Book Review: Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

Knight's Ransom by Jeff WheelerTitle: Knight’s Ransom
Author: Jeff Wheeler
Publisher: 47North
Publication date: January 26, 2021
Genre: Fantasy
One Sentence Summary: After spending much of his life as a hostage of King Gervase, Marshall suddenly finds himself adrift when Gervase dies and Devon Argentine takes the crown, but he’s determined to become a knight and serve a worthy lord.

I’ve seen Jeff Wheeler’s books floating around Amazon for years, but never read one until last year with The Killing Fog. That one wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but, when I was contacted about reviewing Knight’s Ransom, I thought it was the perfect time for me to pick up another Wheeler book. After all, I did enjoy the storytelling in The Killing FogKnight’s Ransom is very different and takes inspiration from Arthurian legend, so I was very happy to read it, and get a taste of Wheeler’s Kingfountain world.

The Unwavering Loyalty of a Knight

King Gervase rules Kingfountain, but his reign is tenuous at best as his nephew, the rightful king, fights him at every turn. In Gervase’s care are two children, Claire and Marshall (called Ransom), held as hostages to keep their families loyal. But when Ransom’s father apparently turns his back on his son, something changes in Gervase. Not long after, his death leaves the crown in Devon Argentine’s hands, Claire back in her family’s care, and Ransom left on his own.

Ransom’s father is unwelcoming, so his mother sends him to a cousin where he can train to become a knight. He makes friends and enemies, but shows great, almost mystical, skill. Knighted on the eve of the start of a battle between Kingfountain and Brugia, Ransom unexpectedly discovers incredible abilities that end up leaving him without a lord to serve.

But it’s just the start to Ransom’s journey. With growing, mysterious abilities that have people whispering he might be Fountain-blessed, unrest is brewing in the Argentine family, and between Kingfountain and Occitania. When Ransom is unexpectedly pulled into the ruling family’s service, and back into the same orbit as Claire, he finds himself caught between his morals and duties as a knight in service to the king’s heir.

While I wasn’t thrilled that the entire novel is definitely more tell than show, the story still managed to pull me in. Inspired by Arthurian legend, my mind was taken back to ye olde days and had me believing in honorable knights. I loved the heavy unrest in the Argentine family as the king is constantly battling back the countries that want to invade and take over and his sons are competing against each other. Family dysfunction at it’s best! I loved how twisted the family was, and that Ransom stood out as a beacon of honor and virtue through everything. He was the perfect counterpoint, and his struggles to remain honorable and still carry out his duty really pulled at my heart.

There’s a great deal of adventures and battles, which kept the novel moving at a steady, quick pace that also paused to ensure key information wasn’t missed. It made it easier to focus on the details that were important, which made me glad I didn’t have to page back and forth to piece things together. Overall, it made for a quick, easy read while also providing breathtaking adventure and family squabbles that have far-reaching impacts while also being a ton of fun.

A Perfect Balance

Knight’s Ransom is told from Ransom’s perspective. It’s undeniably his story and the telling of his adventures. But it also gives voice to Claire and the Argentine family, the people who figure most heavily in Ransom’s life.

We meet Ransom when he is a boy. Held hostage along with the spirited Claire, she decides to call him Ransom because that’s essentially what he’s being held for. It turns out Ransom seems to be quite a well-adjusted, happy boy who strives to believe in the best in people. He carries this into adulthood and it makes him into an incredibly honorable knight, a nice counterpoint to the equally incredible skills he possesses in battle. I adored everything about him, even though it might have made him a bit of a boring character. But I loved how upright and dutiful he was, kind of like a pillar of virtue while surrounded by a plotting ruling family. He did seem too trusting and naive, though, but definitely the kind of knight I’d swoon for.

A colorful cast surrounds Ransom. Claire is a spirited, spunky lady from an island country that had me thinking of Ireland or Scotland. I loved how sure she was of herself and just how outspoken she was. The Argentine family felt like the quintessential dysfunctional family with betrayals and in-fighting at every turn. Devon the Elder is stuck on ensuring his heir inherits a whole, peaceful kingdom. His oldest, Devon the Younger, is determined the take the crown on his own terms, while his three younger brothers sulk and try to undermine him and each other. Trust comes and goes, loyalty comes and goes, and none of them are above using each other for their own ends, or from clawing for any power available. Surrounded as he is by this cast, I’m quite glad Ransom is as honorable and, dare I say boring, as he is.

Arthurian-Inspired Europe

Knight’s Ransom offers the typical European-inspired fantasy. Centered around a fantastical version of medieval Britain, it draws from Arthurian legend and pulls in what might be medieval France. It’s easy to draw parallels to certain European countries, which made it both comforting and familiar so the story is the focus.

This series is set in Wheeler’s already established Kingfountain world, but during an earlier time period. Being unfamiliar with the Kingfountain novels, I was a little apprehensive about wandering into this book, but I didn’t feel I was missing anything. The world felt established, as it should, but I didn’t feel I needed prior exposure to Kingfountain to be able to enjoy it.

Overall, the world building felt like it simply flowed. It was a lovely unfolding of the world as Ransom traveled around the world, either trying to find a way to support himself or in service to a lord. I liked that it drew from established real-world places, but took it’s own unique fantasy spin.

A Fun Read With a Wonderful Lead Character

Knight’s Ransom was a fun read. I didn’t like all the tell, but everything else was a ton of fun. The characters perfectly balanced each other, there’s a hint of mystery that’s scratched just enough, and the story promises more adventures throughout the rest of the series. My favorite part, though, was that the battles were not overly gory or descriptive. They weren’t fun, but I appreciated that there was more of a focus on Ransom’s abilities and how they guided him to make certain moves and take certain strategies. Or maybe my favorite part was that I just fell in love with Ransom. As boring as his honor could make him, I adored his strong honorable streak. A quick, easy read, Knight’s Ransom is perfect for those who enjoy Arthurian legends, or at least a taste of the medieval days of the British Isles.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to Julia Romero at Wunderkind PR for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

knight's ransom, a fantasy novel by Jeff Wheeler

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