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Nathan’s review of The Fall of the Giants by Gregory Kontaxis

The tl;dr: Kontaxis is back in his greek mythology-inspired epic fantasy series with The Fall of the Giants. While the first book in the series was focused on the battles and actions, The Fall of the Giants is a slower paced story that works to build out the world and characters a bit more. While the characters are still a bit thinly drawn here (I compare them to how Robert Jordan wrote characters), the world and magic are so cool that readers will still be swept away by this book. I really want the next book to come soon because with a lot of the info-dumping out of the way in this book, it really feels like we are ready for the biggest and baddest parts of the story to come. Recommended for epic fantasy fans who like lots of magic, fantasy creatures, and that old-school, mysical, and epic storytelling vibes.

Cover of The Fall of the Giants

My review:

Last year Gregory Kontaxis began his Dance of the Light pentalogy with a bang; The Return of the Knights opened with an epic battle that most authors would reserve for a series climax and then never took its foot off the gas. While exciting, I was decidedly mixed on my reactions to ROTK because while I loved the worldbuilding and the military strategy, I found some of the dialogue to be clunky and the characters to be a bit underdeveloped. Now that Kontaxis is back with The Fall of the Giants, he nicely corrects some of those issues while still running into just a few issues with exploring and deepening the characters.

The most important thing to know going into The Fall of the Giants is that this is a very different book than its predecessor. This book is much slower and less action-heavy, which ultimately I think is to its benefit. ROTK came on SO strong with the action that Kontaxis didn’t really have time to maneuever in terms of characters and themes, but the more methodical and careful pacing of The Fall of the Giants makes for a deeper and emotionally captivating reading experience. There are still hiccups along the way, but Kontaxis seems much more confident here in his storytelling prowess, relying less on the “cool factor” of battle scenes as he starts to really get into the meat and heart of the story he is telling.

While the pacing is slower, this isn’t an example of “middle book” syndrome (especially since technically as the second book in a five book series we haven’t reached the middle yet!). A lot happens in this second book and the plot is pushed along, and Kontaxis already starts to harvest some of the plot seeds he plants in his first book. Much of The Fall of the Giants is the characters reacting to the end events of ROTK – Walter Thorn continues to be a massive military threat to all of the surrounding kingdoms, and the political stability of our protagonists is shaky at best. Thus, our character are in rebuilding mode here, trying to secure new alliances, weapons, and more to be able to withstand Thorn’s looming invasion. In classic epic fantasy fashion, Kontaxis spreads his characters into the wind, each with their own unique goals and adventures.

Spreading the characters out like this has its benefits and issues. On the positive side, we get to see so much more this world and its politics. Whie the over pastiche of the world remains a pretty generic European inspired setting, we get to better understand what makes Kontaxis’ world distinct from the rest of the epic fantasy series out there. This allowed me to “connect” with the story in The Fall of the Giants more than I did in the previous book; while in that first book I was swept away in the action, this book allowed me to “get” what Kontaxis was going for a bit better. I don’t think any storyline better illustrates this than what Elliot goes through in The Fall of the Giants. After the events of ROTK, Elliot is tasked with finding the ancient and hidden races (elves, giants, etc.), and in doing so learns a lot more about the history of his world, and his place in it (especially as he navigates his role as a potential pegasus rider from the end of the first book).

I’m going to warn you now, the Elliot chapters especially have a lot of info-dumping. Elliot’s new mentor spends copious pages explaining to Elliot the history and relationships between the different species, the gods and the invention of the world, and how the magic works. If you don’t like essentially being lectured at in your books, you are likely to bounce of this one. However, if you really don’re care and like learning about fictional worlds and magic systems, this book will have so much for you to hold onto. I personally don’t mind a bit of info-dumping, especially when that information is as interesting and captivating as this one. Yes, the magic can get a bit convoluted and there seem to be a lot of exceptions and loopholes that people on both sides of the conflict utilize, but overall I loved how cool the world and magic were here.

The worldbuilding is also not just window dressing or there for the “rule of cool” (although the wyverns, mermaids, pegasuses, blood magic, giants, elves, gods, and more are all pretty freaking cool), but Kontaxis also uses this history to deepen some of the characters and their relationships. We get Walter Thorn in some deliciously wicked POV chapters as he attempts to attain more power, and there is one half-giant character in particular who I emotionally connected with because of his unstable status in this world. So much of the worldbuilding done in The Fall of the Giants helped course-correct some of the issues with ROTK, and it makes this a much stornger book overall.

Having said all of that, the one major issue I had with the book continues to be some of the character work. While reading, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between how Kontaxis writes characters with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. If you’ve read The Wheel of Time, I think you’ll have a good idea of whether the characaters will work well for you here or not. While the characters are more than just pawns in service of the story, they are still a bit thinly drawn. Part of this is because Kontaxis has so many POV characters in a medium length fantasy novel, part of this is because Kontaxis is going for a more “old-timey” prose style that elicits old-school epics (both old-school in the “ancient” meaning, and like, Tolkien) which has the consequence of distancing the reader from the story, and part of this is because the characters spend a lot of time yelling at each other (hence the Jordan comp). If you are a reader who needs to emotionally connect with complex characters you may not love this one, but if you can get past it just to enjoy the thrill of the plot and worldbuilding, The Fall of the Giants is a blast of a read.

In sum The Fall of the Giants is definitely a stronger book than The Return of the Knights. It builds off all of the cool stuff that happened in that book (and has some cool stuff happen here) while also spending more time to focus on the world and its characters. I’m excited to see where Kontaxis goes next because the end of The Fall of the Giants feels like we have finally concluded the “First Act” of this series. We’ve gotten the big worldbuilding/magic system stuff out of the way and now we can really focus on the story. I definitely recommend this for epic fantasy fans who are hungry for more magic and fantasy creatures/races in their books!

 

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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