Heroic Fantasy doesn't always get the credit it deserves, but when done well can be powerful, energetic and immersive fiction. Sky in the Deep is one of the best examples of recent times and an equal to Gemmell's past stories.
The story follows Eelyn, a member of the Aska clan. She's been raised as a warrior and fights the Riki clan, helping to perpetuate a long running feud. Her life seems straight-forward, fight and survive to fight another day. This simple existence is shattered when she see's her brother on the battle-field. Her brother who she watch die five years ago, now seemingly fighting for the very people who killed him.
This vision consumes her, she must find out the truth and the next battle she seeks out her ghost. Captured unawares, she finds herself a guest of the Riki, and forced to wait out the winter with them in the mountains. Then the village is raided by a clan walking straight out of the mist of legends. Not knowing where to turn Eelyn is forced to trust Fiske, her brothers friend who see's her as a threat. Together they must do the impossible - unite the clans or face annihilation.
There is a bit of a viking feel about Sky in the Deep, the way the Aska live - with descriptions of the clans daily life - and fight - especially the way beserkers are described - remind me of those seafaring Scandinavians. The world these warriors inhabit is beautifully realised with sweeping mountains and secluded forests, the author has a real flare for descriptive verse. The fact that this is a debut promises much for the authors future. What really sets the book apart and makes it pretty much unmissable heroic fantasy are the fight scenes. The pace, the choreography and the grim, gory details are just magnificent. The story is linear, there are few surprises and most of the plot follows a predictable path and as there didn't seem to be enough space at the end of the book to really do it justice.
Having said that, the writing is excellent and the characters both likeable and relate-able (at least as relate-able you can be to a fantasy viking). The messages are mostly underplayed, overcoming ones own prejudices and finding your own answers along with questioning your beliefs (both religious and social) rather than accepting taught or learned doctrine being major themes.
Sky in the Deep is a strong debut from a promising author, bold and beautiful in equal measure.
Written on 24th June 2019 by Ant.
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