Gallow: The Crimson Shield (book 1) by Nathan Hawke (book review).

‘Gallow: The Crimson Shield’ by Nathan Hawke is a violent hack and slash romp that may take place in a fictional land but is clearly based on the Viking incursions of antiquity. The eponymous hero, Gallow, is a Lhosir who has chosen to live among a foreign people called the Marroc.


The Lhosir once invaded the Marroc and Gallow chose to stay behind and raise a family. Now the Marroc land is threatened by an invading force called the Vathen, with vaguely Asian or Eastern sounding names. As such, the Lhosir have joined forces with the Marroc to defend the land. That is until the Lhosir Prince Medrin decides to subjugate a Marroc city and undertake a deranged quest for a mythical shield.

The novel begins with Gallow rescuing a legendary Lhosir commander called Corvin the Screambreaker, after a vicious first attack from the Vathen. Gallow tends to the man’s wounds in his Marroc home, but the villagers still understandably harbour deep grudges against their one-time invaders and when they discover that Corvin is indeed a feared general, they drive him and Gallow out of his home and on the road to adventure.

There’s a lot of fighting in ‘Gallow: The Crimson Shield’. Skulls are split, limbs hacked off, axes raised for spilling someone’s pint. After a while, it becomes as tiring as the characters might be, though some possess super-human strength, surviving fight after fight. It’s quite dizzying. To add to the confusion some of the characters have multiple names and some of the mythical artefacts have so many names you really need a glossary at the back explaining which sword is which.

Despite there being sufficiently intriguing mythical elements told to the reader, the novel is barely fantasy. In a precedent set by authors like Joe Abercrombie (who has a character called Ninefingers in his book, this one has, erm, Twelvefingers) there is lots of macho rucking and barely any magic whatsoever. There are no fantastic creatures, unless you count the Ghuldogs, but even they sound like wolves.

Clearly there is a good market for this sort of novel and I suppose it is far easier to create a fictional land than try and rely on history to provide the points of interest for you, but the whole story left me a little cold. Gallow is a good character, constantly trying to do the right thing, but both his old country and his adopted one, naturally pleasing neither. As Gallow gets pushed from one bad situation to the next, you wonder just how he manages to stay alive.

Overall, I felt that ‘Gallow: The Crimson Shield’ would have made an excellent historic novel and the battle scenes are impressive and pacey and, I enjoyed those. As a fantasy, though, it felt lacking to me. Maybe I just don’t understand why people need more realism in their fantasy?

John Rivers

November 2014

(pub: Gollancz. 324 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK), $15.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-575-11508-8. Ebook Price: £ 4.99 (UK))

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