”A man who scorns weeping,” she said, “is a man who knows that no one will weep for him”.
The “Revanche Cycle”, written by Craig Schaefer, is a low fantasy quadrilogy. It consists of the following books – “Winter’s Reach”, “The Instruments of Control”, “Terms of Surrender” and “Queen of the Night”. The series weaves a complex tapestry of magic, politics, religion, intrigue and action ranging across multiple characters and lands. I will be reviewing the entire series instead of each book since that gives a more complete perspective on whether you ought to read this series.
I have not seen such brilliant low fantasy since A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones for you heathens out there). There have been many high fantasy series which are good like Shadows of the Apt or The Malazan Book of the Fallen, but not so much on the low fantasy side. The Revanche Cycle blows everything else I have read out of the water, in its coming together of various elements of low fantasy, story, plot, writing and character development. I will explore these elements one by one.
Let’s talk about the characters first.
All characters, including the ones who are not integral to the plot, are fully developed. In fact, there are characters who will might be minor ones in a book but end up being important in following ones. Craig Schaefer spends as much time and care on developing side -characters, who might die in the next couple of pages, as Sergio Leone has done in ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’. I refer to the movie’s incredibly long opening sequence which builds up the characters but ends with most of them dead.
Without getting into spoilers, let me also say that the character arcs here are fantastic. The characters, while neither fully good or evil, are driven by their emotions and motivations, including ones that are usually evil by fantasy standards. The characters might start somewhere on the moral spectrum, but they definitely do not end there.
The writing is brilliant . While there is no Tyrion equivalent to quip, there are plenty of powerful dialogues and pithy sentences that will worm their way into out heads. These also show an incredible insight into behaviour and psychology. I am a sucker for such writing and this series gives them in plenty.
Next, the plot and pacing. The story is great and the conclusion satisfying. Since this series involves the papacy and politics, there is plenty of intrigue and backstabbing. At times, I could not help but compare the Church scenes to the ‘Young Pope’. Similarly, the political scenes were anchored in realpolitik and not the usual fantasy tripe. I could not find a single example of a stupid plot i.e. a plot which relies on characters behaving stupidly to progress.
There are a number of stories this series has to tell. These stories intertwine brilliantly, with actions from one story line influencing the others. They come together well and each one could be the main plot of its own. In fact, in the first book, I was pleasantly surprised to see that what I thought was the main plot turned out to a side-one and vice-versa. While this complexity can become overwhelming, Craig Schaefer’s writing and the brilliant characters keep us fully engrossed.
In conclusion, this series is a fantastic read – I recommend it to all readers of fantasy.