Review: The Last Shield by Cameron Johnston

The Last Shield by Cameron Johnston

Timy reviews The Last Shield, a standalone Fantasy novel by Cameron Johnston. Published by Angry Robot on August 13th, 2024.

An eARC was received by the author in exchange for an honest review.

About the Book
Series:standalone
Genre:Fantasy
Publisher:Angry Robot
Date of Publishing:August 13th, 2024
Trigger Warnings:death, violence, blood, torture
Page count:375

Possible fit for The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge 2024 prompts:

Joker prompt that goes with anything: Now We Are Free

Anywhere Away From HereKiss My Ass
HandwrittenYou Are My Home
PsychoSummer Jam
AddictedNew Song
The MysticSay It
Queen of KingsThe Legend of Mother Swan
Accidentally in LoveThrough Glass
White FlagRoad to Joy
Sob StoryGive That Wolf a Banana
Always HalloweenKill Your Conscience
TherapyGhosts & Monsters
Low LifeChasing Stars
Book Blurb
The Last Shield by Cameron Johnston

A gender-flipped Die Hard set in a mysterious castle, Cameron Johnston’s The Last Shield is an engaging fantasy read, perfect for fans of John Gwynne and Mark Lawrence. The ancient forest realm of Sunweald is bordered on two sides by far mightier nations – a precarious situation. At its centre, the Sunweald Palace is home to the Lord Regent and the heir to the throne, together with numerous precious and powerful artefacts. The Palace is protected by the realm’s elite Shields, dedicated to guarding the royal line against all foes.A group of vicious brigands called the Wildwood Reivers have been stealing arcane artefacts and smuggling them across the borders, out of Sunweald. And the objects they most desire are stored in the mystical Wyrm Vault, hidden away deep in the bones of the earth, within the walls of the Palace itself. As political and religious tensions mount, Sunweald’s druids prepare to enact rituals for the Summer Solstice – but the Wildwood Reivers and their treacherous allies have other plans. It falls to Briar, the commander of the Shields, to defend the ancient corridors and secret tunnels of the Palace. The odds may be against her, but she’ll see every enemy head adorning a spike or she’ll die trying…

Quote of the Book
Quote Background

“It was a sad truth that it took so much more effort to create something good than to destroy it. It made the scum of the land feel like big men and granted the weak an illusion of strength and power – but any dimwit could destroy something beautiful.”

Song of the Book

I don’t often pick Breaking Benjamin songs, because I keep them for the best books. The Last Shield deserves to get one of my most favorite songs, I Will Not Bow which I think fits quite well.

Review

Look, knowing Cameron Johnston‘s work, I was pretty sure I was going to like his latest novel, The Last Shield. I might not have read many of his previous books, but as far as I’m concerned, his name is pretty much a guarantee for a dark, twisted, and fun-as-hell book. The Last Shield delivers magnificently, and even though stories like this aren’t my jam these days, I found myself not only reading during my lunch break but in the evenings too on weekdays, which didn’t happen in a very long time. If you ever need to rekindle your love for the genre, don’t look any further than The Last Shield.

I’m not going to go into the plot as the blurb should give you a fair idea of what to expect. The Last Shield being a Johnston novel, is as dirty as it gets. Not on a super grimdark level dirty tho. The thing about Johnston’s writing is that he knows exactly how much violence and brutality and grit he can use to portray the world’s realities in his book, but it never feels overdone or inserted only for shock value. Johnston knows how to balance out the gory bits so they don’t overwhelm and lose meaning, keeping the reader on edge. A book chockful of violence and all shades of dark stuff doesn’t necessarily make a good grimdark novel IMO. Less is more, my friends.

The Last Shield is basically one long epic battle with all of its horrors, and yet, there are also light moments, little patches of calm and quiet where both the characters and the reader can catch their breath. Not that it helps much, but still. It also doesn’t stop it from being a pageturner, so you might want to make sure you are ready to pull long nights. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. On the plus side, it’s just below 400 pages, so it could be done in a weekend.

What I want to talk about though, are the characters. The plot itself of the book is nothing complicated or new – we’ve seen this before. What makes The Last Shield a great reading experience is its characters. Starting with Briar, our MC, who is the captain of the Shields, an elite group of soldiers who are tasked with guarding the palace, including the Heir and the Regent. Briar is strong, capable, and loyal to a fault. I certainly wouldn’t want to pick a fight with her. Even when she is injured and loses some of the mobility in her left leg. Her character arc with the injury and how she is dealing with the new reality hit close to home on multiple levels. I appreciated how Johnston not only shows how she got injured, but also shows the struggle of recovery and living with the remaining issues – instead of making it magically disappear. I found Briar an intriguing character, with very strong morals and a dirty mouth which is always fun.

I want to say I liked Kester, the heir, but… well… I didn’t particularly, because let’s face it, he is a little entitled shit, but I appreciated his character arc throughout the book. And I know this is going to sound weird, but I wish he had more spotlight. I think his plotline needed much more depth. Not going into details, because spoilers, but this is the reason I’m knocking my score down by half a crown.

I’m also mentioning Imperatrix, our antagonist, whose identity came as a big surprise to me, which is something, as I’m usually good at predicting things. Well done Johnston, you got me there! Also wow, she definitely was something… Again, I’m not spoiling things, let’s just say, Imperatrix would feel right at home in a madhouse. I don’t know why, but crazy characters just tend to be more fun than the hero types.

Before I leave you with a conclusion, let me say a few things about the setting of The Last Shield. We are in a land sometime in the Bronze Age – as the weapons the people use are made of bronze, so you know… – inspired by Great Britain (or shall I say Scotland, specifically) at the time. There are Druids, there are standing stones that have an important role in rituals, and there is a fae-like race mentioned. We don’t learn much about the culture of Sunweald and their rivaling countries, but Johnston is good at painting a picture without going into too much detail. Like, we get enough to understand the politics in the background, and the few rituals that made into the book without making the reader feel like they are missing info. Nonetheless, I would have liked to dive deeper into the culture of the Druids, the religion, etc. but then we know I’m a bit of a junkie for these things. The Last Shield doesn’t have a very deep lore, but it has enough to make it feel real.

So, to close off this already pretty long review – The Last Shield is a book you should have on your 2024 TBR, because it has everything the blurb promises. Action, bloodshed, secret tunnels, and a suicidal mission to save the kingdom from total ruin. It’s exhilarating, it’s fun, and it’s undeniably a Johnston novel through and through. Not one you should miss.

Our Judgement
They Shall Be Remembered - 4.5 Crowns

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