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“The Ember Blade” by Chris Wooding

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This is the first book in Wooding’s “Darkwater Legacy” fantasy trilogy. It is set in the country of Ossia, a nation which has memories of its glory days as a powerful Empire, but which was conquered by its Krodan neighbours three decades before the start of the story. Many of the native Ossians have adjusted to their new life, but there are still some rebels who dream of Ossia being a nation again, resenting Krodan restrictions on their liberty and the dominance of Krodan culture and religion. The book’s protagonist, Aren, is a young Ossian man who is initially a loyal subject of the Krodan Empire, but soon finds that the Krodans don’t feel the same loyalty towards him after he is arrested on trumped-up charges and thrown into a prison camp along with his best friend Cade. As the story progresses he comes into contact with a small group who believe they may have a way to overthrow Krodan dominance, although Aren is uncertain about whether he should join in their quest.

Overall, I thought this was a good book, it was perhaps a bit slow to begin with but it picked up once they got to Skavenhald and the final section was the highlight of the book. The series has been described as Wooding's homage to the more traditional epic fantasy of the 80s and 90s, and early it on it does feel a lot like that but perhaps less so as the story goes on. I think the early 90s fantasy it most resembles might be Guy Gavriel Kay's "Tigana"" due to the plot following the group of freedom fighters trying to free a country where their countrymen aren't necessarily sure they want to be freed. The ambiguity over whether the characters are really trying to do the correct thing does add some extra depth to the story, particularly with regards to the character of Garrick where even his followers have some misgivings about some of his actions. While the early stages of the book are a bit predictable at times I thought Wooding did manage to throw in a few good twists and surprises at it goes along, and his willingness to abruptly kill off characters adds a bit of unpredictability to the story. In his previous books Wooding's characterisation has been one of the strongest elements, there is some good characterisation here again although I found the secondary characters to be more interesting than Aren and Cade, the initial protagonists of the story. The world-building is perhaps a bit bland, the portrayal of the country of Ossia itself is fine, but the description of the wider world is vague, we're told that there are a lot of races other than humans out there but never actually see any of them in the book, perhaps we'll get a better picture of the world in the later parts of the trilogy.

Compared to Wooding's previous books, I'd rank this similar to "The Braided Path", his previous attempt at epic fantasy, and maybe not quite as great as "The Tales of the Ketty Jay" or "The Fade".

Rating : 7 / 10

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