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Monday, June 2, 2008

"Bloodheir" by Brian Ruckley

Read Reviews of “Bloodheir” via Fantasy Book News & Reviews, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist + The Book Swede

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

INTRODUCTION: Mr. Ruckley's debut, “Winterbirth”, was first published in the UK in 2006, and because of some online reviews that stirred my interest, I ordered the UK edition and never regretted it. I loved “Winterbirth” a lot, so I had very great expectations for its direct sequel “Bloodheir”. In a nice touch,
Orbit released “Bloodheir” simultaneously in both the UK and North America, so I was able to buy the book here in the US, and despite its hefty weight at 518 pages, I could not put it down and read it in two sittings.

Since this is book two of the Godless World trilogy, there will be some inevitable spoilers regarding book one, so reader beware…

SETTING: The Godless world of “Bloodheir” is a bleak, wintry land in which several races, not having a great liking for each other, share territory uneasily, if not in outright conflict. There are two main races: Huanin—humans—and Kyrinin—humanlike and capable of interbreeding with humans, but very different in culture and distinctive in appearance. The offspring of Huanin-Kyrinin mating—the Na'kyrim—are sterile, but are the only “humans” who can directly sense the collective consciousness—the Shared—and manipulate it if powerful enough The racism between Huanin and Kyrinin is very palpable, so the Na'kyrim are few and despised, hated or feared by Huanin and Kyrinin alike. Usually most Na'Kyrim try and live in isolated, inaccessible places, sometimes under the protection of human rulers, though some act as advisors to the powerful. In the past there were Na'Kyrim of great power and some tried, and failed, to bend the world under their will, but currently there are none like that. There are vast mysterious underground beings called the Anain who stay aloof from the rest, but intervened in the past when the Shared was badly out of kilt due to conflict, and may intervene again. Nobody really wants to see Anain involved though, since their interventions usually result in massive rearrangements of large areas of the world.

There are two main human groupings of interest, the True Bloods and the Black Road. Both are organized in clans under the leadership of a thane, and there is a high thane for each civilization. There was a schism a while ago inspired by the visions of a poor fisherwoman heralding the existence of a Hooded God and the predestination of each human fate. The followers of the Hooded God were defeated in the ensuing war, and exiled to the really cold northern wastes, where they built the Black Road civilization with the goal of returning and taking “their land” back from the True Bloods. There were occasional wars, but an uneasy equilibrium held until the events of “Winterbirth”.

The Kyrinin are grouped in clans too, though with animal names as befitting forest people. The main clans we meet are the White Owl and the Fox, which are blood enemies and enjoy no better pastime than killing each other and any human encroaching on their areas.

FORMAT/INFO: Narration is in the third person via multiple POV's typical of fantasy epics. There is a short introduction describing the events of “Winterbirth”, several maps and a comprehensive list of characters. The main POV's are our main hero, Orisian, the young thane of the Lannis blood; his sister Anyara; their opposite numbers in the Black Road; the young thane of the Horin blood Kanin and his sister Wain; and the Na'Kyrim Aeglyss who emerges as the focus of the novel. There are two new main POV's: the chancellor of the True Bloods, Mordyn Jerain the Shadowhand, who suspects Orisian of disloyalty to the high thane; and Taim Narran, the captain of the remaining Lannis army. The book has 518 pages divided into five themed chapters with numerous subchapters each, a prologue and an epilogue and the assorted characteristic stuff—maps, character list—described above. The US edition that I own ends with a chronology and an excerpt from "Across the Face of the World" by
Russell Kirkpatrick.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: If “Winterbirth” was Orisian's book to a large extent, “Bloodheir” is Aeglyss' book, setting up events for the grand finale in “Fall of the Thanes”. Aeglyss is a traumatized Na'Kyrim son of a Horin Black Blood father and a White Owl mother, both tragically dead. Having the most powerful reach in the Shared in a long time, Aeglyss wants to learn whom he is and what he can do, but he has a very pronounced dark streak bordering on madness. Discarded by his so called allies in the Horin blood, and condemned to die slowly on the Stone of Tears by the White Owl tribe for failing in securing them the promised advantages for helping Horin defeat the Lannis, Aeglyss is transfigured instead by his suffering and emerges as an extremely powerful, but slightly mad Na'Kyrim—the like of whom has never been seen in centuries—and alarming everyone who can sense the Shared, including the powerful Anain. Converted to a “with me or with the enemy” philosophy, Aeglyss needs allies so he turns again to the Black Road trying to convince their priesthood the Lore that he is necessary for fulfilling Fate. Of course most Black Road captains despise him, but by daring action and powerful magic, Aeglyss starts to accumulate followers. Aeglyss is extraordinarily well-drawn in this book, both his internal and external struggles being portrayed convincingly. While in other hands, he would be THE unredeemable villain, in this book he is shown as an ambiguous character who may even triumph at the end. Aeglyss is brutal and manipulative, but then so is pretty much everyone else in this unforgiving and cold world.

The other main character, Orisian, is growing up under his responsibilities as a very young thane. Barely escaping to the safety of Kolkyre in the last book, he is confronted with the brutal high thane bloodheir Aewult leading an army to defeat the Black Road and ostensibly restore Orisian to his occupied lands, and the famous chancellor Shadowhand. One tries threats, the other hints, but Orisian is not cowed and goes on his own to find out more about Aeglyss, being convinced by his Na'Kyrim companions that he would be more useful there rather than a largely army-bereft and suspect thane in the war.

The third theme of the book involves war, politics, intrigue and is very good too, but I do not want to spoil the book with details here since many things happen. There are battles, assassinations, and the war between the True Bloods and the Black Road becomes as intense as it has ever been. The book ends at a lull in action, and of course nothing is decided. I am really looking forward to the final book in the trilogy and hope it will deliver a rousing and fulfilling finale to cap this remarkable series…

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