Friday, December 7, 2012

Miles Cameron "The Red Knight" (Orbit, 2013)

The titular Red Knight leads a company of mercenaries who have been hired to find & kill a monster who is on the estate of a large Abbey.  As their monster hunt proceeds, they realize that the monster is just the first of many, and what looks to be a simple hunt & kill operation turns into a protracted siege, with the fate of the kingdom at stake.  

The Red Knight is a remarkable genre debut.  Its melding of gritty historical background with magical elements will immediately draw comparisons to George RR Martin.  Like Martin, Cameron uses a fictionalized medieval England as the setting for his larger fantastical tale.  There is a large cast of characters, with many POVs.  

What sets The Red Knight apart from the legion of Martin imitators?  Several factors:  first is the feeling of historical accuracy given to the equipment and combat sequences.   Cameron is apparently a re-enactor, and his personal experience with the historical equipment comes through in his writing.  He writes with full awareness of the physicality of the medieval armor & weaponry he discusses.  He knows where something is going to chafe, and how your arms feel after swinging heavy weaponry.

The second factor would be his unique magical system.  Without delving deeply into spoilers, magic users are divided into two groups; users of the light, representing civilization, and users of the green, representing the Wild.  Additionally, he incorporates the ancient practice of memory palaces  into the subjective experience of the magic practitioners. 
Magic & weaponry aside, Cameron does a great job working with his large cast of characters.  He develops distinctive voices for each of his POV characters.  We see the mercenaries grow from little more than outlaws into a force fighting for something bigger than them.  The fact that they are reluctant heroes makes their story all the more compelling.  

Strangely enough, the strong historical spine to this novel may be its biggest drawback.  Readers uninterested in medieval siege tactics, the composition of military groupings, or the logistics caravans may be somewhat alienated from a riveting story.  Personally I found the detail fascinating and grounding in a fantastical story.

The Red Knight is highly recommended.  It is one of the best fantasy debuts I’ve read in many many years.  I am very much looking forward to continuing the series.

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