“The Kingdom of Rolencia sleeps as rumours of new Affinity Seeps, places where the untamed power wells up. By royal decree all those afflicted with Affinity must serve the Abbey or face death. Sent to the Abbey, the King’s youngest son, Fyn, trains to become a warrior monk. Elsewhere others are tainted with Affinity and must fight to survive.
Political intrigue and magic combine in this explosive first book in an exciting new fantasy trilogy.”
Probably the first thing I should say about this book is that it kept me up stupidly late into the night, and on a work night at that. That in itself is always a sign of a really good read. I need to be in work for 7am, so if I’m still reading at 2, you know I’m onto a winner.
From some rummaging about on-line I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews of The King’s Bastard, and although personally I loved it, I can understand and sympathise with the naysayers to an extent. On the face of it, there’s not much that’s new or exciting here, the world is remarkably small and the cast of characters equally so, and there’s quite a large amount of repetition which can get irritating at times. The thing is though, for me, essentially none of this mattered because Daniells’ characters are so engaging that I flew through all six hundred pages of this like a madwoman.
Byren, the protagonist, is unfailingly likeable, as are Piro and Fyn, his younger siblings. They all have their flaws, but they have that purity of spirit that draws you to them and has you cheering them on and worrying for them when they make the wrong choices (which they do, a lot). They remind me a lot of the characters you’ll find in novels by David Gemmell or Trudi Canavan, characters you can genuinely take to your heart and care about. The cast here may be small, but they’re powerful in the way they pull on your emotions, and for me that’s always what keeps the pages turning.
I think in a way the same can be said of the World in which the novel takes place. No, it’s not massive or epic in scope, but it’s effective and interesting in its own right. Admittedly there’s nothing new in the ‘frozen world’ idea, but Daniells paints it beautifully, and in all fairness I can’t think off-hand of any other Fantasy novel I’ve read where speed skating is the most effective form of travel, I thought that was a really nice touch. Same goes for the Warlord controlled spurs off the island, another really nice touch that adds value and intrigue to the plot. Personally I’d much rather read a title like this, where the world and cast are small but perfectly put together, than read something ambitious and sprawling that lacks the attention to detail and perfect containment that Daniells offers. It reads like a labour of love, and that means a lot to me turning the pages on the other side.
Two of my favourite Fantasy themes are explored in The King’s Bastard. Firstly, and most importantly to the plot, the notion of Prophecy. Does Prophecy self-fulfill? I always love thinking around this idea and it’s one of my favourite time-wasters at work, so I always enjoy it when it’s the main theme woven around a plot. Again I was reminded of Gemmell here with the idea of a seer appearing and making a seemingly ridiculous prediction which the characters refute as madness, and then slowly encounter as they make more and more desperate attempts to avoid it. It may be nothing ground breaking, but it’s carefully written and very well done. Same again for the idea of a young female wanting to experience life with more freedom and power than her gender dictates, this is always a theme that’s close to my heart. Piro is a beautifully written character, it’s always so hard to try and define what makes a character work or not work, but Daniells makes it appear effortless. Piro engages much like George RR Martin’s Arya, instantly likeable and charming, and you’re on her side within seconds.
The villain of the story, Illien, is cunning, manipulative and powerful. It feels increasingly rare in fantasy to find a character with no redeeming qualities, but here we’ve got a real old fashioned bad guy, and he’s refreshing in his own way. I’m a big fan of that Old Skool Fantasy feel, so I really enjoyed this aspect but I do understand that it’s not necessarily going to be everybody’s cup of tea.
The end of the book would have been absolutely maddening if I didn’t have the follow-up immediately to hand. If you like everything tied up neatly at the end of book one you’re going to be disappointed here. It feels a bit artificially cut-off, and I have no idea how long the wait between books was but it would have been a nightmare! As is, it’s all good, but I definitely wouldn’t read it until you’ve got the second one ready.
In essence, I absolutely loved this, and am going to be delving straight into the second book. I should make it clear though that if you’re after the scope of Martin or the grit of Lawrence, this isn’t going to be for you. It may be a small scale novel in many ways, but it’s beautifully realised and I had no end of fun reading it. Daniells is a genuine story teller, this is one of those ‘curl up by the fire and lose yourself’ novels that’s a pure pleasure to read. If you enjoy the likes of David Gemmell, Trudi Canavan and Kirstin Cashore, or really if you just like your fantasy character-driven, fast-paced and fun, you should definitely give this one a go.