Fantasy Review: ‘Unholy War’ by David Hair

Unholy War (Moontide Quartet, #3)Three books into a war spanning two continents- where the hell are you?

For reasons I can’t figure out David Hair’s epic series is flying somewhat under the radar. The Moontide Quartet has everything I am looking for when I want a truly epic feel and Unholy War is a very worthy continuation of a good thing. After a strong but uneven opening book the last two books have been very consistent; lots of action, smart political plays, and a few surprises no matter how vigilantly one watches the text.

I continue to be impressed by the way Hair takes some very familiar, almost trite, ideas and spins them in a new way. Not in a trope bending fashion, that doesn’t really explain it. He built a fantasy version of the crusades, hardly an original through in fantasy. But Hair refused to take the easy route and make things as simple as Us vs Them, Black vs White, or dare I say, Christian vs Muslim. No single culture monoliths are present; even within groups are being forced by circumstance to fight alongside each other divisions work deep.

Made even better by scattering the point of view characters all over the map; there is no right side to this conflict for a reader to gradually start rooting for. Perhaps a reader’s cultural biases may have them thinking one side or the other is showing backward thinking but the narration itself is completely neutral. And if one ‘culture’ shows you it’s worse side in one chapter then be assured a chapter soon after will have you realizing they represent only a fraction of that sides actually beliefs.

So if there isn’t a correct side to root for where is the reader’s emotional involvement to come from? The characters of course. Some to root for, some to root against, and some that you just can’t help to follow even if you are not quite sure how you feel about them. Even characters of whose chapters I wanted to skip in earlier books are must read at this point; a major thing in the series favor is there is no POV that is noticeably weaker than the others. Gyle, spy and wannabe puppet master is by far my favorite to read about; not a nice man but always involved.

This is a middle book in a four part series and as such spends a lot of time moving its pieces around. Almost everyone is on the move; some lags occur during the travel times. If there was anything that annoyed me it was the insane rate that our major characters started ‘hooking up.’ Perhaps I am over stating it but three or four of our major characters found another major character to ease the journey a bit (wink, wink, nudge nudge). Basicaly if you found a male and a female together for more than a chapter expect a sex scene (got tired of winking, subtlety is not really my thing).

Epic fantasy is not dying my friends, it is just moving in new directions. Here is a book (not the only book but a great example) that proves that fantasy can have a basis in medieval ideas and still remember to give a role to women and non-white cultures. And yes it still has cultural oppression, racial biases, and hellish situations for the downtrodden. But it also has signs of growth, diversity, and people of all walks carrying their own agency.

This was a book that needs all eight hundred pages to follow its multiple viewpoints. There is some foreshadowing that is hard to ignore; I would be shocked if a few storylines don’t end up exactly as I envision. But there are so many moving pieces that guessing the whole story is proving to be impossible; and if the final book proves me wrong on the threads I think I have then so much the better.

4 Stars

Copy for review provided by Jo Fletcher Books.

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