A Fool's Hope

By Mike Shackle

A Fool's Hope, a novel by Mike Shackle
Book details Books in the series About the author

To the uninitiated, the fantasy genre is stagnant. The same old dwarves and elves going on long journeys and then back again. Any fan of the genre knows that this is just not the case. The genre has evolved with society. The fantasy books of the 80s and 90s differ greatly from Tolkien and modern fantasy reflects our own time differently again. Mike Shackle’s We Are the Dead did this more than most with a dark tale about a crumbling society whose trust in officials was at an all-time low. Remind you of anywhere? The follow up comes at the end of 2020 and an even more challenging year. Will A Fool’s Hope be the fantasy novel of our time? 

There are some wars that cannot be won, but it seems that this one is going to end in victory for the mysterious Egril, a society built on sacrificing their enemies. Jia is all but destroyed. Any allies left alive are scattered and on the brink of starvation. The last hope comes in the form of the surviving member of the royal family, Zorique, a four-year-old Princess. Can the likes of Tinnstra, Dren and Jax do their part to ensure that Zorique comes to maturity? 

Hope is less of a sequel in the The Last War series and more of a direct continuation as the action starts moments after the first book ends. Tinnstra and Zorique are onboard a ship setting sail for allied shores, whilst the others are left in the city to rebuild and regroup. Alongside the old guard are a couple of new characters; a famous ship captain and a young Egril warrior. Both provide the opportunity to see the war from a different perspective than the Jia. Seeing inside the Egril camp is particularly interesting as the first book paints them as faceless warriors who cannot taste defeat. We soon learn that they are very human and that makes them as fallible as any of us. 

The book splits between these several characters and there are, at time, six or seven parallel storylines. They are all intertwined with one another and on occasion you will see the same instance from another character's perspective. The central character remains Tinnstra, and later her charge Zorique. There is a section of the book that alters the entire perspective of the reader and at this point Shackle concentrates on these characters to allow them to develop. The book then opens once more into ensemble. I always enjoy a multiple PoV in my fantasy books and Shackle does a great job of making all the characters interesting, although I still had my favourites. The multiple strands allow for many cliff hangers and this increases the tension in the book. 

It is this tension that will determine your enjoyment of the book, it is vicelike in places. The characters are hounded and pounded throughout. There are bleak and violent scenes as even the most powerful of the ensemble are unable to help the masses. Reading the first book in 2019 was impactful, in 2020, for some it may be a little much. However, I urge any reader becoming weary to the bombardment to continue. The book is called A Fool’s Hope for a reason as there is hope as the book progresses. It may be the hope that eventually kills us, but for now it allows the reader to have some much-needed release and even partake in a smattering of revenge. 

I believe the The Last War books will be one of the fantasy series that will lead the genre into the new decade. It may be set in a dark and alternative world. It may be violent and unrelenting, but the characters feel very human and their plight familiar. Many of the heroes are nothing such, they are just trying to get along as they are buffered left and right by decisions made by their so-called betters. A little hope goes and long way, so perhaps both 2021 and the final book in the series promises a little light at the end of the tunnel, but knowing Shackle, that light could easily be the beams of an oncoming train.   

Written on 8th December 2020 by .

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