King Daris rules a peaceful and prosperous land, but his conniving brother Jerim covets the throne and civil war looms. But there are worse threats to Antia than mere human greed.
Two people will stand against mortal and demonic enemies: Alyda Stenna, Captain of the Hammer of Antia returns from campaign to a hero’s welcome after prosecuting war abroad with brutal efficiency. Garian Tain, the spymaster’s apprentice, hunts for an assassin through the streets of the capital while the knights bask in the adoration of the crowds.
This is just the beginning.
Both will fight overwhelming odds in a bid to save the kingdom. War and betrayal will test them to their limits. One will rise; one will fall; both will be changed forever. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
Firstly, this book should be mandatory reading for people who want to write gritty fantasy set in pseudo-Middle-Ages settings. Why? Because it manages to avoid every annoying cliché associated with this kind of story, while still having an exciting plot and a perfectly realistic world. Secondly, this book will serve as satisfying ammo against all those people who believe a fantasy story with a historically-influenced society can’t have interesting female characters. No need for those annoying circular-logic arguments; just hand them a copy of The Red Knight and tell them to get back to you.
I loved this book. Everything in it was familiar yet surprising, making me smile with delight each time a particular trope was subverted. The rebellious, sex-loving sidekick of the prince... is an overweight woman, and their friendship is both natural and completely believable. The prince himself is spoilt and untrained... but actually a really nice guy who rises to each challenge admirably and manages to remain entirely un-snotty throughout the whole story. The mercenary is... well, genuinely just doing his job. The unquestionable politics of monarchy... are questioned, and the worth of one family over the common person is an uncomfortable issue lurking at the edge of almost every scene, not taking over the story, but not letting itself be forgotten either. And the captain of the most skilled order of knights in the kingdom, the main character of the book... yes, is a woman, and not a chainmail bikini in sight (or those breastplates with the boob-bumps on the front either – you know the ones).
Captain Alyda Stenna is a wonderful character. She’s brave, resourceful and determined, but also kind and compassionate. She’s a good leader and a good friend, and it’s clear that the men and women she commands respect her greatly. She loves, boasts, jokes and gets afraid; she wins the day and makes mistakes. In other words, she’s never a stereotype, but a fully rounded character who comes to life in the story, and who the reader really cares about.
Then there’s Lady Berwick, or Bear, as her friends call her. She takes the role of the funny, rebellious side-kick, Han-Solo style, but there’s a lot more to her too. She has a secret that she finds hard to deal with, and at times she can be moody, blunt and ungrateful, just as she is ferociously brave and loyal. Bear was definitely my favourite character of the book.
And this is the real delight of the story – the people are people. The women are people, and so are the men. The foreigners are people. The bad guys are people. In what is, actually, a fairly straightforward story of our side vs their side, a great amount of depth is derived, not from complicated theologising about the nature of good and evil, but from human hopes and fears, and from real people’s motives. The women are fantastic characters, not through great feats of strength or power, but because they’re people. All kinds of women. All kinds of people. It makes sense for Alyda to hate the mercenaries during the siege, but the reader can see another side, just as the traitor, the blacksmith and others are not faceless antagonists either. The Red Knight shows how simple this can be, and yet how effective it is, and what compelling storytelling it makes.
The Red Knight is gritty fantasy, and so there is quite a bit of blood and guts, brutal battle, realistic warfare (one of the most exciting accounts of a siege I’ve read), and general gore-spattering. However, at no point did it ever feel put in for the sake of more violence, and I thought it fit in very well with the story and atmosphere, showing a hard, realistic world that nevertheless still had plenty of good people and hope in it. In other words, realism doesn’t have to mean grimdark, and I think K. T. Davies really got the balance spot on.
This was an exciting, well-paced story with a fantastic range of convincing characters and a tendency to twist clichéd tropes into knots. The world felt realistic but not too grim, and I really enjoyed the touches of magic that were brought in. The Red Knight is an excellent book!
Thank you to K. T. Davies for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.