The thing about military-esque epic fantasy is that it will always have an audience. Always. There will always be someone out there who sees a blurb about a knight on a horse and buys the book. It’s a sort of subgenre that will have fans no matter how redundant, or unique, the book may be. For me, books that fit into that genre have a greater challenge ahead of them. They need to do something new, or present an old story in a refreshing way because there really are only so many different things that you can say about a guy on a horse on a quest.
On the surface, The Red Knight is exactly what I look for in this kind of book. It’s unique. Set in an alternative earth/post-apocalyptic earth/secondary earth (I never was quite clear on that point), The Red Knight reads more like historical fantasy than anything else. There is a religious order that will call to mind the days of the old powerful Catholics complete with nuns and monks. There is hokey backward medicine that is practiced with a great deal of superstition. Camps and basic life procedures are medieval. All of this is believable, well fleshed out, and shows that Miles Cameron did his research and obviously has a passion for the subject matter and time period he’s portraying.
Cameron’s writing style also helps him bring this period to life. He’s blunt, straightforward and detailed, making his story simple and clear, but he’s also lyrical and descriptive enough to please. It all works together to create a fascinating world that’s unique while maintaining a rich historical feel that many fantasy fans will fall in love with.
The Red Knight starts to fall apart a bit with pacing, especially with some of the battle scenes. Cameron struggles to write fight scenes that are unique and memorable. Many of them, especially toward the end, seem almost interchangeable. This makes the plot drag in places and may make readers impatient, but it’s worth the wait as the ending is rewarding and sets up the next book in the series nicely.
Characters themselves vary in believability. Cameron has women in his ranks of soldiers and he also shows how women are treated outside the military. The two vary considerably and it’s an interesting window into sexism from days gone by and how people, whether soldiers or villagers, might have handled it. But while Cameron seems to excel with cultural nuances, he struggles a bit to bring characters into a well-rounded perspective. Some of their conversations are a little unbelievable. The Red Knight himself struggles with that, as much of what he says to other high-ranking individuals is done with such a flippant air that I find him hard to believe in completely. Other characters fall flat, lack color, and are easy to forget. With a cast that is as vast as the cast in The Red Knight, this is a serious failing that might break it for some readers. It’s unfortunate that, after I’ve finished reading the book, I can’t remember half of the people I’ve read about.
What it really boils down to is that Miles Cameron didn’t successfully blend all of the elements together into one cohesive book that is more than just the sum of its parts. Some elements feel like they get far more attention than others. The Red Knight is plot driven and the characters could have used a little more love. Though the world and culture are fascinating, some of the plot points and action sequences suffer a bit, which makes the background seem more interesting than the plot. This left me feeling like The Red Knight is the same old man-on-a-quest-against-all-unexpected-odds, albeit jazzed up a bit, that I’ve already read before. That’s unfortunate, because Cameron really shows some amazing talent and deep thought in this book, it just doesn’t seem to seep through all the pages. The Red Knight is a valiant effort and sure to catch any epic fantasy fan’s eye, despite how unbalanced it may be. The deficits will turn off some readers more than others. Regardless, The Red Knight is a solid foundation for a series that will leave many begging for more.