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