The plot synopsis claims that leading a mercenary company takes “all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it,” and that “the Red Knight has all three.” So, too, does The Red Knight have three elements of a good fantasy novel. It has an interesting plot, engaging characters, and fantastical aspects that are plot-relevant. But somehow, Miles Cameron’s debut novel falls short for me.
A promising but ultimately disappointing debut
I liked The Red Knight, I really did. Cameron’s writing is detailed, but detailed to the point where his pacing flags. His characters are memorable, but many of them feel undeveloped. The plot is well thought out and has left me excited for the next book, which I believe is titled either The Green Squire or The Fell Sword, but I can’t help but feel he overcomplicated the plot to the point where bits of it just felt tangentially important. One of the most important parts of writing big fantasy, in terms of both scope and page count, is learning how to not show your entire hand. Where certain events could have been summed up in the ensuing conversations, I felt like he wanted to write out every single movement of his cast, right up until the point where there’s minimal cohesion to his writing style. It becomes laborious, even drudging, for parts of the book where you eagerly anticipate returning to the tighter narratives of more important characters.
This isn’t helped by the fact that he writes large chapters with asymmetrically split sub-chapters, each of which can be as short as a paragraph, or as long as a regular chapter. Each sub-chapter has the name of the viewpoint character and their location, which certainly helps keep the rapid perspective shifts from blurring into one. But the problem with jumping so regularly is there is little time to develop an individual character’s voice before the view is moved to another. The way a character intakes and processes the story unfolding should make a book interesting to read; it throws you into a new perspective, rather than making you feel like a bystander. Through The Red Knight, I felt like a bystander, only really slipping in to a character’s head long enough to get thrown into another.
Poor editing lies at the heart of The Red Knight‘s faults
My last major issue was one of editing. The Red Knight has a plethora of awkward sentences, misspellings, and grammatical stumbles. It’s a minor issue when the concentration of errors are minor, but it comes to a point where its nothing short of jarring. This is something I hope that the publishers will either remedy for the US release or, at the very least, in the sequel to The Red Knight.
Excellent combat and a well thought out plot
Miles Cameron is a reenactor, war-historian, and veteran. His fights are brutal, well-written, and technical while still remaining accessible to anyone who can Google the finer points of medieval armor. While there isn’t as much flair to his writing, he does add a lot of realism to fighting wyverns and boglins—ironic in comparison to how unrealistic some non-fantasy fights I’ve read about were.
The book takes a single event, then spreads itself around that event, taking in multiple storylines that are tied to said event. He reels them in, sucking his wide-spread cast into the major story thread at Lissen Carack. The sprawling plot hurts as much as it helps, but nonetheless it could set the stage for a much bigger story, something that Cameron hints at on his website.
A less dark dark fantasy
The book is classified as dark fantasy, and while I can certainly agree that it has a much more cynical edge than classical high fantasy, it’s a far cry less grim than the works of Abercrombie and Martin. It strikes an even balance, but all in all exudes an air of martial fantasy rather than light or dark. The moderate, sometimes beige feel of the novel will more than likely alienate some readers, but attract others that favor a drier tone. It’s not inherently bad, but the poor editing makes it feel awkward at times, rather than subdued.
Strong characters keep the book from sinking
The characters and their names are two of the book’s strong points, as well as the ensuing dialogue. The characters are a mixed group, some good, some bad, most neither. The heroes are antiheroes, and the villains, for the most part, “antivillains.” It fits in Cameron’s very moderate fantasy of dualities and war. Names like Wilful Murder, Bad Tom, and the eponymous Red Knight all have their own tale to tell, and can help in quickly shaping a character.
Why should you read this book?
Miles Cameron’s The Red Knight is a promising historical fantasy debut featuring an expansive cast, an engaging plot, and a detailed eye for combat. Fans of Glen Cook’s The Black Company and Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and Coin series will find an enjoyable read, provided they can get past the poor editing and burdensome pacing.