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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

“Black Blood” by John Meaney (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official John Meaney Website
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Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Bone Song

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Meaney is the author of five previous novels including “Bone Song” and the Nulapeiron Sequence. He has been short-listed three times for the British Science Fiction Award, has a degree in physics and computer science, and also holds a black belt in Shotokan karate. His next project is the Ragnarok space opera trilogy, book one of which will debut in 2010.

PLOT SUMMARY: Lieutenant Donal Riordan is lucky to be alive, but he’s no longer the man he was. To conspirators known as the Black Circle who threaten the civic order of Tristopolis and the rights of non-human sentients, he is an enemy who needs to be silenced. At the center of this ring of evil is the man responsible for his lover’s murder—a man Donal has already had to kill once before.

Now, with ominous reports of white wolf sightings throughout the city and a dangerous sabotage attempt at police headquarters, all signs indicate that the Black Circle is planning a magical coup d’état. Even the most powerful of cities can change its character when the circumstances are filled with enough paranoia and fear. Faced against these odds, how can Donal stop a killer who won’t stay dead and an evil that death only makes stronger?

CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessor, “Black Blood” is a gritty police procedural/urban fantasy/crime noir hybrid set in a wildly inventive sf/fantasy-gothic milieu...

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages divided over thirty-five numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via several different characters, both major & minor and human & non-human, but Donal Riordan is the main protagonist. “Black Blood” is a direct sequel to “Bone Song”, and while I would recommend reading “Bone Song” first, the sequel does a fairly good job of recapping events. As far as the story, “Black Blood” ties up most of the loose threads, but the very last page of the novel strongly hints at another sequel...

February 24, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Black Blood” via
Bantam Spectra. The UK edition (see image below) was published March 2008 (Gollancz) under the title “Dark Blood”.

ANALYSIS: Creatively, I loved John Meaney’sBone Song”, especially the highly imaginative world. At the same time though, I was disappointed by the shallow characters, a formulaic plot, and the disjointed narrative. Because of the uneven experience, I was a bit apprehensive about reading the sequel, but my curiosity in knowing how the story continued prevailed. Fortunately, despite a few hiccups, “Black Blood” turned out to be an overall much stronger and much more enjoyable effort...

Like its predecessor, the best thing about “Black Blood” is the incredibly inventive world which blends the paranormal with technology and the familiar for a deliciously unique setting. If you read “Bone Song”, then you should already be familiar with the deathwolves, necrofusion power reactors, Bone Listeners, sentient furniture & vehicles, zombies, wraith-operated machinery, and the crazy architecture that populates the sequel, but “Black Blood” does introduce a few cool new concepts like an execution that maximizes suffering—“Anything less than two hours dying was considered ‘easy and unusual kindness,’ prohibited by law; a bad-ass, ninja-like assassin; and the wonders of Aurex City. If you’re new to the world of Tristopolis however, then prepare yourself as almost every single page of “Black Blood” offers something to titillate the imagination :)

Story-wise, the plot in “Black Blood” is still a bit formulaic revolving around a recognizable conspiracy to overthrow seats of power in the government and police force, while also dealing with racial tensions. What makes the story in “Black Blood” more effective than its predecessor is twofold. First, the plot does a better job of utilizing the author’s imaginative setting to make the mundane seem more fascinating like that assassin I was talking about, using phones to hypnotize people, and discriminating between humans and non-humans. Secondly, the execution is just better with faster pacing, greater suspense, and harder-to-anticipate plot twists, including a couple of unexpected deaths. On the flipside, the ending felt a bit rushed again and the final showdown with the main villains was disappointing.

As far as the characters, because the author switches between so many different viewpoints, Donal and friends remain shallow individuals. Fortunately, between the stronger and more engrossing narrative and the highly inventive milieu, it’s easier to overlook this issue. Plus, most of the characters in the book are interesting creations, supported by solid dialogue.

CONCLUSION: While I mostly enjoyed reading John Meaney’sBone Song”, it’s the kind of book that I would have difficulty recommending to others because of its unevenness. “Black Blood” on the other hand, while still suffering from some of the same problems, is just a more balanced novel overall and a better representation of the author’s obvious talent. As a result, I would not hesitate in recommending John’s new book, especially if you’re in the mood to try something different. Personally, after reading “Black Blood” I now can’t wait for John’s next book, where before I was only mildly interested in what the author had to offer…


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