The Pantheon by C.F. Barrington pits historical fighters against one another in a contemporary setting. It’s a modern Battle Royale with forces inspired by history fighting for glory. The tournament is driven and funded by the huge stakes gambled by its billionaire backers. Two novels are available so far, set in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. Swordplay and skulduggery abound in this Battle Royal Mile!
What Is The Pantheon?
It’s a trilogy of novels, the first two of which are currently available. The first book, The Wolf Mile, is an origin story of sorts. It follows the induction of a group of fighters into “The Horde,” a Viking-inspired troupe, whose headquarters sits under the streets of Edinburgh.
The plucky candidates enter into a rigorous regime of training and fighting, with each task becoming progressively more difficult and life-threatening. Not very many people will be sworn into the horde at the end of the process. Most will go back to their ordinary lives. A few will die—victims of the process.
This opening novel focuses largely on three members of the group, in particular Tyler Maitland, who will later become “Punnr,” a Viking name of special significance. As he entered the induction process, Tyler was a recovering addict who had more than one reason for wanting to take part in the world’s most lethal competition. His secret adds another dimension to the trials he faces. The Wolf Mile describes the grueling training and brutal trials required to enter the horde proper. Running alongside are some narrative threads that include shadowy villains and tricksy powerplays, all related to Punnr’s secret.
Why Read The Pantheon Novels?
These books do require that you suspend your belief if you are going to fully enjoy them. The idea that the Pantheon and its brutal battles could exist and play out in a major city is far-fetched. If you surrender yourself to the concept, however, you’re in for a great ride.
The first novel is perhaps a little slow, but if you find it lags in the middle, press on, for the denouement is great, and book 2, The Blood Isles, is a pure adrenalin shot. Both books contain trial elements that I very much enjoyed, battles and skirmishes that go beyond just killing each other. They contain tactics, and objectives, with some treasure hunting thrown in too. It’s like a historically accurate Hunger Games.
There is lots to love in the books. Skirmish warfare on the streets of Edinburgh is an extremely compelling concept, and I loved the fight scenes. But it’s not all about the fighting. C.F. Barrington clearly loves the historical components of his story too, and there are lots of details of Viking life, training, and lore. Whilst the novel’s basic concept may stretch credulity, there is no questioning the authenticity of the Viking experience.
I’ve been thinking a lot about skirmish tabletop games recently. Reading the rules (but not actually playing yet) Baron’s War by Footsore miniatures, playing Games Workshop’s Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game, and AMG’s Marvel Crisis Protocol. Playing MCP on the city streets made me think how awesome it would be to recreate the urban battles fought by Tyler and the Horde on the cobbled streets of a miniature Edinburgh. I’ve been looking for an excuse to paint up some historical models. (I was similarly inspired by these beauties from Duncan Rhodes, and these books may well push me across the line.)
So far, the series has only had two factions appear—what happens with the other factions in the Pantheon but reside elsewhere in the world isn’t made very clear, only Edinburgh has two armies residing within it—but the idea of a small scale skirmish battle with a handful of historically inspired fighters is extremely appealing. Failing that, a game similar to Osprey’s Imperium would also be pretty cool.
This connection between two of my favorite past-times—reading and gaming—is what propelled The Pantheon novels to such great levels for me. Tie this in with an intriguing plot and some great set-piece locations and you have an extremely pleasurable reading experience. The series goes from strength to strength. The denouement to The Blood Isles is thrilling; the characters and I had been through so much to arrive there, and I was enthralled as the final scenes played out.
The Pantheon books have a somewhat niche appeal, but they are well worth a look. They’re a fascinating blend of contemporary billionaires’ fantasy and historical drama. There are slated to be three books in the series. I can’t wait to find out how the story resolves itself, but, also, I do hope there are further novels that take in the Pantheon and its antics in other parts of the world.
If you enjoyed this review, check out my other reviews.
I received a copy of these books from the publisher in order to write this review.