Magic, mayhem and memorable characters abound in The Martyr’s Blade (The Chronicles of the Martyr Book 1) by Joel Manners.
The sword and sorcery genre has had a major resurgence in recent years, thanks to a particular hit HBO show and a fresh generation of eager readers, but Joel Manners is clearly not a novice to the realms of fantasy. For a debut novel, The Martyr’s Blade welcomes readers into an incredibly dense and meticulously crafted world that becomes more enrapturing with every chapter.
At the outset, Manners works hard to establish reader rapport with a range of intense chapters highlighting each character, many of whom are immediately memorable and mysterious. Building a complex web of relationships and personalities, the author gradually reveals the growing danger within the land of Albyn. As evil begins to rear its head, a ragtag band of heroes are dragged into the melee, soon finding strength they thought was lost or impossible to regain.
The relationship between Wyn and Killock is particularly enjoyable to read, but Manners takes his time to craft the intricacies of every player, not leaving any character unfinished. That attention to detail also carries on to the descriptions, with his prose rivaling the beauty of poetry in certain moments, transporting readers to the stunning world that he has created. One can almost hear the whistle of swinging swords, and feel the icy chill of the barren landscapes.
The focal point of the story is the titular ancient blade that can potentially stop an apocalyptic war, or start a new one, depending on who wields it, and despite the rather generic treasure, the path that these characters take to survive the journey makes for a riveting ride.
The plot does resemble many other magical adventures at first glance – an epic, yet seemingly hopeless quest to protect the world from complete destruction at the hand of evil forces. While the plotline has certainly been done before, the world-crafting on display in this novel, particularly in the complexity of the plot and the thorough development of each character, makes this an epic tale from the very start, and something very special in the genre. The scale of the novel, which includes countless side plots, character tangles and betrayals, is undeniably ambitious. Even so, Manners pulls it off with impressive flair and sensitivity, balancing the swordplay and action with edge-of-your-seat suspense and meaningful dialogue.
The varying narrative focus also gives the book a much more comprehensive feel, as though readers are truly seeing every side of the story. It is much easier to develop “favorite” characters when the point-of-view shifts so often, in a similar manner to George R.R. Martin’s style, and with similar results. There are definitely parallels here to other great fantasy writers, but the story is distinctly new, and boldly pushes on certain boundaries of the genre that should make dedicated fantasy readers perk up and pay attention. There are bursts of humor, mixed in with long sermons of darkness, balanced by detailed passages that might seem excessive if they weren’t so beautifully penned.
The writing hardly ever stumbles or drags in terms of pace, and the only real problem is the difficulty one will have trying to put the book down. Joel Manners does an excellent job of perpetuating excitement for his readers, and not being afraid of putting his characters in real danger, making for a visceral and emotionally wrenching read. Capturing readers’ hearts so quickly is no easy feat in the fickle world of fantasy fans, but The Martyr’s Blade should appeal to all lovers of this genre, both old and new.
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