#WyrdandWonder Book Review: The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy. Historical Fiction

Series: Book 1 of The Nightingale and the Falcon

Publisher: Angry Robot (July 11, 2023)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Born from a fascination with the Mongol invasions and conquests that took place during the 13th and 14th centuries, The Judas Blossom vividly reimaginations the birth of history’s largest contiguous empire. Author Stephen Aryan writes in his foreword that while most of the major events in this fantasy novel are historically accurate, he has made some tweaks and liberties to their timing on top of some additional changes to the characters, and that ultimately what he wanted to do was craft a dramatic story. Well, in that goal, I can confidently say he succeeded.

The book follows mainly four characters: Hulagu Khan, grandson of the great Genghis, is now the rule of the Ilkhanate; his youngest son, Temujin, has one last chance to prove his worth before he is shipped out to fight on the front lines; known as the Blue Princess, Kokochin is the last of her tribe and has arrived in a foreign land to join Hulagu’s harem as one of his many wives; and Kaivon is a desperate young Persian rebel who will stop at nothing to get his revenge on the Mongols for the massacre of his people.

As his father faces the challenge of holding together a vast empire, Temujin is trying his best to avoid following in his footsteps as he finds he has no taste for war. But when his latest stint as a tax collector ends in disaster, he is forced onto the warrior’s path to unlock his inner potential. Meanwhile, Kaivon is left to exact vengeance on his own after his group of rebels are routed and his brother abandons him, heading into the heart of enemy territory to attempt a bolder strategy. When an opportunity to apprentice under the fearsome Hulagu Khan himself arises, Kaivon must tread carefully in order not to reveal his plans to bring the empire down from within. Around this time, Kokochin also discovers that, despite being a khan’s wife, she holds practically no status or power. Seeking new meaning to her life, she finds a purpose in training in the fighting arts and espionage.

I’ve always had a love for historical fantasy, and The Judas Blossom provides a breath of fresh air from the more usual offerings of the genre by whisking us off to the time of the Mongol Empire. Readers get to experience a sense of its sweeping magnitude in this epic tale told through the eyes of compelling characters that cover many aspects of life during this period, and my favorite was probably Kokochin, as so little is known about her in history. In this novel, however, Stephen Aryan has made her a fully realized character, complete with her own hopes and ambitions and a charming personality. Admittedly, none of the other characters interested me nearly as much, but perhaps they will have their chance to shine later in the sequels.

Of course, whenever you have tales about conquerors, you also get the tales of the conquered, along with the violence of bloody war which often accompanies these types of stories. Having read the author’s debut Battlemage, I already knew of his ability to write impressive battle sequences, and indeed the ones in The Judas Blossom were no less action-packed. Amidst the challenges of trying to expand and maintain an empire, the Khan and his family have made lots of enemies from within and without, meaning there’s plenty of political intrigue to keep me hooked with multiple threads involving assassins and secret plots to take down the empire. That said, with so many moving parts to keep track of, some of these plotlines can get confusing as times, resulting in several side characters and the story arcs that they’re involved in feeling slightly underdeveloped. Again, I am hoping that later books in the series will remedy that by exploring everything more in depth.

Overall, I have to say that, as the first volume to The Nightingale and the Falcon saga, The Judas Blossom was a fantastic read and my attention is certainly piqued. As with most series openers, there were some expected hurdles related to balancing character and story development, since there were so many elements to introduce. But now, the stage is most certainly set for greater, grander things as history begins to intertwine with the fantastical. Historical fantasy fans will be delighted by The Judas Blossom and the sweeping scope of its narrative that will transport them to a breathtaking world of danger, intrigue, and magic. Seamlessly weaving together intricate world-building, vibrant characters and resonant themes of courage, love, and sacrifice, this novel will leave you mesmerized. I look forward to the sequel!

11 Comments on “#WyrdandWonder Book Review: The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan”

  1. Your description of this book intrigued me to no end: I’ve come to love historical fantasy and indeed this is something of an unexplored territory, historically speaking. I will have to keep this book on my radar – thanks for sharing! 🙂


  2. I like that this is inspired by the Mongol Empire. It reminds me just a bit of A Hero Born by Jin Yong. I really want to continue that series one of these days. And I’d be curious to start this one.


      • And just to show I’m serious about Jin Yong’s series, I’ve already purchased it all, just a matter of making the time. It doesn’t read like most of the typical fantasy I read, similar to how Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty series reads differently, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both.


  3. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 05/28/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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