Son of the Morning by Mark Alder
|Son of the Morning by Mark Alder|
|Reviewer: Luke Marlowe|
|Summary: In his dazzling start to what promises to be a fantastic trilogy, Mark Alder combines history and fantasy to thrilling effect - as a tumultuous period in European history is rocked by angels, demons, gods, devils, and mortals...|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 752||Date: January 2015|
The fourteenth century - Edward III sits upon the throne, trying to rebuild a country bought to its knees, and conquer France - a land thought to be rightfully his. However Edward has a major problem - it is said that the Angels will only fight for France. Edward has little choice - fail and fall in battle, convince the Angels to switch sides, or open the gates to hell and begin a holy war...
The concept for this book is absolutely enormous - a cross between 'Game of Thrones' and 'His Dark Materials', I went into this rather excited and rather dubious. Could the author pull such a huge idea off? Mercifully, he does so with gusto - this book is an absolute treat.
In terms of setting, Alder has picked a fantastic and fascinating era in which to place his story. England was struggling following the unsteady reign of Edward's father, and the coup enacted by Edward's mother Isabelle, and her lover Roger Mortimer. As Edward fights France in a war he feels compelled to begin, the 'Hundred Years' are born, and the chaos that arises makes for excellent reading. In addition, the Black Death creeps its way onto our shores - meaning that no character is safe, and the world in which they exist is a treacherous, unsteady and grim one, even before one adds in the hordes of angels and demons that our summoned throughout the book.
The characterisation is marvellous - despite the book being relatively sprawling, it sticks to a key cast who are well developed throughout with clear, distinct voices. Whilst often veering into dark, scary and dangerous territory, Alder keeps a firm grip on the style of the book, with wry asides and witty characters resulting in the tone never being overly bleak.
The theology explored is fascinating - Alder does not go in with the 'God is Good, The Devil is bad' mentality, but instead creates a layered and intriguing mythology for his world, with demons often fair, funny yet dark characters, and the Angels as snobby, uncaring beings who nevertheless are worthy of worship and adoration. I do understand where the comparisons to 'His Dark Materials' come from - both series involve fascinating looks at systems of religion that have corrupted, dark authority figures at the centre, and I really hope Alder's series can reach a level close to the success of Philip Pullman.
It all links closely with the medieval belief system - when Europe was a fiercely christian country, and people seemed to encounter demons and angels on a regular basis - the accounts of it are so numerous. In fact, this was the same century in which Joan of Arc would rise through an army on the strength of her religious visions - overpowering the fact that she was both a woman, and also both possibly quite mad... Of course, mental illness was not something that could be efficiently diagnosed back then, and the majority of accounts would have been written by the only people literate at the time - holy people who wanted to appeal to the masses with oft fantastical tales.
That aside, Alder's tales of angels and demons walking among menfolk makes perfect sense, fitting in well with the historical fervor of the time. It fits so well, in fact, that it does not feel like a huge leap of belief to take in - so I would recommend this to both readers of fantasy, and those of historical fiction.
It is a big old doorstep of a book, even in paperback - I'm a fast reader, but found myself really taking my time over this one. So engrossed was I that I found myself missing it when stuck to my desk or eating my dinner - a sure sign for me of a great book.
Combining a fascinating period of history with an original and compelling new mythology, Alder has created a fantasy world that feels incredibly vivid and real, and populated by characters both spiritual and physical, who nevertheless leap off the page.
With more in the series to follow, I will absolutely be recommending this to everyone - as both a wonderful historical fiction book, and a fantastic new voice in the Fantasy field.
Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
As mentioned earlier, I would recommend the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy to any and everyone - a thrilling adventure that also tackles meaty theological questions. Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman is a beautiful little book that expands on the initial trilogy.
You can read more book reviews or buy Son of the Morning by Mark Alder at Amazon.com.
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