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  1. #1
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    The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

    I finished Red Knight by Miles Cameron and while I loved it quite a lot and will be in my top 25 of the year, I think that Anthony Ryan's Blood Song (which is still the number one debut of the year and also the best fantasy debut since Name of the Wind) is a stronger debut, while David Hair's Mage's Blood is another one which I may rate slightly higher, though i may rate this one higher...

    Red Knight tries and mostly succeeds to combine three things:

    - a very historical fiction approach to medieval fantasy as for example appearing in authors like Maurice Druon and Zoe Oldenbourg (I am pretty sure there are such from the UK/US but none come to mind, maybe Pillars of the Earth to some extent would qualify; one characteristic is that life is cheap, but things are expensive); this means the writing is very unsentimental, quite brutal on occasion and is much closer to historical fiction in many ways than it is to fantasy even of the "gritty" kind

    - a magical system based on the power of the wild nature, green rather than dark so to speak and embodied in various creatures and people versus the power of the sun, light embodied in the Church and people; this system reminds one strongly of CS Friedman's Cold Fire while the memory chamber approach also reminds of KJ Parker's "rooms"

    - a military component as most of the book is war; this gets a bit tiring at the end when slaughtering "boglins" by the thousands becomes tedious, but it has a lot of great moments where the combination of medieval weapons and tactics with modern such given by sorcery (eg aerial bombardment by wyverns, but much more) brings something new to the table; this part is done very well, only it is a bit too long in the end

    The structure of the book is in short chunks from multiple POV's and it works mostly well with narrative flowing though I can easily see it leading to confusion in parts. There are a ton of impressive characters of all kinds, most notably the title hero, The (mysterious) Red Knight (about whom we find out in due time most everything about parentage and upbringing with the rest being implied), the real bad boy "Bad Tom" Lachlan, the two sorcerers Thorn and Harmodius, the abbess who hires the Red Knight to protect her important convent/fortress, Queen Desiderata, some local and foreign knights, a few daemons - these are powers of the wild and guardians of the outwallers, an escaped slave who becomes a member of the Sossag one of the "outwallers" indian like tribes and not least a wise and very powerful Dragon.

    Where I have reservations is in balance and integration of these quite disparate elements, integration that does not fully work so the book occasionally is less than the sum of its parts, while as mentioned the military aspect becomes somewhat repetitive at the end; also as in most fantasies, the separation of the main hero and his love interest looks really artificial (but this is true to some extent in Blood Song and Mage's Blood, only LE Modesitt not shying away from married heroes with children...); the end of The Red Knight is actually superb as it goes beyond solving the main storyline and setting up the next book The Fell Sword (about which Miles told me he is on page 423 as of a few days ago), but also brings new main players into focus and has a "conversation" for the ages.

    Overall, an excellent debut that I hope will find its audience as it combines a few things that usually stay separate in fiction, while I am convinced the technical aspects will only get better as the series progresses.

    You can see excellent artwork with all characters on the author's page HERE
    Last edited by suciul; October 30th, 2012 at 09:00 AM.

  2. #2
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Not reading suciul's post above (yet) as I'm still reading the book (arrived Monday), but thought I would just add that so far I'm very impressed with such a debut. Very strong medieval/historical element, interesting characters, nice plot developments - I'm really enjoying it.

    Hope it continues!
    Mark

  3. #3
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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    The structure of the book is in short chunks from multiple POV's and it works mostly well with narrative flowing though I can easily see it leading to confusion in parts. There are a ton of impressive characters of all kinds, most notably the title hero, The (mysterious) Red Knight (about whom we find out in due time most everything about parentage and upbringing with the rest being implied), the real bad boy "Bad Tom" Lachlan, the two sorcerers Thorn and Harmodius
    I am deducing from the pictures at Cameron's site, that Thorn must be what is in another review referred to as the "green leader of the Wild".

    Just took delivery of the hardcover by the way.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mithfânion View Post
    I am deducing from the pictures at Cameron's site, that Thorn must be what is in another review referred to as the "green leader of the Wild".

    Just took delivery of the hardcover by the way.
    That's true - I regret the book (the artwork on the site is in the book) does not have pictures of daemons, faeries and maybe of the huge stone warriors of the Wild; the wyvern is on the UK cover - yes there are faeries but they are not particularly benevolent...
    There is one Sossag pictured at least (Ota Qwan)

  5. #5
    The UK publisher, Gollancz, has a fairly generous excerpt up on their blog, of which I have been availing myself. Not sure what I think, to be honest, but there are definitely some interesting things going on in the first bit.

    The way dialogue flows feels interesting, if that's not too geeky. Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence to a degree, a lot of writers writing secondary world fantasy in a "grimmer" headspace have a very colloquial dialogue style, specially among their military characters. Very stripped-down, very informal. I remember Glen Cook's Black Company talking this way too, among themselves. The Red Knight feels different in this regard. A lot of the characters seem to have a more consciously constructed way of speaking, not in a dorky "hail ye good traveller and well-met, sirra" kind of toxic story-killing way, but in a way that balances our conventions of dialogue now with constant nods back to the chivalric times Cameron is evoking larded all through the speech. I ... think I might be taught to like it. Except occasionally it's like the author forgets, and a line or two slips the stylistic reins, and it's really, really noticeable.

    Not too sure how attached I'm going to get to the characters yet. The novel moves around a lot, so the excerpt material doesn't really let us settle in with any of them. Everyone seems nicely flawed and conflicted; there's definitely potential here, and I'm glad to hear from Hobbit and Suciul that it develops well. The book seems to build sexism into its world in the way that's the default assumption for most grimmer epic fantasies, and, while in Cameron's case I recognize that this may have a lot to do with a firmer historical impulse, it feels like something that's gone from being [theoretically] a way to explore injustice and present characters with severe challenges to just being kind of how these stories are expected to work, and that's somewhat disturbing. Plenty of room to broaden after page thirty, though. And I really like the moral ambiguity that's slammed right in our faces immediately in terms of the humanity versus Wild conflict, with attrocities committed on both sides from the word go.

    Long way of saying that I'm not one-hundred percent convinced, and the personalities don't immediately click with me as people I want to follow around, but the excerpt's definitely intriguing and I'd cautiously say I want to read the whole thing. Be interested to hear any more thoughts others have. Both about the book itself and, maybe getting more meta, how it fits into the picture of fantasy at the moment.

  6. #6
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    So the story is about a troupe of mercenaries who take what is supposed to be an easier gig than the usual fighting protecting a nunnery from deadly creatures from the Wild that are picking off the nuns and farm folk, but this turns out to be part of something much bigger and war-like amid species, including skullduggery among the humans. So basically, it's a western, Seven Samaurai style (Magnificent Seven), and in the neighborhood of tales like The Keep and good old Beowulf. Actually clearly a nod to Beowulf in there and to St. George and the Dragon. The style from the excerpt is similar to Mary Gentle's Ash, also in the neighborhood. And there's battle action.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    So the story is about a troupe of mercenaries who take what is supposed to be an easier gig than the usual fighting protecting a nunnery from deadly creatures from the Wild that are picking off the nuns and farm folk, but this turns out to be part of something much bigger and war-like amid species, including skullduggery among the humans. So basically, it's a western, Seven Samaurai style (Magnificent Seven), and in the neighborhood of tales like The Keep and good old Beowulf. Actually clearly a nod to Beowulf in there and to St. George and the Dragon. The style from the excerpt is similar to Mary Gentle's Ash, also in the neighborhood. And there's battle action.
    That's part of the story, but there is stuff involving the Queen, the King, the King's sorcerer, the army, foreign knights, then part following "outwallers" ie people who live with the Wild (they are either feudal rebels called Jacks or AmerIndian like people living with nature), and another part following a Scottish like clan of drovers which indeed could be compared with American Cowboys in armour... A mix of stuff but primarily military fantasy in a world that so far looks like England ~1000-1100 - the kingdom is called Alba after all; though Moreea which is a Byzantium analog is over the mountains while Galle is somewhere on the continent, whatever that means; and there is a Wall of course but somewhere away so the Wild has no problem bypassing/penetrating it...
    Quite a sophisticated story that only starts here and is planned to go 5

  8. #8
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    When I called it a western sounding story, I didn't mean that I thought it had cowboys. Westerns borrow from war epics structurally and thematically. Essentially, they're Shakespearean. That's why they've worked well. But rather than a straight siege story, this story is about the strangers ride into town and take on the danger to the town, and quite often in a western-style plot, that one incident becomes the center of a larger war (kings and queens and armies.) The story has the rebels (Robin Hoods) living in the wild, and the Amerindians (wood/jungle natives, Amerindians also a popular culture choice for fantasy,) and Scots (super popular choice,) and France (Galle,) etc., but it's riffing off those, not copying cultures. So it's not copying American Old West culture either, but that's a main influence storywise, especially as they are (initially) dealing with varmints from the wild attacking on human territory. And I do think that Gentle's Ash is relevant in terms of set up, scope, some apparent themes, etc.

    But mostly I was just nudging out plot information because your first conversation about the book barely had any. And it totally worked too. *smiley face*

  9. #9
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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    LoL, nicely done Kat.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    When I called it a western sounding story, I didn't mean that I thought it had cowboys. Westerns borrow from war epics structurally and thematically. Essentially, they're Shakespearean. That's why they've worked well. But rather than a straight siege story, this story is about the strangers ride into town and take on the danger to the town, and quite often in a western-style plot, that one incident becomes the center of a larger war (kings and queens and armies.) The story has the rebels (Robin Hoods) living in the wild, and the Amerindians (wood/jungle natives, Amerindians also a popular culture choice for fantasy,) and Scots (super popular choice,) and France (Galle,) etc., but it's riffing off those, not copying cultures. So it's not copying American Old West culture either, but that's a main influence storywise, especially as they are (initially) dealing with varmints from the wild attacking on human territory. And I do think that Gentle's Ash is relevant in terms of set up, scope, some apparent themes, etc.

    But mostly I was just nudging out plot information because your first conversation about the book barely had any. And it totally worked too. *smiley face*
    For me the main question about Red Knight is if it will find its audience as the book looks at traditional fantasy (it has goblins, orcs, elfs, dwarfs, dragons though in a strange-ish version), plus all the Earth influences like Algonquin and Iroquois, Medieval Chivalry, the hermetic philosophy and mixes them in a very unsentimental way of writing which is much more common in historical fiction than even in gritty fantasy - something much closer to KJ Parker than say Joe Abercrombie, though the themes are different as KJ Parker does classics and pre-modern not medieval; the chapters sampled on Gollancz and the artwork are representative

  11. #11
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    For me the main question about Red Knight is if it will find its audience as the book looks at traditional fantasy (it has goblins, orcs, elfs, dwarfs, dragons though in a strange-ish version), plus all the Earth influences like Algonquin and Iroquois, Medieval Chivalry, the hermetic philosophy and mixes them in a very unsentimental way of writing which is much more common in historical fiction than even in gritty fantasy - something much closer to KJ Parker than say Joe Abercrombie, though the themes are different as KJ Parker does classics and pre-modern not medieval; the chapters sampled on Gollancz and the artwork are representative
    Of course it will find an audience. I keep trying to tell you, the secondary world fantasy market does not move as one organism. Just because Joe is popular and has zombies, doesn't mean that something with orcs and dragons has a problem. It's not like we only pick one sort of mythology or beastie to follow. We did not go from happy elves to gritty morose assassins. We had both and we still have both. Name of the Wind, which you referenced, has dragon, fairies, bards, thieves, gypsies, grey bearded mages, orphans, etc., hasn't hurt it a bit because it's looking at what those things can mean in how mythology is made. As for sounding unsentimental and historical, that hasn't hurt George Martin either. Rogues dealing with a situation that turns out to be bigger and more political than expected and involving sorcerers and elves? Hasn't hurt Mike Sullivan. The Red Mage sounds, on the face of it, very much like something that would appeal to those who liked Redick's Red Wolf Conspiracy series (sec world) or Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (alternate history). And again, in style, the excerpt reminded me of Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History, (alternate history,) which also dealt with a troupe of mercenaries wrapped up in something much bigger. Stylistically, it's also in the neighborhood of Martha Wells and Dennis Farland. I think the western showdown aspect adds some spice and there's definitely a nod to the tradition of hard bitten mercenaries in fantasy that runs through things like Glen Cook's Black Company. The language, though, is more European a bit, less noir than that line of style. But then Name of the Wind isn't noir either. Rothfuss is much more in line with writers like Beagle. A complicated bestiary society that is historically established in a world gives a lot of maneuver room for smaller stories within larger ones. If you liked characters like the Abbess and the Red Knight, chances are others will too.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Of course it will find an audience.
    Sorry, there is no "of course' about it in terms of the publishing realities of today - look at the Kinden books which are huge favorites of mine and lots of other people here enjoy and they have no US publisher from volume 6 onward and as long as Pyr does not go on with them it is unlikely they will until rights revert; look at the R. Redick series whose final volume kept being postponed (US is still being postponed, now February) and finally being released in tpb and e only in the UK

    This series is planned at 5 and I really, really hope it will get there publishing-wise somewhere - UK is most likely as all in all Gollancz is generally supportive; and note that it is being postponed here in the US and while it may be tactical/logistics, it says something about how new releases are seen.

  13. #13
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    Sorry, there is no "of course' about it in terms of the publishing realities of today - look at the Kinden books which are huge favorites of mine and lots of other people here enjoy and they have no US publisher from volume 6 onward and as long as Pyr does not go on with them it is unlikely they will until rights revert; look at the R. Redick series whose final volume kept being postponed (US is still being postponed, now February) and finally being released in tpb and e only in the UK

    This series is planned at 5 and I really, really hope it will get there publishing-wise somewhere - UK is most likely as all in all Gollancz is generally supportive; and note that it is being postponed here in the US and while it may be tactical/logistics, it says something about how new releases are seen.
    That's true of any book. But you were saying that you didn't think it would find an audience because it wasn't dark and gritty enough like Abercrombie and co., which is a different thing than just wondering if people will like it, and that was what I was responding to -- that particular concern you expressed. As for general will a book find an audience, no one ever knows. Luck, timing, life factors, word of mouth and business practices in different countries and formats all play a role. New releases are always very welcomed in SFF and given extra breaks on amassing sales, but there are a lot of new releases. Cameron is Canadian, so he has it a little easier than our British and Australian friends with the U.S. market and can more easily tour, but he won't have a home region advantage like U.S. authors would. But in terms of content and tone of the actual work, there is nothing to indicate that The Red Knight is outside of many authors -- Robin Hobb, Mike Sullivan, Patrick Rothfuss, etc., in the field who are doing well in the market. So his choice of story and style is not a major factor, as far as I can see.

    But the story does seem to have quite a bit of grit to it -- I think you may have been downplaying that a bit. And I think a rousing human-beasties conflict might do well and I like the sound of riffing off on a mix of Old World and New. But as a new release, Mr. Cameron was likely moved because the big season is fall/Christmas and there are two tons of bestsellers coming out with releases. He'd get lost and not get a lot of attention from the publisher. So January might actually be much better for him. One question is how serial the release might be -- does Cameron already have the next in the kiln or is he writing it, do you know?

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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    does Cameron already have the next in the kiln or is he writing it, do you know?
    As of last week, he was on page 423 of the Fell Sword (likely but not 100% certain title of book 2)

  15. #15
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    An ARC arrived on Friday and this sounds like it is right up my alley. I tell you, when Orbit publishes something in a vein of the genre I like, they tend to do it very much to my liking. From what you all are saying here, conversely, this one doesn't seem like the disappointment John Fulz's Seven Princes was for me.

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