Book Review: Godblind by Anna Stephens
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Talos (June 20, 2017)
Length: 384 pages
Godblind is a book that would seem tailor made for my tastes in grimdark. It’s epic in scope, characters, and setting. There are multiple points of view. Plenty of action. Lots of gut-churning violence. I enjoyed this novel, I won’t lie. But it is also a debut, and it kind of shows. The writing is solid, but the plotting is predictable and scripted, as if the author placed certain elements into her story that she felt should be in there, and not necessarily because they really had to be.
First on the checklist is the multiple perspectives—we have an enormous cast here, lots and lots of POV characters. One of the first ones we’re introduced to is Rillirin, an escaped slave who has spent years suffering at the hands of the Mireces after she refused to worship their cruel Red Gods. She eventually finds her way to the Rilporian people, enemies of the Mireces, bearing them a warning: the old Mireces king is dead, and with him dies the truce between their two peoples. Ambitious new leaders have seized power, one of them being Rillirin’s own brother Corvus, a fanatical convert to the Red Gods. Accompanied by his dark priestess, Corvus plans to march on Rilpor and subjugate everyone to the religion of blood and sacrifice.
While all of this is happening, Rillirin also meets and develops a close relationship with Dom, a seer who receives visions of the future. Dom’s p0wer allows him to commune with the benevolent gods of Rilpor, but when the Dark Lady takes notice of him, his dreams become filled with pain and death. Meanwhile, not all is well with the Rilporian throne. The king is slowly losing his mind, still grieving for his late wife, who was murdered. With the killer still at large, Durdil the guard commander is at his wit’s end trying to solve the murder but keeps running into dead ends, and amidst the heightened tensions, a captain named Crys has been assigned to accompany Rilpor’s two royal princes on a diplomatic mission and protect them from threats.
And that’s as far as I’ll go describing the summary because I don’t want to risk revealing too much. Though if I’m to be completely honest, I think anyone following the story closely would be able to guess many of the story’s plot twists. In case you’re curious why I gave Godblind only three stars despite enjoying the book, well, that’s the main reason why the rating took a hit. Rather than grow out organically, the story felt forced and contrived, unfolding in a very ordered and controlled way. The novel’s format made me feel like the author was following an epic/grimdark fantasy “how-to” template, and even the manner in which important events unfolded made me think they were included simply because they were expected. As a result, many of the shocking revelations lacked their intended impact. Fight scenes had plenty of blood and action but no spirit. Character relationships were complex and yet failed to feel genuine. And the most unfortunate part? Some of the brutal scenes of torture, killing, rape…they felt gratuitous. Don’t get me wrong, as an avid reader of grimdark I am used to books filled with cold-blooded violence and every act of unspeakable sadism, but most of the time these elements are consequential and don’t have the feeling of being blatantly tacked on. There were several scenes like this in Godblind that just leaped out at me, not so much because of the disturbing situations and actions they portrayed, but more because of the way they were written. It’s difficult to explain, but they just felt randomly excessive and out of place.
The characters were interesting, but because the narrative was spread over so many POVs, only a couple of them really stood out. The beginning of the book really set a precedent for this; one after another, characters were fired off at us in rapid succession, without developing those who have already been introduced and letting them sink in. I had trouble remembering who everyone was every time I returned to the book from a break. The author also has this habit of splitting up a single event or scene, e.g. a big battle, into multiple short POV chapters—even when all the characters are together for the duration—whereas everything told via a single POV in a longer chapter might have be more effective and less distracting. When chaos erupts and a fight is in full swing, all I want is to be lost in a scene, and not have to reorient myself every time we switch to a another character’s perspective.
As this is a debut though, I was not surprised to run into some of these issues. Godblind has its flaws but I definitely want to highlight some of the things Stephens did really well, including keeping the story interesting and fast-paced. I also mentioned a couple characters that stood out for me, and they were Durdil and Gilda. Damn, but latter is an old lady with grit! And Durdil’s chapters were often full of suspense and cutthroat palace intrigue.
Overall, despite its predictability Godblind is actually pretty decent for a debut, with a few stumbling blocks that I can see being overcome once Stephens writes more books and gains more confidence in the art with time. As it stands right now, I think this book is an above average entry into the genre, with potential to develop and grow into something greater over the next couple books. I hear the series will be a trilogy, and I shall wait for news of the sequel with interest.