Look, I’ve been a Chris Wooding fan for years now ever since I unwittingly stumbled across Retribution Falls. It was a fast paced, swashbuckling adventure with a gallery of rogues brought to life by truly excellent characterisation. So I quickly read everything else Chris had written and eagerly awaited more. The Ember Blade was a long time coming, and worth the wait.
We follow Aren and Cade, a couple of boys from the town of Shoal Point. They do usual boy things in a fantasy world; they chase girls, get into trouble, and dream of fighting monsters. Then things go sideways when Aren’s father is accused of treason by the occupying Krodan empire, and both Aren and Cade end up in jail. Then things get worse… a lot worse! There’s deathknights, druids, the Hollow Man, an inquisition, dawnwarders, an abandoned castle full of mystery, and a plot to free Ossia from Krodan occupation. Oh, and a legendary sword: The Ember Blade.
This book is a modern epic fantasy. It takes some of the best elements that are now associated with Grimdark, an unforgiving world, characters who are morally grey, very little plot armour for any of its characters; and it throws them all into an epic fantasy story the likes of which Tolkien or Sanderson might write. In fact, this book homages Fellowship of the Ring so hard it feels like Chris Wooding’s love letter to Tolkien.
So where does it succeed?
Plot? A fantastic fast paced plot that keeps winding up the peril without sacrificing development.
Action? So many adrenaline fueled set pieces you’ll struggle to put it down. Always just one chapter more.
Characterisation? Chris Wooding has always had amazing characterisation and he doesn’t disappoint here. A wonderfully diverse cast of characters, each with their own drive and back story, and demons (both inner and outer).
World building? There’s so much lore and depth to the world, and it all flows effortlessly off the page, and I’m fairly certain there’s still so much left untouched.
Cliffhanger? Oh yeah! Book 2 has so much setup, and there are so many questions left unanswered.
Where does it fail?
I got nothing. I mean, it’s a LONG book and finding time to read it with a new puppy nipping at my heels was tough… That’s probably more of a review of the puppy than the book though.
The Ember Blade is a classic epic fantasy adventure with a modern beat to it. It reminded me both of the reasons I first fell in love with the genre, and also why I continue to love the genre and how it is evolving. 5 stars! (which was probably never in doubt).