I have reviewed a couple of Daniel M. Ford’s books in this space before, and they always have to start with a disclaimer: Dan and I are friends, or at least are whatever parasocial, mutual-followers-on-social-media, never-met-before sort of friends that stand in for most of my adult social relationships nowadays. He’s a Cool Guy, is what I should be saying, and if you stopped right now and followed him on Twitter and didn’t read the rest of the post you’d actually come off pretty well anyway. That said (and the second sentence in the disclaimer always starts with “that said,”) authors are really really good at reading each others’ work and just quietly never saying anything when we don’t like it. I don’t know if I would have bought any of these books if I didn’t know Dan through Twitter; I am absolutely certain I would have liked them just as much once I encountered them.
Anyway, I’ve worked my way through his Paladin Trilogy over the last who-knows-how-long, finishing up with the massive, 800-page doorstop Crusade, which absorbed a good chunk of my February, and while for some reason I didn’t review the first two (although I think I mentioned them here and there,) I’m reviewing the series as a whole now that it’s concluded: this is really good epic fantasy, and most excitingly, it’s epic fantasy of a style that I really don’t think I’ve seen before: it’s about religion. The main character, as you might guess, is a Paladin, the first convert of a new religion, and while the series is mostly Allystaire’s story, it’s also very much the story of how the religion of the followers of the Mother begins to gain traction in the collection of baronies that the story is set in. The book is second-world fantasy and manages to be both low fantasy and high fantasy at the same time; the Mother ends up with five main apostles, four humans and a dwarf, and all of them end up with various powers of one sort or another, and there are some really magically powerful enemies, but the world itself is not heavily magic-imbued. The bad guys would not feel out of place in a Robert Jordan Conan book, if you’re looking for a vague analog to the style.
The apostles are known as the Arm (that’s Allystaire,) the Wit, the Voice, the Will and the Shadow, and all of the characters have their own roles to play in the Mother’s religion. The first book is mostly dedicated to pulling the team together, for lack of a better phrase, the second to establishing the Mother’s religion as a threat to the status quo, and the books end as all fantasy trilogies should, with a big war. It’s delicious work from start to finish, and I’ve praised Dan’s exceptional character work in my other reviews and it’s on full display here. I really liked reading about Allystaire in a way that isn’t terribly common for me(*) and the way he balances his innate sense of justice with his (admittedly bad) temper and his responsibilities to his deity and to the people he’s supposed to protect are fascinating. You don’t see a whole lot of discussion of moral behavior in fantasy, and Allystaire is fascinating in that he’s more or less constantly worried about doing what is right and just but still never comes off as, well, as obnoxious as you think a paladin character could very easily be. Of the other characters, the Shadow, Idgen Marte, and the Wit, a dwarf named Torvul, are the standouts. I particularly wish I could learn more about Torvul. I spent the entire third book worrying about something bad happening to Torvul.
In a lot of ways, these books are what I’ve been looking for this year. I’ve been doing Big Reading Projects for the last several years, and this year I mostly wanted to kind of pull back and take refuge in genre, and this big honkin’ fantasy trilogy with a unique angle on the genre, great worldbuilding, interesting politics and character work and cool magic has been a great way to start off the year. I’ve told my wife to check them out, which is not a sentence you see around here all that often. Definitely definitely check them out, y’all, you won’t regret it.
(*) To vastly oversimplify things, some people read for language, some for character, and some for story. I have majored in Story with a minor in Worldbuilding, so those things are what I look to first, and a book that tells a cool story but maybe has boring or annoying characters will win out for me over a book with intricately developed characters but a boring story.