Review: A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Review: A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

‘The Ben-Elim, a fierce race of warrior-angels, burst into the Banished Lands over a hundred and thirty years ago. They were in pursuit of their eternal enemy, the Kadoshim demon-horde. On that day a great battle was fought, the Ben-Elim and Kadoshim joined by allies from the races of both men and giants, and a great victory was won.

Now much of the Banished Lands is ruled by the Ben-Elim, who have made this world their home, extending their influence and power as they swallow ancient kingdoms into the protective grasp of their ever-extending borders. But peace is fragile within the realm and the Kadoshim that remain are now amassing on the edges of the empire…

Threats long in the shadows are about to strike.’

I’ve not read Gwynne’s other series in this universe, so my introduction to the world in which A Time of Dread is set was through this second series opener. There’s nothing in A Time of Dread that requires particular knowledge from the previous series (that opens with Malice and conludes with Wrath), world and races revealed by the thoughts and feelings of the characters without the inclusion of vast expository passages to ‘catch up’ the reader, and so while I was initially a little concerned that I wouldn’t always understand the happenings in the story, this was not the case at all.

Depending on a reader’s preference for action, it could be said that the pacing is a little slow, but one thing that I really love to read about is the politics between peoples and A Time of Dread certainly delivers on that. The action within each characters’ point of view is not always game-changing or set to have consequences beyond them, yet that the action impacts them and those they care about is much more engaging than constant, high stakes conflict. This is not to say that this variety of conflict doesn’t occur, but that it isn’t always the focus keeps the narrative fresh and the reader from being exhausted by constant battles.

At this point, I’ve probably already betrayed that my favourite of the point of view characters was Riv (though followed by Bleda as a close second). For me, one of the most fascinating facets of the novel was the Ben-Elim’s rule over the different clans and their manipulation of them to achieve ‘peace’ – but at what cost to the clans? Humans are raised to fight for them and to revere and respect them, something that some characters more easily identify as wrong than others, who want them to recognise their skills and gain approval. Riv in particular seems under the spell of the Ben-Elim, while Bleda remains more on the fence, trapped between worlds and primarily in need of affection and approval from sources not likely to provide it.

A Time of Dread is an excellent and absorbing work of fantasy with a cast of compelling characters. Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for my copy!

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Pub date: 6th September 2018 (Paperback)

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