Ruin, Book 3 of The Faithful and the Fallen, by John Gwynne

Ruin is the triumphant third novel in John Gwynne’s debut series, The Faithful and the Fallen. It’s a bigger book than the previous two, weighing in at over 740 pages, around a full hundred more than both Malice and Valour. As well as its physical size, this is also a bigger book in scope – the world is ever growing, the characters are developing and the set pieces are bigger than ever.

Where Valour had shown itself to be even better than Malice, Ruin tops the pair of them. John Gwynne is clearly developing his talent and improving with each new release – Malice was far from unrefined but Valour and Ruin have both improved upon the debut novel, showing Gwynne is honing his skill as the story progresses.

Like Valour before it, Ruin picks up right where the previous book left off, turning the series into one giant, thrilling rollercoaster ride for those reading them back to back. The book is really easy to get in to as the writing style is so accessible, with a natural, flowing pace both in dialogue and description. There’s none of the over-complication that some books of a similar size seem to struggle with, no fillers or repetition of viewpoints, it’s a huge book because it needs to be, rather than being one just for the sake of it.

Other than the progression of the storyline, with the God War heading towards its culmination, the key element of Ruin for me is the way the characters continue to develop, both in themselves and their relationships. Maquin and Fidele were two who really grew in this third instalment – although Maquin was already well fleshed out, we begin to see another dimension to his character as he battles between his thirst for revenge and honouring fresh vows that might take him away from his goal.

We also see more of the relationship between Evnis and Vonn, which is handled really well considering the father and son are rarely together in the book, after already finding themselves on opposite sides of the God War. The best developments for me though, involve some favourite characters and some who continue to grow on me.

Camlin is undertaking a personal journey in Ruin in particular, realising that perhaps he’s fighting for more than he initially thought he was. It’s clear that over the events of the three books the former woodsman has built a strong friendship with his new group, and this begins to really hit home as he’s faced with opportunities to go back to his old ways on more than one occasion. There’s also a few great exchanges involving Camlin and Morcant and then Camlin and Braith as the net begins to close around him and his new friends.

The second favourite of mine is Veradis, who also finds himself in a number of difficult positions and is involved in possibly my favourite scene of the entire book. Better than Maquin going alone against a party of Vin Thalun invaders, or the great battle outside the walls of Drassil, is one little interaction between Veradis, Calidus and Alcyon. In one scene we learn all about the giant’s motives as well as getting a firsthand showing that Calidus can be a total badass. One of the things I’m most looking forward to finding out in the last book of the series, is where these characters go next.

Those other scenes mentioned above show one of the areas that John Gwynne’s writing has really moved on to the next level. The battle scenes in Ruin were nothing short of immense, with a fast-flowing, tension-filled style easily translating between different scales of fighting. From one-on-one encounters such as faced by Corban, through the rapid following of one character through multiple opponents, like Tukul or Maquin, right through to great pitched battles such as Drassil.

While not quite on the scale of Tarmon Gai’don, Dros Delnoch or even Helm’s Deep, the battle outside the walls of Drassil had the potential to find its place in legend. Probably my only real disappointment with Ruin is that not enough was given to this scene, particularly after it had been built up quite extensively. Saying that however, there’s hope that book four in the series can fill that void, with the full might of the Black Sun coming up against the combined allies of the Bright Star.

There’s a real feeling throughout this book that the strings are all being pulled tighter together, everyone is starting to look in the same direction, rather than being separated and flung to different ends of the Banished Lands. The final book still has plenty to cover off, including a bit more of Queen Rhin, who showed some of her power in Ruin, but wasn’t much featured overall. If she is to be one of the biggest and baddest, there’ll be a lot to look forward to in book four given how Gwynne has been writing his “bad guys” so far.

The characters who are supposedly on the “wrong” side of the God War are given enough page time and enough life to make you like some of them about as much as you do the “heroes”. Calidus and Alcyon have been a pairing that have intrigued me a lot and Ruin really makes me appreciate their part in the story. Evnis and Rafe each have their parts here and Braith is involved in some good scenes, especially as the feud between him and Camlin continues to grow.

Nathair, for much of Malice and Valour, seemed a bit woolly to me, the weakest of the “bad” characters. Despite his choices though, he’s not necessarily all bad, and in Ruin you can start to see him despair, see the effect his choices are starting to have on him. Possibly the biggest surprise for me though is Lykos. His character development is one that snuck up quietly on me and he’s the sort of character that you can like for how well he’s written, while disliking the actual man.

If Ruin can be such a big leap forward from an already impressive series, I really can’t wait to see what the last book will throw at us. This third book is a real treat for anyone who is a fan of epic, heroic fantasy, and shows that there’s plenty of life in the sub-genre so long as there are exciting new talents like John Gwynne popping up every few years.

Overall: A masterful thrill ride of a book, easily one of the best I’ve read in recent memory.
Dominish rating: 95%

“Havoc and spoil and ruin are my gain”