A Time of Dread


By John Gwynne

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Acclaimed epic fantasy author John Gwynne returns with the first book in a new trilogy, perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and David Gemmell.

A Time of Dread reminds me of why I became a fantasy enthusiast in the first place.” — Robin Hobb

A race of warrior angels, the Ben-Elim, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands, but their peace is brutally enforced.

In the south, hotheaded Riv is desperate to join the Ben-Elim’s peacekeeping force, until she unearths a deadly secret.

In the west, the giantess Sig investigates demon sightings and discovers signs of an uprising and black magic.
And in the snowbound north, Drem, a trapper, finds mutilated corpses in the forests. The work of a predator, or something far darker?
It’s a time of shifting loyalties and world-changing dangers. Difficult choices need to be made. Because in the shadows, demons are gathering, waiting for their time to rise. . .


Cast of Characters


Cheren Horse Clan

Jin—daughter of Uldin, King of the Cheren. She is taken as a ward by the Ben-Elim, and raised in Drassil.

Uldin—King of the Cheren and father to Jin.

Sirak Horse Clan

Altan—warrior of the Sirak. Brother to Bleda and Hexa; son to Erdene, Queen of the Sirak.

Bleda—brother of Altan and Hexa, son of Erdene, Queen of the Sirak. He is taken by the Ben-Elim as a ward, and raised in Drassil.

Ellac—A one-handed warrior of the Sirak. Bleda’s guard.

Erdene—Queen of the Sirak. Mother to Bleda, Altan and Hexa.

Hexa—daughter of Erdene, Queen of the Sirak. Sister to Altan and Bleda.


Elgin—Battlechief of Queen Nara.

Madoc—first-sword of Queen Nara.

Nara—Queen of Ardain.


Aed—resident of Kergard. Son of Calder the smith.

Asger—a trader who lives in Kergard.

Bodil—a trapper of the Desolation and part-time resident of Kergard.

Burg—leader of a group of workers from the Kergard mines.

Calder—a smith of Kergard, a friend of Olin.

Drem—a trapper of the Desolation. Son of Olin.

Fritha—a newcomer to Kergard. Granddaughter to Hask.

Hask—a newcomer to Kergard. Grandfather to Fritha.

Hildith—a resident of Kergard who owns a mead hall. Member of the Assembly.

Olin—a trapper of the Desolation. Father to Drem.

Surl—Fritha and Hask’s hound.

Ulf—a resident of Kergard and a member of the Assembly. A tanner by trade.

Wispy Beard—a newcomer to Kergard.


Alcyon—a giant who resides in Drassil.

Aphra—sister of Riv. Daughter of Dalmae. Captain of a hundred. A White-Wing of Drassil.

Balur One-Eye—father to Ethlinn, Queen of the Giants. He resides in Drassil.

Dalmae—a former White-Wing. Mother to Aphra and Riv.

Estel—a White-Wing of Drassil.

Ethlinn—Queen of the Giants. Daughter of Balur One-Eye.

Fia—a White-Wing of Drassil.

Garidas—a White-Wing of Drassil and captain of a hundred.

Jost—a training White-Wing of Drassil.

Lorina—a White-Wing of Drassil and captain of a hundred.

Vald—a training White-Wing of Drassil.

Riv—daughter of Dalmae and sister to Aphra. A training White-Wing.


Byrne—the High Captain of Dun Seren. A descendant of Cywen and Veradis.

Cullen—a young warrior of Dun Seren. A descendant of Corban and Coralen.

Fen—one of Keld’s wolven-hounds.

Hammer—Sig’s giant bear.

Keld—a warrior and huntsman of Dun Seren.

Rab—a white talking crow of Dun Seren.

Sig—a giant. Weapons-master of Dun Seren who travels widely to hunt the Kadoshim.

Tain—the crow master of Dun Seren. Son of Alcyon.

Varan—a giant of Dun Seren.


Adonai—a Ben-Elim of Drassil.

Israfil—the Lord Protector of the Land of the Faithful. High Captain of the Ben-Elim.

Kol—one of the Ben-Elim of Drassil. One of Israfil’s captains.

Kushiel—one of the Ben-Elim of Drassil. One of Israfil’s captains.

Meical—once High Captain of the Ben-Elim. Now frozen in starstone metal, sealed with Asroth in Drassil.


Asroth—Lord of the Kadoshim. Frozen within starstone metal in the Great Hall of Drassil.

Gulla—High Captain of the Kadoshim.

Rimmon—a Kadoshim.


The Book of the Fallen

A tattered extract discovered upon the corpse of a Kadoshim demon, the Year 131 of the Age of Lore:


They think we are broken.

We are not.

They think we are defeated.

We are not.

For over two thousand years, my brothers, we have fought our noble war, against Elyon the Great Tyrant and his servants, the Ben-Elim. Two thousand years our battleground was the Otherworld, that place of spirit, where all things are eternal. And then, little over a century ago, we saw the fulfilment of our long-crafted plan, to break into this world of flesh, to become flesh, so that we might wage war upon Elyon’s creation, mankind; to conquer and rule, or destroy, as we see fit.

But we were betrayed, my brothers, and lured into a trap of the Ben-Elim’s making. On that day we fought like warriors-born, shaming the heroes about whom the people of this world tell tales. On that dread day of tribulation we fought with sharp iron, tooth and claw. Blood was spilt in rivers, but alas, we were outnumbered by the Ben-Elim and their allies, who were led by a maggot that men called a hero, Corban the Bright Star.

Pah, I say to that, for Corban is long dead, and yet we are still here. One day I will spit on his grave, dig up his corpse and feast on his bones, for it was Corban who dared raise a blade to our master, our great Lord, Asroth, and it was Corban’s kin, Cywen, who cast the spell that entombed Asroth within a prison of iron.

We fought on, long after that day, a hundred years of war, but always they were too many, and our numbers dwindled.

And now the Ben-Elim hunt us, as do the followers of long-dead and thrice-cursed Corban.

So, my brothers, I say to you that we must change the way we wage this war. Retreat to the shadows, dwell in the dark places and gather your strength. Bide your time, for our triumph is coming. The day when we unite again, when we set our Lord Asroth free, when we take back what is rightfully ours.

Only do this: answer the call when it is given.

They think this is the final chapter of our long defeat.

But they are wrong.


So written by Gulla, High Captain of the Kadoshim until the restoration of our king, Asroth the Great.




The Year 132 of the Age of Lore, Reaper’s Moon

“I should be down there,” Bleda said, knuckles whitening on the grip of his bow. He was crouched upon the steep slope of a hill, looking down upon a scene of wonder.

A war.

Horses and their riders swirled upon the plain in constant motion, from this height seeming like two great flocks of birds looping ever closer, the distant rumble of hooves setting the ground trembling beneath Bleda’s feet. As he stared in envy and fascination, the faint echo of hurled challenges and insults, the harbingers of violence, drifted up to him.

“No, you should not be down there,” a voice said behind him, Old Ellac absently rubbing the stump where his right hand used to be. The skin around his eyes creased and cracked like old leather as he squinted at the battle about to begin on the plain below.

“Of course I should,” Bleda muttered. “My mother is down there, leading our Clan. My brother rides one side of her, my sister the other.”

But not my father.

“Aye, but they are all more than ten summers old,” Ellac pointed out.

“So?” Bleda snapped. “I can fight, am more skilled with a bow than most. Than you.”

“That’s not hard these days.” Ellac snorted and cuffed Bleda across the head with his one hand.

Bleda immediately felt shame at his remark, more painful than the slap. He knew that neither of them wanted to be sitting on this hill while their kin fought and bled on the field below.

Your tongue is sharper than your sword, his father used to say to him.

“Look,” Ellac said, pointing with his stump. “Altan.”

On the plain below a lone rider separated from their Clan, instantly recognizable to Bleda as his older brother, Altan.

Seventeen summers is not so much older than me. Yet he is old enough to fight, and I am not. Bleda scowled at the injustice of it, though none of his ire was directed at Altan. He loved his brother fiercely.

Altan was galloping hard, curling close to the enemy warband. As he did so a rider emerged to meet him, galloping just as fast. Both warriors dipped in their saddles, arms extended as they drew their bows.

Bleda felt a jolt of fierce pride, as well as a cold fist of fear clench around his heart.

Aim true, Altan. I cannot lose you as well.

The world seemed to slow, sound dimming as Bleda stared at the two champions.

And then Altan was wheeling away, the other rider swaying in his saddle, toppling sideways, falling to the ground, dragged along as one foot snagged in a stirrup. Ellac let out a grunt of admiration and Bleda punched the air with his fist, whooping and yelling his pride. He felt Ellac’s disapproval at his burst of emotion, the warriors of his Clan were supposed to wear the cold-face like a shield, but that was Altan down there, and he had just felled a champion of their ancient rivals.

A swell of cheering rose up to them, changing into battlecries as the two warbands came together with a concussive crash. Bleda gulped, a squirm of anxiety uncoiling in his belly. He had seen death before, held his da’s cold, wax-smooth hand, heard the tales of warriors back from their raids, even helped stitch their wounds—but this …

The death screams of men and horses echoed up to them, within moments the plain becoming a choking, seething mass of bodies, the splash of blood, the harsh clang of steel.

“What’s that?” Ellac said behind him, pointing to the skies. “Your eyes are better than mine.”

“Vultures and crows,” Bleda said as he squinted into the searing blue and glimpsed the silhouettes of wings.

“Too big,” Ellac muttered.

Bleda tore his eyes away from the battle and stared. More and more winged shapes were appearing in the sky, speeding towards the battlefield, growing in size with their approach. Great white wings beating through the air, then Bleda saw the glint of sunlight on steel.

“The Ben-Elim,” he whispered.

Winged warriors wrapped in gleaming mail swooped down to the battle-plain, skimming above men’s heads, stabbing indiscriminately with spear and sword, lifting men into the air, rising up steeply and dropping them, screaming, limbs flailing.

“No!” Bleda hissed, hand reaching for arrows in his belted quiver as he stood, about to launch into a scrambling run down the hillside. Ellac grabbed his wrist.

“We must help,” Bleda shouted. “This is not the Ben-Elim’s fight; they should stay out of it.”

“They said they would come, would not allow the Clans to go to war,” Ellac said. “And whether it’s their fight or not, they are here now. Look.”

To the west of the battle the realm of Arcona stretched into the horizon, a never-ending sea of grass, the vast plains punctuated here and there by clusters of low-lying hills. From around the closest range Bleda saw a wall of dust rising up, knew such a cloud could only be stirred by the tramp of many feet. A great host was coming.

The Ben-Elim’s Holy Army. Giants upon their great bears, and their wall of shields.

Then Ellac was dragging him back up the hill, towards their tethered horses.

“What are you doing? We must help my mother,” Bleda yelled, but Ellac ignored him, hoisted him into his saddle, and then, mounting agilely for a man with one hand, grabbed Bleda’s reins. With a click of his tongue and touch of his heels against his horse’s side they were cantering up the hill.

“Please,” Bleda cried. As a prince of the Sirak it was a word that rarely touched his lips.

Ellac looked between Bleda and the battle.

“I cannot let you go down there,” the old warrior said. “Your mother would have my other hand, and my eyes as well.” He spurred his horse on, up the hill and away from the battle. Bleda looked back as they reached the crest and his heart lurched in his chest. On the field below all was chaos and blood, winged warriors diving and swooping, slaying any who came within reach. Then the battlefield was gone and they were riding hard for their camp.

Bleda stared at the horizon as he paced a track in the grass before their camp, still clutching his double-curved bow in his hand. His brother Altan had made it for him, taking moons for it to be finished, Bleda watching and learning with fascination.

It is too big for you, Altan had said to him, tousling his black hair. It is a man’s bow, the draw too great for you, but how else will you become strong, eh?

That had been over a year ago, and now Bleda could loose his third arrow before the first had struck its target.

Tension was thick in the air as everyone waited, behind him a crowd amassed of the young, the old and the infirm; all else who could sit on a horse and draw a bow had gone to fight. Gers and wagons stood empty and unattended, dogs barking, goats bleating.

“There,” a voice said behind Bleda, and all looked to the skies. Winged shapes were appearing. And on the ground beneath them a dark smudge, riders approaching.

“Mother,” Bleda whispered, recognizing her before all others.

Erdene, Queen of the Sirak, rode into their war-camp. Her helm was gone, head bowed, a long cut upon her shaved scalp. The thick warrior braid that had been neatly bound and coiled about her shoulder like a sleeping serpent was now torn and frayed, matted with blood. That morning her shirt of scale-armour had glistened in the sunlight, but now it was dulled and dented. What was left of her honour guard rode about her, silent and battered, and curled behind and around them was a sight that took Bleda’s breath away.

Huge bears, great shambling beasts of tooth and claw, and sitting upon them were giants: men and women wrapped in leather, steel and fur, axes and war-hammers slung across their backs. Swirling tattoos of vine and thorn coiled up their arms.

Erdene reined her horse in and her warriors stuttered to a halt.

Where is Altan? Where is Hexa? Bleda thought, his eyes searching the riders for his brother and sister, and then his feet were moving as he ran to his mother, Ellac stumbling behind him, trying and failing to catch him.

Erdene saw him and shook her head, but it was too late, and in heartbeats Bleda was at her side, staring up at his mother, bears and giants towering about him.

“Altan and Hexa?” Bleda called up to his mother as he grabbed her boot.

Erdene looked down at him with an expression Bleda had never seen before.


She blinked, as if not recognizing Bleda for a moment, then Erdene’s eyes snapped into focus.

“Run,” his mother said to him.

Bleda didn’t know what to do; his mind and heart were filled with the Sirak iron code, which told him to wear his courage like a cloak, to live free and fight to the last breath for his Clan. To show no sign of weakness or fear, and to never, ever, surrender. But his mother had spoken. She was also his queen, and she had told him to run.

He turned, looked around wildly, saw the camp in chaos, giants and bears everywhere. Others were arriving, columns of normal-sized warriors on foot, clad in black leather, with huge, rectangular shields upon their arms, silver wings embossed upon them. They spread in tight-packed lines about the camp, surrounding everyone within it, and their shields came together with a resonating snap. Bleda glimpsed shadowed faces in silver helms, smaller figures appearing amongst them: children, he realized, offering water skins after a hard march. As he stared, he saw a figure staring back at him, pale and fair-haired, a girl, holding a water skin up to a warrior, even as she stared straight at him.

Shadows flitted across the ground and the sound of wings filled Bleda’s ears as the Ben-Elim swooped low. One flew lower than the rest, great wings beating as he hovered above Erdene and Bleda a long moment, grass and dust swirling, then he alighted gently upon the ground. He was tall, taller than any man Bleda had seen, his hair raven-black, wearing a coat of bright mail and gripping a spear in his fist. Blood crusted the spear’s blade.

“Is this him?” the Ben-Elim asked, eyes lingering on Bleda a moment, then rising to Erdene.

Erdene was silent for so long that Bleda thought she would not answer.

“You must be strong,” Erdene said to Bleda.

Fear trickled through Bleda, then, at something in his mother’s voice, and in the way the winged warrior had looked at him.

He tried to master his fear, to control the prickling in his eyes that threatened tears.

No. I am Sirak. I am son to Erdene, Lord-of-all-she-sees.

“Good.” The Ben-Elim stooped down and grabbed Bleda by the collar of his tunic, hoisting him into the air. Bleda instinctively snatched for an arrow from his quiver, nocking it to his bow, but with a flick of his wrist the Ben-Elim slapped it from Bleda’s grip, sending his bow falling to the ground. Bleda glared at the Ben-Elim, expecting his mother to intervene, to protect him, as she always had done, but she just sat upon her horse, looking at him with her grey eyes.

“I am Israfil, Lord Protector of the Land of the Faithful, and you are coming with me,” the Ben-Elim said. “A surety that your mother will keep the peace once we are gone.”

“What? Where?” Bleda said, the Ben-Elim’s words seeping through to him slowly, as if through water.

“You are my ward, Bleda, and Drassil will be your new home,” the Ben-Elim said.

Ward. Drassil.

The words set Bleda reeling as if they were blows. Drassil was the Ben-Elim’s fortress, far to the west.

I am to be their ward. A prisoner, he means.

“No,” Bleda whispered. “Mother?”

A long silence, a look between Erdene and Israfil that spoke of pride and shame, of the victor and the defeated. The fear returned then, a chill in Bleda’s heart, seeping into his veins, carrying a tremor to his lips.

The cold-face. Do not shame Mother. Do not shame my people.

“It is agreed,” Erdene said, her face a mask, only her eyes speaking her message.

You must be strong.

“It is the price that must be paid,” the Ben-Elim intoned. “There will be peace in the Land of the Faithful. There is only one enemy, only one foe who shall be fought: the Kadoshim and their followers.”

“No,” Bleda said, both denial and refusal. He felt hot tears bloom in his eyes, snatched at them, knowing the shame they brought.

“Altan and Hexa will not allow you to do this,” Bleda said, anger and fear twisting his voice, then there was a rushing of air and a beating of wings as more Ben-Elim sped from the sky, alighting around Israfil. The first was fair-haired, a long scar running from forehead to chin. He threw something at Israfil’s feet. They dropped with a thud, rolled in the grass and fell still.

Two heads, eyes bulging, blood still dripping.

Altan and Hexa.

The world went silent. Bleda’s vision was reduced to the severed heads of his brother and sister. He heard something, distantly, realized that it was him, that he was screaming, twisting and bucking in Israfil’s grip, hands reaching to gouge the Ben-Elim’s eyes, but Israfil held him at arm’s length until slowly Bleda’s strength drained away, like wine from a pierced skin. Israfil regarded Bleda with dark, emotionless eyes, then finally shifted his gaze to the fair-haired Ben-Elim who had cast the heads at Israfil’s feet. Although Israfil asked no questions, did not even utter a word, the blond Ben-Elim spoke as if answering a reprimand, his eyes dropping.

“They would not surrender,” he said, his feet shuffling in the dirt. “They slew Remiel.” His eyes came up, fierce and defiant, and met Israfil’s. “They slew a Ben-Elim, gave me no choice.” Israfil held his gaze a long moment, then gave a curt nod. With a flick of his wrist he threw Bleda into the air, a giant catching him and placing him on the saddle in front of him. Bleda found new strength, fighting and squirming, tears blurring his vision, but the giant held him tight.

Israfil waved his hand and then the giant was tugging on his reins shouting a command, and the huge mountain of fur and muscle beneath Bleda was turning, lumbering away from the Ben-Elim and Bleda’s mother, from his kin and people, away from everything he knew, away from Bleda’s whole world.

Towards his new home.

Towards Drassil.



The Year 137 of the Age of Lore, Hunter’s Moon

Drem grunted as he lifted another shovelful of earth and hurled it out of the pit he was digging. He rested a moment, drank from a water skin, looked up and saw a cold blue sky through dappled branches that were swaying in a breeze. Birdsong drifted down to him; the angle of the sun told him it was close to sunset. The pit was deep, now level with his head, but he kept digging, swapping his water skin for a pickaxe that he swung with practised rhythm. Ten swings with the pickaxe, loosen the ground, fill his shovel and throw it out of the pit. Back to the pickaxe. His shoulders and back ached, sweat stinging his eyes, but he ignored the discomfort, blinked the sweat away and continued to hack remorselessly at the iron-hard ground.

A sound seeped through the rhythm of his labour and the noise of the river beyond the pit. Footsteps. He dropped his pickaxe, grabbing his spear and pointing it upwards.

A shadow fell across him.

“That’ll do,” Olin, his da, said, looking down to him through a mess of iron-grey hair.

“Not deep enough,” Drem grunted, putting his spear down and picking up the axe again.

“It’s deep enough to hold any elk I’ve ever seen,” Olin said.

Drem had been digging pits since he was ten summers old. How deep? he’d asked his da all those years ago. Twice your height, his da had said to him. Back then his da had been digging the pit with him, breaking up the soil and Drem doing the shovelling. Now, though, eleven years later and Drem did most of the digging himself, his da setting other traps along their hunting runs with noose and rope. He had to remind himself that he didn’t need to dig hunting pits twice his height any more, not now he’d grown into a man, and a tall one at that. It still made him uncomfortable to stop, though. He liked to do things the way he was told the first time, didn’t like change. With an act of will, he slammed the pickaxe into the ground one last time, felt it connect with something solid that sent a shiver up his arm.

“Sounds like you’ve found the mountain’s root,” Olin said. “Come on, let’s eat.”

Drem yanked the pickaxe free, threw it up to his da, then his shovel; last of all held his spear shaft out. Olin grabbed it and held tight as Drem pulled himself out of the pit. His da grunted with the strain, even though he seemed to be made of muscle lean and knotted as old roots.

Drem turned and looked at his handiwork.

“You chose a good spot,” Olin said, looking at a well-worn path that the pit cut across. It led down out of the foothills they were standing in towards a fertile plain, the ground around the river there soft and marshy.

Drem smiled at his father’s praise.

Together they cast a lattice of willow rods over the pit, then a thin covering of branches and leaves, finally some bark and lilies.

“To an elk that tastes nicer than hot porridge and honey on a winter’s day,” they said together, the end of their ritual, and then they turned and made their way up a steep slope towards their camp, the river foaming white alongside them.

The sun was a line of fire on the edge of the world by the time Drem was turning a spit over a small fire-pit, fat from a quartered hare spitting and sizzling as it dripped into the flames.

“Smells good,” Olin grunted as he finished tending to their packhorses and furs, then came and sat down, wrapping a deer-skin about Drem’s shoulders and pulling one tight about his own. Drem felt cold now that he had stopped digging, the night’s chill seeping into his bones. Rolls of skins surrounded them, tied and piled high. It had been a bountiful hunting season, and now they were almost home.

Drem carved the meat with his favourite knife, the wide blade was wicked-sharp and longer than was usual for a hunting knife.

They call a blade like that a seax in this part of the Banished Lands, his da had told him when they’d forged it together.


  • "A Time of Dread reminds me of why I became a fantasy enthusiast in the first place. Fantasy can be an escape from reality, but some stories carry the reader to an enhanced reality, a place where the world seems to have brighter colors and sharper contrasts."—Robin Hobb
  • "The book reminded me in the very best way of the sort of fantasy I loved in years gone by. Exciting, well-written, swords and sorcery. Try it on for size."—Mark Lawrence
  • "Great evils, conflicted heroes, bloody battles, betrayal, and giants riding battle bears! What's not to love?"—Peter Newman
  • "I loved A Time of Dread and read it from cover to cover in two days. I couldn't put it down."—Miles Cameron
  • "Fans of epic fantasy have something to cheer about: A Time of Dread is marvelous. Gwynne's writing is superb, delivering not only twists and turns but also nuance and complexity."—Sebastien de Castell
  • "An accomplished and rousing tale of heroes and dark deed that fans of epic fantasy will devour."—Tom Lloyd
  • "A fierce, gripping tale, and one I found hugely enjoyable."—Anna Smith Spark

On Sale
Feb 20, 2018
Page Count
512 pages

John Gwynne

About the Author

John Gwynne studied and lectured at Brighton University. He’s played double bass in a rock ’n’ roll band and traveled the USA and Canada. He is married with four children and lives in Eastbourne, where he is part of a Viking reenactment group. When not writing, he can often be found standing in a shield wall with his three sons about him. His dogs think he is their slave.

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