Published: October 25th 2012 by Gollancz
Format: Paperback, 650 pages
Goodreads ● The Book Depository ● Booktopia ● Bookworld
Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.
Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern's jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men - or worse, a company of mercenaries - against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.
It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.
The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he's determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it's just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can't deal with.
Only it's not just a job. It's going to be a war...
This is going to be a difficult book to review, because there were times I loved it, times I hated it, times I was absolutely engaged in the story and times when I was bored senseless. An ambitious début, The Red Knight uses the well-used tropes of medieval epic fantasy to tell the story of a company of mercenaries who end up fighting in a war against daemons.
My initial reaction to the book was on one of admiration – the writing style was unique and the premise was interesting. A hundred pages later, I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere; there were too many characters, too much to keep track of, and I couldn’t imagine how on earth any of it could be connected. The Red Knight, in all his pompous glory, was starting to annoy me greatly. So I put the book down, but for some reason, couldn’t get the characters or the world out of my head. The mercenaries and nuns, and their struggles against the supernatural power of the Wild, had gotten under my skin. So I read another hundred pages, and then a hundred more, and suddenly I couldn’t put the book down!
Not fast-paced by any stretch of imagination, the plot of The Red Knight meanders in a languid fashion, and will frustrate most readers to the point where they feel like they should stop reading it. Rather like an avalanche, it begins with a few loose pebbles, in different areas of the mountain, that roll and bounce, and cause other stones to roll and bounce, until suddenly, the movement of the mountain is unstoppable. Those with the patience to see it through will undoubtedly be impressed.
One of the more outstanding aspects of this novel is the wide range of female characters in the cast, many of whom are given a point of view, and how some display strength and independence while others aren’t self-sufficient at all and use their cunning to get by. My favourites are the Abbess, a deep and nuanced character who believes she is atoning for sins committed in her youth, and Amicia, who always knows what she wants even if it means making sacrifices. I think they’re all awesome though, and I love the female mercenary, Sauce, especially.
Another thing I liked is the incredible detail the author pours into describing the armour and fortifications and battles in the story. Every battle scene is beautifully told, and I could imagine what was going on clearly. I also liked that the book didn’t gloss over how difficult it is to get ready for a battle, and to disarm afterward – a lot of the time authors make it seem like armour magically gets on and off a knight’s body, but Cameron takes special care in describing the intricacies involved.
Aside from the initial sluggishness of the plot, I also disliked the Red Knight’s hubris, which caused him a lot of trouble, especially in his dealings with the Abbess and Amicia. He’s abrasive, rude and blasphemous, and it took me a long, long time to see any redeeming qualities in him. The revelation about his youth, his upbringing and his experiences with his brothers certainly put a lot of it into perspective, and I have to admit I quite like him now!
My final, albeit minor, complaint is that my copy has quite a few errors. Heel is used instead of heal, words are missing letters, sometimes words are missing altogether. It just needs one more round of editing, in my opinion – I’d say there are 4 errors to every hundred pages, which probably doesn’t seem like a lot, but we’re talking about a 650 page tome! They stood out to me, and although I didn’t catalogue them all, I know that I grew tired of the errors before I was even halfway through.
I ended up liking The Red Knight way more than I’d thought, but I remember what a struggle the first third of it was! I’d recommend it to readers looking for something new but familiar, who have a lot of time to dedicate to it. I’m looking forward to the next book, The Fell Sword, and getting to uncover more of The Red Knight’s secrets (what did he say to the King!?). This is a very cool début, and I’m glad to have read it!