Book Review: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Raven’s Shadow
Publisher: Ace (July 2, 2013)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
The story of Blood Song is about a young boy who trains and grows up to become a leader and one of the greatest warriors in the kingdom. It’s a tried-and-true formula in epic fantasy which by all rights I should be sick to death of by now, but Anthony Ryan manages to pull it off without making me feel like I’m getting the same old, same old.
Take how the book starts, for example, opening on an encounter between a scribe and a prisoner who is being transported across the sea to answer for his crimes. A duel to the death is the only end left for Vaelin al Sorna, also known as “Hope Killer”. With a sobriquet like that, I couldn’t help but wonder at his character, but I was also intrigued by his soft spokenness and eloquence. More puzzling is the fact that everyone seems to be treating him with respect and deference, in spite of his chains.
Vaelin’s story is recounted by the scribe, a mode of storytelling which is not uncommon even outside other mediums of fantasy, but in this case it is deftly executed, providing a deeply immersive experience for the reader. As a child, the main character is sent to the Sixth Order to train in the martial ways of the Faith. It’s a harsh life fraught with peril, as Vaelin and his peers are driven relentlessly by their instructors to learn everything from doctrine and history, to survival methods or ways to wield a sword.
In general, I’m not a big fan of this trope. More often than not, I find the training and “growing up” phase of the hero’s story to be the most tedious part, and so I’m usually looking forward to getting it over with. Not so with Blood Song, though. Imagine my surprise when these sections of the book turned out to be the most rewarding aspect. I loved reading about Vaelin’s experiences in the Sixth Order, especially some of the more challenging trials. I very much enjoyed the bonds he shared with his fellow brothers of the Faith, the fact that any conflicts between the boys are negated by the knowledge that they are all in this together.
In fact, I liked this section a lot more than the later parts of the book, in which we see Vaelin go off to fight big battles and become embroiled in political plots and magic. Normally that would be the kind of stuff I live for in my epic fantasy, so you can see just how much I enjoyed the first half of the novel to consider it my favorite. Not that the second half is a slouch — I think most people would find it more interesting, actually. For myself, I just couldn’t help but develop a soft spot for Vaelin back when he was just a boy, when he still retained some of his innocence.
As you’ve probably guessed, I have nothing but good things to say about the portrayal of Vaelin and the other characters in this novel. You will see the relationships forged early on between him and his brothers evolve as they face their hardships together year after year. And when enemies become friends or friends become enemies, the transformations are both a surprise but also believable. Vaelin himself is a good and honorable person, and his desire to transcend the expectations of his order and be a better person for those around him is an engrossing study into the themes of sacrifice, morals and personal beliefs.
Highly recommended. I can just imagine the thrilled reactions of readers who picked this book up back when it was still independently published. A gem like this doesn’t come along every day, and I’d say it stands out even beside some of the major epic fantasy novels today.