Overview (No Spoilers):
Easily one of my favorite reads of 2021, Malice will be a go to recommendation for the foreseeable future. Gwynne must have used a list of my favorite components of fantasy literature when drafting his debut novel, Malice, from the vivid characters to the sprawling setting. The detailed, and deliberate worldbuilding lays the foundation for the rest of the story to use as a springboard, particularly considering the significant cliffhanger that Gwynne has in store for the reader. Gwynne also takes on a delightfully ambitious number of perspectives that spanning several nations, each with their own distinct feel. With so many characters to keep track of there is a significant adjustment period for the reader, however this effort yields dividends, especially with how fleshed out the world and characters are, let alone when they begin to overlap.
The main character we follow is young Corban as he makes the difficult transition from child to man, and all of the missteps along the way. In some ways his story seems to be the focal point that all the others revolve, though I’m sure this opinion could be controversial and coming from hindsight. As Corban evolves, there seems to be important events happening all around and to him, until the reader can no longer dismiss them as coincidence. Still, growing up in obscurity has its benefits as he has time to develop while being secure in a loving family. There are still significant secrets to be revealed regarding Corban, but some of the mystery starts to fall into place as tragic events mar what should be a time of celebration.
Two other characters we spend significant time together are High Prince Nathair and Veradis who are linked through friendship and loyalty. With the unwavering confidence that prophecy and legend are on their side, both take deliberate steps down the path that they think is the one of righteousness. Instead, it might be leading them both in an unexpected direction, blind as they are to the bigger picture.
We are treated to a myriad of other wonderful characters, from Corban’s sister Cywen to King Brenin’s advisor Evnis, and the warrior Kastell who all serve to round out and add exponential depth to this complex literary world.
Unexpected deaths in literature, especially when it is a character who has been carefully crafted, always serve to elevate that novel to a higher tier of quality. Knowing that no character is safe is crucial to keeping the reader on their toes. It heightens the suspense of dangerous sequences as the reader is not able to ‘relax’ due to the outcome not being preordained. While the beginning of Malice felt relatively safe, by the end the reader couldn’t be sure who would be next on Gwynne’s literary chopping block.
The ending is full of equal measures of action, heartbreak, and shocking revelations, however for each mystery unveiled, ten more questions are delightfully left in their wake. Overall, Gwynne combines all of my favorite elements of literature in Malice to create a story that I couldn’t stop listening to, or more importantly pondering long after I’d finished the last page.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- That ending was brutal. We’d become attached to fair and kind King Brenin and Corban’s Dad had proven his love over and over again. Their deaths marked the end of a series of deaths ranging from Tull to the Queen, as well as Cywen’s love interest that served to keep the reader anxious with every exchange. Speaking of Cywen, I’m firmly rejecting her death. She has to still be alive!
- When will Veradis realize he is on the side of evil?
- How far High Prince Nathair has fallen! Did he really kill his father? How did he decide to go that route?
- The mystery surrounding Corban is so interesting? Who were his real parents? How did Meical find him as a baby or find his ‘parents’ to raise him? How did Gar as a Jehar find him? Were Heb and Brina also there to protect Corban? What are the extent of their powers?
- I loved the inclusion of animals in Malice from Storm (the wolven pup), to Shield (the horse) and Brina’s crow. What happened to Shield?
- Where did Meical go?
- I want to know more about Halion’s backstory. We know he is the bastard some of another king but how did he end up in Ardan?
- Kastell and his adventures were some of my favorite chapters. Did Jael kill him? What is this grudge that Jael bears against Kastell?