The shortlist for the Gemmell Morningstar Award for 2018 has been announced. The Morningstar Award is for the best debut fantasy fiction.
Now, I’m not usually one for reading award shortlists, but this year it turned out that I’d already read three of the five shortlisted, and had one on my shelf.
- Age of Assassins, Book 1 of The Wounded Kingdom by RJ Barker (Orbit)
- The Tethered Mage, Book 1 of The Swords and Fire Trilogy by Melissa Caruso (Orbit)
- Kings of the Wyld, Book 1 of The Band by Nicholas Eames (Orbit)
- Blackwing, Book 1 of The Raven’s Mark by Ed McDonald (Gollancz)
- The Court of Broken Knives, Book 1 of The Empires of Dust by Anna Smith-Spark (HarperVoyager)
It’s a very strong year!
First up is RJ Barker’s Age of Assassins.
To catch an assassin, use an assassin…
Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But his latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.
In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire kingdom.
Regular readers of this blog will know just how much I love this book (reviewed here, and featuring on my books of 2017 list). It’s got everything. Skulduggery, great characters, and more to the point interesting characters doing interesting (though often unpleasant) things that actually make you care about them, a tightly-crafted plot (involving the aforementioned skulduggery) and some quite gloriously gritty worldbuilding. It’s superb.
The Tethered Mage, by Melissa Caruso
In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.
Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations. But fate has bound the heir and the mage.
War looms on the horizon. A single spark could turn their city into a pyre.
This was the one I had on my shelf, sadly neglected for entirely too long (its sequel, The Defiant Heir has also turned up) much to my chagrin. I took the opportunity to bump it to the top of the TBR pile and I’m very glad I did. Lady Amalia Camaro is a splendid character, matched only by her Falcon, Zaira. Plots within plots abound as she’s drawn into the political machinations of the empire. Splendid stuff indeed!
Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames
Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.
Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk – or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.
It’s time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld.
Dear reader, I did what we are implored not to do. I judged it by its cover. More specifically, I judged it by its title (the cover is awesome), the ‘Wyld’ made me think of the terrible fantasy epics of my youth and Wyld Stallyns from Bill & Ted.
Oh how wrong I was. How very, very wrong. Kings of the Wyld is, quite simply enormous fun. Clay Cooper, determinedly helmetless member of the Watch, returns home to find his old mate Gabe with one last job: Let’s get the band back together and go on a quest to find his daughter on the other side of the world. It’s only a thousand miles through a monster-infested forest. Should be no problem.
What follows is a splendid rollercoaster of the most rollicking kind, with a grand smörgåsbord of beasts and monsters, evil villians, ex-girlfriends, former managers, relentless bounty hunters and what will soon become your favourite wizard since Gandalf (or Rincewind, depending on your literary tastes), Moog.
Kings of the Wyld has a simply delicious premise – what if the bands of adventures were treated as rockstars, with bookers sorting out gigs to clear out a horde of goblins, or dealing with an infestation of kobolds? Clay’s band really do get back together (one even wields an axe) and go on one final world tour with the action cranked firmly up to 11.
It’s an epic quest which simply rattles along, putting our ageing heroes with their sore backs and gammy knees through trials and tribulations one after the other until the grand finale. Superb entertainment.
Blackwing, by Ed McDonald
The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.
The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.
Another which I read fairly recently. Having seen Ed McDonald at Gollanczfest I quickly snapped up a copy of Blackwing, but then things got in the way and it languished on my shelf (well, my Kindle) for months. The Misery is a superb invention, the Darlings are deeply creepy, and Galharrow is someone you definitely want on your side when the proverbial hits the fan.
And finally, the only one on the list that I’ve not read (yet): The Court of Broken Knives, by Anna Smith Spark
They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.
In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.
Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.
The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.
Looking forward to picking this one up soon.
Having read four of the five now, it was a very hard choice. I’ve put my vote in, and you can vote here.
Have you read any of the shortlist? Which one takes your fancy, which one gets your vote?