The Malice is the follow-up to one of my favourite fantasy reads last year, Peter Newmans The Vagrant. It's a story set in a post-apocalyptic future where forgotten technology intermingles with demonspawn and twisted lands full of twisted mutants.
It had the dark, haunted flavour of Stephen Kings Dark Tower series and shared the same confidence of voice. Impressive when you consider it was the authors debut novel.
Where The Vagrant followed the mute, enigmatic protagonist of unknown name and his equally mute baby charge, The Malice continues the story some years later where Vesper — the baby from the previous book - picks up the heavy burden that was her fathers. The book is named after that burden, a sentient sword of power that was originally owned by "Gamma" — one of seven godlike beings who was struck down some time previous.
The sword stirs when danger becons but The Vagrant resists the call, having finally settled and found peace. Vesper feels her father has done enough and takes his place as the bearer of Gamma's weapon. As with the previous book we also have a goat tagging along however instead of a cantakerous old Nanny we have the delight of her latest offspring — known as "The Kid". The Kid brings some welcome light-hearted humour and helps prevents the story getting too dark.
Along with these two we also have Duet, a "harmonised" couple who act as Vespers' protector.
The story follows these intrepid souls who are on a journey to try and seal a "breach" that allows the demonkind through. Samael make a re-apperance from the first book while we also get to learn much more about the "Infernals". Interspaced are flashbacks to a time long ago with the birth of the "Empire of the Winged Eye". These flashbacks act as good breakpoints while also serving to provide a deeper level of immersion into this twisted world.
Apart from the wonderfully twisted world and rich descriptions of its many demonic and mutant inhabitants one of the things that really help The Malice to stand out is the Characters. Vesper, young and niave with all the exuberance you might expect.Clearly though she is her father's daughter, intelligent and quick thinking, not to mention daring and brave. Duet takes the role of staunch fighter, a clever idea to have two bodies act as one "harmonised" person and one we get to explore in good detail.
As you might expect given these characters, The Malice is quite a different book to The Vagrant and it's a bold move by the author but one that works well. Rather than tread over old ground, The Malice moves the story forward in different directions and from a very different viewpoint — Vesper's chatty and outwardly enthusiastic manner a nice counterpoint to The Vagrants mute stoicism.
I loved this return to Newman's bleak realm, its fast and furious pace matched by the quality of the writing while the story engages and the characters even more so. It's a clever, complex and crafty novel that is an effortless joy to read, deeply immersive and impossible to put down — I'd read the Vagrant first if you haven't already but this is one of the must-read fantasy novels this year.
Written on 18th May 2016 by Ant.
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