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The Red Plains by G. R. Matthews

The Red Plains by G. R. Matthews
Book Name: The Red Plains
Author: G. R. Matthews
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Dark Fantasy
Release Date: February 17, 2016

Spoiler Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for The Red Plains.

“Listen, Jiin-Wei, Taiji, I do not ask you what you can do or tell you what you cannot. Do not presume you know the same about me. I have lived more years than you can imagine and seen more of the world than you have ever read about on a map. He is alive.”

G. R. Matthews’ final installment in his first trilogy, The Forbidden List, is bursting with action, enhanced character development and secretive revelations. Granted, if you have read my two other reviews on The Forbidden List trilogy, you know that I had voiced some complaints. These complaints have since evaporated with The Red Plains, which, I assure you, is genuine. G. R. Matthews has really come into his stride since the first volume, The Stone Road, and gives us an adrenaline filled finalization that has me excited to read more of his publications. Now, onto the review.

The main characters in The Red Plains are still battling against forces, both in the material world and the spiritual one, and against a rising malicious entity that is set on obtaining immortality. Huang is profoundly occupied with the oncoming Mongol forces. However, not only is he concerned with a massive army of nomadic men on horseback who are set on invading the capitol. But he is also dealing with the difficulties of citizens who do not welcome a militia’s presence that is disrupting their everyday life. On top of dealing with egotistical inhabitants, there is the matter of the refugees who are in danger of being killed by the onslaught. Besides Huang’s current predicament with defending the Wall and employing magicians to help uphold its magical defenses, The Wu, Xiongmao, is assisting Huang with the battle against the Mongols, while dishing-out hard truths that leave him hard pressed against his own morality as a leader:

“Let the dying men die. I know it seems cruel, and it is, but they will slow us down and if we are caught out in the open this little army will be wiped out…”

Lastly, Zhou has been captured by the enemy and is incapable of accessing the spirit realm in order to escape. All the while he is interrogated by a foe that was believed to be dead for centuries. And, the Jade Emperor is in mortal danger if Zhou, Huang and Xiongmao don’t act quickly to save both his existence, as well as the serenity of the spiritual realm.

The Red Plains is filled with somber tones and exhilarating, Asian-style warfare, and fierce intensity that will keep one turning the pages. Unlike The Stone Road and The Blue Mountains, The Red Plains amps it up to the point where it might leave one feeling anxious for the wellbeing of the characters in Matthews’ world, including some new faces. Each main character faces a series of trials, from losing dear friends and comrades, to experiencing brutal interrogations, hunger, starvation and mental breakdowns. Similarly, Matthews’ brings into focus dynamic characters, particularly in a villain that one wishes to hate but, upon learning about their past, cannot due to the complexity of their moral background and difficult past. This adds an additional trepidation within the narrative, one that breaks away from the stark “black and white” contrast of a ruthless enemy to one that readers can fully sympathize with.

The characters in Matthews’ world are not two-dimensional. While in The Stone Road I had applauded Matthews on his ability to write a riveting scene of political discord, Matthews shines in The Red Plains when portraying the impact of war on its characters. For instance, Huang reflects humbly on the life of a soldier who is far too young to be in war. This portrayal furthers the dismaying backdrop against the cold reality of battle, a humane echo that shows the reader exactly what the conflict is costing the people, especially the young soldiers, of Matthews’ creation:

“How long have you been in the army?” he [Huang] asked.

“Five months, sir. The Wall was my first posting.”

“How old are you?”

“Sixteen, sir.” The soldier forced his shoulders up, pushing his body to its full height and puffing out his chest.

The effort must have taken a lot of energy, Huang though. What was I doing at sixteen? …At sixteen, I was trying to impress the serving girls, and Jiao. I was competing with all the other trainees, doing my time as a door guard, learning to salute properly. Standing on a wall, having seen hundreds of my friends have their brains, guts and blood spilled in front [of] me, was something I could not have imagined. At sixteen, I had my illusion of immortality, this lad can have none left.

Magic is further employed in The Red Plains, especially in battle. As in the previous installments, the magic system in The Red Plain is used in traversing the spiritual realm, as well as strategically to try to overcome an enemy, in both defensive and offensive manners. One instance involved using an arrow as a means of creating a massive wave to destroy the enemy’s tents, of writing ink on paper, attaching it to a single arrow by using spit, and firing it down into a pond below. As simple as it sounds, it added another level of the prowess of Matthews’ magic system. And, there is still the traversal of the spiritual realm by Zhou and Xiongmao, their fight against an enemy who is trying to overthrow the Jade Emperor, one of the “immortals.” Of course, I cannot explain entirely what the “immortals” are without giving away a critical part of the narrative. Also, the Wall that the main protagonist is set on defending is powered by a series of connected magicians who enable the structure to hold back the Mongols from passing through. Although, this very use of magic is threatened from malicious forces, causing further tension and conflict within the story.

As stated before, The Red Plains is brimming with enough violence to sate an action-crazing junkie. Numerous scenes portray the deadly battle between the Mongols and the emperor’s army, involving arrow barrages, sword-fighting, animalistic/spiritual attacks, fights on horseback and an exhilarating spiritual battle that is sure to get the blood pumping.

Overall, The Red Plains nicely wraps-up G. R. Matthews’ The Forbidden Listtrilogy in a satisfying conclusion that will leave one wishing for more of Matthews’ world. In which case, Matthews has also written a series of short stories: “Outlaw Mountain” and Tales from The Stone Road.

The Stone Road (cover)Concerning the end of the trilogy, it pulls at one’s emotions and unifies the central theme: family. Just when you believe you have Matthews figured out, he brings into focus this component that has been before your eyes the entire time. This singular theme made the entire trilogy rise into a whole new level for me. In finality, while The Forbidden List trilogy was the debut of author G. R. Matthews, he has managed to create a memorable one and I can see why he is an author to be reckoned with.

Right now the ebook of The Stone Road, book one of The Forbidden List, is on sale for 99¢/99p on Amazon (US/UK)! Get your copy today!


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