Age of Iron (The Iron Age Trilogy) by Angus Watson

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Age of Iron (The Iron Age Trilogy) by Angus Watson

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The author says Age of Iron is a fictional, fantastical account of how an unlikely gang of Brits united to hand Caesar’s invincible arse to him. Covers it all apart from how much action packed, blood-filled fun it is. By badger's bits, it's excellent!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0356502618

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Location: Here or hereabouts Date: 67BC. The Romans are coming but, before they turn up, the collection of disparate tribes they're destined to call Britannia has other problems. There is much infighting among these mini-kingdoms and currently Dug the Warrior's region is subjected to a massive killing machine – the army of King Zadar. Everything's fine though; Dug is just one of the people who want to kill him. Yes, there's Dug, Lowa the talented archer-ess who used to work for Zadar and Spring, a little girl. Some would say that they can't get through the army of thousands that surround the King but they're going to try anyway.

After writing a couple of pieces on the Iron Age, Daily Telegraph journalist Angus Watson felt an affinity with the era. This affinity, with the help of afternoon bath time…errr… research time… grew into an idea for this debut novel which, one day will turn into a historical fantasy trilogy. All I can say is, once you've read it, one day will not come soon enough. It's that good!

Please don't be put off by the fact that mere descriptions of the characters make them seem like regulars in central fantasy casting. This is an author who has many more than one original thought in his head.

Dug may be cussingly world-weary has-been, Lowa may be a feisty woman and Spring an innocent child but they aren't from a writing-by-numbers kit. We engage with each of the immediately until, after a while, we realise that they're more than the sum of their book-blurb-esque descriptions. To start with Spring is cute but about as innocent as someone who's been expelled from St Trinians for bad behaviour. She's also a keeper of secrets (enough said).

Lowa's feist is driven by a question that we'd rather like answered too. The clues may be there but we need to hear it from the King himself.

Dug wants an easy old age (he's pretty ancient at 40) but staying alive is an important precursor to that and so the adventure drags him in faster than he can say Badgers b******s!.

There are also a sprinkling of druids and not the nature worshipping, Stonehenge chanting gentle folk we've heard about. These are magical and mighty (or trying hard to be in the case of Ragnall the trainee). They range from good/of pure motive (Ragnall again) to not-quite-sure (complete with philosophical self-torment) to downright evil. Indeed, with evil in mind, I offer for your consideration a new name in epic fantasy brutality: Druid Felix.

Felix belongs to King Zadar (or vice versa) and has an experimental way of dealing with friends, enemies and countrymen that will turn the weaker stomachs among us but we still have fun. Indeed, even when knee deep in viscera (battlefield or peacefully obtained) this novel is fun. The humour is grown-up and as dark as Dug's outlook and it makes us laugh out loud… or that may only be me. There are great one-liners that ambush us even at the tensest moments and as for the subversion of the Wisdom of Solomon, I'm afraid I laugh/snorted. (I know – and a vicar's wife too!)

Initially I felt one or two of the individually PoV-ed chapters at the beginning moved on a little faster than I wanted to switch viewpoints (that's where the half * went) but the feeling soon passed. The reason? Mr Watson manipulates chapter lengths for his purposes and our delectation. There are long epic chapters where the action flows like the smoothest of blood red rivers. (Yep more gore – not a book for the kiddies.) There are short chapters that tease or provide tantalising glimpses. Then, every now and again, there's a vignette, for instance a commentary on one of the plotlines of the moment between two random locals. It's inspired!

Like every epic fantasy writer seems to be these days, Angus Watson is likened on the cover to Joe Abercrombie. However, for me the beauty of Angus Watson is that he writes like Angus Watson. He has a lightness of touch, an intelligence communicated with a mischievous grin and stories cleverly salted with allusions from elsewhere. (House point for spotting the Lotus Eaters please!) This may only be the first in the trilogy but already he's distinguishing himself from the crowd. I have a feeling that Book 2, The Clash of Iron (due out in April 2015) will be an excitedly anticipated publishing event in many more homes than just mine.

(Thank you so much, Orbit, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals, you'll also enjoy AJ Smith's Long War series or The Grim Company by Luke Scull.

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