Friday, April 5, 2013

A Review of The Forever Knight aka I Love John Marco

So it has been a little bit since the last blog post, but fear not, Sit.Write.Bleed. is back with a very special installment of "I Love..."

And it is so appropriate that the title of this post is "I Love John Marco", because in many ways John Marco is one of the key authors who made me want to become a writer. When I was fourteen there weren't a lot of jobs around my hometown to be found for the younger set of workers out there, but if a neighborhood had a pool, you can bet there was a lifeguard and pool management company that ran it. One of the really great perks of being a lifeguard is that you spend more than half an hour off the stand, and unless there is cleaning to be done (and usually there isn't, if pool-boards were to be honest, which they usually aren't), I found a lot of time to read. Most of that reading was fantasy, and while perusing Eva Perry Library for books, I found a very wonderful novel titled "The Eyes of God." Featuring the mighty Lukien of Liiria, The Bronze Knight, and the champion of Grimhold, I discovered a world of epic fantasy that stuck with me through high school and into college. Just like George RR Martin, John Marco was taking fantasy tropes and turning them on their ear, imbuing a cast of characters into real people who breathed upon the page, where the consequences of their actions had real consequences. And above it all stood Lukien, a hero who wished never to be one in the first place. In complete honesty and disclosure, my hero, Jishnu the Srijati, may have a lot of Conan and a good bit of Drizzt mixed together within, but in his soul, Jishnu is also a grand homage to Lukien and to John Marco.

The Eyes of God, along with The Devil's Armor (one of the most underrated sequels in all of Epic Fantasy) and The Sword of Angels, were one of the formative series that shaped me as a writer. Yes, the world Lukien lives in is a grim place, full of danger and intrigue, but the characters exemplify the best of heroic fantasy and everything a writer should try to capture.

I have been privileged to email with John a few times in the past, and recently a shot came up to read and review his new novel, The Forever Knight - A Novel of the Bronze Knight:

The fantastic cover was made by Todd Lockwood

Needless to say that when I volunteered to read and write a review for it, I was more than ecstatic when this advanced reader's copy appeared in my mailbox. Over the last month or two (time flies when the book is fun), I have come to be more amazed by Marco's skill and mastery of the genre than ever before.

The Forever Knight picks up where The Sword of Angels left off. Lukien still protects Grimhold, home of the Inhumans, but is now free of one of the two Eyes of Gods that guaranteed his immortality, having replaced the magical amulet with the powerful Sword of Angels, a mighty weapon which contains the Akari spirit of Malator, a hero from ages past. What really struck me about this novel immediately were two things:

1. John Marco, a master of third person-limited, decided to tell the story from Lukien's first person perspective, and
2. Damn, this book is short. Marco's work usually spans over 700 pages, but The Forever Knight comes in at a very trim 282 pages!

What follows is both a gamble and a feat of writing mastery that both dazzled and left me thoroughly impressed. While the book is much shorter, it is clear that in the seven years since Sword of Angels' release (2006) that Marco has spent his time refining his craft, as each sentence packs a punch and carries the story along at a break-neck pace. Even though there are the grand battles, ghostly magics, and well-layered characters abound, Marco still retains his greatest skill as a writer--all of his characters, especially Lukien, are real. They breath upon the pages, interacting with each other in a realistic sense. None of it feels forced or fabricated to get the plot from one point to the next.

The strength of this novel truly lies with Lukien, who is so nuanced as hero, still struggling to coincide his past losses of his friends and the love of his life, Cassandra, while miring in the peace he helped create during the Inhumans Trilogy. We get to see what happens when good wins but the hero is left alone with nothing to show for his victory beyond his victory, and with this base emotion of a listless existence, Marco has remade a protagonist we can all relate to. At some point in all our lives we feel like we used to do something worthwhile but then that something was finished and we were left spinning our wheels. Sometimes we do stupid things to fill the gap, and sometimes we do great things. Lukien does both, and it makes him a very compelling character as he goes off the find meaning in the world through war and wonders. His relationship with Malator is especially captivating, as the dialogue between them is superb and really fleshes them both out in ways that the previous novel could not.

If some out there haven't read the first trilogy, I would implore all do to so, but one of the nice things that Marco does is write this novel in such a way that the reader can piece together what happened, effectively letting the reader start fresh at this point. He is one of the few writers I have found who can do it right, the other being RA Salvatore and Stephen Lawhead.

Bottom line, The Forever Knight is an enthralling adventure, one that I would encourage anyone reading this blog to go and pick up immediately. Here is the link to Amazon, and since Amazon now owns everything, go get it there so Mr. Marco gets some well-deserved royalties.

Stay tuned, because this is not the last you will be hearing of John Marco on Sit. Write. Bleed. Next week we'll get to talk to the man himself, so come on back!

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Jay. "...ecstatic when this advanced reader's copy appeared in my mailbox," seems a bit understated to me. I've have done the happy-happy-peepee dance. Stay Stone Green