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Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Blood Song" by Anthony Ryan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo)

INTRODUCTION: When I first heard of Blood Song, the blurb below seemed to indicate a traditional epic fantasy of the kind I have been moving away from, so I did not really pay attention to it despite some enthusiastic recommendations. 

However I recently saw a comparison of the book with The Name of the Wind and that attracted my attention, so I got the Smashwords sample and after reading the first few paragraphs I will quote later, the novel became just impossible to put down and I had to read it asap and to reread it immediately on finishing, as I could not part from the wonderful universe the author created.

As for the comparison that made me open the novel, it definitely holds in the narrative pull as Anthony Ryan's prose is as compelling as Patrick Rothfuss', though the content of Blood Song is quite traditional, while The Name of the Wind is "post traditional".

"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. 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?"

Note that while Blood Song has been independently published by the author, the whole trilogy which it so magnificently debuts has been acquired by Penguin and will be traditionally published starting in 2013, so grab the ebook at its currently value price as fast as you can! 

Book two - The Tower Lord - is currently being written and the author hopes to have it done by the end of the year, but Blood Song offers a full reading experience and ends at a great stopping point.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Liviu) Blood Song starts with the narration of an enemy historian charged with chronicling the end of "Hope Killer" as Vaelin is known in the Alpiran Empire where he has been imprisoned for five years and from where he is now sent to fight a duel to the death everyone believes he will lose or even if he triumphs, he will be anyway killed by the duel's hosts for the deeds of his father, the former First Battle Lord of the Unified Realm in which most of the action takes place. 

Because you see, the host city of the duel is the capital of the piratical Meldenean nation, capital which had been burned by Vaelin's father on King Janus' orders some decades ago, event which turned to be quite crucial in some other ways we learn about later. 

After the introduction, the book goes back to the beginning and Vaelin's unceremonious dumping by his father on the steps of the Sixth Order when he was 10 and his beloved mother had just died of an illness and follows Vaelin's POV in the usual third person narration of epic fantasy; his training in the order, the expected trials that weed the weak and the morally unfit, his order friends etc, the usual stuff you've most likely seen lots of times, but done brilliantly here.

 "He had many names. Although yet to reach his thirtieth year history had seen fit to garner him with titles aplenty: Sword of the Realm to the mad king who sent him to plague us, the Young Hawk to the men who followed him through the trials of war, Darkblade to his Cumbraelin enemies and, as I was to learn much later, Beral Shak Ur to the enigmatic tribes of the Great Northern Forest - the Shadow of the Raven. 

But my people knew him by but one name and it was this that sang in my head continually the morning they brought him to the docks: Hope Killer. Soon you will die and I will see it. Hope Killer.

Although certainly taller than most men, I was surprised to find that, contrary to the tales I had heard, he was no giant, and whilst his features were strong they could hardly be called handsome. His frame was muscular but not possessed of the massive thews described so vividly by the story tellers. The only aspect of his appearance to match his legend were his eyes: black as jet and piercing as a hawk’s. They said his eyes could strip a man’s soul bare, that no secret could be hidden if he met your gaze. I had never believed it but seeing him now I could see why others would."

While the Realm's Faith is different from the usual in the sense that it is literally godless being based on venerating the spirits of the ancestors from the Beyond, spirits that can be communed with by the truly faithful - or so it is believed of course - and its Fourth Order aka its Inquisition hunts heretics of all kinds but especially god followers, such being considered a major heresy - a lot of the rest is standard with the orders being devoted to healing (Fifth), learning (Third), battle (Sixth of course), ministering the living, communing with the dead and spreading the faith (First and Second) and of course six is not the usual "holy" number, which tends to be seven...

Also the Unified Realm is the usual pseudo-medieval country though this time it is also literally formed of four distinct and not getting along that well realms that have been united only occasionally throughout history, most recently by the elderly King Janus a while ago when he was in his prime. 

And of course coming from a celebrated father and a quite famous mother - though the whys and the hows of that are to be found only later as the novel progresses - Vaelin is the ultimate boy with a destiny. But again there is a tweak, as his expected destiny - marry Lyrna, Janus' daughter and be the right hand of the King's well meaning but seemingly ineffectual son Malcius - seems to take a definite detour when he is dumped on the Sixth Order's steps and is accepted to the austere, celibate and generally hard life of an Warrior of the Faith. Though as we are in epic fantasy, destiny is not to be trifled with!

So if you like the "boy with a destiny" story, do not hesitate and get and read this book as it stands among the best such. But even if you do not like that much the above or if you moved away from this type of story like myself, give Blood Song a try as the narrative pull is just extraordinary, the world building very good - with a lot of thought behind, with depth and space and with lots of subtle touches you will enjoy along the way - while the characters from Vaelin to his "order brothers", Dentos, Barkus, Caenis and Nortah - all from quite different backgrounds from the very poor like Dentos, to Nortah, the son of the first minister of the realm who had to keep up in his rivalry with the Battle Lord, so he had to send his only son to the Sixth also - to various masters of the Orders, heretics, healers, fighters, tradesmen, noblemen and of course the several important women from Vaelin's life are simply outstanding...

Blood Song is just awesome and a top 25 novel of mine for 2012, novel that came out of nowhere but made me a fan of the author for the duration! 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Mihir): Blood Song is another of those books that I discovered a few months earlier, thanks to Amazon’s cool algorithm for suggesting titles I might like based on my previous “Buying and Search” history. Previously I had stumbled upon Zero Sight by B Justin Shier the same way and the way that book turned out to be, I have learnt to keep an eye out for such Amazon recommendations.

Blood Song begins with a first person narrative featuring Lord Verniers Alishe Someren, a chronicler that has been chosen to write about the main character Vaelin Al-Sorna and about the journey that they both will undertake.  The story then begins Vaelin’s past as when as a child he’s commanded to join the Sixth Order of the Faith of the Unified Realm. Thus begins Vaelin’s journey wherein he will learn to wield weapons and become a famed warrior of the unified realm that will also earn him many names all across various nations and regions. Friends and foes alike will be drawn to him in differing amounts. But when all is said and done, Vaelin’s journey has only begun as the reader will learn more about his past as well as that of his realm.

One searches for the next best thing in fantasy, often going through many books in search of the book that will enthrall you completely. I almost missed on this beauty by buying it but then never getting around to reading it. I owe thanks to Michael Sullivan for reminding me about this book and what a book it is. Beginning from the events in the past to the current story going on currently, this setup has been explored in various fantasy, historical and other genre novels.

The most recent famous example being The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. In fact a similarity between those two books can be seen in regards to the protagonist's story and their growth via a university/military school setting. What differentiates these two books is a terrific conclusion to the book as well as themes about war and its follies. Also this was my observation but I found some shades of David Gemmell in Anthony Ryan’s storytelling style and prose. It is heartening to see a Brit take up the mantle of heroic, epic fantasy from one of fantasy’s most distinguished writers as well as a fellow British writer.

 This book is more akin to a traditional epic fantasy wherein it’s set in a pseudo-European setting and with a world history that is unveiled slowly and tantalizingly. At the same time, there is a core mystery at the heart of this plotline, why was Vaelin sent to the sixth order? What really happened with his parents? Who is the One Who Waits? These questions and much more abound this volume and will tempt readers into coming back for the later parts of this trilogy. The book focuses in the past as well as the present and the author has tantalizingly kept both time periods shrouded in mystery. This thread is what powers the book throughout and makes the story such a strong one.

Characterization is also a strong point in this opening volume, even though we get a singular narrative voice for the majority of the book. The author has created a fascinating side character cast particularly King Janus, Princess Lyrna just to name a few, these characters make the story even more fascinating and with the increase in POV character cast in "Tower Lord" (book II). I can't wait to see which other characters get their own narrative voices. The book ends on a strong note and with a twist that is hard to anticipate, giving the readers a complete story if they want to read just this book however I’m sure once the readers finish this book they will want to read “Tower Lord” the next in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy.

Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song is a tremendous debut; it has a fast paced, action packed and character driven story. Qualities to admire in any genre story and most of all in an epic fantasy one. Give this book a read, if you have ever felt that Indie books have no quality to them, give this book a read if you are tired of the same morass of stories in the epic fantasy genre, give this book a read if you want a well written story by a newbie author and lastly give this book a read if you want to read a story that’s closest to those written by David Gemmell.


Antonakis said...

Great reviews from both! I will certainly check out the sample chapters at smashwords as soon as possible. Thanks!

The Reader said...

Hi Antonakis

Do check this one out, its terrific and next year will be given a bigger release platform by Ace-Roc books.


Unknown said...

I was looking for someone to pick up the baton from Mr Feist as he just released the last riftwar book, and Anthony has done it, although with his own writing style. Excellent book

Anonymous said...

Great book! Now where's the sequel?

The Reader said...

@ Anon

I believe the answer to your question is answered by the author on his site .

Anonymous said...

The first and the best book of this trilogy. The second book is allmost 50% as good as the first but the last book The Queen of Fire reminds of some kind of childrens fairytale. I read it skipping the lines and only because I have read the first two books. Proffesional soldiers dying like little children in the hands of former slaves, well this is childis! I understand that this is fantasy world but Im angry because this last book wasted so much of my time!((

catcleg said...

The similarities between Blood Song and A Clash of Kings are many! So much so that I had to Google it just to see if there is any sort of connection with each other - turns out, there is not but none the less the story lines are so much the same it's like reading the same story with different names for people, places and things (ie the names of the months and days)
Still a great read though!


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