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The Best of Men - an epic fantasy (Song of Ages Book 1) Kindle Edition
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It portrays a future “Age” of Earth in the trappings of a sort of 18th century environment, industrializing in parts but weapons are still swords and bows, transport is still horses and carriages. And it’s a very full environment with sorcerers, barons, villains, soldiers, demons and so on, but always counterpointed by vignettes of ordinary people – the Driftsman on his sand bar, Daisy and Evie drawing water, Annie Fornum in the ruins of Astoril.
Jones has wizards at the centre of things. They travel this world, Earnor, either working for the common good, or working for themselves – or whoever’s paying. Troubleshooters or troublemakers.
The core story is a quest for the secret of “Song of Ages” (a mysterious ancient book). Its message from the past has a scary warning for the future. But the action is based on two journeys across the continent of Asteranor. Seama Beltome travels into the west to confront The Black Company – a vile bunch of individuals causing mayhem – and Tregar MacNabaer goes north in search of a lost army. Seama’s journey is entertainingly much interrupted.
The geography is diverse and always believable. It sometimes feels as though Jones has a Times Atlas of Earnor. There are towns and cities and villages aplenty – Ayer, Riverport, Dreffield, Fletton-on-Marsh, Astoril, Altiparedo, Garassa and so on - and a whole continent of mountain ranges and rivers, lakes and plains. Don’t worry there are maps – and fine ones too.
The author has a feel for striking, rough-edged dialogue and for the memorable expression (“The insolent waters of the inlet slapped his face”; “a wind that did not belong to Asteranor”, “after over one hundred years of sublime certainty, the Wizard Beltomé had at last discovered doubt”).
He also has a feel for narratives. Several of his characters tell stories along the way – and they tell them in character. My favourite is Bibron Farber telling the story of The Kingdom of Halfi. (or Tregar giving us “The Kraeken of Great Spurl” in his native dialect)
Amazon always likes us to point out the cons as well as the pros. If I were to complain about anything, and a minor complaint it is, I’d say there is a little more violence and horror than I like. It’s not a comfortable easy read. People do bad things and Jones doesn’t pull any punches. Not a problem, I suspect, for the average George Martin fan.
There are so many characters, and lives and names that you could get confused if you don’t read carefully. Though, actually, Jones always does provide a good hook into each of them. As I’ll be launching into it again, for me that won’t be a problem. A bit like Tolkien, there’s so much in here that I expect there’ll be more to find with every reading.
If you like your fantasy worlds expansive and complete, a story that’s as challenging as it is entertaining, and if you like the writing imaginative and well-crafted, “The Best of Men” is as good a book as you’ll find.
Meanwhile upheaval, revolution and mischief are everywhere. A marauding band of infidels is terrorizing villages and towns across the northern kingdoms. They seem fuelled by hatred and driven to wreak as much havoc and terror as possible. Their actions result in the wizards and warriors of the world scouring the land for the source of their undoubted evil.
Lesser mortals are quickly drawn into the struggle and peaceful citizens violently displaced in the face of an ultimate conflict between good and bad, with none exempt from the hand of destruction that threatens not only the world but also the history of a race.
This fresh, fighting construction never ceases to surprise. The plot twists and erupts; ships are downed by mythical monsters, wizards wield spells of great power and puzzles, clues and strange happenings abound. The characters are brilliantly drawn and as more and more appear it seems the only downside is that sometimes it's hard to keep track of them. This is where recourse to the included maps is handy - I found other valuable stuff on the author's own website at www.wilfkelleherjones.co.uk.
Still, no adventure worth following was ever easy and as you get further into the book you are rewarded with greater understanding as the motives and the characters are fleshed out. There is diversity, humour, friendship and insight - everything you would expect in the creation of a new world. It really is a feast for the imagination.