Rating (out of 5): 3.5 stars
Gail Z. Martin knows how to craft big-scale fantasy. And she includes elements we adore: noble warriors, magic, vampires and werewolves. Martin is well-known for her Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and The Sworn is set as a gateway into that series for new readers.
The Fallen Kings Cycle series is set in the same world as Chronicles of the Necromancer with many of the same characters. The goal for this book was to allow new readers to join in, but the prologue filling in the Winter Kingdoms’ histories (a.k.a. the events of the Necromancer novels) may put first-timers into information overload. If you’re going into Martin’s layered world for the first time, skip the precursory brief and jump right in. It’ll quickly become apparent who is who and the historical events will be peppered in as needed. So, in that way, The Sworn really can be an entry point.
The overarching story in The Sworn is of followers of an ancient cult — ones who worship The Destroyer — seeking to bring him back into the world. These cult members, or Black Robes, seek to bring chaos to the Winter Kingdoms, to bring things back to the ways before there were lords and kings. And the more blood they spill in the process (and demons set free) the better. Vampires and shifters are being captured as sacrifices, the dead rising, war is coming and powerful magic is awakening.
Martin shifts among characters in various realms — all encountering effects of the Black Robes’ magic. This gives us a great understanding of the scope of what’s happening and helps with the big picture, but with that you lose strong connections to the characters. I really loved the parts spent with The Sworn — a nomadic group of mages who protect the places where the ancient magic is secured. The group dynamic and the primary couple in that storyline is gripping, and each time the novel shifted to another subplot or point-of-view, I was sad to leave them.
Those new to Martin’s layered Winter Kingdoms world may find the first bit of the book a little heavy and confusing (lots of names, places and events), but if you’re a fan of big-scale fantasy you’ll enjoy journeying into The Sworn. (Not sure if this is your thing? If you dig George R.R. Martin and LOTR, it’s likely you’ll get into Gail Z. Martin.)