Suffering from a Game of Thrones hangover after that shocking season 7 finale? Theorizing about the final season too bitter a salve when the wait might be well over a year? Looking for something with knights and magic and dragons and bloody, bloody battles that draws as deeply from the well of history as Game of Thrones? Look no further than The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron.
Why? Because it is, in my mind, the best ongoing fantasy period right now. And, yes, I am including A Song of Ice and Fire in that estimation. That not enough for you? You can read my reviews of the first, second, third, and fourth books. There is no interminable wait for the series to conclude here—the fifth and final book is out on October 31 of this year (review here).
Not sold yet? Continue beyond the jump to see why I think Games of Thrones fans, in particular, will like The Traitor Son Cycle (and why they might not).
A Song of Ice and Fire is so powerful, in part, because it combines three major influences: grimdark, epic fantasy, and historical fiction. The Traitor Son Cycle isn’t exactly light and airy, but grimdark it ain’t (sorry, grimdark aficionados). I’ll get to the epic fantasy bit, but let’s start with the influence of historical fiction, because that is what I think really makes A Song of Ice and Fire distinctive.
Is Cameron influenced by historical fiction? Oh yeah. Hell, he is historical fiction. Or at least a noted author of it, writing as Christian Cameron. George R.R. Martin draws heavily from history in writing his epic. He famously uses the Wars of the Roses, but pick up just about any medieval history book and you will find stuff that Martin might be riffing on. Cameron has that, but he does Martin one better. Cameron doesn’t just read and write about history, he lives it. He is a passionate reenactor.
Every year he goes wilderness camping in a group in period kit. One of the highlights of The Traitor Son Cycle is the Wild, a vast wilderness reminiscent of Canada, full of every monster you can imagine, that surrounds the civilized lands of the story in lieu of of an analog to the Atlantic and North Sea. He has participated in experiments that gave us a better understanding of how Greek phalanxes actually fought. This isn’t vambrace porn; Cameron doesn’t just know what the pieces of equipment are, he knows why they existed and what it’s like to use them. He’s marched in them and (mock) fought in them. That stuff richly informs his writing, but it doesn’t bog it down. He got his start, after all, writing spy thrillers.
So if it is richly informed by history, is it the sort of “low” fantasy of Martin’s creation, where ice demons and dragons exist but distinctly take second fiddle to political machinations? Because the political machinations are great, but I really loved seeing dragons and White Walkers in action this season. The answer is no. This isn’t epic fantasy, this is EPIC fantasy.
The Red Knight is a Legend-esque tale of a mercenary company protecting an abbey against the forces of the Wild and insurmountable odds. But it starts a lot of plates spinning too and the story gets very big very quickly. There are “elves” in the best tradition of the fae, soulless, eerie, sibilant creatures. Bugmen who are storied to have hives in the millions past the edge of the map to the west. There are wyverns and demons and great golden bears smarter than the average bear (sorry). There is hermetical magic and courtly knights and holy orders with a magic of their own and angry Scots analogs (every fantasy needs an angry Scots analog, them’s the rules). The protagonist gets a griffon. A bad guy pulls down meteors from outer space to smite his enemies (it isn’t the easy way, but it damn sure looks cool). There are dragons that blot out the sky and wield the power of demigods. There are zombies. There is a zombie dragon (Cameron did it first).
Yeah, Miles Cameron knows how to have fun.
All of this is wrapped up in a beautifully convoluted plot, a host of characters to love and hate, and one of the richest, most fulfilling arcs for a main character I have seen in a long, long time. Maybe it isn’t for you. It isn’t grimdark. It isn’t 100-level fantasy. It isn’t one of those 200-page pulpy sword and sorcery books I’ve come to love. But if it does sound like your thing, there is nobody doing it quite so well as Miles Cameron right now.