The Shattered Crown

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The Shattered Crown by Richard Ford, book reviewIt is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a publisher in possession of free review copies will be in want of a book reviewer to read them. This, for the reviewer, means lots of lovely free books, many of which being ones that they would otherwise likely never have read. Unfortunately, in amongst this pile will occasionally creep the odd book that is part of an ongoing series or (worse) the mid-point in a trilogy. I have had several such books in the past and have generally struggled to understand what is going on, given that much of the story, scene-setting and character development has taken place before the book in my hands has even started. The second book in a trilogy in particularly difficult, as it is often the weak link, a mere bridging stage between an intriguing introduction and an explosive finale.It takes a good author to stop the reader coming to their work at this point feeling lost and confused; it turns out that Richard Ford is one of these authors.

In The Shattered Crown – book two of Ford’s Steelhaven trilogy – we find ourselves in the bustling city of the same name, a walled citadel, and administrative and trade hub to the surrounding Free States. With the city’s great warrior leader Kind Cael dead, it is up to his young daughter Janessa to lead the States; a hard enough job for an untested woman of such youth as it stands, without the imminent arrival of warfare to Steelhaven. For, approaching steadily from the south and sweeping all before them away, comes the Elharim warlord Amon Tugha and the band of Kurhta tribesmen that he has drawn together into an all-conquering army reminiscent of the Mongol hordes. The city is twitchy and preparing for siege, food and coin are both running low, and Janessa wonders who she can trust amongst her court to advise her through this crisis.

Alongside Janessa is a rich cast of characters and a generous smattering of sub-plots to keep things interesting as we await the arrival of the approaching armies. We get a different perspective on the court through Janessa’s Sentinel bodyguards Kaira and Merrick, and learn of the workings of Steelhaven outside of the Crown District through the eyes of city guards, thieves, apprentices and street children. Through their various perspectives we learn of a complex world and a web of alliances around the city that might mean that not everyone inside the walls of Steelhaven is unhappy at the approach of Amon Tugha – and he may even just have people working for him inside the city already.

As book twos of trilogies go, I was impressed. Not satisfied with merely being a bridging book that shuffles characters into position for the final showdown, The Shattered Crown has plenty of action to keep it rattling along at an exhilarating pace and a few sub-plots that conclude within it, giving it a satisfying feel that most novels in this position lack. Coming to it without having read Herald of the Storm, I also found that there was adequate “previously on” material to pick up the story and enjoy it (while avoiding the dull and frankly lazy information dump tactics that some writers use to try and bring new readers up to speed with events). I’m sure some subtleties were lost on me as a newbie to this world, but I had no problem with following and enjoying the plot laid out in front of me. This was solid storytelling that stands up well against other epic fantasy series, although the names and conventions within it did make me wonder if perhaps Mr Ford hadn’t enjoyed playing the popular RPG Skyrim maybe a little too much…?

Recommended, although I would suggest reading the series fully in order to get the most from this book.

The Shattered Crown by Richard Ford
Published by Headline, March 2014
With thanks to the publishers for providing me with this review copy.

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Shattered Crown, The
by Richard Ford

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Written by collingwood21