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Age of Iron (Iron Age) Paperback – September 2, 2014
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"Watson's tale is gore soaked and profanity laden -- full of visceral combat and earthy humor, and laced with subtle magic. The blend of historical accuracy and authorial liberties suggests an old-school sword-and-sorcery epic, though with some clearly modern sensibilities thrown in for good measure."―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Angus Watson is an author and journalist living in London. He's written hundreds of features for many newspapers including the Times, Financial Times and the Telegraph, and the latter even sent him to look for Bigfoot. As a fan of both historical fiction and epic fantasy, Angus came up with the idea of writing a fantasy set in the Iron Age when exploring British hillforts for the Telegraph, and developed the story while walking Britain's ancient paths for further articles.
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I have two primary criticisms. First, as I have seen mentioned elsewhere, sometimes large amounts of time are devoted to characters who end up dying in the next chapter. In one sense, these characters' scenes do serve to tell us something about the world (for example, how someone from Rome would've ended up in Britain looting corpses on battlefields). But here you are, thinking this person or that one is the next major antagonist and then bam, game over. Second, and this is probably related to the first one (I'll explain why I think so in a bit), but there is way too much exposition in the early parts of the book. I cringed a little bit when one of the main characters describes the scene in detail for a nearsighted young boy. It's just a blatant set-up for infodumping.
I guess my main beef with either of these is that the author surely spent a lot of time coming up with all these scenarios and rather than just letting himself be guided as he writes by the details he's come up with, he wants to write up his notes and stick them in the story as well. Some people will be less bothered by these aspects of the story than I was -- I am just really not a fan of infodumping at all.
Anyway, if you can get past that (I could), the story was a lot of fun. The protagonists, Dug, a 40ish soldier ("Warrior") and Lowa, a woman about 15 years his junior, are sympathetic and competent but also suitably flawed. Neither is terribly original in the scope of the overall fantasy genre (Dug had a happy life but lost his wife and daughters, while Lowa was an elite archer who ended up on her ruler's bad side for reasons she doesn't fully understand for most of the book). But Dug isn't the typical revenge-seeker (in fact, he often expresses reluctance to get involved with noble causes, preferring a life of relative ease). That definitely helps.
Other "good guy" characters include Spring, a young girl with what seem to be mysterious powers or capabilities and Ragnall, a newly-minted Druid whose family has been slaughtered while he was away studying. Ragnall's quest would be a much more typical revenge quest except that it becomes obvious early in the book that he is not a particularly capable fighter. He does have his strengths, though. They are also sympathetic. Ragnall, especially, has some very human failings and flaws, many of which he learns about for the first time during the events of this book (in his village before leaving to train as a Druid, he was the best at everything).
So anyway, the protagonists are complex, well-developed characters. (Spring maybe not so much, but she's still young.) The antagonists, for the most part, are complex (see, for example, evil King Zadar's interactions with Spring near the end of the book contrasted with what he does for the rest of the book) but still easy to root against. Overall, I thought the characters were pretty well done, despite the tropes.
This is set in the years before the Romans invade Britain. Roman influences are creeping into Britain (as are some Romans). I honestly have no idea how historically accurate (or not) this book is, but I am not letting that worry me. This is fantasy, after all, and I have seen some much more incongruous elements in stories than, say, longbows in BCE years (which are touched on in the author's note at the end, by the way). If you are a stickler for historical accuracy, though, this may grate on you. It didn't bother me.
Regarding language, there is some pretty salty language here, complete with compound words in which well-known four-letter words take a prominent place. I think it's appropriate for the characters and setting, but to each his or her own. It is definitely modern language but for me, at least, it doesn't take away from the story. I feel like immersion would've been broken a lot harder if I'd had to read some pseudo-archaic transliteration of purported Iron Age British accents. Overall, I thought the language worked with the other elements of the book. There was some humor here, as well, often a little bit crude but ultimately quite suited to the soldier types the book focuses on. There's some sexual content and rather a lot of violence, but both fit with the tone of the book.
The book was appropriately paced. Even during the down time, it seems our good guys were just one step ahead of their pursuers, and even the extended rest periods associated with convalescence were dangerous due to the possibility of capture. Romantic signals among the adult characters were misfired, misinterpreted, etc., which led to hurt feelings. At any rate, there were conflicts on several different levels and whenever one got pushed back, something new pushed into its place. This worked for me. It wasn't "go, go, go!" all the time, but you sometimes got to catch a little break when you needed one.
This is book one in a trilogy but it can be read as a standalone (all three volumes are out now). There is a definite endpoint in this book. (It does set up the possibility for future books set in this world, including the two sequels, but it is not a cliffhanger, which is much appreciated.
In the end, I can discuss plot, character, world building, language, and other literary elements, but when it comes right down to it, I had a lot of fun reading this book.
Most recent customer reviews
I say poorly edited because it's not that bad a story and not that bad a read (if you can...Read more