A Time of Dread by John Gwynne ( Of Blood And Bone # 1)

I had completely given John Gwynne a miss the last few years - Despite Malice, the first book in his previous series ( The Faithful and the Fallen ) winning the best debut, Gemmell Award in 2013. He wrapped that one up with Wrath last year and this year, starts off a brand new epic series in the same world as that of the Banished Lands, set one hundred thirty years later.

Call it a selfish wish, But I always have this thing about being among the first few. (Anything! reading, sports whatever!) And so, with A Time of Dread (ATOD) I knew, I was jumping in on a brand new series. But from what I could gather in my first few minutes of the read, the entire previous series forms the history to what transpires in ATOD. How cool is that. That mammoth berg buried under the sea, I knew I had to dig under and find out more about Corban and his friends. But it could wait. Because before I knew it, I was nose-deep, nose to the grinding-wheel find out what is causing A time of dread in the Banished Lands.


So ATOD is set about a century later and the winged angels of wrath, Ben-Elim have now taken over parts of the Banished Land. With their base in a fortress named Drassil constructed by the Giants long time back, they set about hunting the last of the feared Kadoshims, the foul spawns of evil. We get to know that the leaders of both the factions have been frozen eons ago, two giant statues pitted against each other in the courtyards of Drassil. But there are rumors of an uprising - of the left over Kadoshim drawing together acolytes in the hope of reviving their leader Azroth and finishing what was left-over from their previous attempt to destroy the mortal world.

Now our story unfolds through mainly four POV's: Bleda, a warrior-prince who's been taken captive by the Ben-Elim to maintain peace among warring clans and who grows up inside the strongholds of Drassil, watching and training with the rest of the mortals who want to be inducted into the ranks of the famous fighting force, White Wings - who assist the Ben-Elim in rooting out the last of the evils left over in the Banished Lands. Bleda still is seething at the manner in which the Ben Elim took him away from his tribe and is secretly nursing hatred for his 'captors'.

Also at training hard at the Drassil, is Riv - a young woman who wants nothing more but to be an acclaimed fierce warrior, proving her faith and following up on the footsteps of her mother and elder sister. But Riv has anger issues and thus being unstable, loses her trial to be inducted into the ranks. The third one is my favorite, Drem - the son of a trapper out in the wild woods of the snowy North, who comes across unusual accidents spread across the countryside, evil underfoot that might be brewing up to be big trouble. The fourth POV is Sig - a giant riding a giant bear named Hammer, a minor POV from the previous series as I understand, who is leading her hunting party to root out the last few Kadoshims in their world and stumbles upon a much larger conspiracy than what they had bargained for.

John doesn't waste much time in setting the story up - right from get go, the foot is pressed down hard on the accelerator and we are flying through the pages, getting to know our characters well enough even as evil breathes heavily down their neck. Here, the evil is plain evil - no two ways about it. Truth and honor, the by-words of our heroes are a good reflection of how the prose and the characters themselves are arraigned. Morally upright, earnest and wanting to do the right thing - stand up against atrocities of the evil. That's how the heroes are structured in this story and it was a welcome change from the heavy-handed grim-dark nuanced grey shades of anti-heroes I've been reading too much of, of late. And our heroes are all set to save their world, and in the process, discover a bit of themselves and the world around them.

John doesn't dawdle much and the fierce whooping action set-pieces are screaming in your face right from when the pages fly. I truly enjoyed the unflinching action sequences - Sig leads from the front, kicking ass, blunting skulls and letting it rip throughout. Joining her is the crew she leads, Cullen a young giant pup eager to prove his killing-machine legacy and the quieter Keld with his wolven-hounds who is a master hunstman. A few lighter quips between Cullen and Sig lights up gruesome action they are often party to. In fact, am hoping I can see more of Cullen in the later part of the series. Drem and his father Odin are the moral stake in the ground around which the story revolves and I know, Drem is built for greatness in the series later. He's an easy character to be around and we feel all his sorrow, pain and joy in equal amounts. Riv and Bleda were my least favorite - Bleda felt more like a foil to the action and character growth of Riv in this first book. Riv actually is the one person who's arc evolves the highest throughout the series. Suffering through coming-of-age, deceit and anger issues, her story was definitely one of the most gripping ones. And her view-point is central to our understanding of these white-winged angels of wrath, called Ben-Elim and thier undying devotion to the faith, what they call as "Lore".

The pacing is relentless as the story nose-dives into the resurrection of the evil and the need for heroes to band together. There is darkness, with the growing sense of dread that escalates with the shadow of the Kadoshims growing bigger. But the story never tips into that cauldron of grimdark keeping things enjoyable, with the beacon of hope for the Banished Lands shining bright and high. I was again blown away by the world at offer in this book - much of what was started off in the past series but still is just sheer amazing. Giants riding bears out into battle, talking ravens, winged angels and their darker evil counterparts, icy stretches of the North, the giant-built fortresses. The "lore" actually keeps this lofty tale grounded as we get to know the history of this world tottering on the edge of an apocalyptic battle, as stories told by the elders to the younger ones who form our main view point to the events of this story.

ATOD is a great book for new fans of John Gwynne to jump onboard (like MOI!) but remains faithful to the foundations built up over that stunning last quartet series and builds on the strengths showcased there for the older set of fans. And as the blistering action is getting hotter and the dread turning into terror in the Banished Lands, you had better hop onto this bandwagon. There is depth and grit to the characters, the narrative is frenetically paced and the explosive action hits you every ten pages or so, reminding of the peril that is growing large out there. In short, everything you could ask for, in an epic fantasy story. Potentially among my best-of-2018. Rock on, John Gwynne. Cannot wait to dig into that buried ice-berg now. 

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