Blood Song review

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blood Song is the debut Fantasy novel and first book of the Raven's Shadow series, a trilogy, by UK author Anthony Ryan. Ryan finished the book a couple of years ago (in 2010 to be precise) and after many rejections for his script (in retrospect, some publishers must be kicking themselves), he decided to self-publish the book.  It was a success and the novel was eventually picked up by Ace (click here to read about the process). The book was released last year and the follow-up, Tower Lord will be out in July 2014.
"The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm." 
Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order. Vaelin's father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin's rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world. 
Orders, brotherhoods or guilds.  They have been part of many Fantasy stories, even more so when their members are young men or women (for the latter it's less frequent...) dumped by their parents, beggar children or vagrants in need of a home or thieves in need of redemption. Usually, while being related to some kind of religion (war is often an aspect of Gods found in Fantasy) these orders were put in place to educate youngsters in the art of fighting in various forms with some entity behind it all, a religious organisation, an Empire or a rich patron.  Sounds familiar enough? If you have read books like Paul Hoffman's The Left Hand of God, Elspeth Cooper's Songs of the Earth or more recently The Emperor's Blade by Brian Staveley, it should.

In comparison with the first two novels I enumerated, Blood Song succeeds phenomenally.  Within the Sixth Order, right from the start of the book but after an introduction with his future self, we find ourselves following the exploits, failures, hardships and joy of the larger than life Vaelin Al Sorna.  The world in which the young man tries to take his place is a grim one, reminiscent of the darkest period of the Middle Ages, but, even within the confines of his Order, he will find ways to prove himself.  It's the story of the coming of age of a legend, a dangerous man whose actions will change the world.  There's a specter of prophecy surrounding him, within and without his Order, which becomes solely the mean to hone him as a weapon as he eventually grasp the ins and outs of the world.

Vaelin's story is told with some perspective from hindsight, it's the recounting of his life where we already believe that he made incredible but awful things.  Ryan accomplished something that could fall flat easily.  It's relatively simple to create expectations like this right from the start but it's another feat to deliver throughout the book. The road ahead is not a straight one. The author's story leaves a couple of open threads for the follow-ups and judging by the way he resolved most of the storylines he tackled in this first opus, with more than enough unexpected resolutions, we should be in for a treat.

Even if the focus of Blood Song is Vaelin, his brothers and the various protagonists he encounters in his journeys don't lack development. However, it's sad to say that it's almost solely a man's world and the women in the book deserve more presence and dedication. That world is not the most original setting of Epic Fantasy you can find but with the right amount of description and a writing that feels natural (with much editing?... it's hard to say), the flow of the narrative always feel right.  You can never go wrong with a good pace and plenty of action as is the case with this novel.

Magic is also growing up alongside Vaelin.  Some part of it are nebulous and connected to that specter of prophecy that I talked about but it serves its purpose well even if there is some occurrences of the dreaded (for me at least) "intrinsic use of uncertain powers that saves the day". I refer here to the blood song and the mysterious helpers giving Vaelin some warnings...

Blood Song is a great debut.  I'm convinced that with a first book in a series as strong as this one, the Raven's Shadow is worth keeping an eye on.  It's not groundbreaking Fantasy but as you live the story of Vaelin right alongside him, and I really mean live it. You won't forget it.  Really an exceptionally compelling character. I'm glad that Ryan persisted in his quest to be published.

Technically, I really like the cover of the Ace Books edition (the one at the top of the review). The hardcover edition of the book stands at 592 pages. You can find a nice map of the Unified Realm and the Alpiran Empire here.

Blood Song review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


wheels209 said...

Hi Phil,
I want to give this book and author a shot after I get done with Scroll of Years but I am torn. So many new authors do senseless violence without any visible reason. I need to have good characters and story as well as the action. If I am reading your review correctly the book should be enjoyable for me and still I proceed with caution. Have a good week.

Phil said...

Wheels, the books offers its share of violence but it's not off-putting (we don't all have the same standards but I'm confident about my opinion). Blood Song isn't the "grimmest" book you can find and it's not trying to be gory just for the sake of it but it's not trying to hide it. There's more to it than a grim epitaph and I don't think that Vaelin will disappoint you. Keep me updated on how you like/dislike it!

wheels209 said...

Hi Phil,
Thanks for the extra encouragement it helps. I will let you know how I like the book.

wheels209 said...

Hi Phil, Your review and advice were right on point nice job sir. I loved the book. Can't wait to read the next one. Take care.

Phil said...

Hi Wheels!

Glad you liked it, thanks for stopping by to give me some feedback! The follow-up should be out soon.

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