Mage's Blood is the first book in a new series called The Moontide Quartet by David Hair, a New Zealander author who wrote several YA Fantasy novel (for 2 series) and won an award for one in New Zealand. Mage's Blood is his first adult Fantasy novel, it was released in September 2012 and will be followed later this year (in October) by The Scarlet Tides.
Most of the time the Moontide Bridge lies deep below the sea, but every 12 years the tides sink and the bridge is revealed, its gates open for trade.
The Magi are hell-bent on ruling this new world, and for the last two Moontides they have led armies across the bridge on 'crusades' of conquest.
Now the third Moontide is almost here and, this time, the people of the East are ready for a fight ... but it is three seemingly ordinary people that will decide the fate of the worldMage's Blood is not an easy book to dive into but it shouldn't discourage the readers. David Hair created a complex world where the political situation is in symbiosis with the various religious factions of the world. These factions, even if in the end are reminiscent of the religious faiths of the real world, need some explaining and background detail and it's not conspicuous in Hair's case. Heavy info-dumps are scattered throughout the book, more than I wanted to receive, mostly so in the first part of the novel. I think that Mage's Blood would have benefited from a less prominent background explanation. Some aspects could have been revealed in the follow-ups.
One example of this is right at the beginning of the book. The mother of the young emperor of the Rondian Empire is speaking with her council about the Third Crusade but when she does, she recounts the complete history of the first two crusades. The problem is that almost every member of her council was present and part of it so they knew very well what happened. Her speech is clearly unnatural and awkward.
Another distinctive aspect of Hair's world is the division between the two continents of Yuros and Antiopia at the heart of the world's structure. Caused by the proximity of the moon, the oceans are in a great turmoil. Navigation is almost impossible and even if airships can travel between the landmasses, they don't seem to suffice to transport a huge number of troops. So when a group of mages created the Leviathan Bridge, a construction that connects the two continents for a time (at the ultimate low tide) every twelve years, the world changed. Even if this whole geographical phenomenon doesn't feel scrupulously accurate, it's a great foundation for Hair's story and characters.
Consequently, you can understand that the history of the world is rich. Magic appeared in the form of the 'gnosis', a force that can be used only by a few and their offspring; a couple of centuries ago and it became the definitive factor driving the empires, trade activities and civilizations. As I said, to a certain degree, much of the civilizations of Yuros and Antiopia are derived from Indian and Arabic culture, as are the religions, including traces of Christianity. This real world parallelism is also present in the language with references to the gnosis, shaitan, derived months name and Riesling wine to name a few.
Three main storylines, set in the third person narrative, are making up Mage's Blood story. The threads are not mixing together but they are clearly all part of a greater purpose that will be unveiled in the next books, the Third Crusade being at the center of them all. Each chapter indicates the number of months before the Moontide (the low tide for the Leviathan Bridge to become usable). Moreover, and to my delight, every chapter also starts with an interesting epigraph.
To show some perspective from the side of the people in power in the Rondian Empire, Gurvon Gyle's point of view is used. He has at his disposition a group of mercenary mages currently at the employ of the empire, even if he was part of a rebellion against it some years ago. He's an interesting character but his whereabouts remains mostly shrouded. He's not the sole protagonist to get some chapters devoted to him so we can get glimpses of secondary characters of interest from time to time.
Elena Anborn is one of Gurvon Gyle's agents, a bodyguard for the Nesti royal family of Javon on the Antiopian continent. Her outlook shows us the use of the gnosis in all manner of ways by powerful mages as well as the political situation in a state where two cultures/people mixes and don't have the same vision for the shihad being assembled to fight the Rondian Empire in the upcoming Third crusade. She's a hardened veteran finding out that she still has a heart and honed skills. She's not an easy one to cheer for but she grew on me.
Alaron Mercer, Elena's nephew, is a student of magic. Being a quarter-blood mage is not an easy task when the other students surrounding you are full blooded mages. However, the young man is willing to give his best and finds help in his few friends. His thesis will set the bottom line for a conspiracy where he will discover the secret behind the gnosis and the Ascendants. Alaron's tale is gripping save for some magic theory that gets a bit in the way, mostly so when just before his final exams, one of his teachers ask him what are the basics of it...
Also on the Antiopian continent, we fellow the tale of Ramita and Kazim. The proposed couple's life is shaken when Ramita's future is changed by the arrival of a mighty figure in their life. Kazim will go to extremes to reconquer his fiancé while Ramita will have to cope with the promiscuity of wealth and power of incommensurate degree for her. Their love story is not the only relationship explored in the book. Hair's seem to give a great importance to the love life and affections of his characters, much to his credit. It was sometimes cheesy in the case of Ramita and Kazim but overall, kudos to the author.
There you have it. Mage's Blood is a well written novel of epic proportion where the world takes as much place as the characters. The pace is smooth but not stagnant and a lot more happens than what the compelling protagonists witnesses. This is the start of a good new entry in Epic Fantasy that will quench the taste of large spawning Empires and wars lovers with a very descriptive world building. David Hair's adult debut is not redefining the genre but it easily stand as a good introduction to a fascinating world.
Technically, not much can be said about the cover for the Jo Fletcher edition of the book aside from the fact that it looks good. The hardcover edition of the book stands at 704 pages and includes two nice maps of Yuros and Antiopia.
Mage's Blood review rating :