Hardcover, 640 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Del Rey Books
Kevin Hearne has had a pretty quick rise, thanks to his fun and lighthearted Iron Druid Chronicles. However, for some time now he’s been teasing his full-length epic fantasy series at events and blogs, and I personally have had it circled since it was announced, eager to see what Hearne would, and could, do when stepping away from the Iron Druid ring.
A Plague Of Giants is told in a fashion that is in equal parts familiar and unfamiliar – a bard in a tavern spins the tale, however this bard has the ability to shift his appearance into that of the person he is telling the story of – including a younger version of himself, who personally witnessed some of the events. The story is broken up from time to time by focusing on the bard, Fintan, in the present time, dealing with some repercussions of the tale he’s telling – or more specifically, the way the tale is being told. There are interludes of him working along with Master Dervan, a scribe who is tasked with recording Fintan’s story as he goes.
There’s a bit of a learning curve to this, as there are quite a few POV characters expressed, and sometimes keeping track of who you were on and what their storyline was could be a challenge. However, as the story went on, this became more and more second nature and easier to follow, as we learned more details about each person that made them stand out as unique.
The early portion of the book focuses largely around the storyteller, as well as the Hathrim – the fire giants – who are pushed from their land due to a volcanic eruption that destroys their home. It is revealed that their leader has a plan in mind to seek refuge in the land of man – where they are banned from via an ancient pact – and eventually take the land by force for themselves. This part is interesting and kind of a fun bit of backstory, however I couldn’t help but be bothered by the fact that their story is big in the beginning, disappears for some time in the middle, then becomes relevant very close to the end yet again.
The characters in this novel are many, and while you start to get a feel for most of them throughout the book, the fact there are so many POV characters really starts to muddle things a bit, and makes for a reading experience that often feels like it needs a chart on the wall to track what is going on with what character, and where. This is even further complicated by the storytelling of the bard, as you not only jump from character to character each chapter, you also have small interludes of the bard prepping and introducing what he’ll be talking about – just one more thing to pull your attention away.
It was a huge departure from Hearne’s Iron Druid series, as that focuses mainly on one character for several books. However, if you read reviews and speak with folks in person who have read it, a common consensus often is that the series starts to get a little tougher once it goes from the single-POV of Atticus, and includes POVs of Granuaile and Owen. That transfers pretty directly to A Plague of Giants, where things get bogged down more and more as more characters are added, and each individual character loses bits of their importance when sharing screen time with so many others.
The worldbuilding is far and away the strength of this book. The Seven Kennings is a unique and fun magic system, an onion-like series of magics that unfolds more and more as the series goes on. Many characters are seeking out mythical kennings that are not documented, and one of the main characters accidentally discovers one of these powers, and uses it to his advantage throughout the book (and grows around it, becoming more and more confident and pushy as he learns his strengths). There is magic abound in subtle ways, as well as not-so-subtle ways, such as the fire giants immolation. The tidal mariners are fascinating, and the history of the world that is revealed is engrossing.
Unfortunately, the pacing of the novel is not always perfect, and the middle portion of the book was…slow. I won’t say boring, that’s too harsh, but there’s a decent stretch that everyone I’ve spoken to who read it all agreed was a screeching halt to the story flow, and it physically slowed down how quickly I could read it as I was not nearly as engrossed. The ending picked up nicely, and really resulted in a satisfying and thorough finish to the story. It certainly did not feel like a standalone book, but enough ends were tied up to feel a solid conclusion.
As a whole, I had very mixed feelings on the novel. There were some things I really enjoyed about it (magic system, worldbuilding, creativity), and some I did not like (pacing, number of characters). I’m interested to see where this goes, and I’m hoping Kevin shows some restraint in future novels as far as adding even more unnecessary POV characters, and rather opts to tell the story through the ones he’s already got established. There’s a great base to work with here, and I think it can be improved upon in the future novels.