When Head of Zeus asked if anyone was interested in a debut fantasy book by a Scottish author my virtual hand was immediately in the air. I can’t quite remember how Lauren Tavella at Head of Zeus phrased her shout out tweet, but there was something in it that spoke to me. When she replied to tell me more about The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath my interest in the book just grew even more.
I have to apologise to Head of Zeus and the blog tour members before me because I have been completely remiss in promoting The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath blog tour. So far my August has been one migraine after another, and The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath provided some wonderful moments of solace and distraction while Scotland’s weather decided to have what felt like a rotstorm of its own. It was very atmospheric, but complete hell on my head. Please do take some time to visit the lovely stops before and after me <3
This book was provided for free by Head of Zeus in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Lauren Tavella at Head of Zeus for the opportunity to review The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath.
There is a lot of blood, gore and violence in this book. It is about war and the realities of war. It doesn’t shy away from them, it doesn’t paint it as glorious or as something that only affects certain people in society. As a result, this book deals with themes of death and grief as well.
Badass heroine fighting for her people, her family and freedom? You betcha I’m interested. I’m so curious about the orbs of light appearing and abducting people because that sounds like it should be in a science fiction novel, not a fantasy one. I’m interested to see how Green is going to mix that into a fantasy setting especially when there are “twisted monsters and ancient gods” involved as well. It all sounds good, I’m a little hesitant as my last epic fantasy novel turned out not so great so I’m hoping this one is more my speed.
Also, what one earth does that title even mean?! I’ve read it several times, gone around it in my head and I’m still not sure what it’s referring to. It’s bugging the hell out of me and the only way I’m going to find out more is by reading this book!
The thing that stuck with me after finishing The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath is that this is very much a fantasy epic that is about real people. Yes, some people can use magic, there are gods, and fantastical creatures, and knights who fight the forces of darkness; everything you expect in a fantasy novel. But they’re not put on a pedestal, they’re not out of reach to the reader or out of touch with reality. The protagonist, Floré, could easily be transported from the fantasy setting of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath to a contemporary setting. She’s a retired warrior who has moved to the suburbs to make a life with her husband and they’ve started a family together. Instead of fighting on the front lines of the ongoing war with the Ferron, Floré now helps keep her village and local area safe, training the new cadets to do what she once did.
It’s no less an important role as the one that made her a figure of legend, and it’s one Floré takes seriously. She doesn’t talk about her life before arriving in the village, about what she did to be awarded the silk cord of valour on her sword that marks her as a hero of the highest esteem in the Undal Protectorate. It’s in these actions that Green captures the reality of war and the trauma that is left behind once the fighting stops. The problem is that the fighting didn’t stop; it’s ongoing, eternal and we learn that Floré only escaped it because she was given a special assignment.
When her daughter is taken by the enemy she once fought Floré does the only thing she knows how; she fights. That is where the name of the book comes from; Floré is the Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath. The army of the Undal Protectorate is called the Stormwatch, it protects its people and ensures that the Protectorate will never again be enslaved. Within its ranks are the City Watch, the Forest Watch, the Lancers, the Commandos and Skein-Mages. The first two protect the people within the cities and villages of the Protectorate, the Lancers man the Stormwall, protect borders and hunt bandits and slavers. The Commandos are the ones who go into the rotstorms, the violent magical storms that bring forth twisted monsters from the earth.
Floré is a Commando, and within the Commandos, there appear to be two specialisations that Commandos can follow if they wish; the art of the balanced blade or the gauntlet. Through interludes, Green gives us glimpses of Floré’s training alongside her old friends, including one that specialised in the art of the balanced blade. Floré also shows decent skill with a sword and a knife, suggesting that while a Commando specialises and prefers hand to hand combat or the blade they can learn from either one. Another character explains to the cadets that “a Stormguard Commando keeps their gauntlets, so they can keep their fists beneath. And they need to keep their fists to swing their swords!”. I liked the almost symbiotic relationship that is described here, that a Commando’s Gauntlets are not just a piece of armour to protect them; they’re an essential part of their being. Without their gauntlets, they can’t do what they need to do and throughout the book, Floré is often seen removing everything but her Gauntlets as though they are truly a piece of her. Only in moments when she truly feels safe doe takes them off and lays them down, and it’s such a symbolic gesture. It’s like you know you can take a breath as a reader because Floré’s taken her gauntlet’s off, it’s ok, nothing is going to happen for the moment.
The Skien-Mages are one of the most interesting magic users I’ve seen in fantasy, especially as magic is not referred to as magic at all in The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath. It’s called the skien and it’s all about the patterns within things, which reminds me more of atoms and DNA than it does magic, although to be clear it is not described scientifically at all. That is just my personal perspective. In this novel mages learn how to read patterns in the world and influence them, some become whitestaffs who only read the patterns and some become skien-mages who use their abilities to influence them. Using the skien is not unforgiving though, it takes from the skien-mage. Someone who has great power and can use the skien by taking from the world around them rather than it taking from them is known as a Skien-Wreck. There are only a handful of those to have ever existed, and they have changed the world.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, this is an epic fantasy with everyday people and what I liked about Green’s storytelling was that he tells an epic story without getting bogged down with endless details we don’t need to know. Before I started reading I saw a review that said the lore didn’t make sense and I was like, oh no, here we go again. Then I read The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath and found it to be the total opposite of confusing. The book is not just interlaced with interludes that show us the backstory of the characters, there are also snippets of lore at the start of each chapter. This isn’t a new technique, it is one that has been used in fantasy for as long as I can remember. The problem I find is that too many authors get lost in the story of their own lore. They weave this majestic story of gods and heroes and forget to found it in the reality of their story. They throw names and locations at the reader and expect them to match these obscure references to things happening in the book, and most of the time they don’t make any sense!
But Green doesn’t do that. Everything links back to something else and what I loved about his snippets was that they weren’t fake mysterious history books, ancient mystical texts of prophecy or goddess forbid, poetry; they were real reports that would occur in a situation. Better yet, they were people that had been mentioned by characters in the book and like all of Green’s characters they were normal people. They weren’t some grand duke or high priest so and so. No, it was a Commander or a whitestaff. It also wasn’t just any Commander, it was the private diary of Floré’s former Commander which meant the reader was getting the inside scoop and all the dirty details about the characters. That is something I’d much rather be reading than some dusty old relic of a tome spouting some nonsense prophecy that is barely relevant!
At the end of the day The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath is a story of people handling situations as best as they can with the information they have, and as with most situations that usually isn’t the entire story. There’s always more than one side to a story and in war, it doesn’t always matter that the other side exists, and I think Green does an excellent job of showing that. Just like the realness of his characters, he hammers home the harsh realities of war and how important it is to survive, to just keep going because if you stop you’ll fall apart. We see this through the eyes of the multiple characters throughout the novel and even though they are on different sides or have different amounts of experience with this type of trauma they all share the same pain, the same struggles. Some experiences are universal, they touch everyone, but how we react to them is what separates us and that is what is at the core of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath.
As I got to about 70% of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath I began to think “this can’t be a standalone novel” and at the end of the epilogue my suspicions were confirmed; “The End of Book One”. My interest in the story and characters grew as the story progressed. I didn’t immediately fall in love with this book, however, as things moved forward I definitely became engaged in it. I wanted to know what was going on, I wanted to see Floré and her group succeed in getting her daughter back. That to me is a sign of a good book. I will definitely be back for more in book two because I have to see what happens next and I fell in love with the characters.
It didn’t occur to me until I sat down to write this review that other than a certain character (you’ll know who I mean when you meet them) none of them are the sexy heroines or strapping heroes you normally see in fantasy novels. It’s brilliant and it’s so subtly done that you don’t even notice it because Green doesn’t make a big deal about it. I think that is the brilliance of his writing; everything that is usually emphasised in fantasy he understates and he gets away with it because the reader already knows what to look for in a fantasy novel. So if you’re someone who’s read a bunch of fantasy and wants to read something a bit different then The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath is for you. The story and world in this novel are very self-contained, however, so if you’re looking for a grand adventure like the lads of The Fellowship of the Rings had then this isn’t going to be one for you.
Over to you
Thank you for joining me on my stop of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath blog tour and for reading my review of the book! I hope you enjoyed it 🙂
While I’ve got you, would you mind doing me a wee favour? I’ve just announced an event that’s taking place next month and I’m trying to spread the word as much as possible! If you’ve got a few minutes pop over to the GeekDis announcement, take a read and at the end of the post, you’ll find sharing buttons. Every share to social media helps a bunch! Thank you <3
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