THE WOLF MILE by C.F. Barrington
Head of Zeus, ebook, £0.99
THE BLOOD ISLES by C.F. Barrington
Head of Zeus, paperback, £8.99
Reviewed by Stephen Frame
The Wolf Mile and The Blood Isles are the first two books in what is billed as The Pantheon. A third book is on its way, and it feels as though a series may be in the offing. The premise of these two books is both absurd and entirely believable; a cabal of the super-rich have organised The Pantheon, a kind of gladiatorial sports league, where teams of warriors take to the night-time streets of various cities to battle it out, using the armour, weapons and tactics of renowned armies from history. The motivation behind this is not much more than excess wealth, boredom and an opportunity to set up betting syndicates on what amounts to lethal cosplay.
The action in The Wolf Mile and The Blood Isles takes place across the streets of Edinburgh and the highlands of Scotland, where the Viking Horde are pitted against the Titans, a team emulating the Hoplites of ancient Greece. It’s never adequately explained how the Vikings and Titans ended up going toe to toe around the Royal Mile since the other armies which form the globe-spanning Pantheon are located in cities that are approximate to their historical origins (the Roman Legion being garrisoned in Rome, for example). But minor details like this can be ignored once you get into sword-swinging action.
The two books are more action-adventure than fantasy, morphing into a thriller as the plot progresses, but it feels like a fantasy. And it is very enjoyable. The story opens with the two main characters, Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron, being recruited into the Viking Horde. A large section of The Wolf Mile is devoted to their training for combat, allowing time for us to meet the characters and for them to meet and bond with each other. It is fairly familiar ground, instantly recognisable from a multitude of movies where ill-prepared and unlikely trainees must come to rely on each other to survive. However, it is a slow start, though during it, various intriguing plot threads are introduced, which gives the narrative some much-needed lift.
Things improve considerably when their training is complete, and they become fully-fledged members of the Viking Horde. Now the world of The Pantheon opens up, the action comes thick and fast, and the intrigue builds, particularly with Tyler and his motivation for joining in the first place. The Blood Isles picks up where The Wolf Mile leaves off, right in the middle of the action. It draws us further into the dealings of The Pantheon, and as expected, there is corruption and dirty dealing that leads to Tyler and Lana fighting for their lives, against both their Titan foes and against enemies within their own ranks.