Oathkeeper is an outstanding second instalment to this series, and continues to prove that this could be one of the most uniquely layered and complex universes since Frank Herbert’s Dune. The world is one of sentient warsuits, cannibalistic offshoots of the elf species, ancient oaths and immortal societies. As the growing onslaught of the reptilian Zaur threatens all and ancient oaths drive the Aern to war, two princes initiate a desperate gambit to preserve their kingdom from the storm and enlist the help of new allies.
Easily the greatest strength of the book is the truly staggering detail and thought put into the world as a whole. With each culture and species varying wildly from any expected fantasy tropes, and instead taking on entirely new forms. The story here is one of complex political manoeuvring as it is war, with the very ambitions and acts to take the throne hitting just as hard as a full scale siege or armies annihilating one another. It builds a sense of grim atmosphere and a thread of surprising realism for all its otherworldliness. Combined with the thought behind the world’s history, this assists in giving events far more grounding and substance.
The characters themselves also prove to be astoundingly diverse, the most prominent of who retain a clear voice and arc despite the vast number of characters involved. While they can occasionally be hard to keep track of given the multiple threads, there is never a point where it’s possible to start confusing one for the other. This is helped substantially by one of the better uses in recent years of having each figure effectively fulfil an archetype or representation of one aspect of their people.
The serious criticism to be made here is that it locks out new readers from the story. There’s no real moment to truly catch up on what’s happened beyond the blurb, and very little time to catch up. No sooner do you start the book, the plot takes a dramatic turn with a crippling loss in Tranduvallu. It’s a location of obvious importance and home to a major faction in this war, yet there’s little opportunity to take in the unusual nature of its populace or role in the world before it is besieged. The story itself also rarely lets up, meaning that if you’re confused or having difficulty in the opening chapters; it will not be any easier as you progress.
On the whole, Oathkeeper is hardly light reading material, but those seeking an incredibly detailed and sprawling fantasy saga would do extremely well to seek this one out.INFO: AUTHOR: J.F. LEWIS / PUBLISHER: PROMETHEUS BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 9TH (eBook), JULY 9TH (paperback)