Red Knight: A sprawling mix of historical fiction, enticing magical system and epic relentless action.
Red Knight was another impulse buy on Kindle – I hadn’t read too many reviews about the book though I knew this was one of the blockbusters of 2013 when it released. Now I understand why.
Red Knight, Book one of the Traitor Son cycle marks the fantasy debut of Miles Cameron(widely believed to be the pseudonym for historical fiction author, Christian Cameron). The book’s got the richly satisfying feel of reading an actual account of historical fiction – swarming with strikingly authentic details about the Knights order, the religious unrest, the war-machinery and the planning and execution of sieges on forts/palaces of medieval times. But mixed up with the narrative is one of the most enticing magical systems that plays a crucial part in the narrative. Which unmistakably elevates this book into one of the stars of epic fantasy today – complete with intense gripping action scenes that rolls the sprawling plot forwards.
The eponymous hero, Red Knight is contracted by an Abbey to investigate the brutal murder of one of the sisters of the convent and rid the Abbey the problem of attacks by an unknown monster from the Wild. (Yeah notice that in capitals, Wild? It’s much like the barren wilderness beyond the Wall from the Song of Ice and Fire – albeit a little more fleshed out, colorful and very interesting – chocked up with intelligent races that would push the limits of your fantastical imaginations. )Red Knight, a captain of a mercenary group with rising fortunes built on the continental wars outside the Kingdom of Alba takes up the contract only to be sucked into a swirling turbulent conspiracy that involves the whole race of Men against the Wild.
Don’t be taken up by that picture of man against the dragon. Here the cover symbolizes the raging fight of Man vs Wild. (Yeah, pretty much like the full on Discovery Channel program. Add swords, boulder-throwing trebuchets, flashing green magic and tons of super cool daemons to that sizzling broth. It comes close to this novel.) The Dragon is the last thing you will encounter (Ahem, pun intended) but the creatures of the Wild – straight out of Miles Cameron’s fertile imagination are frighteningly realistic, cunning and have a soul. The whole book revolves around the fight to occupy Lissen Carak, the last outpost of the Kingdom on the north-west frontiers – beyond which thrives the Wild. Who now want to reclaim their old lands and enlist the help of an aged Magus – a strange mystic called Thorn who used to be the King’s Magus once upon a time. The struggle is epic in scope and pretty much, drags the entire Kingdom into this boiling cauldron of magic and clashing swords. Did I mention magic? Oh yes I did. But the magical system as described by Miles Cameron is complex and the author doesn’t do the readers any favor by even attempting to explain the same. For the better, I say. The inscrutable principles of Hermeticism that is the basis for magic in this novel is mystical and enchanting and unexplained. Heavy stuff really – try as I might, I could only get as far as surmising it to involve some bit of mind travel, a lot of complex symbols and names of saints and green and gold flashes of fiery light that consumes and chars up anything in its path. Enough said.
You might be mistakenly led to believe that the story revolves around this gallant mercenary captain known as Red Knight who chooses against his better senses to protect the Abbey and thus be the figurehead of this epic battle. Attracting all sorts of unwanted attention. True that but Miles Cameron populates his story with enough and more colorful characters who would fight for your waning attention span. It becomes so crowded that initially the whole cart is too heavy and seems to crawl. The pacing takes a severe hit in the opening chapters. Rapidly switching between multiple POVs that provide near simultaneous perspectives of the same action sequences can be pretty exciting in the beginning but it bogs down the narrative pretty badly.
So we have a bunch of drovers herding cattle down to the last outpost for sales before winter sets in who get caught in the furious action. A disgraced Knight of the court who seeks redemption in the Wild. An arrogant supercilious foreign knight convinced by his mad angel that he would attain everlasting glory in this battle. A slave in search of his identity and future who joins the Wild in this fight. The captain’s squire who attempts to keep a diary of the daily siege and finds love. The whole bunch of never-do-goods who figure in the mercenary company under the Red Knight. Hell, even the King features a POV. But the best ones that I loved were these. Queen Desiderata – with her needle sharp wits is the magical equivalent of a C4 explosive wrapped up in a cloak that oozes and drips sensuality. She is one whom I would watch out for in the second book. Next up that scored high was the ageing Magus Harmodius – the mandatory Gandalf equivalent in any magic story, though a much more light-hearted and fun-loving version. A magus who is a practical man, given to fear and witty repartees. Not to forget the foul-mouthed Ser Thomas – Bad Tom who grins and revels at the mad prospect of fighting to death against the daemons of the Wild.
Clearly, Cameron sets up the first book to be the Red Knight’s vehicle for redemption and heroism. But you cannot help love this guy. Young enough to be barred from drinking in certain countries(!), the Captain has a certain mystic aura around him that thrills and draws you in – taught to command from his childhood, armed with a sixth sense for danger and a well-balanced head on his shoulders for planning and executing battle plans, the Captain is the bastard child of some nobility. And despite all the odds, he commands and keeps his company of the social outcasts together. Commands their respect and his daredevilry almost always gets them out of tricky near-death situations. His identity which is slowly revealed in the latter half is another thing that keeps the narrative poised on a knife-edge.
Miles Cameron has an interesting manner in dealing with the names. Long Paws, Wilful Murder, Low Sym, Bad Tom, Sauce. Ahem you get the drift. It is definitely colorful and meaningful. Miles starts cautiously – regaling us with flowing descriptions and multiple scattershot narratives. The slow start and the scattered narration that hops all over the place has you in knots by the end of the initial chapters. Perhaps a deterrent to the reading experience but I would advise you to hang in there. Once the plot gathers momentum, there is nothing to stop it from whizzing away. An angry bull that crashes through your senses – intense, furious onslaughts on the fort, the gripping, bloody encounters with the creatures of Wild, the sweeping battle plans. It all packs a punch – forming an explosive package, written in a competent flowing prose that smacks of deep authentic research on the Medieval art of war and settings. The dense plot rolls on unnoticed as you are swept into this magical tale that almost reads like a retelling of some historical siege.
While the Red Knight is a satisfying standalone story, the author beautifully sets up enough material for a sequel by the end of book one. Expositions are quick and efficient and don’t weight the plot down. But for me – personally – what makes this book a winner – was that despite its mammoth size, the reading experience was like a hot knife sliding through butter. Smooth. Sure, there are a lot of POVs that can be sliced away without affecting the story much. But it never gets too fragmented and we always return to the thick of action without losing steam.
This story reads like a myth. Almost sounding at times like a real historical event. Wrapped in layers of intriguing magic, wrought with an earthy authenticity and filled to the brim with non-stop stirring brutal action. As I read on fantasy-faction, why settle for one hero when you have nine. A great addition to the Fantasy world and with the Fell Sword is releasing just around the corner, I’m sure the Traitor Son Cycle series is going to be something spectacular.