Curiously nerdy posts.
I’m back! I’m not dead, I promise.
Just had a few major life events occur within the span of a month. I got a new job in a new city, and had to move. But now I’m pretty settled into a pretty decent routine, and think I’m ready to get back to it (you know us writers – we need our routine and comfort zone to be effective most times).
And I’m ready to jump right back into it by reviewing one of the best fantasy novels that I’ve read in the past few years: Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan.
Logline: An epic fantasy exploring themes of conflict, loyalty and religious faith. Vaelin Al Sorna, Brother of the Sixth Order, has been trained from childhood to fight and kill in service to the Faith. He has earned many names and almost as many scars, acquiring an ugly dog and a bad-tempered horse in the process. Ensnared in an unjust war by a king possessed of either madness or genius, Vaelin seeks to answer the question that will decide the fate of the Realm: …who is the one who waits?
Blood Song is the first volume of Raven’s Shadow – a new epic fantasy of war, intrigue and tested faith.
Honestly, this is one of those cases where if I went by the logline alone, I’d probably shrug and go look for something else to read. Nothing about it seems all that fresh or interesting… a religious warrior going after vaguely named bad guys and obeying questionable orders from his king. If not for the ringing endorsement on Amazon (seriously, check out the review rating after how many have reviewed it), I might’ve missed out on this gem.
If you do take a chance on it like I did, then you’ll discover one of the best fantasy novels written in quite a while. And if you’ve ever read a review by me, you know that’s not a statement I make easily or lightly.
What I liked: – Vaelin Al Sorna’s journey as a character. This is one of the first novels I’ve read where I can confidently state I see some shades of Pat Rothfuss used in it, as it uses the exact same sort of narrative structure. You start close to the end of the story, meeting Vaelin and understanding that he is a rather famous warrior who killed someone really important. On his way being transported to a duel he is not expected to survive, he sits down to relate his story to an interested scribe, from boyhood all the way up to where they are now. If you’ve ever read Name of the Wind, this setup should seem oddly familiar.
Except… I think this book does it better. Why? Because the story makes sense from a standalone standpoint. This story, even if the author dropped dead tomorrow, does a great job standing alone on its own merits, whereas NotW really doesn’t get anywhere storywise at the end of the first book.
Vaelin himself is a great character. He is constantly conflicted between what he views as his duty to the Sixth Order – a duty he never really asked for – and what his heart tells him. He is a great warrior, and uses his skill with a blade to often protect his friends, his order, and his realm. But more often than not, his deeds follow him, as those he crosses do not forget about what he did to them. That’s called continuity, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s something I love.
The physical and emotional scars add up over time, though, and the great thing is that you can plausibly see the transformation in him from a child who is left at the Sixth Order’s door by his father, to a hardened badass who doesn’t think another duel to the death is a big deal, even if everyone else around him does.
– The Dark. What is The Dark? It’s basically this book’s version of magic. But there’s not really many instances of it being considered a good thing, though. Everyone fears it like a witch living in Salem. People who are gifted with it have varying abilities. Some can summon fire from nothing, or freeze people in place with their mind. Others can forge weapons of such quality that no ordinary smith could even hope to approach it. And others have the Blood Song – an ability that helps them read minds, helps them see the future, helps keep them from harm. Vaelin has the blood song. Shocking, I know.
I guess I just really liked it because of how it’s regarded with fear and superstition rather than “Yer a wizard, Harry!”.
– The supporting cast. What good is an epic fantasy if the main character is the only interesting one to read about? Thankfully, this book has tons of great characters. Vaelin’s brothers of the Sixth Order are all very well fleshed out characters, and you can feel the camaraderie between them as they survive test after test together. They start off as scared young boys, and end up as hardcore warriors who all men fear.
Other characters are given ample screentime, like the crafty King Janus, his equally intelligent daughter, and various other characters who come and go during Vaelin’s journey. Ryan has a gift for making you care about his characters, even if you know they’re only going to really be around for one part of Vaelin’s journey.
-Nothing is wasted. Whenever this book relates a story that seems like a complete non-sequitur to the rest of the book, like Vaelin telling a tale about “The Witch’s Son”, it’s there for a reason. It’s placed where it is for a reason. And every time, the author swings back around to show you why it makes sense. I LOVE that.
What I didn’t like:
– Well, Vaelin is maybe a bit too strong. The book’s narrative structure does make it fall into the classic “Well, he’s sitting here talking in the present, so he’s definitely not dying, or even getting any serious wounds” trap. At no point does he ever seem like he’s in trouble, even when he’s leading an army a third of the size of the forces bearing down on him. Basically, he just has an extreme case of plot armor. But no one else does, so it’s okay.
– Nothing else. It’s the truth, I swear!
Basically, this book rocked my socks. And it will rock yours too, if you read it. It gets a ***** rating, the first I’ve ever given on this blog. It really is that good. Looking forward to the sequels!
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