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Monday, July 22, 2019

The Wolf's Call by Anthony Ryan (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blood Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Tower Lord
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Queen Of Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Anthony Ryan
Read "The Influence Of History On Epic Fantasy" by Anthony Ryan (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his previous day job prevented him from using his real identity. He has an academic background in history, previously used to work fulltime as a researcher and currently lives in London.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: PEACE NEVER LASTS

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honour and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: "that there are some battles that even he cannot hope to win.’

FORMAT/INFO: The Wolf’s Call is 409 pages long divided three parts, each of which open with a Luralyn’s account and then numbered chapters. This pattern is very similar to that of his debut book. Narration is in the third-person, via Vaelin Al Sorna for the numbered chapters, and first person for the accounts interspersed within. The book also feature maps of the unified realm, and the Merchant kingdoms of the west. There is a single appendix for the Dramatis Personae. The Wolf’ Call  is the first volume of The Raven’s Blade duology.

July 23, 2019 marks the North American Hardcover and e-book publication (see cover below) of The Wolf’s Call via Ace Books. The UK version will be published on July 25 2019 by Orbit Books UK.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:
The wolf….. It called…..
Vaelin mentions it called to him and he had to respond. I think it called out to Anthony Ryan as well, hence e heard the fan clamour for this sequel series. As for me, I’m always excited for Anthony Ryan’s work. His debut Blood Song is one of my all-time favourite titles. The Raven’s Shadow trilogy was an exciting one, however the increase of POV focus from a singular one in the first book to the many in the remaining two books caused many a consternation among fans. Their grievances while understandable weren’t shared by me. I still love the ending as it was an all-out action ride that had Vaelin and his brothers facing unsurmountable odds as well as Lyrna who has become a queen in more ways than one.

The sequel books really expanded the world and gave us a strong background on the Alpiran and Volarian empires. They also expanded the character cast and gave us more information about the dark and its practices. The books also introduced the Merchant Kings whose kingdoms featured to the West of the unified realm. At the end of Blood Song, Vaelin took a calculated risk and sent his love away with Ahm-Lin. He’s ever been haunted by his actions, not fully knowing how she took it. Plus after the events of Queen Of Fire and faced with the loss of his blood song. He’s no longer able to match his current prowess to that of his legends. Things however are calmer and there aren’t any battles or wars that need his attention. His position as tower lord of the north means that he has to help keep the peace as well occasionally lead forays against slavers. Reva’s daughter Ellese has also joined his court and proves to be a tough ward. One of his essential functions is receiving visiting dignitaries as his fame has indeed spread to many other lands. On such a recent visit from those of the merchant kingdoms, Vaelin comes face to face to again (surprisingly) with his fre-nemy whose actions have long been intertwined with Vaelin’s life.

Revealing a new danger that is arising from the lands to the west of the Merchant Kingdoms and one of the first casualties being Sherin leads Vaelin to immediately leave for those foreign lands. However he’s not alone, brother Nortah has been waylaid of late with certain issues and Vaelin chooses to take him along as he sees no other option left for him. There are a couple more people who join our beloved warrior on his quest and he’s not happy about it. Things are much weirder as there’s a new warrior who claims the title of Darkblade while having extra help and he has named Vaelin as the Thief Of Names. As you can surmise, there’s a lot going on and Anthony Ryan has a lot of irons in the mix with this new duology featuring his most beloved character.

Firstly the positives, characterization has been Anthony Ryan’s forte and with this book, he returns to the style of his debut wherein everything is filtered through Vaelin Al Sorna. This has two solid benefits, primarily we return to familiar atmosphere of Blood Song and secondarily we get a solidly focused narrative that keeps the readers engaged. The Vaelin we meet is an older, grizzled one but no less charismatic. He’s our narrator and holds the story cohesively. We get to see the other characters such as Nortah, Sherin, Ahm-Lin, and many new folks from the western kingdoms. Everyone is a fully realized character and even with only Vaelin’s third person perspective, we get a solid character cast who intrigue, inspire and arouse disgust.

The story is very much a stranger in a strange land mold and the worldbuiding is solidly done from the three Merchant Kingdoms to the Iron Steppe and its inhabitants the Stahlhast. The readers are introduced to a whole new land and its inhabitants and Athe author lays out a very detailed landscape from the canals of Hahn-Shi to the dry, dusty steppes and their iron tors. I enjoyed this East Asian facsimile that Anthony has created. Astute readers will easily be able to figure what regions and history, the author is utilizing. The story also further deepens the aspect of the afterlife and what was revealed in Queen Of Fire with regards to the Black Stone in Volaria. I thought this was a nice tie-in to the original trilogy and we are given more hints about what lies in the beyond.

For those readers who might be shy to jump in this new series without reading the previous titles such as Tower Lord & Queen Of Fire. Be not wary, if you have read Blood Song then you can jump into this duology easily. Surely there'll be a few minor things that won't make any sense but given how divisive the opinion is over those two titles. I can safely vouch for this title being the better than both and only needing Blood Song's background and details for one to enjoy this volume.

The action sequences aren’t a lot to begin with and the readers will find sporadic scenes until the last third of the story. But it’s during this last third that the story kicks into overdrive. We get a solid taste of what has been promised. The climax even pays a bit of homage to one of Anthony Ryan’s favorite titles namely David Gemmell’s Legend. However the author neatly lays in a twist that’s hard to anticipate and the way it pans out, I really enjoyed it. Lastly the book ends on a big cliffhanger and sets up the sequel superbly. I loved what the author has in store and with that twist, the sequel becomes another must read for 2020.

Going on to the things that might not work, one of the confounding things is the structure of the book. It follows the pattern of having first person accounts interspersed between the third person POV chapters. In the first trilogy, it made sense as it was Verniers who was chronicling Vaelin’s legend. With this new duology, I was more than surprised to this style adopted by the author. Maybe it was to draw similarities between both series and in that it works beautifully. However I hope that the author has more in store and can reveal why he chose to structure the new series this way. Secondly we are led to believe that there will be a big conflict between said demigods but that doesn’t happen and I for one was a tad disappointed with it.

CONCLUSION: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “Anthony Ryan is David Gemmell’s natural successor and heroic fantasy’s best British talent”. With this new duology, he proves me right all over again. The Wolf’ Call heralds a successful call back to Blood Song and while it might not be as great as Blood Song was. It’s still a damn good story that will make you want the sequel now.

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