There’s no doubt that John Gwynne is delivering for fans of epic fantasy with this series, hitting many of the tropes we have come to expect from the genre.
His main achievement, I think, is in creating a work of breadth and depth, with a substantial number of character povs, while keeping a frenetic pace. The book is well plotted and full of action scenes, with individual fights and large scale military engagements occurring regularly. The author knows his stuff when it comes to medieval warfare. Altogether, this is no mean feat.
Of course, all of which means other elements are, almost inevitably, less sharp. The characters are all solid and likeable but there are few that climb above their fantasy standards: the prophesied young hero, his sword mentor, the wise woman, the gang of loyal family and friends. I’m not criticising – all the characters serve their purpose, they carry the storyline and have allowed Gwynne to finish what is an epic story. We have an overarching good v evil storyline, with an interesting range of characters on the ‘bad’ side. The worldbuilding is developed but the author hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. We have human kingdoms and giant kingdoms, all quite similar, creating a believable Dark Age style world without the need for more complexity. Magic is a half way house between being mysterious and having a system: perhaps not totally pleasing either ‘camp’ but probably not putting off many either.
So I guess I’m saying that so far, this series doesn’t try to do many new things. I’m not sure I’d give any one element 10/10. But nor would I give anything less than 7 or 8. Readable, exciting, fast-paced, huge in scale, diverse characters, a believable fantasy world – for this reader and I would have thought most fans of the genre – Valour delivers.