The Armoured Saint – Myke Cole (Review)

tasThe Order protects. It might not always seem that way, when they kill children and exterminate entire villages, but they do what they do for the good of everyone. It would be worse without the Order, if the world was filled with wizards and demons once again.

Heloise has never been as discreet as a village girl should. She breaks rules and keeps secrets. It’s all harmless, until the Order arrives, and unquestioning adherence to tradition becomes the safest path. 

I liked this a lot. It was original, atmospheric, and complex. The setting is vaguely European in trappings, but otherwise very different to the standard fantasy fare; humanity is huddled and scared, united against the memory of a great evil and in thrall to a more banal one. The current society’s origins are only half-explained, which makes sense both for a first book in a trilogy and for a society in which people only half-believe their origins.

The Armoured Saint is absolutely brutal in its depiction of violence and the harsh realities of the world. In many ways, the book is a coming-of-age story for a young girl, so you’d think that the savagery of combat and the cruelty of society would be muted or glossed over. They aren’t – the book pulls no punches, and the prose is very effective. Heloise’s pain and anguish are extremely clear.

Myke Cole is also merciless with the reader’s expectations. There are rules to fiction, expected channels and archetypes that we expect to see in their rightful places. At first, The Armoured Saint seems like it will be the standard “girl fights against oppressive theocracy” that is so familiar, and then suddenly it isn’t. And then it changes again before you have time to catch your breath. It’s one of the few fantasy books I’ve read in ages with an actual, full-on paradigm shift. I am greatly in favour of having my expectations thrown back in my face, being shocked but not jarred.

Mention should be made of the books romantic subplot, which is one of the weaker elements. There’s an LGBT strand running through the book, which is somewhat hackneyed in its execution. However, the attempt is made to deal with a complex issue without consigning the book to a less-respected genre, and I think that’s a positive step even if it doesn’t come off so well.

The only real issue that I have with this book is the length. There’s a lot going on, and it could have stood be stretched out longer, establishing the setting before the action and reverses started kicking in.

I’m not entirely sure how to classify this one. It reads like children’s fiction in places (that’s absolutely not a criticism), but it’s something I’d be very wary of giving to the wrong child. It’s multi-layered and rarely strikes a false note, but at the same time, it is uncompromising and harrowing, so it also rarely strikes a light one. It manages realism without sacrificing fantasy or going too grimdark, which is a definite achievement.

In all, I was impressed by this.

Buy it here.

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