Nature's Knight

Currently in the release process (which I won't pretend to understand), the fourth Zmok Books novel set in the Kings of War Universe (under the heading Tales of Pannithor (expanding from the previous Tales of Mantica)) is currently available on kindle from Amazon (or directly from ZMOK books, and will be release in dead trees version soon (Amazon says August 3rd, I'm not sure when ZMOK will be shipping it).

This ends up having a bit of history, being based on one of the stories in the Edge of the Abyss collection, but ended up being taken over by several other authors.  If you check the description on Amazon, the kindle version is correct, but the paperback version is something else entirely (as of June 20th, 2021), it had absolutely nothing at all to do with the book as it is.  The description on the Zmok site is much more accurate.

Not only that, but it has a brand new original cover as well.

The book is a collaboration of Brandon Rospond (Author, Editor), Marc DeSantis (Author), Mark Barber (Author), Ben Stoddard (Author), James Dunbar (Author).  Mark Barber and Ben Stoddard both have previously published novels set in Pannithor (and Brandon Rospond is the editor for the entire series).

This is the story of Dillen Genemer, who was a Basilean Knight during the Abyssal Wars two years previously and pledged his fealty to the Green Lady (to be dubbed her personal knight) in order to gain the aid of her forces in the battle, turning the tide and eventually forcing the forces of the abyss back from whence they came.   Since then his fame has spread far and wide as bards tell the tales of his valor and bravery, defeating an Abyssal Champion singlehandedly.

I'm not familiar enough with all the authors to be able to pull out who might have written what in this book, though there are enough themes in it that it could have been named "Steps to Deliverance" as much as Barber's first Mantic book.

In addition to Dillen, it introduces us to the Brotherhood, who had been the first line of defense against the Abyss until the start of the war, when the great rend in the earth suddenly expanded, engulfing and destroying nearly all of the Brotherhoods forts, leaving these knight without a home.  Some of them pledged their fealty to the Green Lady and became the Order of the Green Lady, fighting for the balance of nature.  Others joined with the Basileans and are now known as the Order of the Brothermark.

Of course, being based on a war game, battles are an essential part of any story set in this world, and these are done well, though in more of a generic sense, not really translating easily into game terms (without taking anything away from the story) like some of the previous books in the series have done.  I can see this being more of the case however as more material (i.e. fluff) comes out for this setting, including RPG rules as well as all the other types of games set there as well.

The main villains in this book are NOT the abyssals as the characters believe at first, but are instead the dread Nightstalkers, creatures of nightmare that feed off of the fear of their victims.   Not attempting to go into the origins or even motivations of these beings from another plane of existence is somewhat of a relief - it is not their story after all.  It did feel a little unresolved with the single named Dread Fiend, who seemed to just be forgotten as the climax happens in a different way than expected. (On minor pet-peeve - the fiends did not quite fit the 'standard' description of them in Kings of War, however nightmares can come in all shapes and sizes after all).

The character arcs are much more fully shaped than you often see in fantasy novels, and many of them seem to have real world emotions, not just simple cut out caricatures.  From the knights questioning their decisions when the brotherhood split apart to the elf, naiad and salamander characters, who have their own distinct (and different) voices and viewpoints.

The only issue I have is that so far, the entire series of books is based in and around Basilea.  I understand that having humans as the main characters is a way to help draw the readers into the story, I would still like to see the scope expanded.  The broken brotherhood as a focus helps, except half of them are now Basileans.  I really look forward to having more characters that are truly not humans (i.e. dwarfs are not just short, stout humans, elves are not just thin, lithe humans, etc), but truly different cultures within this wide setting.  (Or even, if you must have humans, perhaps use Northern Alliance or Varangur instead).

While there are still some obvious tropes in the book (the search for the macguffin, the hero trying to make up for past mistakes, the older mentor dying before the big battle (and inspiring the hero), and the one at the climax that I feel a lot of sci-fans will recognize, the interesting characters help to make up for these.

Overall a good and enjoyable read, even if it isn't the best in the series.

Because it is all fun and games . . .