The nice thing about knowing a cool someone who has their own independent publishing house (Fox Spirit Books), is that you might see a tweet asking for reviewers of a new fantasy book (Eater of Names) of one of their authors (Andrew Aston). “Oh, and it’s a sequel, so you’re getting part 1 too!”. Oh no, how horrible, I am getting two books, how will I live… /s
(WARNING: this review contains no spoilers for the Eater of Names, but some for The Hobgoblin’s Herald, since that’s what I can’t avoid reviewing a part two in a series. You’ll mostly know who survives the first book)
First I read The Hobgoblin’s Herald. I thought this was going to be a relatively straightforward fantasy novel, where a girl, Mallory, finds a hobgoblin, and gets taken under their wing, and then explores the world, of some sort. It quickly turned out to be way more, into a story of epic proportions. When I thought I had a grasp on things, new characters were introduced: knight looking for a magic sword, his wife who is being pressured by the court while he is away, a queen who has to rule while her husband the kind is absent, the Aelf (who are evil elves), and my favourite: Polder, a man who is so touched by intense trauma that he can only live in the moment and cook for people.
So book one of the Guien Sequence ends with Mallory with the hobgoblins, and Aethed, the knight, in a harbour village. There are two kings, there is war, there is magic. In Eater of Names we get new characters: rich traders, a young scribe* who joins one of the kings, and a warrior that gets rescued at sea by the aforementioned trader. The story does not get any less complex. There is political intrigue, there are guns (although they are risky to use), there are magical artefacts that might kill any that touches them. There is intense violence (so this book is not for the squeamish) and fights and death (Aston is not afraid to kill his, and also my (as a reader) darlings). I did sometimes feel the story was a bit too complex and the amount of names and places went over my head. However, I tend to prefer books that are more character driven, and this story seems more plot-driven to me, so that might be the cause of my disconnect at times.
*Slight content warning here: I read this character as a trans man, and he does get misgendered a few times, which was a hard thing for me to read. Do take your own mental state into account here. However, this is only a very small part of the book :)