Review: The Mighty Dawn by Theodore Brun - 7/10*
A story like this needs a powerful central character; it needs a warrior who has conviction, heart and honour. Hakan has all these in abundance, but he didn't get them easily. In this coming of age tale, he goes on a quest to find himself after experiencing the most tremendous of betrayals.
One could never be the same after such a brutal tragedy, so he takes a new name (Erlan) and finds a new lord. Rather than let the world defeat him, he hardens his heart, tightens his grip on his sword and stands ready to face whatever comes his way. And what's coming this young warrior's way is no picnic. The kingdom is under constant threat from its power hungry neighbour led by the Wartooth King, but that's just an everyday feud in this warrior culture. The real threat is what stirs in the forest; it's an ancient entity, more myth than reality, and its intentions are completely veiled by mystery.
So is this fantasy?
These dark fantasy elements did not fully emerge until the very end of the story. There were some suggestions in the middle, and a brief mention of prophecy at the start, but nothing solid. The result was a world that didn't become fully realised until the last third of the book, so the tone was inconsistent. For most of the book I was certain this was just historical fiction. There needed to be stronger sense of fantasy from the get go, along with clearer world building, to firmly establish the genre.
When these themes did eventually assert themselves, the plot quickly became dark, bloody and violent. Brun has a knack for describing combat. He captures all the brutal realism associated with melee fighting where one slip could end in someone's quick demise. For all of his young warrior's potential, Erlan is far from invincible. Every move, every step, was vital when fighting such monstrous foes. When combining this with Erlan's permanent disability, a damaged shin, it meant that he had to fight with caution and precision. But he wasn't alone. During his travels he met a brother, and showed that despite all the evil in this world there is still room for friendship. He couldn't ask for a better man to have his back than the roguish Kai.
The thing I enjoyed most about the novel was its lack of predictability. After the first hundred pages, I thought I knew where it was going. And I was glad to see it take an unexpected turn, a necessary one that strengthened Erlan as a character. He went on a huge journey of personal development, but his story has only just begun. Very much in the vein of Bernard Cornwell's Warrior Chronicles, a warrior's battles are never done, at least, not whilst he still possesses the strength to swing his sword. It’s also slightly redundant now that every single book that features a warrior is related to A Game of Thrones. If anything, such repetitive and overused marketing makes me not want to read a book. Food for thought.
This is only the first book in the series, and despite its faults, I think this series has much potential in the future.