Nathan’s Review of The Return of the Knights by Gregory Kontaxis
Publication Date: 9 May 2023
Series: Book 1 in the The Dance of Light
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Pages: 408 pages
*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
The Palace of the Dawn will soon be stormed. The most ruthless man of all time is one step away from assailing on Iovbridge and dethroning Sophie Delamere. The Queen of Knightdorn is now alone, with neither allies nor an army capable of rebuffing the enemy which is approaching her city. Everything appears to be over, until a mysterious young man, Elliot, makes his appearance. Entangled in a web of lies and politics, Elliot will try to draw Walter away from Iovbridge and face him in the stronghold of Wirskworth. He will attempt to rekindle relations and revive the old alliance between
the Queen of Knightdorn and Syrella Endor, the Governor of Wirskworth. Elliot’s mission will take every fibre of his will and if he fails, so shall the kingdom.
Game Of Thrones meets Greek mythology in this explosive epic fantasy story, packed with war, medieval lore, magic, loyalty and bravery. The first book in the series, The Dance of Light, will take you on an epic journey to a fantasy world of men and mythical creatures which will keep you spellbound till the very end.
Review of The Return of the Knights by Gregory Kontaxis
If you ever found yourself reading A Song of Ice and Fire or watching A Game of Thrones and wished that Robb Stark’s military/warfare storyline was given more space, then you’ll really want to check out The Return of the Knights. This is a book full of complex military strategy, interregional politics, civil war, family feuds, and much more.
Plus, throw some magical swords and pegasi (pegasuses?) on top of that and you’ve got an epic military fantasy that wades around in the genre tropes while also feeling fresh.
The Return of the Knights is definitely the book for you if you fall into one or more of the following groups:
You love worldbuilding in your epic fantasy. The Return of the Knights is boiling over with backstory, history, mythology, and more. Kontaxis has built a world that is fully realized and thought out. The worldbuilding is definitely inspired by more “traditional” fantasy worlds, where everything Has A Formal and Proper Name With Capitalized Letters, which should excite readers who may struggle to find fantasy that does that while also feeling fresh.
I was particularly wowed by the way that Kontaxis was able to strike a clever balance between deep and shallow history-building here. On one hand, the politics and families feel deeply rooted; they have long-standing relations, histories, alliances, and feuds. But on the other hand, the politics most directly influencing the events of The Return of the Knights are rather new and recent. The current political structure is only a few generations old, giving the conflict a certain level of instability and freshness.
At times the worldbuilding is a bit info-dumpy. There are long stretches where the characters give lengthy histories. How you respond to this will depend on what type of worldbuilding if you like in your fantasies!
You love military strategy and battles. The Return of the Knights is essentially one long military campaign. From the first page to the last we are thrown into battles, conflicts, action scenes, and more. Characters describe detailed battle strategies and tactics to one another. We see some of these plans succeed and others fail. I usually have a hard time following military tactics in fantasy books (mostly because I know nothing about military strategy and I have a hard time picturing big tactics) and so I just vibed with these parts of the book, but if you love military fantasy you need to *run* to grab this book.
You love fantasy creatures but think that dragons are a bit overdone. Recently in fantasy we have seen fantasy authors finding alternatives to dragons (most notably the griffins in Thiago Abdalla’s A Touch of Light), and until I read The Return of the Knights I was surprised we don’t see more pegasisses (I have decided to just spell it differently every time I use it) in fantasy! The pegasus in this book is/are majestic, powerful, and awe-inspiring on the page. The end of a The Return of the Knights (don’t worry – no spoilers!) hints that at least one pegasus is going to play a much larger role in future books and I cannot wait!
I should note that for American audiences (as I am American) the branding of this book as Game of Thrones meetings Greek mythology may be a bit misleading. This is not a criticism of the author (who is Greek and knows way more about this than I do), but for an American understanding of what Greek mythology, those elements are light to non-existent. I think someone who has more extensive knowledge of Ancient Greek mythology, culture, and worldview would have a very different experience, but don’t go in expecting all kinds of explicit references to Zeus or whatnot.
There were a few stumbling blocks in The Return of the Knights that did detract from the overall storyline. Many of these can just be attributed to this being’s the author’s first book; several of the issues I found with the book I am confident will be smoothed out in future volumes as Kontaxis finds his groove in this world and with these characters. The book has some awkward dialogue and prose; a lot of this emerges out of Kontaxis’ attempt to make the dialogue feel “medieval” or “premodern”. For some characters, like the Queen Sophia, it really lands while in other instances it feels a bit stilted and forced. It also has the problem of making many of the characters feel quite similar to each other. Even for the lead POV characters, like Elliot or Sophia, I felt like I was too often being told who the characters were rather than being shown who they are through their actions and words. It was almost like Kontaxis wasn’t quite sure if he wanted this book to have a mythical narration style or to be more in that limited third-person POV style. It lands a bit awkwardly in the middle.
This also just leads to me having wanted the characters to be fleshed out more overall. I didn’t feel like I really got to know the characters as individuals outside of their archetypes (“the chosen one”, “the caring Samwise Gamgee best friend”, “the strong-willed queen”, “the evil cousin”). This will likely be solved in future books (Kontaxis has planned for five books in the series) now that a lot of the worldbuilding has been accomplished and the plot can accelerate from there.
My only other minor concern is that they way other characters treat Elliot is a bit strange, considering his age. He is 17(ish) in the book, and yet even the twenty-year-old characters treat him like he is just a “boy”. Elliott is not only nearly as old as them (and for this historical time period there wouldn’t be that big of a difference between a 17 and 20 year old), but he has also demonstrated himself as a competent politician and military strategist. It was just strange the way that they kept infantilizing him, and it seemed to only exist for the “chosen one trope” to work rather than making complete sense in the narrative.
Despite some “debut novel” issues that will get worked out in previous books, this was a fast-paced epic military fantasy that will definitely appeal to a wide range of readers!
Concluding Thoughts: An epic military fantasy reminiscent of “classical” or “traditional” epic fantasies, The Return of the Knights is a perfect book for fans of deep and intense worldbuilding, military tactics, magical weapons, a PEGASUS, chosen ones, and more. Kontaxis is able to keep the book feeling fresh and fast paced, despite some underdeveloped characters and clunky dialogue. This book may have some rough edges, but it has a strong core and I am anticipating the sequel.