The Bulls of War, the first installment of E.M. Thomas’s sword-wielding epic Chronicles of the Andervold Thrones, follows friends Tyghus and Kyrus The Younger, as they find themselves falling onto the bloody blade of a war of empires and emotions. Vast in its conception, saga-like in its imagining, the dramatic realization of the battle will pull readers into its dense, murderous clutches as the two leaders must face a feat of endurance to test even the strongest of men.
While the genre of epic historical fiction serves somewhat to describe author Thomas’s writing, the description of this book as genre fiction at all should be drowned out by the exquisite research and lyrical writing of this book: battle becomes ballet, blood becomes a song, honor becomes its music. What Thomas has achieved in this book is both wonderfully surprising and incredibly enjoyable for anyone who wants to read good fiction whether they are a fan of this subject matter or not.
Often passages read like the great Viking sagas, sometimes they pull into a more familiar and modern turn of poetry. Color, sound, voice, and emotion have been carefully woven as a sea of immense depth, nothing wasted here except for the letting of life on the plains in conflict – it is a place where every move and word has importance, for tomorrow you may die in glory – but still you may die. This sentiment is captured perfectly in the crafting of the sentences, and is much the better for it. As the two men’s common threads are lost along the path to politics and underhanded motives of others – they both have lost their fathers in intriguing circumstances – their bond is tested.
If there is to be any criticism, there is the odd word that stands out as a little too modern in a way that other books of this kind don’t have, and a quick check through with an editor could have smoothed the text out to perfection. The first section of the book is a little dense too, again maybe this would have benefited from an editor.
However, these quibbles are not a deal breaker and readers who plow on will be satisfied with the sort of immersion that sword fantasy fans eagerly seek out. The world-building is pretty staggering, and that will definitely pay off in the second book – readers that did their legwork in this first book are most likely going to be richly rewarded with the almost impossible amount of detail that has gone into this book’s hinterland. Characters are so real it’s tempting to root for them to survive or die they are that powerfully attractive or repulsive.
Even the naming of Andervold, a name that could be from the Afrikaans “Other” and Norwegian “violence,” as well as the Rokh people – does this borrow from Shāh Rokh, the real-life legendary Turkic-Mongol conqueror? - shows that Thomas has spent time preparing for this novel by delving deep into real-life battle history in ways that really have allowed him such freedom once inside this world. With just a little push on the presentation this could turn into an amazing new historical series.