A middling Middle Earth–ish extravaganza with all the usual thrills, chills, spills and frills.
All modern fantasy begins with J.R.R. Tolkien, and Tolkien begins with the Icelandic sagas and the Mabinogion. Debut author Gwynne’s overstuffed but slow-moving contribution to the genre—the first in a series, of course—wears the latter source on its sleeve: “Fionn ap Toin, Marrock ben Rhagor, why do you come here on this first day of the Birth Moon?” Why, indeed? Well, therein hangs the tale. The protagonist is a 14-year-old commoner named Corban, son of a swineherd, who, as happens in such things, turns out to be more resourceful than his porcine-production background might suggest. There are bad doings afoot in Tintagel—beg pardon, the Banished Lands—where nobles plot against nobles even as there are stirrings of renewed titanomachia, that war between giants and humans having given the place some of its gloominess. There’s treachery aplenty, peppered with odd episodes inspired by other sources, such as an Androcles-and-lion moment in which Corban rescues a fierce wolven (“rarely seen here, preferring the south of Ardan, regions of deep forest and sweeping moors, where the auroch herds roamed”). It’s a good move: You never can tell when a wolven ally will come in handy, especially when there are wyrms around.
Gwynne’s effort pales in comparison to George R.R. Martin’s gold-standard work, but it’s nothing bad; the story grinds to a halt at points, but at others, there’s plenty of action.