Monday, 1 September 2014

'Couldn't Even Really Get Started, Let Alone Finish It…', 'The Black Guard' - A.J. Smith (Head of Zeus)

The city of Ro Canarn burns. With their father's blood fresh upon the headsman's sword, Lord Bromvy and Lady Bronwyn, the last scions of thehouse of Canarn, face fugitive exile or death. 

In the court of Ro Tiris, men fear to speak their minds. The Army of the Red marches upon the North. Strange accidents befall those who dare question the King's new advisors. Those foolish enough to speak their names call them the Seven Sisters: witches of the fire god; each as beautiful and as dangerous as a flame. 

And, called from the long ages of deep time by war and sacrifice, the children of a dead god are waking with a pitiless cry. 

All that was dead will rise. 
All that now lives will fall... 

Look at that blurb and bask in the glorious promise of epic fantasy… Cities with stirring names? Check. A Lord and Lady on the run? Double check. Attractive ladies who get up to all sorts of machinations in the name of their 'fire god'? And what about an ages old threat waking up to lay waste to the world of the living? Check and Check.

It's a blurb that really wants people to think that it's the next 'Song of Ice and Fire' and I really wish that's what 'The Black Guard' had been. If it had been then I'd still be reading it instead of casting about looking
for something to take its place. As it is, I will go back to 'The Black Guard' at some point as there is a lot of potential in what I've read. It's just a real shame that I made it about two hundred pages into the book and found that the story was still to get going… Slow and steady may win the day but 'too slow and steady' has a nasty habit of sending me to sleep
these days. Reading that first chunk of of 'The Black Guard' was like wading through treacle; really sweet but ultimately tiring.

While there is an argument to be made that a lot of epic fantasies take time to get going, you could look at any of these series and it would be really apparent how they have worked round this issue. Compelling characters, ominous foreshadowing, even a dirty great battle where the aftermath can be explored. 'The Black Guard' has none of these things, preferring instead to weave its narrative around the edges of the plot and give you tantalising glimpses of what is to come. Well, that is the idea anyway; it never quite worked for me, mainly because the plot is so slow but also because Smith plays his cards a little too close to his chest and you never really get much of a glimpse of anything.

But you know what? I'll be going back to 'The Black Guard' and powering my way through the rest, probably when the insomnia really kicks in and I know that I've got a couple of hours to myself to really get stuck in. Is that slow pacing deliberate then? Is 'The Black Guard' a book that forces you to
take your time and really get a feel for the setting? I'm thinking it's more like David Bilsborough's 'The Wanderer's Tale' but I'm happy to be proved wrong when I give it another go. In the meantime, has anyone else here read 'The Black Guard'? Did you make it any further than a couple of
hundred pages? If so, what did you think?

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