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Monday, April 7, 2008

"Blood Ties" by Pamela Freeman

Official Pamela Freeman Website
Official Castings Trilogy Website
Order “Blood Ties
Read An Excerpt
Read Reviews of “Blood Ties” via
Grasping For the Wind
Read Grasping For the Wind’s INTERVIEW with Pamela Freeman

In the world of children’s and young adult fiction, Pamela Freeman is a prolific, successful and award-winning Australian author of seventeen books, not counting her non-fiction work. Now in “Blood Ties”—Book One of The Castings TrilogyPamela writes her first novel for adults, an epic fantasy that introduces readers to The Eleven Domains, a land that was conquered by Acton and his warriors a thousand years ago. Since that event, the Domains have become predominately populated by the fair-haired, blue-eyed People of Acton and governed by warlords while the original inhabitants—recognizable by their darker hair, darker eyes and different skin tones—have been forced onto the Road as Travelers and are treated with deep prejudice by the invaders.

Further defining this world are gods who closely interact with the people through stonecasters—think fortunetellers who use casting stones to see the future—enchanters, prayers and those blessed with the Voice or Sight. Then there are the ghosts. Unable to move on because of rage, guilt or some other powerful emotion, these spirits linger in the realm of the physical rather than letting themselves be reborn in another life and have been Quickening for so long that they are a part of everyday life, and in the city of Turvite are actually celebrated. Of course the ghosts are harmless enough, and to the right person can be quite useful such as revealing the secrets of the dead.

So into this fascinating milieu we have three central storylines, all narrated in the third-person and all featuring characters descended from Traveler blood. The first is Bramble, a nineteen-year-old girl with a free spirit who loves the forest and has a special talent for hunting, foraging and handling animals. Her goal is to take the Road to the Great Forest in the Last Domain, but when she becomes caught between life & death, Bramble realizes the gods have chosen a different path for her which involves horse racing, the mysterious Lake People, and the evil Lord Thegan who has ambitions to conquer all of the Domains. Secondly there is Ash, a Traveler who is worthless to his parents because he can’t sing and is apprenticed to Doronit in the ways of a safeguarder including how to fight, kill and recognize different poisons. Ash also possesses the rare ability to make ghosts speak and learns that he is in danger of losing his soul. Finally we have Saker, an enchanter who seeks vengeance for his murdered family—and all Travelers—by raising the spirits of their ancestors to destroy Acton’s People

And that is the setup to Pamela Freeman’sBlood Ties”, an absolutely charming fantasy tale that I thoroughly enjoyed reading :) What immediately stood out for me—and I think will be most apparent to readers in the beginning—was the writing, specifically how accessible Pamela’s prose is. In fact, it almost feels like you’re reading one of the author’s children’s books if not for the murder, rape, racism, shagging, and other darker themes. You’ll also notice how polished Pamela’s storytelling is and that’s just the author using her experience as a writer to full effect.

The next thing that really impressed me was the characters. While Bramble, Ash and Saker are more or less based on traditional fantasy models, Pamela does a fabulous job of giving each character individuality and making them ask tough questions about their lives & motives, particularly Bramble and Ash since Saker has more of a supporting role. Where the author really shines though with her characterization are the book’s minor characters. I’m talking about the ‘Stories’ which frequently interrupt the main narratives and are told in the first-person. While these tales seem unimportant to the central storyline, they actually provide wealthy insight into the main characters and the world they inhabit. For instance, one of the ‘Stories’ is narrated by Bramble’s older sister Maryrose which offers greater depth into Bramble’s wildness; another explains a soldier’s loyalty to Thegan; a different tale examines the motivations behind Ash’s master Doronit; while yet others demonstrate the dangers of trying to change your fate, a ghost who can’t move on, and finding love. In short, these ‘Stories’ were a wonderful addition to the book—one of my favorite features!—and I really hope we’ll find more of them in the sequels :)

Moving on, the worldbuilding is not very complex. The Domains’ history; the cultures of Acton’s People and the Travelers; the prejudice; the concepts behind the ghosts, Quickenings, stonecasters, et cetera is all very simple and easy to understand, but Pamela is very skilled at making the world come alive and I appreciated how information about the Domains was introduced into the book naturally rather than just being spoonfed to readers. As far as the story, the plot moves along at a pretty steady pace—in part because of the interjected ‘Stories’—but “Blood Ties” is not what I would call an action-packed novel. There’s action and adventure for sure, but like many opening volumes in a trilogy, the majority of the book is focused on developing characters, their world, and plotlines to be carried over into the sequels. Also there’s a cliffhanger, but not a major one so the wait till next year’s publication of “Deep Water” shouldn’t be too unbearable ;) One other thing of note. Kind of like
Greg Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, time in “Blood Ties” goes by quickly—at least three years passes in Bramble’s narrative—so that’s something to be aware of...

As a whole, Pamela Freeman’sBlood Ties” was almost impossible for me not to like. I mean the book had issues: How narratives/events would sometimes shift to another without any noticeable breaks; certain themes like Bramble becoming caught between life & death and the racism towards the Travelers that I thought could have been explored in much greater depth; and various deus ex machinas; all of which would normally bother me, but because the novel was so well-written, the characters so engaging, and the world so inviting, all I could focus on was how much fun I was having reading “Blood Ties” :) And I strongly believe that fun will be shared by a wide range of readers. For example, I think fans of
Kristen Britain’s Green Rider books would just love “Blood Ties”, particularly the character of Bramble and the affection she feels for horses. Next, I was reminded of Gail Z. Martin’s the Chronicles of the Necromancer, partly because of the similar ghost concepts, but mainly because of their shared accessibility. The same goes for Karen Miller’s Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, although the excellent characterization is a big part of it. What’s interesting about these comparisons though, is that while Pamela’s book did remind me of these different series, “Blood Ties” overall is really like no other fantasy novel that I’ve read. It basically possesses the charm and accessibility of a children’s book while telling a powerful coming-of-age story that is rich in imagination, emotion, and wonder. In short, Pamela Freeman’sBlood Ties” will probably be one of my favorite fantasy novels of the year and I absolutely can’t wait to finish reading the trilogy…


Mihai A. said...

Seems like an interesting book.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Wow, this sounds excellent! Thanks for the links to the interviews, too,. I missed them which is unusual for me on those two blogs. :)

I may have to see if I, a UK guy, am able to nab a US copy ;)


Jeff C said...

This book sounds like it might be right up my ally. Think I might have to pick this one up from fictionwise (I believe I saw that they had a presale going for the ebook. In fact, I think they had a 100% rebate on it that ended this morning.).

thanks for the review..I added it to my index as well.

Robert said...

Mihai, it is interesting and I think you would like it...

Chris, yeah, I was surprised that more people hadn't commented about the book or the interview on John's blog. As far getting Orbit to send you a review copy, that shouldn't be a problem. It's Orbit's first book that will be published internationally for North America, the UK and Australia :)

Jeff, wow's that some deal! I'd definitely get a copy and I hope you enjoy the book :)

Chris, The Book Swede said...

*Shame face* Yeah, I realised that after I commented! :)

I don't see it in the UK publishing schedule, though, which is what threw me! ;)

Robert said...

I haven't looked at that schedule so I don't know how far ahead it goes, but it looks like the UK version is slated for a June release. Not sure how accurate that is. Nevertheless, I'm actually starting a giveaway for everyone tomorrow :)

SQT said...

Oh, I think I'll like this one.

Mihai A. said...

I think it is supose to be release on UK on the 5th June.

Harry Markov said...

Oh, I loved the review and I am all for these neat worlds, which sound a bit different from what I have read so far.

Great review as always.

Kimberly Swan said...

hmmm...another for my growing list? Sounds like a great read. :)

Anonymous said...

Really great novel couldn't put it down!


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