This is the first of (hopefully) many book reviews that I’ll post here, so I thought it would be good to have a system in place for scoring the books I read. Rather than choosing from a 5 star system, for instance, I decided to go a little more technical, breaking the book into its individual parts and calculating a rating rather than choosing one for myself. With that in mind, I’ve put together a little formula where I’ll rate aspects of the book such as characters, world-building storyline, writing style and my general enjoyment of the novel, and give a percentage rating based on the results. Some of these aspects will be weighted differently, depending on how important I consider them to be in the overall scheme of things, and there’s also room for a small number of discretionary points in the calculation too. For the reviews, I’ll steer away from spoilers as much as possible, hopefully the reviews won’t seem too vague as a result!
Malice, Book 1 of The Faithful and the Fallen, by John Gwynne
I admit that I picked up Malice not really having any preconceptions, I’d read the blurb but hadn’t read any reviews at the time I started reading the book itself. Generally speaking though, I don’t read reviews, I’ll go by word of mouth a little, but primarily I’m won or lost on the blurb. With Malice, I had the good fortune to win a copy which, to be fair is the reason I’ve read it now rather than at some point down the line – I’d probably have picked it up based on the attractive cover (front and spine), and wanted to read it based on the intriguing blurb on the inside cover, but that’s where I’d normally have stopped and waited for a paperback at a good price – especially with Malice being a debut novel, and John Gwynne therefore being an unknown entity.
It’s always a pleasure to read a debut novel, or any novel by an author who’s new to me, and thoroughly enjoy it. I knew early on that Malice would be one of those pleasures. It’s a real house brick of a book, weighing in at 628 pages, and it grabbed me right from the start. Betrayal features heavily in the book and we’re given a taste of this from the outset with a prologue that sets us up for the twists and turns to come.
The characters are generally well fleshed out and likeable, although with some I’m still not sure whether I’m supposed to like them or not! The book’s written with multiple viewpoints, which give us six main character perspectives, though there are some main characters whose viewpoints we don’t see, but might have expected to. When reading, it’s easy to see this as a convenience – restricting the viewpoints keeps the story flowing without getting bogged down with too many characters, while allowing us access to everyone through the way the characters interact. On reflection though, some of those bigger characters whose viewpoints we don’t see from are those with secrets to hide, or whose motives are unclear or changing as the story unfolds.
The world is well built with plenty of exploration throughout, aided by those multiple character viewpoints. There’s a history here and we’re fed little snippets here and there in a way that flows effortlessly into the telling of the story. Between the prologue and chapter one, there’s a short excerpt from a book that tells us some of the history. Then, as the main story progresses, parts of this back-story are expanded upon. It’s nicely done in a way that seems natural – the characters might have heard stories but not know the details and with this one short extract before we get into the book itself, we’re almost put into the same shoes as the characters, learning the history as they do, but without it being alien to us at the first telling.
Malice is well written and well paced throughout. The pages seem to turn effortlessly and I frequently found that a chapter would end and I’d want to rush through the next in order to get back to that viewpoint character and see what happens, only for that next chapter to focus my attentions on another character and setting that was equally as enjoyable.
A fair number of the reviews I’ve now seen since finishing Malice have seemed to focus on comparisons rather than on the book itself. The main rival here is George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and sometimes this leads to a bit of negativity because Malice is not ASOIF, Gwynn is not Martin. I can see why there might be parallels drawn between these two works – there are similarities with intrigue and betrayal leading to kings and kingdoms at war, for instance, but unlike some reviews I’ve seen, I don’t think Malice is trying to be A Game of Thrones. I think that, despite these parallels, Malice isn’t afraid to tell its own story for fear of being labelled as a wannabe Game of Thrones, and personally, I think it succeeds rather well. If I hadn’t read those reviews with the ASOIF comparisons, I wouldn’t have even thought about the similarities, so wrapped up in the story as I was. As with any debut novel in particular, I say to dive in with no expectations and enjoy it for what it is. If you like ASOIF, chances are you will also enjoy Malice, just don’t expect Malice to be ASOIF.
You can read the blurb and prologue of Malice here at John Gwynne’s website.
Overall: Very enjoyable, fast paced and engrossing. I look forward to seeing more from John Gwynne because this debut is really promising.
Dominish rating: 81%