Content warning for some sexual and violent content.
Stories tell of the Elders, the powerful races of the northern lands who held fast and prospered. A thousand years have passed since they disappeared, and it has come time for mankind to leave the sanctity of their known settlements and strike out into the inhospitable world beyond, and the forgotten powers that lay sleeping. As one man’s lust for power ushers him into places best left undisturbed, a group of somewhat unlikely friends take to the roads of adventure, seeking riches, knowledge, forgiveness, stories, and revenge. Little do they know the plots they are to come face-to-face with, and what secrets they will uncover. Will the same fate that befell the Elders come to mankind as well? Iain Hope gives us the answers in his debut fantasy novel Dark Horde Rising.
This is a very lengthy tome at around six-hundred pages of text, complete with appendices of particular phrases and terms, summarized explanations of types of magic user, even a condensed timeline of the entire kingdom’s history. It’s one of those particular kinds of fantasy novels, which is fair warning to the more casual reader and, I’d bet, an enticing prospect for more dedicated fantasy fans.
This huge length is also why I couldn’t hope to summarize the book easily in a few sentences. It’s definitely worth mentioning, as for me at least, I thought the length was good for the book, as it provides a satisfying and complete story where some authors would be tempted to split the difference and divide the novel into smaller pieces, often to the story’s detriment. While I can see there being a few more tales to come in the world, prospective readers can be assured that there’s a distinct beginning and end here, and the book is a complete and fulfilling read on its own.
Hope is a new author hailing from the British Midlands, a location that has markedly influenced the book with some naturalistic Celtic, Nordic, and some Saxon inclination to the setting. His background in academia has also lent itself well to the particular writing style, having a strong notion of the wider picture at all times in a slightly Tolkienesque way. Hope claims inspiration from fantasy touchstones like Wheel of Time and Dragonlance and it shows, in the best of ways, with a lot of the best qualities of the most successful titles out there rolled into a new experience. The characters, while starting off just a little weak, develop real personality over time, and their undertakings are extremely memorable, as is the world they take part in.
The editing and presentation of the book isn’t spotless, but with considerations for the length of the novel it’s also not beyond expectation, and the overall product is fairly solid. The weighty tome is wrapped in a serviceable cover, albeit using a slightly uncanny duo of models, and the text has only a few obvious errors that don’t pull you out of the read. Some of the layout and internal art is inexplicably rough, easily corrected, and a shame that they weren’t brought to the same standard as the rest of the product. I believe the basic problems in the book are simple to correct.
This is a book written by a fan of the genre, for fans of the genre. It’s great to see something carrying the torch of the “old guard” while being unafraid to take mind of the successes of the contemporary genre. It doesn’t experiment too much, builds on the shoulders of giants, plays it a bit safe, and the book is something to behold because of it.