Author: Ginn Hale
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Cover Artist: John Coulthart & Dawn Kimberling
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 12/31/2014
Length: Long Novel (~ 100K+)
Genre: Fantasy, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance
Five years after abandoning the Sagrada Acedemy, Elezar Grunito has become infamous in the sanctified circles of noble dueling rings for his brutal temper and lethal blade. Men and women of all ranks gather to cheer and jeer, none of them knowing Elezar’s true purpose. But a violent death outside the ring marks Elezar as a wanted man and sends him into hiding in the far northern wilds of Labara.
There, creatures of myth and witchcraft—long since driven from Cadeleon—lurk in dark woods and prowl the winding streets. Soldiers and priests alike fear the return of witch-queens and even demons. Elezar soon learns that magic takes many forms, some too alluring to resist, others too terrible to endure. But just as he begins to find his place in this strange new country, the past he left behind along with his school days returns to challenge him once again.
First there was J.R.R. Tolkien and his Middle Earth epics. Tolkien basically invented the genre of the mythical fantasy, and his work (which I read at thirteen) has spawned many progeny, some great, some not to great. Not everyone loves fantasy, but if you do, you know. In the world of contemporary epic fantasy, Ginn Hale is, in my opinion, a master. Not only does she write with an elegance and a passion that sucks the reader into the intense, complicated plots, but she creates worlds of startling beauty and characters of great power and compassion—and humor. Frankly, Hale’s a better writer than Tolkien. (There, I said it.)
“The Champion of the Scarlet Wolf” is a two-volume follow-up to “The Lord of the White Hell,” set in a world that is cleverly analogous to a vaguely 16th-century Europe, but only in the sort of way that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is. The two central players in this drama are Elezar Grunito, a nobleman from the warlike, religious nation of Cadeleone; and Skellan, a penniless street witch in the northern country of Labara. The Cadeleonians have more-or-less benignly occupied Labara’s four counties for over a century, and when Elezar finds himself on the run from the law (again), he is sent incognito to the walled city of Milmuraille, the capital of Radulf County in Labara. There he happens to rescue a big stray dog with red fur, badly beaten and being pursued by guards who clearly intend to kill him. The dog, as it happens, is Skellan.
And thus begins to unfold a Byzantine plot of witchcraft, actors, prostitutes, soldiers, battles, mythical creatures, and ancient history. Alongside it unfolds a powerful love story, as the self-loathing Elezar, who has hidden his desire for men in violence and revenge, becomes the champion of the rag-tag street witch Skellan. Elezar believes himself to be bestial and able to express himself only through violence. Skellan feels unworthy and inadequate, hiding behind his magic for self-preservation. But both men are far more than they seem, and through these two volumes they gradually learn each other’s dark histories, and emerge as, well, the Sam and Frodo in Tolkien’s epic. Only bigger and a lot gayer. Hale creates a vivid, cinematic setting for her drama, and fills the stage with many wonderful, hateful, interesting and lovable characters (some of whom aren’t even human). Striking moments of kindness and compassion, humor and abject fear, bring Hale’s characters to life and enrich the story immeasurably.
And never underestimate the importance of the central gay characters for me. This is why I read any fiction today. After a lifetime (60 years) of reading straight everything, gay characters are essential to my recreational reading, just as excellent writing is. Straight men might not read these books because of that prejudice, but Elezar and Skellan make this book sing. This is precisely why Ginn Hale is such a godsend for a reader like me.
I’m pretty sure there could be a third in this series, but there doesn’t need to be, and given Ginn Hale’s pattern (The Lord of the White Hell), this will likely end at two. Or, there could be a third series. I’ll just hope.
(Buy links are for Champion of the Scarlet Wolf #1 – However, the review applies to Vols. 1 & 2)
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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