You Die When You Die (West of West #1) by Angus Watson

youdieI know you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but, the cover for You Die When You Die is awesomely cool and, in this particular instance, I think it’s safe to say ‘be that person’ because the content of this book is just excellent.  I loved this.  My only regret is not picking it up sooner, although in my endless search for silver linings at least I now don’t have to wait for book 2.  Angus Watson has discovered a way to fill his books with death and bloodshed and yet at the same time provide you with enough banter and heart to stop it becoming stomach churning.  He creates characters that you just fall in love with and in this book we have a group of refugees who will warm the cockles of even the most stony constitution.

Basically the story involves a prophecy, a death warrant for an entire village and a number of people on the run after a village boy foretells the death of everyone in the tribe.

As with his Iron Age series Watson has cast back into history for inspiration.  The setting is North America, the time approximately 1,000 years ago when Vikings, with their ‘you die when you die’ philosophy and desire for adventure had travelled far and wide and a small tribe of them were established amongst the native Americans in a village known as Hardwork.  Known as the ‘Mushroom Men (because of their fair hair and skin) they lead an almost slothful lifestyle.  When they arrived in Goachica territory the locals believed them to be favoured by the Gods and so look after their every need – giving a lie to the name of the Hardwork village and people.

The Calnian Empire, in which Goachica lies, is ruthless, impressive and magical.  Following a series of disturbing dreams the Empress seeks advice from her chief warlock who predicts that the dreams contain a dire warning of pale skinned invaders destroying the world.  The result is a decree that the entire Hardwork people be slaughtered and their village razed.  The Empress sends her feared Owsla to undertake the task.

I don’t think I need to say too much more about the plot although in a really surreal way I couldn’t help thinking of Watership Down when I was reading this.  Bear with me now, Watership Down starts with a young rabbit predicting the end of the warren, a group of rabbits running away and then being chased by the rabbit ‘police’ – the Owsla – although that’s pretty much where that train of thought ends it gave me a smile.  Anyway, following their narrow escape there follows a cat and mouse style chase over hostile territory (hostile mainly due to the Empress decreeing that any tribe supporting the Mushroom Men will also be wiped out), skirmishes, captures, wild creatures of the most dramatic nature and help where it’s least expected.

What I really loved about this story is the characters.  The Mushroom Men are just great and they have the most outrageous names (nicknamed as children the names simply stuck) which really do lend some of the scenes an unexpected dose of humour that is most welcome and helps to prevent certain scenes from becoming too unpalatable.  The thing is these vikings, they have such strength of character, they’re courageous and they all care for each other – well, there are a few less likeable characters but Watson is pretty ruthless and the pen being mightier than the sword a fair few fall foul of his bloodthirsty prose.  I like that the author isn’t shy of killing off his characters, don’t get me wrong, I had a moment where I thought we were going to run out of people to continue the story with, but, it all helps to raise the tension.  Then there’s the Owsla – all women with enhanced abilities.  You’re not supposed to like them and yet what do you know – they just grow on you, particularly as the story progresses and we learn more of their history and how they come to be so magically endowed.  Finnbogi the Boggy is the main character and he’s basically a rather lovable young man.  He’s a bit of a coward, he over estimates his own mental prowess and he’s also a tiny bit (by which I mean completely) ruled by his hormones, which see him fall in and out of love with some of his female tribe members during which he becomes a tad obsessive.  His current obsession is Thyri Treelegs.  He’s pretty useless in a tight spot, I would probably be more helpful – and that’s really saying something given that I’m such a raging coward that I don’t even have my ears pierced.  What can I say though, Watson is consistent, in spite of a few revelations along the way, he doesn’t suddenly convert Finnbogi into the ‘chosen one’ even though you can see changes for the good by the end of the story.   I guess the constant threat of death and running for your life across country will serve to bring your head out of the clouds.

The writing is really good.  I have to applaud an author who can balance the bloodshed with humour – it’s not an easy thing to accomplish and can go quite wrong but here I think it’s spot on.  The pace is fast and the action plentiful but there is also respite in between which gives you space to form attachments.

To be honest, I don’t think I can say too much more other than to say if you haven’t read Angus Watson then I implore you to do so.  I love his fantasy.  His stories are highly entertaining, he knows enough about history to make everything feel vaguely familiar and yet he writes in a modern and accessible style.

I can’t wait to read the second instalment of West of West and I have all my fingers and toes crossed that the characters hold their own.  Yep, can’t deny that I’m a bit nervous on their behalf.  It sounds like they’re about to head into seriously dangerous territory (as if the Calnian Empire wasn’t bad enough).

My thanks to the publisher, through Netgalley, for granting me a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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Waiting on Wednesday : You Die When You Die (West of West #1) by Angus Watson

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was created by Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday we get to highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  My book this week is : You Die When You Die (West of West #1) by Angus Watson.  I really like the sound of this one – it’s already released in the US (yesterday I think) – just a couple more weeks and then I can grab a copy of this.

you die whenYou can’t change your fate – so throw yourself into battle, because you’ll either win or wake up drinking mead in the halls of your ancestors. That’s what Finn’s tribe believe.

But when their settlement is massacred by a hostile tribe and Finn and several friends, companions and rivals make their escape across a brutal, unfamiliar landscape, Finn will fight harder than he’s ever fought in his life. He wants to live – even if he only lives long enough to tell Thyri Treelegs how he feels about her.

The David Gemmell Award nominated author of Age of Iron returns with You Die When You Die – in which a mismatched group of refugees battle animals and monsters, determined assassins, depraved tribes, an unforgiving land and each other as they cross a continent to fulfil a prophecy.

Age of Iron by Angus Watson

Just finished reading Age of Iron by Angus Watson – which I loved. I just really liked this – it’s very entertaining and it kept me glued to the page.  Literally, I’ve read this in 2 days or maybe even less because I didn’t want to put it down!  Anyway, I get ahead of myself.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Age of Iron other than three unusual characters who come together out of need.  Dug, Spring and Lowa – the most unlikely set of companions that you could imagine!

At the start of the story Dug, a warrior for hire, has been roped into help defend the town and hillfort of Barton against King Zadar’s army.   Having already completely annihilatied the town of Boddingham Zadar’s army are going to swing by Barton on the way back to Maidum Castle.  At this point, there is still a debate about whether a battle will actually take place or not or whether this will be simply a display of strength and chariots.  After all, Barton pays its taxes and tributes!  Well, we don’t sit on a knife edge for long before a simple whim that could have gone either way brings Zadar’s army charging across the field to slaughter Barton’s defences  At the same time, Lowa is helping Zadar achieve victory – one of his favoured she is a warrior and expert with a longbow.  Whilst, awaiting the outcome of the battle and ready to move onto the field and collect the spoils of war is a rag tag bunch of misfits led by a man called Ogre and accompanied by a young girl called Spring.  As mentioned, the three come together in unusual circumstances involving a lucky knock to the head rendering Dug unconscious during the massacre, Lowa being betrayed by Zadar and escaping with her life and ideas of revenge and Spring attaching herself to Dug who finds himself unable to forsake her!

What really worked for me with this story were the pacing, which is just constant and almost immediate and boils down to a fairly narrow time frame overall.  The author’s style of writing which seems to casually and effortlessly set the scene without the use of long wieldy descriptions, difficult names and families/relationships.  And the characters.  Not only did I really like the three main characters but I also equally disliked some of the baddies!  I love it when I get some proper nasty characters who I can really genuinely dislike!  That being said, there are no really simple black and white characters here.  Dug is a great character but he’s far from perfect.  He’s not above walking away from a situation if it puts him in danger.  He’s definitely a bit dictated to by his ‘little man’ and, on top of this – let’s not forget he’s a mercenary for hire and was originally intending joining the ranks of Zadar’s army.  Similarly, Lowa has a very brutal and bloodthirsty past which she has time to reflect on once she’s on the other side of the fence.  Spring is a very mysterious character.  She’s only young, I think about 10 years old maybe, and yet she seems to be one of those people who things seem to come together for.  I really liked her.  If pushed though, I’m not sure I could name a favourite – they all have their own individual roles to play in this story and they all have their moments to shine.

On top of this the story itself is entertaining.  It’s a strange mix of bloody warfare, torture and truly horrible nastiness but it’s all wrapped up in a humourous style package that prevents it from becoming too grisly.  Darkly humourous I guess.  Although, if you are a bit squeamish I’m just going to chuck in here that this might not be for you.  Just saying.  For me, I like that this isn’t too grim and takes a slightly less serious stance on what could become a very dark tale indeed.

In terms of the fantasy element – this is only very lightly done and comes in the form of the magic used by the druids of the period.  Of course, some of them are simply charlatans but there are others who are truly capable.

Now I’m not a historian but I don’t think I really need to be to know that certain elements of this are not maybe factually accurate – for example the manner of speech which is modern.  Personally, I like the modern take on the historical story and find the use of this type of language much easier in terms of the flow of the story.  Others might have a different opinion but it certainly wasn’t an issue for me.

If you like a good romping adventure, a tale of revenge, a tale of comradeship and you can stomach the more grisly side (which has been tempered by a slightly humourous take not to mention some very inventive cursing) add to this a sprinkling of magic, some good old arena style games and an old fashioned tale involving difficult situations and heroic solutions then this could be the very book you’ve been waiting for.

Frankly, I really enjoyed this and have no hesitation in recommending it.

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which I give my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.