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red-knight-book-1Reviews By: David Stonehouse
Author: Miles Cameron
Publisher: Gollanz

There are two sorts of fantasy fans. First, there’s the casual readers who just enjoy an escape from the everyday routine, and, secondly, there are the hard-core fans who want to immerse themselves completely in another world. Well, if you’re one of the second sort then Miles Cameron’s The Red Knight will be exactly the book you’re looking for. At nearly 800 very attractively presented pages there is a hell of a lot to get your teeth into. If you take into account the fact that this is only the first installment in a much bigger saga it’s pretty clear that there’s more than enough invention and imagination to satisfy even the most rabid enthusiast.

The setting is firmly heraldic mediaeval – the age of knights, maidens and monsters – in the fictional kingdom of Alba. To the north of the kingdom the country borders the Wild, where chaos reigns and the whole gamut of bad mythical beasties run wild. The bulk of the story takes place on this border, in the beleaguered fortified abbey of Lissen Carak  The Abbess has become very concerned that attacks from the Wild are steadily coming further and further south. When one of the sisters of her own order is horrifically slaughtered she decides that enough is enough and calls for help in the form of the titular Red Knight and his band of mercenaries.

The Red Knight is a young captain with a history he is keen to keep secret and a hardened band of warriors who are completely loyal to him. Their arrival at Lissen Carak causes tensions between the rough and worldly soldiers and the ladies of the abbey but an uneasy alliance is forged between the Captain and the Abbess to investigate the threat and, if necessary, protect the fortress. The Captain’s investigations quickly reveal that there is a traitor hiding in the keep and working to betray them all to the forces of the Wild. Events rapidly spiral out of control and before long the keep is under siege by a much more organised enemy than anyone could have expected. The forces of the Wild have been united by the magical will of a sorcerer called Thorn who intends to use Lissen Carak as the first staging post in a huge attack on the kingdom of Alba. The Red Knight and his small bands of warriors must somehow defend the outpost until the forces of the King arrive to relieve them.

That short summary is, effectively, the plot, but it hardly does justice to what Miles Cameron achieves in this book. The scope of Cameron’s imagination is absolutely huge. The narrative moves continuously between characters and locations and each and every one of them is a detailed and convincing creation. Military operations feel completely authentic and are often on a huge scale. The human civilisation is very well realised, with class hierarchies and social groups interacting believably, sometimes in very subtle ways. There are even hints at other cultures and countries that will hopefully be explored in later books. The monsters of the Wild are great fun, from the weak, insect-like boglins who are feeble on their own but pretty destructive when they swarm on the battlefield, all the way up to the deadly airborne Wyverns – like miniature dragons and very, very hard to kill. It all makes for some very spectacular battles and some very gruesome deaths.

The most interesting element in all this, though, is how Cameron presents magic. Many characters have a sensitivity to magic, some much stronger than others. It is an ability which is both frowned on and feared, but also more commonplace than most people are aware. This concept of magic sees the users channelling power from different natural sources and also, crucially, being able to adopt and absorb the skills and abilities of others. Trained adepts are able to enter the aetherial world, a sort of alternative magical reality that they can shape to their own needs. However, in the aether people with magical gifts become visible to each other, which can be both a source of strength and a point of weakness. As the plot unfolds the interaction of these gifted individuals becomes crucial to the resolution of the siege. It’s very well done and adds another layer to an already impressive creation.

There are quibbles. The huge roster of characters and the frequent jumping  between characters and locations can be a bit disorienting, particularly early on, when the reader hasn’t had chance to get fully invested in the complexities of the novel’s world. There are also points where the insistence on minutely detailed explanation of equipment, clothing, Armour and so on becomes intrusive. As the author happily admits in his acknowledgement he is a massive re-enactment enthusiast, and, while his very impressive knowledge has clearly informed much of the book, there are some points where it does begin to feel a little bit obsessive.

Nevertheless, for the pure fantasy enthusiast, this is a very impressive piece of work. The second  installment, The Fell Sword, is also available and will be reviewed here shortly.

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