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.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Scarlet Tides’ by David Hair

The Scarlet Tides (Moontide Quartet #2)The Scarlet Tides, second book of the Moontide Quartet by David Hair, fairly non-surprisingly picks up where the first in the series left off. This is both completely obvious and slightly telling; you see I found the second half of the first outing infinitely better than the first. So picking up from that point is obvious from a narrative angle; and also a major plus from the enjoyment side.

The setup is a very familiar one. Pseudo –Europe goes on a crusade against a pseudo-Middle East. Those who dislike a lot of real world parallels will not be thrilled; those willing to immerse themselves in the world anyway will not be disappointed. One of the things that sets this tale apart from some of the others who have borrowed the crusade theme is that it follows both sides of the struggle. From there we see splits and a multitude of different cultures within the factions themselves. No mindless hordes or oversimplification of the ‘Us vs. Them’ theme; there are a lot of different motives at play all over the map. A lot of cultural clashes and fights about values here, some leading to understanding and some…not.

A fine line between epic with a capital E and something a bit more personal follows. On the one hand the cast is huge and it took me a while to reconnect the different names with their story lines. With the alternating PoV style it employed I didn’t see any single PoV a second time until around the hundred page mark. But once it got into its flow this ended up working well; it isn’t that the PoV cast is exceptionally large, rather we get to spend enough time with each character to actually get to know them. While the background cast is huge and at times intimidating the main characters become as familiar as a person can want.

For a book with a big old war in the background of everything that is going on this is surprisingly rarely a war novel; another way it differs from the major titles I would want to compare it to. Instead it is a nice blend of political maneuverings, double dealings, relationship building, and even the boredom of a long march. Magic and its affects make the world a bit more manageable but we are still dealing with a sprawling map with events taking place all over it. Hair plays it right; interweaving some stories with others until they all connect but without forcing improbable coincidences to force the cast into one place.

Complaints are few. It is a very familiar tale though the setting shows that to be by design. No character is one of a kind or even all that memorable; some of that comes from each of them being fairly realistic (in a magic using fantasy kind of way) without the over-the-top caricatures we almost expect from our epic fantasy any more. And on a personal front I find that no matter how good the story is reading seven hundred page bricks turns into a struggle after a while.

The series has been a slow burn so far but some pay off is coming. Obviously this is a series with a plan in place and it will take a war to settle it. A possible hero of the ages has been introduced but I genuinely like the character so I am willing to wait it out. And while Hair hasn’t thrown too many curves at us yet I remain hopeful that the next book is just as compelling as this one. For if it is, watch out, this could turn into a must read series in a hurry.

4 Stars

Big thanks to Mogsy for gifting me a copy of this book that promptly sat on my shelf for half the year.