Seven years is a long time to wait. That's how long readers have been waiting for John Marco to produce a new volume in the story of Lukien, the Bronze Knight. Not that any such novel was ever promised. With THE SWORD OF ANGELS, the concluding volume of the Bronze Knight trilogy in 2005, the story of Lukien had a logical endpoint, but the hope always remained that Marco would revisit this champion. In 2009 he gave us STARFINDER, a new world of fanciful adventure that was under-supported, and then...silence. When word finally came of a new book in the works and that Lukien would be the focus, eager fans counted days. Lots of days. After seven years, the wait is over, and with THE FOREVER KNIGHT, Marco successfully revisits his hero.
Unfamiliar with the Bronze Knight? Do not worry. Reading the first three novels (THE EYES OF GOD, THE DEVIL'S ARMOR, THE SWORD OF ANGELS) is not at all necessary. Touchpoints and events from those works are referenced at times in THE FOREVER KNIGHT. You would be well-served to read the prior books, however, because it will fully develop the Lukien character and give depth to his tale --- a tale of honor, dedication and lost allegiance, madness and hope, love and sorrow.
"Marco has trimmed down the page count substantially, but that has done nothing to diminish the epic feel of his story. In the past, one of his greatest strengths was in crafting thick epics that read swiftly. Now he has penned a small book that feels epic but still has the quickness, and is distilled down to providing a quality story."
THE FOREVER KNIGHT gives us Lukien as a broken man --- not so much in body, for the Sword of Angels and its ghostly inhabitant, Malator, prevent him from dying. “Prevent” is suitable because Lukien has become reckless, so ravaged in spirit by the death of Queen Cassandra, with whom he had an illicit love affair, and the madness of his king and former childhood friend, Akeela. Lukien seeks situations that could possibly kill him, but Malator is always there to keep him alive. He has lost his will for life and his spark to carry on as the protector of Grimhold.
Lukien has lost sight of who he is and needs purpose, so he sets out on a knight's quest. Joining him is an orphan girl named Cricket, whose memory of her past is a blank slate. Flashes and images play in her mind, and her hope is to revisit the land of Akyre with Lukien and jumpstart her memories. Like Lukien, she seeks to discover who she is. On their road they encounter desert nomads, a deadly brute known as Wrestler, a narcissistic lord named Anton Fallon, and a crazed tyrant in King Diriel. The madness set upon Diriel's brow reminds Lukien of Akeela, and our hero knows that he must prevent this man from expanding his empire. This is no easy task, however, as Diriel is armed with soldiers without souls. Literally. It will take more than just the men under Fallon's banner to stop him, and as other lands offer to band together, Lukien must rise up to the level of champion once more and show the world the true quality of the man known as the Bronze Knight.
THE FOREVER KNIGHT approaches Lukien's story in a much different manner than the previous books, because Marco has taken up the challenge of presenting this novel in the first person. It's never an easy task, but he does succeed admirably. The conflicts within Lukien are clearly defined, and readers get a sense of his confusion, pain and desires. Given his immortality by the gift of Malator --- himself an intriguing character --- the question becomes how one fully appreciates life if one cannot die. Lukien bears a lot of weight on his heart, and his story is compelling --- but not as compelling as that of Cricket. Though she is merely taken along as a squire, Cricket's story is essential to Lukien rediscovering his heart and purpose. He loves her in the way a protective father loves his daughter, and she admires him for all the things she sees in him that he does not. Their interplay together is touching. When Lukien's attentions to preventing impending war undermine her desire to unlock her trapped memories, she sets out on her own. The ultimate resolution of her journey and the unspooling of her past is heartbreaking and steels Lukien's resolve.
Sitting beside its companions, THE FOREVER KNIGHT is a tiny little book. Marco has trimmed down the page count substantially, but that has done nothing to diminish the epic feel of his story. In the past, one of his greatest strengths was in crafting thick epics that read swiftly. Now he has penned a small book that feels epic but still has the quickness, and is distilled down to providing a quality story. Marco has a way of describing things in two sentences that take some writers two paragraphs, and he has lines that simply sing and find a way to connect with readers, sticking in their heads long after those pages are turned.
It is good to welcome back Lukien once more. He is an old friend, a difficult man. Now that he has returned, it would be nice to visit with him again. But soon. After all, seven years is a long time to wait. Then again, what's seven years when you are an immortal champion?
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on May 10, 2013