This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
22.08.19 / Gollancz / Fantasy / Paperback / 448pp / 978-1473217768
About Bright Steel (Masters & Mages #3)
Every war comes down to the flash of bright steel, even when the air is full of magic . . .
Aranthur and his friends have come together across different continents and realms with one purpose: to strike back against the forces which have torn a hole in the heavens and threaten to rip the world beneath them apart as well.
With time running short, and treason at home, there are battles to be fought on the field, in the magical arena, and in the ever-deadly realm of politics, and they must succeed on every front or everything will fall. Victory will require enemies to trust one another, old foes to fight together, spies to reveal the truth and steadfast allies to betray long-corrupt rulers.
Is Aranthur, a twenty-year-old student, really the master strategist to bring it all together? And can he and his friends overcome aeons of lies when their plans inevitably fall to pieces? Do they even know, for sure, who the enemy is . . . ?
Bright Steel – Extract
Djinar had never, in his twenty-two years, been across the strait
to Ulama, but he had become General Roaris’ most trusted
courier, and he had no objection to the mission; he understood
the stakes, how fragile their possession of Megara was, and the importance of communicating with their cells in Atti. When word came that
the attack on the Sultan Bey had failed, he volunteered to go.
He also understood, better than most of his peers, how vital it was
that they hang on. He knew how badly their Master had been defeated,
first in Armea and then at Antioke; how the timetable had nearly been
ruined. He knew, because he was an initiate of the first order, how vital
it was that the Emperor be killed; and how essential it was that the
Sultan Bey be toppled. Out on the high seas, the Imperial fleet was
turning the tables on the pirates; at Antioke, another army sent into
action by the Master was being ground to bloody pulp by that witch,
Djinar knew these things like articles of faith. He also knew that
Verit Roaris was no longer himself; that his mortal frame had been
seized by the Master because the man would not obey. Djinar knew
it, and it filled him with fear, because he, too, had his own devices and
desires, and he feared their discovery.
Disagreeing with the creature inhabiting Roaris’ body had been the
stupidest thing he’d ever done.
Except that he was right. The new Disciple was not a native of
the Empire; he could no more imagine the politics of the City than
peasants tilling the fields could. He was making mistakes . . .
These are foolish, dangerous thoughts.
Fear kept him strong and alert, or so he told himself. And the mission to the Disciple of Ulama gave him a chance to show his worth,
so that his moment of insubordination might be forgotten.
He hired a fishing boat to make the trip across the strait, and the
fisherman complained of the change in tides since the emergence of
the Dark Forge, the huge rift in the heavens and in the shell of reality
that signified the changes to come. Djinar, as an initiate of the Pure,
knew a great deal about the Dark Forge, but he hadn’t known that it
was affecting the currents.
He listened until he grew bored of the fisherman’s ignorance of
anything not relating to fish.
‘Enough,’ Djinar snapped at the end of his patience. ‘I hired you to
sail, not to talk.’
The fisherman fell into a surly silence, but his efforts drove the little
boat through the water, and although it took more than four hours,
eventually he furled the sail, took to his oars, and brought them close
in to the far shore where the reverse current ran, so that they seemed
to float against the tide running in from the great sea visible under the
rising sun, a sun which also gilded the prayer towers of the Sultan Bey’s
palace and the majestic Temple of Light that dominated the heights of
Megara to their right. Beneath the Temple of Light, the morning sun
flashed on the Crystal Palace.
‘A remarkable piece of vulgarity,’ Djinar said aloud, on seeing its
The fisherman landed them on the beach at the edge of the immense
wharf that dominated the Ulama waterfront. Built to accommodate the
largest Attian and Megaran ships, it towered almost forty feet above the
water, with slum streets concealed beneath the wooden wharves where
Ulama’s poorest denizens lived and died.
The beach ran straight up to the rows of shacks, built in safety as the
Sea of Sud tide never rose more than a foot except in extreme circumstances. Djinar cursed, but after he paid the fisherman he stepped over
the side into the shallow water and waded up the beach past a man
dying of bone plague.
‘Disgusting,’ he said, glancing at the dying man.
He made his way through the flotsam of the city, trying not to touch
them, as if their poverty was a contagion that could infect him. He
pulled on gloves and a Byzas aristocrat’s mask, and finally found a set
of steps leading up out of the slums. He took them the way a drowning
man might grab at a floating oar.
But at the top of the shallow wooden steps, he found himself almost
across from the so-called Pantheon; the oldest temple in Ulama. He
walked north as he’d been ordered, looking for the red chalk mark that
would tell him all was well, and he found it, to his own satisfaction,
brushed lightly across the belly of Potnia just outside the temple.
He reached up with false piety to touch the mark, her marble belly
worn smooth by the thousands of pilgrims who had passed this way.
The Master taught that all the gods were false; that there was no god
but one’s self. But he encouraged outward signs of piety, because
mimicry makes good camouflage.
He turned east and began to climb the high ridge that ran through
He was crossing a tiny square, the dawn now a fully realised day,
the sun rising in showy splendour over the snow-capped mountains
of central Atti, when the footpads struck. There were three of them,
wielding iron bars stolen from a construction site – crude but fearsome
Djinar was not much of a magos. Family connections had ensured
he received the very best education at the Studion, but he lacked the
connection to the sources of power which would allow him to cast
complex occulta. All the same, he froze one attacker with a weak but
well-formed command to the other man’s nervous system and he fell
like a toppled statue as Djinar got his long rapier clear of its scabbard.
He offered the slim weapon to one of the two remaining footpads,
waving the blade at the man until he batted at it with his iron bar,
hoping to break the tongue of steel.
Djinar slipped his blade under the heavy blow and stabbed the man
in the throat, the needle point punching through his neck even as the
point grated on his spine. As the man’s knees buckled in death, Djinar
raised his wrist and stepped back as if bowing to a dance partner, which,
in a way, he was. The corpse fell off his lowered point.
‘Your turn,’ Djinar said.
The remaining man trembled with indecision; the sort of low person
– as the Master taught – who turned to crime from inner weakness.
Djinar thought he might be doing the man a favour in killing him;
even with the length of a blue-white blade shimmering through the
sticky blood of his friend in front of his face, the criminal couldn’t
decide whether to attack or run.
Djinar tapped the bar with his blade, a sharp snap that forced the
bandit to move. He raised the bar, his eyes wide with fear.
Quick as a cat, Djinar thrust through one wrist and turned his own,
so that the slim blade severed the tendons of the other man’s hand.
He screamed and dropped the iron bar.
Like a snake, Djinar struck again, withdrawing the blade and stabbing through his body, and then, as he folded forward, through one
eye. The blade came out of the back of the man’s skull with a pop.
‘Goodbye,’ Djinar said. ‘I suspect no one will mourn you.’
He stepped back and saluted his two fallen adversaries with an ironic
flick of his blade that sent drops of blood flying through the morning
air. He started to wipe his blade on a dead man’s burnoose, and then
shook his head.
‘Oh dear,’ he said.
He walked over to the man whose limbs he’d frozen and smiled,
meeting the man’s open eyes.
‘I wonder if you can break my lock on you,’ he mused.
He put the point of his rapier against the man’s neck under his chin
and pushed very slowly, and so discovered his puissance was strong
enough that the man’s life ended before he could break it. Djinar
pushed the blade in very slowly, and then withdrew it.
‘I wonder what it is like,’ he asked the morning air. ‘Death.’
He cleaned his blade, and sheathed it in time to pass two veiled
women going to the well. He bade them good morning, and smiled
when one started to scream.
At the top of the apparently endless steps, he bought a cup of water
from a water seller and savoured it, then walked away from the Sultan
Bey’s magnificent walls and headed south, as he’d been ordered. He
found the signs he expected, marks low to the ground in orange chalk,
and he followed them through a maze of alleys between the high garden
walls and the homes of the very rich. Eventually, when the sun was
bright in the sky, he found the gate he sought: yellow with red trim,
and a crouching lion in gold. He knocked, and a well-dressed gardener
admitted him and took his name.
It can’t be this easy, he thought.
But it was. In moments he was summoned, and he climbed to the
exedra, the long balcony of a summer palace. He could see through
the windows to the apartments within; a dozen rooms for women, and
then a long hall which he was led into. It was richly hung with silk
carpets and a man sat on a dais, cross-legged on pillows with a naked
sword across his lap. There were servants along the walls and a courtier
or two, or perhaps they were more valued servants, leaning against the
marble pillars that supported the roof over the nave of the hall.
The man on the dais inclined his head.
‘My lord, I bring you . . .’
Djinar looked up and saw the deadliest of his enemies standing in
the shadows behind the dais. His hand went to his sword.
‘Hold,’ the lord of the hall said in accented Byzas. ‘He is no threat.’
‘No threat?’ Djinar asked. ‘He is our greatest foe.’
The lord smiled. ‘Look!. The serpent has no fangs.’
He waved at the figure behind the dais, and the man didn’t even
‘Gods,’ Djinar breathed, fascinated. ‘We heard he was dead!’
The lord had a good-natured laugh, a fatherly one, and he laughed it.
‘He very much wishes he was dead. Instead, he will serve me forever.’
Djinar noted that the Attian lord said ‘me’ and not ‘the Master’.
‘I heard that your attack on the Sultan Bey . . .’
Djinar met the man’s eyes and hesitated. His laugh was so at odds
with his eyes that the words died in Djinar’s throat.
‘It was unsuccessful,’ the lord admitted. ‘This busybody made too
much trouble.’ He laughed again. ‘He will have to serve me for many
years to balance the chaos he created in one hour.’ The lord shrugged.
‘Never mind. You have a message for me, syr?’
‘From the Disciple of Megara,’ Djinar said, taking a sealed parchment cylinder from his bag.
‘Even here, in my own house, you should not say such a thing,’ the
lord counselled. He broke the seal with his thumb, and began to read.
The sword across his lap moved. It almost seemed to crawl, or writhe
like a snake, and Djinar flinched.
Tell me, a thin voice said.
It was like the ringing of tiny bells, or the vibration of a lute string,
and the hair began to rise on the nape of Djinar’s neck, as if a haunting
had crossed his path, or one of the fey.
‘Interesting,’ the lord said. His smile was now quite unfeigned. ‘Your
master speaks highly of you.’
Djinar knew a moment of relief. ‘I’m sure I’m unworthy . . .’ he
‘Brilliant, ruthless, a true believer. Have you truly memorised Precepts
of a Life of Power?’
‘I have,’ Djinar said proudly.
‘But you have almost no talent for the Art,’ the lord said.
Djinar sighed. ‘None.’
The lord smiled. ‘We live in wonderful times. The Old Ones are
about to be released back into the world, and life will return to its
natural rhythm. The weak shall be slaves, and the strong shall be like
gods.’ He raised his terrible eyes to Djinar. ‘Do you wish to have the
powers of a great magos?’ he asked, his voice mild.
‘Of course!’ Djinar said. ‘More than anything!’
‘How splendid,’ the lord said. ‘And how very convenient.’
He raised a hand, and the sword seemed to vibrate.
Later, it occurred to Djinar that the sword was laughing.
Four soldiers grabbed his enemy, still frozen in his grey robes – as if
paralysed – behind the dais. They dragged him out into the light, and
Djinar could see he’d been both defeated and subsequently tortured;
the man’s nails were ripped from his fingers, and his mouth bled where
his teeth had been ripped out.
‘We broke him,’ the lord said. ‘Not even Kurvenos, the great magos,
the Lightbringer, could withstand us.’ He laughed his happy laugh.
‘Now I have most of his secrets and, best of all, access to his power.’
Kurvenos stood unmoving. Only his eyes betrayed his terror, his
horror, his despair.
‘When I took him I knew he would make the most powerful Exalted
ever created,’ the lord said. ‘But I needed a pilot for this mighty warship, someone of impeccable belief . . . and lo, your Disciple sent you
‘Me?’ Djinar choked. ‘Exalted . . .’
‘What is life but the lust for power?’ the lord said, quoting from
the Master’s book of maxims. ‘Prepare to have more power than you
Djinar screamed as he met Kurvenos’ eyes, and the soldier’s hands
Because, even as the lord and his acolytes began their chant, all
Kurvenos’ wounded eyes held was pity.
About Miles Cameron (Christian Cameron)
I took this piece from his own website bio. It was quite hard to find an actual summary on his work.
A few words on Fantasy. I wrote my first fantasy novel at 14; I promise you will never see it. I have been a Fantasy reader since my mum read me ‘The Hobbit’ at age 5; I consume Fantasy novels the way some people eat chocolate. Some of my favorites, and heavy influences on everything I write, and not just Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien; The Worm Ourobouros, by E.R. Eddison; everything by Glen Cook; everything by Steven Erikson, CJ Cheryh, Larry Niven, David Pournelle, Lois McMaster Bujold, Steven Brust, Jim Butcher and Terry Pratchett. And perhaps first, William Morris; The Red Knight owes a debt to all these books, but perhaps most to The Sundering Flood.