Have you ever read a book where the characters seemed to jump off of the page? Where you get weirdly invested in their journey and exclaim out loud (much to the annoyance of the cat) when they finally do what you’ve been waiting for the entire book? Yeah… That book for me was Outpost by F.T. McKinstry, book one of the Fylking series. And let me tell you, those poor characters are in for quite a ride.
This book falls (I think, but I’m really bad at genre identification) into the epic fantasy category, with drawn-out quests, interdimensional beings and huge amounts of possibly world-ending problems. The Fylking are a group of highly-powerful beings from another dimension and world. They gathered a group of Wardens, the only ones who could see them, to protect their gateway—a weapon to be used in a war against a terrible enemy who also happens to be, you know, highly-powerful beings from another dimension and world. Because normal people aren’t tiny enough beings as it is.
Those poor, unfortunate normal beings upon which this book focuses are Othin, a ranger and lawkeeper who travels around a set territory to preserve the law set down by the rulers in a distant city; Melisande, Othin’s lover who lives in one of the northern villages on his route, is a knitter with strange abilities; and Arcmael, a warden with guardian Fylking meant to help and protect him in his duties. These characters’ lives intertwine in many different ways and yet they never seem to actually cross paths until things are going very, very badly. Othin and Melisande’s relationship was one of my favourite parts of this novel, because they manage to be something much more than a romantic sub-plot and, as it turns out, their relationship is really quite important. Arcmael did manage to frustrate me at the beginning quite a bit. He wasn’t annoying, per se, but he did do some really stupid things for rather silly reasons which had me grumbling. He managed to win me over in the end, so all’s well I suppose. These characters’ interaction-by-lack-of-interaction was a fascinating detail that made the book all the more interesting to me. How does one create a relationship between characters when they are so very far apart? The way that this is managed is really quite well done and I like it. A lot.
The writing itself has many details that are described in such a way as to make this world feel quite real. The idea of Norse and Scandinavian deities, for one, adds a level of reality to the mystery of the Fylking. The details of Melisande’s knitting, the daily troubles of Othin’s work, and even Arcmael’s… well, everything, really. His conversations, his convictions, his mental state, all described very well. Take note of the details, dear reader. They are, actually, quite important. I won’t tell you which ones, though, because that ruins the fun.
After the richness of the details and the torture that is the characters’ reality, we come to the end. Spoilers, Othin and Melisande actually manage to interact with one another. Arcmael turns out to have a very important role to play. But then… aaaaaggghhhhh. It’s all quite dramatic, I assure you. The author has a very good purpose in doing things the way that she has, but my goodness. Okay, okay, I know. Book one is always going to end in a flurry of drama and excitement. But really! You could give a reader a break! (Actually, the ending is really well done and as a writer I wish I could have done something quite so, well, stunning.)
Honestly, I don’t really have much in the way of critique here. The Fylking were perhaps my least favourite part of the novel simply because their crypticness could have easily caused more problems than otherwise. I think that was rather the point, though. The characters were well done, they had lovely developmental arcs, the worldbuilding was thorough and pulled me in right from the beginning. Yes, the plot and characters did drive me a bit crazy at points. Yes, the ending was a cliffhanger that had me startling the cat. But those things are what make a lovely book. I suppose my main issue with the book is that there are so many questions left unanswered. But that is what book two is for, no?
On the whole, Outpost is a really good read that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in epic fantasy with characters that just about jump out of the book. On to book two!