Outpost is one of ten novels in the final round of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) 2016. Updates on the contest’s progress can be found here.

“Nine thousand suns ago, a race of immortal warriors came from the stars through a rare alignment and stepped onto the world of Math, a world much like their own, a perfect place for a backwater outpost from which to fight their ancient war. The realm they claimed came to be known as Dyrregin, Gateway of the Gods.”

I’m torn.

Let me explain why.

Outpost is a good book. A really good book. It is a traditional type of fantasy with a grim vibe that I haven’t really felt since reading Elizabeth Boyer and Katherine Kurtz in the 80s. A strong sense of place and of a Norse underpinning that drive the story create a physical reality to the events. Tonally, I think it is great.

The story revolves around three characters, each unique and determined. Arcamel, a warden, can see and is protected by the Fylking, creatures who are invisible to most but are powerful, important to the world and its history. Othin, named for the War God, a ranger and a protector of the people. Melisandre, a weaver and knitter, a woman of strength and unrealised power. These three form the majority of the viewpoints we follow and their tales interweave towards the conclusion.

There are other aspects of the book I really enjoyed. The action scenes and fights are well described with good chance in each that the hero or heroine will be injured or killed. Also, throughout the book, foreshadowing is well used and though we can see what may be the likely outcome we are not put off by it. There is enjoyment in watching the characters come to the conclusions and figure things out. And there enough surprises to make you revaluate as you progress through the pages.

I don’t want to ignore the secondary characters. They bring the story alive. The friends are three dimensional in their own right and have a large part to play in as the story unfolds. Word of warning, none of them are safe. Villains too are individualised and it is nicely unclear who the main antagonist is.

The pacing is good and there is rarely a moment when the book lags or the reader lacks for interest. It should all be ripe for an SPFBO winning book. It really should, and I really think that anyone who reads it will enjoy it!

But as I said above, I am torn.

First is a small thing, but irritating. To me anyway. A few times through the book the phrase “could care less” appears. I am pretty darned sure it should read “couldn’t care less” and I know it is pedantic, but that’s me when it comes to these kind of things. On the other side of things, it does happen just a few times and doesn’t disrupt the flow too much. The rest of the prose is smooth and glasslike as your eyes skim across the words soaking in the atmosphere.

Second, there is an info-dump. Just one and I know this isn’t a major issue. Sometimes you just need to convey information to the reader in order to move the story forward. However, in this case, it doesn’t. The info given is a nice bit of history of one particular location that, to my perception, is not needed.

Third and last, the ending. The final chapter is excellent. Just the kind of pay-off you really desire in a book. It leaves it all self-contained with a good chance for a sequel, enough loose threads to pull at. I liked that last chapter! The one before, not so much. The exciting denouement does not work as well for me and that ‘for me’ is important. I just felt a little confused by who died, if they had, how, and about why something was happening and not something else.

Those three things should not be enough to put you off the book. This is a worthy finalist for the SPFBO and there is a hell of a lot to enjoy within the pages. It is vital to revisit the positives:

1. The prose is tight and smooth.
2. The story moves on apace and you want to see what happens.
3. The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.
4. The magic system is revealed as the book progress and is different enough to intrigue and beguile you.
5. The characters are distinct and well-drawn. You care about them and want them to succeed.

So, in summary, I enjoyed the book. I read it from start to finish in fewer days than some other books and it isn’t shorter than any of them. I’ll recommend it to you with the provisos mentioned above. You know some of what you’re in for now, and I’ve kept all the spoilers out. There is a real world to explore in this book so forge ahead through the snow and discover it for yourself.


By Geoff Matthews

G. R. Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read - and now he writes fantasy! Seven Deaths of an Empire coming from Solaris Books, June 2021. Agent: Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at www.grmatthews.com.

One thought on “Outpost by F. T. McKinstry – SPFBO Review”
  1. I thought ‘could care less’ was one of those UK/US differences… it makes no sense to me either, although I’m from the UK…

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