There are politics, humour and action aplenty in this gripping story featuring a strong ensemble of characters, set in a rich and vibrant world that you can’t help but want to explore to the edges of the map.
Ebook £3.99 (or free to borrow on Kindle Unlimited) Paperback £13.00
This is a review for Kingshold, the first book in the Wildfire Cycle, by D. P. Woolliscroft.
The King is Dead. Long Live the People!
Mareth is a bard, a serial under achiever, a professional drunk, and general disappointment to his father. Despite this, Mareth has one thing going for him. He can smell opportunity. The King is dead and an election for the new Lord Protector has been called. If he plays his cards right, if he can sing a story that will put the right person in that chair, his future fame and drinking money is all but assured. But, alas, it turns out Mareth has a conscience after all.
Neenahwi is the daughter of Jyuth, the ancient wizard who founded the Kingdom of Edland and she is not happy. It’s not just that her father was the one who killed the King, or that he didn’t tell her about his plans. She’s not happy because her father is leaving, slinking off into retirement and now she has to clean up his mess.
Alana is a servant at the palace and the unfortunate soul to draw the short straw to attend to Jyuth. Alana knows that intelligence and curiosity aren’t valued in someone of her station, but sometimes she can’t help herself. And so she finds herself drawn into the Wizard’s schemes, and worst of all, coming up with her own plans.
Chance brings this unlikely band together to battle through civil unrest, assassinations, political machinations, pirates and monsters, all for a common cause that they know, deep down, has no chance of succeeding – bringing hope to the people of Kingshold.
Let me start off by saying that Kingshold is one of my favourite books
of the year. Yes, I enjoyed it that much!
I’ve got quite a TBR list (who doesn’t!?) – a big chunk of it featuring the likes of Abercrombie, Sanderson, McLellan, Hobb et al. When I set out to publish reviews I told myself that in-between reading the well known authors of the genre, I’d make sure I added some self published authors to add a bit of balance. If I found the next big thing then great; if not then I wouldn’t be too disappointed. As it happens, over the last month I’ve found 2 absolute diamonds in self published fantasy. Kingshold is one of them (The Lost War is the other). To put this into perspective, I put aside The Blade Itself in order to finish Kingshold. Yep.
So what made this book such a great read for me? The characters for one. Kingshold is told from a multiple POV, 3rd person narrative and this works really well. Sometimes this format can frustrate a little when the POV switches for a couple of chapters just as things get exciting (looking at you GRRM!) – not the case here. Sure, Woolliscroft is adept at leaving things so that you’re eager to revisit the POV, but never leaves things frustratingly so, knowing when to wrap up a sequence and when to leave it in suspense. The characters themselves are very well written. You care about them, they interest you, they entertain, make you laugh, put you on edge. Importantly, too, they’re consistent and you begin to understand the strengths and limitations of their skills and personalities, and genuinely feel the chemistry between the characters. My favourite two characters were the wizard Jyuth and his daughter Neenahwi. Jyuth murders the King and Queen (for good reason, as we learn) and sets the whole process of a democratically (to some extent) elected ruler in their place. Having been involved in the politics of Edland for centuries, he’s now formally of the ‘I’m too old for this shit’ mindset and decides to make this transition to democracy his last act as puppet master. It’s through his daughter, Neenahwi that a lot of the magic in the story shines through, both metaphorically and literally. She’s a complex character with a past that she herself is still unravelling, and a looming future without the reassurance and presence of her adopted father and teacher, Jyuth. That’s without the added problem of an angry demon hot on her heels.
Trypp, Motega and Florian, skilled killers with heart, are a really well written friendship trio, on par with the chemistry between Kvothe, Will and Simmon in the Name of the Wind. You also have the equally strong sisterly relationship of Alana and Petra who have been forced to grow up and survive in the Narrows, a particularly run down and difficult area of the city to try and thrive in. The story centres around these characters and their support of bard-turned-political hopeful, Mareth. The primary antagonist to Mareth and his allies, Eden, is your typical ‘love to hate’ character, immoral, cold and calculated and you spend the book hoping to see him get his just desserts. There are so many more colourful characters I could mention, all essential to the story in one way or another, all equally intriguing.
It is the political machinations of Kingshold that drive the story, the King and Queen killed and the campaign for an elected Lord Protector underway. Cue assassinations, sly manoueverings and shady candidates. Not a far cry from UK and US politics today, the story giving a scary amount of allegories whether intentional or not. This is not just a story of the city of Kingshold and its political candidates vying for control of Edland. Although done well, this wouldn’t be enough for a well rounded fantasy story. And fortunately, there’s loads more world building involved, something I particularly loved about this book.
There are a number of fantasy tropes, though none of them feel shoehorned into the story or out of place. Everything feels part of the natural balance and fabric of the world and provide the potential for endless tales to be told in future. Featured in the story are goblins, dwarves, demons, wizards, pirates, an assassin’s guild, with hints of other popular fantasy tropes in future books. As I mentioned, this doesn’t feel forced. It all contributes to a vibrant world full of potential and exploration. You can tell that the author had a lot of fun developing his world. To me, the main things a fantasy book should do are to excite, engross and take you away to a world of adventure. Kingshold does this perfectly and I can’t wait to read the next two books (don’t forget to read Tales of Kingshold – book 1.5 of the series, consisting of novellas and short stories that I’m told actually works extremely well in broadening out this extremely well written and intriguing world). It’s rare for me to get that feeling of just wanting to devour the lore of a fantasy world until you know everything, but that’s the effect Kingshold has had on me. I’ve already bought the full series so far and must admit I feel a little guilty at picking all 3 up in the sale for the outrageous price of £3.99 in total in ebook format. Book 1 alone is worth more than that. Perhaps by encouraging you to buy this fantastic book (and rest of the series) I will have helped rebalance the scale.
Lastly before concluding, I want to talk about the writing style. I can’t quite put into words why this book just felt so easy to glide through – it wasn’t just the story itself, despite being engrossing. Perhaps there were subtle familiarities in the style or language given that D. P. Woolliscroft grew up half an hour away from me, but I just really enjoyed the prose. The humour too, actually had me smiling and at one stage chuckling out loud at the book, which is a complete rarity for me. Most of it is pretty tongue in cheek and little comments from the characters; it isn’t a comedy fantasy or an overwhelming facet of the book, but every so often having a line that made me smile really enhanced my enjoyment of an already brilliant story.
I read this book during a pretty stressful and highly pressured week filled with illness, anxiety and a packed calendar and it really excelled in providing a welcome escape. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fact that this is a debut novel is astounding.
A very well deserved 5 star rating.
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