Knight of the Realm
BL Publishing (410 pp, $7.99, 2009)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
A sequel to last year’s Knight Errant, Anthony Reynolds’ Knight of the Realm continues the story of the young Bretonnian knight Calard and his adventures in the grim world of Warhammer. If you are not familiar with the Warhammer setting – a world based on a very popular gaming franchise from Games Workshop – it is essentially a mash-up of very familiar fantasy elements such as orcs, elves, and dwarves with a decidedly dark edge. It is a bleak, violent place, a place always in the midst of war and in danger of being overrun by the insane worshippers of Chaos.
Chaos has proven to be this series’ primary antagonist, as Calard and his half-brother, Bertelis, earned their knightly spurs in the first book fighting against tides of goat-headed beastmen. In Knight of the Realm, an army of Chaos-worshipping Norscans – think seven-foot-tall black magic Vikings – are raiding the length and breadth of Bretonnia and the combined armies of the land must ride out to defeat them. Bretonnia is a region modeled on an idealized medieval France replete with chivalry, knightly contests, and a rigid feudal hierarchy, but infused with a strong Arthurian flavor in the form of a cult of the Lady of the Lake and saint-like Grail knights.
At the start of the book young Calard is himself a Knight of the Realm by virtue of inheriting his dead father’s lands. Some time has passed, and the callow youth is now something of a rake and drunkard while his one-time feckless half-brother has grown into a serious and dedicated student of the sword. From the start of the series it was obvious that these two would be heading for conflict – after all that is perfectly in keeping with the nature of Arthurian-style fiction – and events in Knight of the Realm advance this conflict to the fore rather skillfully. Reynolds has done a very good job in balancing the story elements in these books between the breathless pace and pyrotechnics demanded by the Warhammer formula, and considerations of characterization.
But a punchy-pace and pyrotechnics predominate. In Knight of the Realm’s myriad battle scenes and plot twists we are treated to daemonic engines, weird sorceries, nasty betrayals, body-swaps, Pegasus knights, the parting of the sea, and a massive siege. Calard and Bertelis discover they have a personal stake in the conflict when it becomes apparent that Elisabet – Calard’s one time love (banished after her attempted assassination of his father) – is the apparent prisoner-consort to the chief of the Norscans. And it is discovered that the Norscans’ motivation reaches beyond mere raiding and destruction to that of the acquisition of an heir for their chieftain – an heir that will be blessed by the mad powers of Chaos.
By the end of Knight of the Realm the story of Calard has nicely assumed the mantle of epic fantasy, and has become a much larger tale than anything hinted at in Knight Errant. Both brothers find themselves setting off in radically different directions in a promising foreshadowing of the next installment. Overall, Reynolds’ Knight books are proving themselves to be a great action-fantasy series with a darkly mythic undertone, and one I’d recommend both to fans of the Warhammer world and those who like the strong taste of pulp with their fantasy.
A slightly different version of this review originally appeared in Black Gate Magazine #14
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.