“The Voice spoke again, a rumbling noise that echoed in the vast stone room. ‘I have seen it. An abyss of darkness. Eyes that search from its depths.’”
Death and tainted ritual plague mountainside villages. A cultist is killing the unprotected and using their life to fuel a festering magic. A group of Temple agents set out at the head of an army to investigate the cause, and find hints of an enemy thought long sealed. The Temple guardians chase the murderer and with each victory comes a discovery of greater perversions: monsters out of myth. Monsters forgotten by myth. Madness. Even if they catch the murderer, is he the true master of these crimes? How far does the cult extend? Who can be trusted?
“‘They search,’ rumbled the Voice. ‘They sense the power that I hold. They seek it.’”
The Martyr’s Blade, by Joel Manners, is an epic fantasy in the style of JRR Tolkein, with a dash of George R. R. Martin’s brutal realism. Manners combines traditional fantasy archetypes with a mix of folklore. Rangers wander the wilderness, rogues dance with blades, priests wield the power of their faith, knights protect the weak, and magic is a common companion. To Manners’ credit, he elevates these archetypes beyond tropes, giving the characters, and the world, his own unique style.
The beginning is a little slow, and Manners loves description in the same way Tolkien or Robert Jordan did. It creates a rich background tapestry, but makes the narrative move a little sluggish at times. He differs from many fantasy writers in that none of his heroes begin as innocent. It’s like reading Lord of the Rings without any of the hobbits. There is no peasant boy who learns to be a knight; they are all competent people behaving competently. This means that not every character really develops during the course of their arc, though there are exceptions. Two of the main characters intertwine and develop in a very sensitive, relatable, and compelling way. Even those characters that do not learn life lessons will still be interesting to the reader, because their personalities are so alive and quirky.
Every part of Martyr’s Blade shows Manners’ care and attention, as well as his thirty years worth of experience telling stories via video games. It is an exceptional debut novel, and a great fantasy novel in general. Definitely worth a read.
Brandon Sanford graduated with an MA in book publishing from Portland State University. He spends a lot of time writing and editing, both for work and for fun. In his spare time, of which he has none, he plays board games—because he is geeky like that. He should get out of his apartment more. He has a very loving and lovely partner, who also writes and arts.
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