“Fantasy Fiction you can sink your teeth into.”

                              ~ San Francisco Book Review

FINALIST for the 2018 Indie Book Awards prize for fantasy.

When a series of gruesome rituals are discovered in the icy hinterlands of Albyn,

three of the realm’s most storied guardians are sent to track down and bring those

responsible to justice. 

Lord Bradon, veteran commander and warrior, driven by his unabating love for a woman

forever beyond his reach.  Sir Killock, a Templar knight more at home in the endless

wilderness than in any castle or court.  The paragon Danielle d’Lavandou, heir to the

Martyr’s Blade, a legendary weapon guarded by her ancestors for generations.

What they uncover is far more than simple murder: a terrifying threat to all the realms

of mankind, thought sealed away so long ago that it now exists only as legend.  

The fate of her friends, and of the entire kingdom, rests in Danielle’s hands.  Will she be

able to wield the Martyr’s Blade when it is most needed, and what sacrifice will it demand,

this time?  

As crown and temple clash over control of the Blade, Danielle must decide if she will sacrifice life, friendship, and even love, to defy the coming darkness.

CRITICS' REVIEWS

The Martyr’s Blade has earned critical praise for its epic story of enduring characters and the stunning world in which they live.

"An energetic and captivating swords-and-sorcery tale that bodes well for the next book in the series." ~ Kirkus Reviews

"Manners fashions a tasty fantasy." ~ Publishers Weekly

“An epic fantasy in the style of JRR Tolkien, with a dash of George R. R. Martin’s brutal realism … an exceptional debut novel, and a great fantasy novel in general. Definitely worth a read.” 4 stars ~ Portland Book Review

“An epic fantasy read that the audience will find very difficult to put down.” 5 stars ~ Reader Views

“A cohesive and exciting debut novel.” 4 stars ~ IndieReader

“A book I want to hand to everyone I love and say, ‘Here, read this. Don’t ask me any questions. Just do it.’” 4.5 stars ~ San Francisco Book Review

"A delightful and engaging epic." ~ Writer's Digest

EDITORIAL REVIEWS OF THE MARTYR'S BLADE

An energetic and captivating swords-and-sorcery tale that bodes well for the next book in the series.

A powerful team investigates a string of mysterious massacres in this fantasy novel.

Trouble has come to the forests and mountains of northern Albyn. Rural temples, offshoots of the beloved central Temple in the thriving city of Bandirma, have become the sites of strange slaughters. Runes and symbols are written on the floor in blood, and desiccated corpses have been drained of their life force. Three potent emissaries from the Temple are sent to investigate: Lord Bradon, a mighty warrior leading an army; Sir Killock, a skilled and solitary knight  accompanied by his protégée tracker, the sly ex-thief Wyn; and Southern foreigner Lady Danielle d’Lavandou, who wields her family’s ancestral weapon, a blade that once smote the legendary Nameless King. The ritualistic murders seem to imply the return of the Crunorix, a death cult devoted to the Nameless King’s magi. Gifted with the ability to use magic Devices such as an enchanted battle hammer or a guiding amulet, the group pursues the cultists, leading it into an underground realm and dangerous battles with zombielike husks, deadly wights, and a dark force growing in power, not only in the mountains of Albyn, but also in the heart of the Temple itself. As the quest proceeds, Danielle and Wyn fall in love, a tentative pairing with grave implications for Danielle’s ancestral right to wield the Martyr’s Blade.

 

In this series opener, Manners (The Artificer’s Tale, 2017, etc.) creates a complex world with a complete culture, religion, and history. His characters are broadly likable, and some of the novel’s highlights involve the banter between these old friends. Though Albyn, with its rogue-filled taverns and deep forests, will feel familiar to many fantasy fans, underground settings are intriguingly sinister and unique. The author fashions tunnels and caverns where time and space behave strangely and madness threatens intruders. Danielle emerges as a strong central character, formidable and confident while still vulnerable and thoughtful. Wyn spouts slangy sayings but the development of her interior life can’t quite match Danielle’s, which mutes the impact of their romance. In this intricate, if at times overloaded, story, the ritualists and monsters never become bracing villains. But a figure emerging near the end of this volume seems to promise a more striking opponent in the next installment.

Trolls and wights and wizards--oh my!

 

Galant knights, tortured Templars, beautiful conjurers, and a wicked warrior named Wyn, make The Martyr’s Blade interesting reading, indeed. This 600-page tome is thick, but oh so deliciously worth it!

There is evil in the realm. No one knows exactly the source or how the evil has been awakened after almost a thousand years after its vanquishing. Magically buried deep within the Black Grave, the dark magic of the Crunorix and the twisted secrets of its evil were buried before the rise of any of the current kingdoms. No one knows the real extent of the evil within the Black Grave or how it was contained… but now it is leaking out. The Martyr’s Blade follows a small band of warriors as they work against time and an unknown enemy to unravel the mysterious ancient evil of the fuil crunor, rituals of death and destruction. The road is fraught with unnamed dangers, forgotten enchantments, and treachery.  The few called to the cause must brave monsters, external and internal to find the source of this black sorcery and uncover the plan before all is lost to the emptiness.

 

If this sounds super dramatic, dark and fantastic, that’s because it is. This is fantasy fiction you can sink your teeth into. The book is thick, but it reads like a movie with a swift, action-packed pace that takes you from the highest heights of the mountains to the deepest depths of the catacombs, presenting danger and mayhem at every turn. Well not every turn—that would be boring, and this is anything but.

 

Author Joel Manners creates an amazing world here, vivid and believable, based in our reality but just different enough to tease and excite the senses. He serves up a full sensory experience, providing detailed scenery, sounds and smells to bring us right into his magical realm. He populates this world with diverse people who look and sound different; and he uses this diversity to great effect, providing heroes and heroines that make and break the molds. Just when you think you have the story figured out, Manners throws in a twist that makes you think about what you know and wonder about what you still don’t. Never showing his full hand, Manners keeps you invested through the last page and anticipating the next installment of the Martyr’s series.

 

I enjoy fair warning so I’ll give fair warning. Do not expect closure or answers by the end of this volume. You will find none. This is only the beginning of a still epic tale to follow. Manners sets up here, dangling the carrot (several in fact), gaining your investment in the characters—dashing your hopes only to rebuild them anew. Beyond that, I’ll give nothing away. This is a book I want to hand to everyone I love and say, “Here, read this. Don’t ask me any questions. Just do it.” So… here, read this. Don’t ask any more questions. Just do it! If you are a fantasy/sci-fi lover with a healthy love of adventure and romance of the best kind, you will not regret this investment. Now, if we could just get Manners to hurry up with Book 2, No Coward Path…

"The voice spoke again, a rumbling noise that echoed in
the vast room. 'I have seen it. An abyss of
darkness. Eyes that search from its depths.'"

Death and tainted ritual plague mountainside villages. A cultist is killing the unprotected and using their life to fuel a festering magic. A group of Temple agents set out at the head of an army to investigate the cause, and find hints of an enemy thought long sealed. The Temple guardians chase the murderer and with each victory comes a discovery of greater perversions: monsters out of myth. Monsters forgotten by myth. Madness. Even if they catch the murderer, is he the true master of these crimes? How far does the cult extend? Who can be trusted?

 

“‘They search,’ rumbled the Voice. ‘They sense the power that I hold. They seek it.’”

 

The Martyr’s Blade, by Joel Manners, is an epic fantasy in the style of JRR Tolkien, with a dash of George R. R. Martin’s brutal realism. Manners combines traditional fantasy archetypes with a mix of folklore. Rangers wander the wilderness, rogues dance with blades, priests wield the power of their faith, knights protect the weak, and magic is a common companion. To Manners’ credit, he elevates these archetypes beyond tropes, giving the characters, and the world, his own unique style.

 

The beginning is a little slow, and Manners loves description in the same way Tolkien or Robert Jordan did. It creates a rich background tapestry, but makes the narrative move a little sluggish at times. He differs from many fantasy writers in that none of his heroes begin as innocent. It’s like reading Lord of the Rings without any of the hobbits. There is no peasant boy who learns to be a knight; they are all competent people behaving competently. This means that not every character really develops during the course of their arc, though there are exceptions. Two of the main characters intertwine and develop in a very sensitive, relatable, and compelling way. Even those characters that do not learn life lessons will still be interesting to the reader, because their personalities are so alive and quirky.

 

Every part of Martyr’s Blade shows Manners’ care and attention, as well as his thirty years worth of experience telling stories via video games. It is an exceptional debut novel, and a great fantasy novel in general. Definitely worth a read.

Magic, mayhem, and memorable characters abound in The Martyr's Blade (The Chronicles of the Martyr Book 1) by Joel Manners.

The sword and sorcery genre has had a major resurgence in recent years, thanks to a particular hit HBO show and a fresh generation of eager readers, but Joel Manners is clearly not a novice to the realms of fantasy. For a debut novel, The Martyr’s Blade welcomes readers into an incredibly dense and meticulously crafted world that becomes more enrapturing with every chapter.

 

At the outset, Manners works hard to establish reader rapport with a range of intense chapters highlighting each character, many of whom are immediately memorable and mysterious. Building a complex web of relationships and personalities, the author gradually reveals the growing danger within the land of Albyn. As evil begins to rear its head, a ragtag band of heroes are dragged into the melee, soon finding strength they thought was lost or impossible to regain.

 

The relationship between Wyn and Killock is particularly enjoyable to read, but Manners takes his time to craft the intricacies of every player, not leaving any character unfinished. That attention to detail also carries on to the descriptions, with his prose rivaling the beauty of poetry in certain moments, transporting readers to the stunning world that he has created. One can almost hear the whistle of swinging swords, and feel the icy chill of the barren landscapes.

 

The focal point of the story is the titular ancient blade that can potentially stop an apocalyptic war, or start a new one, depending on who wields it, and despite the rather generic treasure, the path that these characters take to survive the journey makes for a riveting ride.

 

The plot does resemble many other magical adventures at first glance – an epic, yet seemingly hopeless quest to protect the world from complete destruction at the hand of evil forces. While the plotline has certainly been done before, the world-crafting on display in this novel, particularly in the complexity of the plot and the thorough development of each character, makes this an epic tale from the very start, and something very special in the genre. The scale of the novel, which includes countless side plots, character tangles and betrayals, is undeniably ambitious. Even so, Manners pulls it off with impressive flair and sensitivity, balancing the swordplay and action with edge-of-your-seat suspense and meaningful dialogue.

 

The varying narrative focus also gives the book a much more comprehensive feel, as though readers are truly seeing every side of the story. It is much easier to develop “favorite” characters when the point-of-view shifts so often, in a similar manner to George R.R. Martin’s style, and with similar results. There are definitely parallels here to other great fantasy writers, but the story is distinctly new, and boldly pushes on certain boundaries of the genre that should make dedicated fantasy readers perk up and pay attention. There are bursts of humor, mixed in with long sermons of darkness, balanced by detailed passages that might seem excessive if they weren’t so beautifully penned.

 

The writing hardly ever stumbles or drags in terms of pace, and the only real problem is the difficulty one will have trying to put the book down. Joel Manners does an excellent job of perpetuating excitement for his readers, and not being afraid of putting his characters in real danger, making for a visceral and emotionally wrenching read. Capturing readers’ hearts so quickly is no easy feat in the fickle world of fantasy fans, but The Martyr’s Blade should appeal to all lovers of this genre, both old and new.

Mixing the usual ingredients (dungeon crawls, sword of destiny, good corrupted by evil, betrayal by trusted colleague) with an unusual amount of fellowship, debut novelist Manners fashions a tasty fantasy.

Centuries after the defeat of the evil Nameless King, malefactors begin performing blood sacrifices to raise his undead servants. Trying to stop them, a band of temple guardians, rangers, thieves, and adepts, including the queen’s sister, Danielle, ride into the snow-swept northern marches of this fantasy world, hoping to rediscover a path to Highward Tor, the lost legendary stronghold. While the party chases increasingly horrific foes, crown and temple clash over Danielle’s control of the Martyr’s Blade, the sword that dispelled the Nameless King.

 

Manners injects a considerable amount of positive emotions and camaraderie into a narrative that mercilessly does away with a number of its heroes. He also addresses hot-button topics such as rape and taboos around same-sex relationships in ways that bolster the oppressed rather than blaming the victims. Fans of heroic adventures will be gratified.

"The Martyr's Blade" by Joel Manners begins with the news of terrible violence in the North, as announced by the Temple's Priest to Lady Danielle.

As disturbing as it is, the Priest reveals his biggest fear…this violence might be a sign that the Crunorix has returned. This revelation marks the beginning of this epic adventure where the reader will embark on a dangerous journey with Lady Danielle, Lord Bradon, a Knight named Killock, and a loyal thief, Wyn, along with their tracker, Torbhin.

 

Their goal is to investigate and determine whether this revelation is true and fight to end the violence in Albyn, thus saving their world from this evil force. During their journey readers will face horrible creatures, and witness devastating violence against the villages and Temples; as the characters get to know each other better, readers will also experience the romantic tensions between them and find this read to be a page-turner all throughout its 582 pages, for sure!

 

The story is presented within different focal points, organized into different chapters. Each chapter has the relevant character’s name within the scene. I loved this format as it made the multi-scene plot flow perfectly. Manners’ writing style is impeccable. His descriptions were vivid, his characters were colorful and engaging, and his plot was captivating, suspenseful and filled with action. My only complaint was that the dialogue felt a little repetitive, with some over-editing. This did not happen often enough however to affect my opinion about this book, and I only mention it here because I must report what I find on my review.

 

Overall, I found “The Martyr’s Blade” by Joel Manners to be an impressive first novel worthy of five out of five stars as an epic fantasy read that the audience will find very difficult to put down. Manners has definitely won me over personally, as a fan that will wait impatiently for the next book in this series. I am sure I will be one in a multitude!

THE MARTYR’S BLADE is a cohesive and exciting debut novel in the classic sword and sorcery style that starts this promising series.

In the realm of Albyn, rumors of bizarre deaths and forbidden rituals in the rural lands to the north have attracted the attention of the Temple. Templars Bradon and Killock, along with Lady Danielle, an esteemed patron of the Temple who wields magical Devices, are sent to investigate the threat. The situation is more dire than anyone had known–a magus has been released, and his minions are summoning the dead through ritual sacrifices.

 

THE MARTYR’S BLADE initially plays out much like a gaming session, which may not appeal to all readers. However, the action sequences were solid and easy to follow, with heroic feats that never felt too impossible. The plot is linear and continues to focus on the quest to defeat the evil behind the rituals, but with enough variations in setting and detail that it never felt tiresome.

 

The characters each had personalities that made them easy to distinguish. As the plot unfolded, it became clear that one of the most important characters was Wyn, an orphan from the streets trained by Killock as a spy and thief. Her irreverent attitude adds levity to grim situations, while her deeper personality and emotions emerge to become central to the later story. As the book ends, many questions are left unanswered, and the novel is clearly the first in a series.

 

While many names have been taken from Irish and Welsh terms, the world of Albyn is definitely not ours, and the mythologies do not quite mesh. The Temple follows a monotheistic religion in which God lives in a nearby mountain and converses with Bradon, Killock, and Danielle to start their quest. This was a unique element, but did not play as large a role as the initial chapter suggested.

 

With plenty of swordplay and magic, THE MARTYR’S BLADE is an enjoyable read that follows many of the genre’s conventions, but still keeps the characters at the center of the story.

READER REVIEWS OF THE MARTYR'S BLADE

© 2016 by Joel Manners.