Review – Clash of Iron by Angus Watson (2015)

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Paperback, 560 pages
Published April 14th 2015 by Orbit

When going into 2014’s Age of Iron, I was not really sure what to expect, and despite several positive reviews, didn’t necessarily know how I’d feel about it. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement – I laughed out loud at times, couldn’t put it down, and adored the characters and presentation Watson had generated. I took off quite a bit of time before reading the second novel, though found myself having no troubles jumping right back in with little to no refresher needed.

I was thrilled to find that the characters I’d loved in the first were back, and exactly as I remembered them – namely Dug, Spring, Lowa, Ragnall, and…Julius Caesar?
Yeah. That Caesar.

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Clash of Iron takes us back to 1st century era Europe, a fantasy-based take on a real time period, real places, and in a lot of cases, real events. Some items are changed for the story, or made up altogether, but the bits and pieces involving historical figures are largely fact-based, and with my meager knowledge of the time period. I felt fairly immersed in the book. A general competence was shown by Watson to transport the reader to the time period, which I think is a “must” for any historical-based fantasy. As with Bernard Cornwell’s books of similar ilk, if you’re using real settings, it’s important to get some details right, while you can fudge some others, and I thought Watson walked a very fine line to get it just right.

As with Age of Iron, the real stars of the story are the characters. The simple-yet-deep Dug, a relatable bear of a man, struggles to balance his duty to his new friends, his new lands, while finding a place to fit into the entire picture, unaware of just how important of a piece he is in the puzzle. Lowa is now queen of Maidun after the events of Age of Iron, and her life is that much more complicated because of it, not to mention her relationship with Dug, and some of the revelations to come between them. However, her scouts soon discover some very concerning items regarding the impending Roman invasion.

Oh, right, the Roman invasion – I mentioned that, right? We find another favorite from the first book, Ragnall, now in league with Julius Caesar, and also torn – between his homeland, which he feels increasingly bitter towards, and his new Roman compatriots, particularly the impressive Julius Caesar. He soon finds himself a close confidant and insider for Caesar, admiring the man in his own way, and enjoying the favor he was able to achieve by assisting him, even if he did not get the same courtesy from the other self-aggrandizing Romans around him. Ragnall finds himself ever more impressed with the Roman culture and diplomacy, and ever more jaded towards his former homeland, to the point of beginning to wish the Romans upon them as a way to civilize and modernize them.

The novel is a lot of fun – not nearly as funny as the first, in my opinion, but still very clever, and getting several legit out-loud laughs from me. It takes a much darker direction overall than Age of Iron, both in tone and events, but it was never oppressive or overly gloomy, as some grimdark novels can become. The characters are brilliantly written – each with unique characteristics and voices, each well rounded and deep, never bland or flat – there are many shades of gray in this book. The female characters, in particular, are very well-written, and given a place in the forefront of the novel, positions of power, and very competent attributes and skillsets to boot. There might be more page time for the male characters, but Lowa, Spring and co always felt well represented and integral pieces of the story.

It’s hard to talk about without giving any spoilers, but I will say that the ending of the book had me saying “WHAT THE EFF” out loud, and absolutely shocked by the direction taken. There were a few “WTF” moments through the novel, but the ending takes the cake. Where a lot of authors struggle to finish their novels, Watson hits an absolute home run in this piece, giving a gut-wrenching, moving and important tour through the final few chapters, leaving the reader pining for more, but also needing some time to recover and recuperate after what happened.

Clash of Iron has some very high points, a few flat periods, and in general a lot of positive attributes. I did not love it the way I loved the first, but it’s still a very good book, one I thoroughly enjoyed reading and a series that I will recommend to others – especially readers of Bernard Cornwell – and will continue reading myself.

Rating: 4.25 / 5

 

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