of Ice and Fire series. I thought that while some elements might be rather generic to the Fantasy genre, others might bring back too many memories specific to the aforementioned series.
Of course, this is just my opinion but the following are just a few of which I’d consider as strong common elements between the two series:
– ‘fireside tales my mam told to make me stay in bed at night’ –
The ‘unknown’ element strongly connected to the ‘fantasy’ element is very present. (reminds me of: the stories ‘behind the wall’).
– ‘As you say, of giants and draigs and worse. I have had reports, sightings of white wyrms on my borders, in the mountains, and in the fringes of Forn Forest.’ –
The ‘unknown’ element also refers mainly to fantastic creatures. (reminds me of: dragons and giants, as quoted. While these are common fantasy races, it is also predominant in ASOIF).
– ‘You must have heard the stories. Strange noises, voices coming from her cottage at night, and nobody in there but her.’ ‘She’s a healer, not a witch,’ –
And there is also a witch!
– ‘What would you do with this cub?’ she asked Corban. Evnis’ eyes bulged. Something – hope? – danced across Corban’s face. ‘I would care for it. Raise it. My da has bred and raised the finest hounds; no one would be able to do it better than he.’ –
This reminds me of the exact same scene in ASOIF – those who have read or watched the TV show know what I mean. I do not know how much this has been done before but this common element between the series could be avoided, surely? I think this must be the one element that makes the easiest for readers to feel tempted to compare this book.
– ‘Mandros, kingslayer.’ –
I am aware that many can slay kings but type ‘kingslayer’ on Google and you will understand what I mean.
– ‘My gift to you: a draig’s egg.’ –
Of course, there has to be eggs…Where do dragons come from? Can we stop gifting eggs though?
Being compared to A Song Of Ice and Fire, a series that fed Fantasy to the masses, is a powerful marketing tool but in the end… Is it worth it? When your book ends up, unavoidably, being compared to such a popular series, I can’t help but wonder.
Now because not everything is a similarity , the most noticeable difference in this book is that Malice is YA – do not expect taboos, gore or adult themes. It does feel refreshing in a way and it doesn’t compromise the development of mature characters, even the evil ones.
Narrative wise, I love the different POV’s style, regardless of how overrated it is. In each POV, the narrator is fully omniscient in relation to the character he is narrating but the best thing is that we don’t have every single character’s POV, including important ones. So this only makes things more interesting: What are these characters hiding, what are they thinking? The only tricky bit is that when the narrator switches between the characters, this is not actually always a continuation, so in terms of context, timeline and location, this can be confusing sometimes. I also am not a particular fan of the style of the beginning of each chapter, many start with a meaningless action (still beautifully written) but very much along the same lines, which kind of make me want to skip the first paragraph sometimes! (e.g. ‘Corban squinted as he looked up at the cloudless sky, the sun a pale, watery, distant thing.’)
In general, I do think John’s writing style is beautiful & captivating and the battle scenes are purely awesome! There are too many characters though and this relates to one of the most negative aspects of this book: It is not easy, in the beginning, to get into it.
I always give importance to this because really, this is so important that this fact, alone, can easily make a distracted reader to give up on your book before even having the chance to enjoy it – And believe me, there is a lot to enjoy in Malice! So wouldn’t it be a shame? I think each character should have been introduced more gradually – and each character’s physical description should have been repeated several times along the book – at least, I think this would help massively when trying to remember names and imagining faces. Yes, I have to admit it was quite an effort to imagine all those characters, and I am normally good at that.
Apart from that, I thought the character’s development was brilliant and even if I thought the action was very slow (even pointless) at times, I started understanding, as the book progressed, that all those little details have actually contributed to make me feel connected/ attached to these characters! John was amazing doing this because he was so subtle that you barely notice until your characters are in serious danger and you start crossing your fingers for them.
There are not many women in a position of power, except for one. I want to see more of her in the next book because I thought I didn’t have enough of her or any one close enough to her.
Additionally, there is another female character that defies the female stereotype which is quite refreshing too. Basically, I am saying, yes, I would like to see more women in this series.
And speaking of women, do not expect romance, except for a few very subtle (very, very subtle) references. If the purpose of this book is to attract a larger audience, I am going to use a bit of a sexist stereotype now, and say that we, women, enjoy a bit of romance as well. I understand that this is not the main element (and it shouldn’t be) that those picking up the book would be expecting.
Conclusion: I enjoyed Malice a lot; great debut! Of course it is not 100% original and of course has room for improvement but overall, I am very much looking forward to reading the next ones in the series!
Buy the book: