The Moonlight War 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.

Three caravans have vanished traversing the Cowcheanne Way. The legendary Tahsis platoon, warriors thought by most to be invincible, are dispatched to investigate and are never heard from again. Rumours of native uprisings and bandit armies grow wilder and more widespread every day, while the more devout whisper about the return of the Horde, a mythic foe from ages past.

The truce between the warring Kael-tii and Ashai nations is put to the test when a new caravan is outfitted and they are forced to travel The Way together. As an ancient evil is unleashed upon them, a group of heroes, friend and foe alike, must band together for survival.

When the true nature of their mission slowly comes to light, the growing distrust between the Kael-tii and Ashai camps threatens to tear the caravan apart. Can they set aside their differences in time to combat the menace that imperils them all, or are they doomed to join the ranks of lost souls claimed by the cursed Cowcheanne Way?

The start of a book is a notoriously hard thing to get right. You’ll see in reviews of both indie and traditionally published books that the beginning is often mentioned. It was too slow, too fast, exciting then lost its way, there are so many ways it can go wrong. And I’m not about to tell you that The Moonlight War gets it perfectly right, it just doesn’t go much further wrong than a million other books, some of them bestsellers.

In the first two chapters we are introduced to four of the major characters, each a point of view, of the book.

Tasha, the Hasa ni do, the last man standing. An Omai master, an assassin, a skilled warrior with unearthly grace and hidden history.

Connor, an old soldier tasked with training a nobleman’s spoilt and bratty teenage child.

Roc, a highway man forced to his trade by a bad marriage and the loss of his own wealth.

Setanna, princess of the realm and niece to the King. With a dead father, and dead husband this young woman has not had an easy life and seeks to live it to the full.

These are the main characters, but others, some secondary and some full blown points of view in their own right, are introduced as the story progresses.

Every one of the main characters, and good many of the secondary ones, are three dimensional and fully formed. And I’ll tell you now, sooner rather than later, this book has some of the best dialogue I’ve read in the competition. It is alternatively touching, sarcastic and humorous. One of the characters one-sided conversations with his horse are priceless. For these alone the book won me over.

But there is more. I admit it. I am a sucker for a good fantasy book set somewhere other than pseudo-Europe. The Moonlight War manages to combine a deeply Asian, Japanese, society and a European based one. We see the tensions, the cultural differences that lead to conflict. There is trust and betrayal. Tasha, who straddles both worlds and is haunted by his past, is our eyes and ears to these, our observer. His reactions vary depending on the culture he is interacting with.

And more. The action scenes are well described and envisaged. There is no problem determining who is doing what and to whom. There are battles a plenty and few walk away unscathed. Even in the midst of battle there is humanity and humour, allayed against the terror and fear it serves to highlight the danger all the characters find themselves in.

Also, and why not heap more praise, there is a plot, sub-plot and machinations. Despite the fact that all the characters are confined to the same journey there is enough intrigue to keep the reader guessing, making assumptions and having the ground torn out from under them. Better yet, the plot you think you’re reading is just a cover for the real plot, the hidden world behind it all. The author has done a really good job here.

In the notion of balance there are some things that didn’t work quite so well. Nothing that detracted from my enjoyment of the book or my admiration for the author’s craft shown here. First, and this may just be me, I got a little confused by the geography in one section. It seemed, along the road, to go from hills to tropical rainforest to grassland quite quickly. I wasn’t sure I had read it right but decided to push on because the characters were driving me forward.

Second, almost everyone on the caravan has some extraordinary skill. Whether that is with a bow, just how many times can you hit an enemy in the eye – the tapestry at Bayeux may have it right after all, sword, axe, as a horseman or with magick. Everyone has a special skill. A farmboy who is an expert swordsman? A young seer who is not fully trained yet can work with the most dangerous of magick with seemingly little risk.

Third, everything comes together a little too smoothly, which you can view as a negative or a positive. On the bright side, it does demonstrate the planning and thought that must have gone into the creation of this book.

And there is nature of Ashai. They are all a little quick with their swords and there is little humanity to them, at least in the initial stages. None of our protagonists are from this group. One minor character, through whose eyes we get a glimpse, is too secretive about their own motivations to be a true representative. Later on this view is over-turned a little, but there is perhaps a little too much ‘bad guy’ about the Ashai to truly emphasise with their plight, and they too are struggling.

Last, in the copy I had, the one the author sent us, so I am treating it as an ARC, there are some typos and errors. Not many, but the floating, out of place speech marks did confuse me from time to time. I am sure these are easy to correct and may have been done already.

Now, this is important, so please read this next paragraph carefully because I refuse to leave you with those minor negatives.

The Moonlight War is a very good book. There is excitement and intrigue. The characters are incredibly well-drawn. The humour is appropriate and perfect, it lightens the mood and drags the emotions out into plain view. The subtle turning of plans within plans is well done. Foreshadowing is great, you do get those ‘ah, so that’s what it meant’ moments all the way through. And the last third is pretty much unputdownable (and that is now a complete word – I’ll allow you to use it. Free of charge).

This should be one of the strong contenders in the SPFBO and should be hacking its way (or piercing your eye with an arrow) onto your Kindle or other reading device. You won’t go far wrong with this one. I’ll be looking out for the sequel!


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

3 thoughts on “The Moonlight War by S.K.S. Perry – SPFBO Review”
  1. Thank you kindly for your review! Sometimes, as a self-published author, you can feel like you’re writing in a vacuum, that your work is invisible and no one will ever find it, never mind read it. And then something like this happens.

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