This is part of a series of reviews - my attempt to cover all nine finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Award before the winner is announced at the end of October. I'll be approaching these books in a slightly templated fashion: plot summary, good stuff, not so good stuff, conclusion.
John Gwynne's Malice (2012) is a fast-paced (although still over-sized) epic fantasy that combines a lot of familiar plot elements: a coming of age story, a quasi Western European setting, a Chosen One, the rise of an (evil) empire, gods that have abandoned the world only to communicate with it through dreams and omens, and a search for lost magic.
The primary point of view character is the young Corban, growing up surrounded by his friends, family and a mysterious mentor figure. Corban's main goal in life is to go through warrior training and become a proper badass, like his pa. There are bullies and challenges, of course, but they're more like character-building roadbumps. And, as Corban soon learns, there are far larger problems afoot.
There are a few other characters, but, for the most part, their experiences mirror Corban's: a pick n' mix of second-sons and unwanted cousins, all coming of age in various places around the world. They're tempted, they're challenged, they're likeable underdogs going through tough times.
Behind all of this: THE DARK SUN IS RISING. Dramatic, right? In the most epic of all epic prophesies, there will be a Bright Sun and a Dark Sun and they will go kablooie for the fate of the world. Angels and demons alike are all lining up for the great cosmic smackdown. Everyone agrees - the end times are a-comin', and Corban and his ilk are all caught up in the middle of things.
(There are omens and dreams and such. Hint: The Chosen One is Chosen and the Bad Guy is Bad.)
What's to like about Malice?
Quite a bit, actually. The pace is good, the lessons are solid and, you know, stuff happens. The chapters are all cliff-hangers and Mr. Gwynne does a nice job of juggling his (virtually interchangeable) point of view characters.
I hasten to add that there's absolutely nothing new about Malice, but with that familiarity comes a certain sort of squashy comfort. Malice is the heir to David Eddings: a fantasy cozy where good always triumphs - after a carefully measured dose of adversity, that is. Lessons are learned, hearts are warmed, let's all go home for cocoa and carolling.