Monday, 27 November 2017

The Last Guard by KJ Taylor

The Last Guard by KJ Taylor is the first in a new trilogy, The Southern Star, set in the same universe as The Fallen Moon trilogy, which I reviewed on this blog — The Dark Griffin, Griffin's Flight and Griffin's War. There is also a second trilogy, The Risen Sun, which falls between The Fallen Moon and  The Southern Star, which I haven't (yet) read.

Southerner Sergeant Kearney "Red" Redguard is the last of a disgraced family, and a loyal guardsman. And with a murderer stalking the streets, the city guard is his city's best defense.

But in the North, King Caedmon Taranisäii is gathering his army, and the cruel Night God prepares for the downfall of the South. A new dark griffin roams the land, warning of the war to come.

Betrayed and sent on the run, Red must fight to save his homeland. But it may already be too late...

The Last Guard features new protagonists, as far as I know, and a new story arc. It follows on from the events in the first two trilogies, but a lot of those events are now considered (recent) history. To explain context, some of the key events of the Fallen Moon trilogy were mentioned and I think the same is true of the Risen Sun trilogy, although that was, of course, harder for me to spot. I felt like there were enough hints about the earlier events that I wanted to go back and read the missing trilogy to fill in the gaps. However, no crucial information was missing from The Last Guard and the book worked by itself as a story. My verdict is: you don't have to have read the earlier books/series to enjoy The Last Guard, but there will be extra layers of significance (or more quickly apparent significance) if you have.

On to the actual story! The bulk of the book follows Red, a city guard who is very good at his job and takes pride in it. The story starts with a few strange crimes in the city that draw Red's attention and soon escalates to something a bit more extreme, as hinted in the blurb. Red is soon fighting for his life, his city and his country as everything he'd gotten used to in life comes crashing down around him.

I liked Red as a character and the few times the point of view shifted to other characters I always felt a bit impatient to get back to Red. Not that the other characters were boring or anything, but the main story very much moved with Red. I wouldn't be surprised if that balance shifted a bit in the next book, though I won't spoil why I think that. We also get to know a few of the griffin characters on both sides of the growing conflict. I found it interesting to compare the griffin-human relationships with, for example, the dragon-human relationships in other books like the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I think the idea of griffins would appeal to fans of dragons, but they come with a different background and, of course, less mythological baggage.

I recommend this book to fans of epic fantasy and of the author's earlier griffin series (The Fallen Moon and The Risen Sun trilogies). It's certainly in a similar vein to the first series and fans of Taylor's other books will find much to enjoy in the continuing events taking place in that world. That said, this first book stands alone as an introduction to a new series without requiring the earlier books to make sense. It's not a bad place to start and if you read The Last Guard and find yourself wanting to know more about the world, you can always go back and read the earlier books without having to wait for the second Southern Star book to come out.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2017, Black Phoenix Publishing Collective
Series: The Souther Star trilogy, book 1 of 3 (with the series itself being the third of three so far, following the Fallen Moon trilogy and the Risen Sun trilogy)
Format read: eARC (PDF)
Source: provided by the publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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