Southwind Knights 1-5

Southwind Knights 1-5

Southwind Knights is a series of high fantasy novellas, written by B.E. Priest and made available on Amazon in eBook format. Currently, five of the novellas have been published – Southwind Knights (2014), The Queen of Grass and Tree (2014), Scion of the Wood (2014), Heir Expectant (2014) and Fire from the Ashes (2015) – although the series is planned to continue beyond this. The novellas have a continuous story and so you really need to read them in sequence to fully appreciate the series.

Fifteen year old Asher Farmer and his best friend Finn Tailor have always dreamed of becoming knights. Unfortunately, they live in Southwind – a small and dangerous village on the edge of civilisation – and are expected to follow in their fathers’ footsteps by taking over the family professions. However, when Finn is poisoned by a salamander and given only three days to live, fate has other things in store for Asher.

Partied up with the reclusive healer Galen and a group of Southwind’s finest knights, Asher sets off into the woods. Their destination is the perilous Dragoncliff Cove to find the unicorns that live there. Only a unicorn horn can cure Finn and only Asher is pure enough to attract one of the creatures. Unfortunately, Dragoncliff Cove is so named for a reason. It’s the home of the terrible Behemoth Dragon – an armoured creature that no man has ever come close to slaying.

Asher’s quest sends him on a journey that he could never have imagined. He soon begins to see that knights aren’t everything that he once thought them to be and learns that there are more dangerous forces in the woods than dragons. Hidden in the trees, a rebel knight builds an army of men and monsters and soon will make a grab for the throne…

I think it’s best that I begin this review with my usual word of warning. Don’t let the bright and beautiful covers of these books deceive you. The story is actually fairly dark and contains some gory scenes. While these sequences are neither as frequent nor as gruesome as some that I’ve read in young adult novels, I just thought it best to warn you. Readers over the age of fourteen should be fine but this isn’t a series for younger teens or ones of a squeamish disposition.

The novellas themselves are pretty fast paced and excellently written. Although they did occasionally lack in detail (in part due to the shortened format, but I’ll get into that a little more later), they were quick to grab my attention and did gradually begin to develop into a captivating story. While the series contained none of the complexity of the likes of A Game of Thrones, you can see that it has taken inspiration from such works and tailored it to suit a younger audience. There is the political intrigue there – the machinations of royalty who will go to great lengths to stay in power, the sense that their actions are breeding resentment in the masses and the moral ambiguity as to whether or not Queen Lillian or the Scion are the greater good – all of which makes for an exciting read, although it did feel a little watered down in places.

Part of this is just due to the limitations of the novella. It’s just not the best format for a fantasy epic. To make a fantasy world feel solid and real, you need to be able really explore it in great depth. While Southwind Knights contained some really nice ideas, they just felt a bit like they were glossed over in places. Characters would hint at something – like the possibility that Lillian murdered the previous queen – but the novellas then would never really develop this point further. I just don’t find this to be wholly effective. On the one hand, I liked the fact that it stirred up moral ambiguity in the fact that the reader isn’t sure which character to support. On the other, I would have liked a little more closure as too much was left up in the air.

The five novellas flow best when read back to back. Although there are small gaps between each installment (ranging from a few days to a few months), they do follow on from one another and all seem to end rather abruptly when taken in isolation. The endings are actually one of my biggest issues with these shorts as they either seem to finish just when they were building to a climax or break off with a sudden cliffhanger, neither of which are things I especially enjoy in a story.

Although the plots are fast paced and generally easy to follow, they were not always greatly satisfying. The Queen of Grass and Tree is probably the weakest book in the series as it was largely filler. While it sets the scene for the following two novellas, it’s plot isn’t terribly exciting and it ends with a very brief and confusing fight sequence that I had to read a couple of times to fully understand. Similarly, Heir Expectant could have been a very exciting book as this is when the rebellion actually takes place but it is all over just too quickly. The Scion takes the City with surprisingly little resistance and, once again, it suffers from action sequences that are just over too fast to be gripping.

The characters are a bit of a mixed bag and receive varying amounts of development. I think it’s clear that Priest struggles most in writing female characters. I already mentioned that lack of clarity that surrounds Lillian’s actions but beyond this, there aren’t very many girls in the cast. Princess Hannah is probably the main female protagonist (as she’s the only one close to Asher’s age) but she barely features in the story. She also seems to grow attached to Asher very quickly, especially as they barely spend a moment in each other’s presence. The only other female of note that I can think of is Zeki, who only appears in Fire from the Ashes and who I didn’t actually realise was female until halfway through the novella as she’s described in purely masculine terms.

However, the male cast do fair a lot better. A lot of them – particularly Galen and the Scion – are given pretty engaging backstories which make their actions and attitudes very understandable. Yet the most developed of the characters are Asher and Finn, whose strained friendship is what really kept me reading.

Asher is presented throughout the story as a very realistic teenager. He’s a little useless, but as all he’s ever known is farming I think that’s perfectly understandable. I love how he develops over the story, gradually losing his faith in the knights and the crown before finding it again in Galen. His best development comes in Fire from the Ashes which sees him start out as a depressed drunk and gradually get reborn as the Dragon, a fighter with the strength and disposition to take on the Scion. I’m very excited to see where this will take Asher over the rest of the series.

Running parallel to this is Finn’s story. As Finn is out of commission for most of the first book, he doesn’t grow to hate the knights as Asher does and therefore makes it is mission to become one. Over the course of the series, this choice gradually pushes him and Asher apart until the two of them eventually find themselves facing off in battle. Again, I do really want to see how far this plot is going to go – if he and Asher will wind up as friends again or if they’ll kill each other. Only time will tell

I don’t really have much more to say about these novellas so I think it’s best to wrap up. Although the series lacks in depth and falls prey to a number of fantasy clichés, I did enjoy reading these five stories. They’re pretty well written and contain some good ideas and characters. I’d certainly recommend them to any fans of high fantasy as I’m sure that they’d get a kick out of them. At the time of writing, the first eBook is free on the Amazon Kindle store and I’d certainly suggest picking it up to get a taste of what Priest has to offer.

You can purchase the Southwind Knights Starter Pack, which collects the first three novellas in eBook format, from Amazon.co.uk. Alternatively, you can pick up each ebook individually by clicking on the following links:

Southwind Knights

The Queen of Grass and Tree

Scion of the Wood

Heir Expectant

Fire from the Ashes

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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