on 12 April 2013
You can get the gist of the story from other reviews here, I won't bore anyone with another summary.
What I will say is that I am a picky so-and-so and, as an example, I recently read Mark Charon Newton's first book (Nights of Viljamur)- didn't like it (dull characters and too many quotes lifted directly from 'The God Delusion', etc) despite other rave reviews, and have given up on various other traditionally published books over recent years despite the time, effort and money spent on publishing them. There was a time I would finish a book even if I found it dull or hated it, I can't do that these days. I just don't have the patience for bad writing or stories that I don't like or don't grip me.
This is self published and is the best fantasy read I have had this year - though Mark Lawrence's Prince & King of Thorns is a close second.
It's not all constant action, it's a slow burn novel (like Robin Hobb and others) but you're always kept interested and the depth of character achieved and the nature and strength of the bond between the 'brothers' is great stuff. There's plenty of intrigue and the authorial 'reveals' along the way as the story unfolds have been paced very well indeed.
Ok, there are a few typos (names spelt wrong and a coma or two missing ...IMHO) but those issues are irrelevent and I forgive the author 100%. This is an amazing effort and a fantastic story.
Thank you, Anthony you have given self publishing a good name!
EDIT - I have the self published version. I see that Mr Ryan has quite rightly been picked up by a traditional publisher now. Quite right too. Well deserved. Comparison to David Gemmell though is something I don't understand. Ryan has his own voice. DG was indeed an Legend and while Ryan might quite enjoy the comparison, I think he stands up perfectly well on the strength of his own efforts.
This is a rather superb piece of “heroic fantasy”, especially for a first novel, and it is indeed well worth the five stars that so many other reviewers have given it. It is not perfect, but then no book really is, and it all depends upon what is meant by “perfect” anyway! However, it has just about all the ingredients that make a piece of “heroic fantasy” outstanding: world-building, plot, characterisation, action, and talent in keeping the reader engaged.
The first quality of this book is the world-building, and the way it is done almost incidentally, in a seamless way as you read through the book.
You do not get “treated” with pages and pages of glossaries, because the author has accumulated so many characters and names of places that you would be simply lost and confused in the absence of such glossaries. You do however get a few maps: a general one at the beginning, and one blown up section of this general map that corresponds to each of the main parts of the story.
The story of Vaelin Al Sorna is told by one Lord Vernier, a historian and a noble of the Alpirian Empire and each part of the book begins with his account and comments on the events as told by Vaelin. However, each part is followed by a much longer piece that tells what really happened, as opposed to the rather “sanitised” version served by Vaelin to Lord Vernier. This is one of the tricks that keeps the reader engaged and interested all along, at least that is how it worked out for me as I looked out for (the many) discrepancies in the two tales.
The world in which the story is set is that of the Unified Realm, a northern continent made up of what were formally four kingdoms which one of the Kings forcefully unified a few decades before. Here is where there might be some inspiration drawn from Martin’s Westeros, although the form of the Unified Realm made me thing of an enlarged Ireland rather than Britain. To the South-West of the Unified Realm lie the Meldenian Islands inhabited by pirates/traders. Far to the West is another mysterious continent that seems to be an equivalent of China and which is controlled by various merchant princes. To the South, across the Erinian Sea, lays the Alpirian Empire, which reminded me of a version of the Byzantine Empire that could somehow be set in Africa, which its northern part including a trio of ports and deserts.
Then there is the story itself, on which I will be brief because many other reviewers have already commented. The lonely boy left by his cold and apparently ruthless father to the “tender mercies” of harsh learners at the age of eleven - here the “Sixth Order” (inspired by Medieval Orders of warrior-monks) – and who goes through a gruelling training to become one of the most accomplished warriors of the Realm is not exactly original, although it is well told. Neither is the bonding with his fellow apprentices into a “band of brother-warriors”, with each of them having their own “speciality” (the sword for Vaelin) very original, although it works mostly well. Having – predictably – graduated, Vaelin, who has very much become the leader of his little band, serves the King of the Unified Realm as the commander of one of his infantry regiments where his duty takes him across the whole Realm and then across the sea against the Alipirian Empire.
One interesting streak in the story is the theme of religious intolerance, with a faction of fanatic defenders of the Faith busy persecuting the “Deniers”, meaning every sect and belief within the Realm that does not conform to the true Faith. As hinted at in this book, and as will be no doubt made more explicit in the following volumes, the truth is much more complicated than the “official version” and the various legends and accepted stories of the past hide a number of less than palatable events.
Another interesting feature is the careful mix of elements that this story includes. You get a hint at a couple of non-human races which pre-existed the arrival of the now dominant inhabitants of the Unified Realm. You will also have some supernatural powers and magical bits, including the “blood song” in itself and what looks like a daemon from the otherworld. You also get plenty of adventure, fights, plotting and intrigue, battles and assassination attempts, so that the story is fast-paced, but not excessively so.
What I particularly appreciated with all this was the measured way in which all these elements were introduced and carefully balanced and blended together. Some twists of the story are somewhat hard to believe however. One of these is the decision of the huge Alpirian army to attack the two strongest ports held by “the Northerners” instead of the weakest one defended by Vaelin, and this after Vaelin having given them plenty of reasons to go after him.
Then you have what I believe to be the third strongpoint of the book: the characterisation of the hero. The most prominent example is that of Vaelin Al Sorna himself who is indeed an honourable and reluctant killer but who will do whatever needs to be done because of his very high sense of duty to Crown and Faith, even when he knows perfectly well that he is being played with and used. However, and as other reviewers have also noticed, although a reluctant at killing and waging war, the hero is also very efficient at it, quite ruthlesss and does not indulge in any self-pitying that some authors feel obliged to introduce in their characters. He does not like it. He would prefer to do otherwise, but since he does not have a choice, he does it as efficiently as he can, even if others are going to see him as a monster as a result of his deeds.
Some of the other characters are also well-designed, such as the arrogant and prejudiced Lord Vernier, the ageing, cynical, unscrupulous and utterly ruthless King Janus who spent his life unifying the Realm and is ready to do just about anything to ensure that it survives him, his devious but vulnerable daughter and his noble but allegedly naïve son and heir. Other secondary characters are perhaps not so well drawn. In particular, I found that Vaelin’s brothers somewhat lacked depth.
Even the end of the story is rather good, with the author tying up all lose ends as his hero, after a long captivity and a near-suicidal mission that he was not expected to survive, heads for home where a new King has come to power. Five stars for this superb first novel, despite the few glitches noted above, and largely because you get (or at least I got) totally immersed in this book once you pick it up. Needless to say, I am rather impatiently waiting for volume 2 and hoping it will be at least as good.
on 30 June 2014
I won't bore anyone with another summary. I'm just here to point out a few of the reasons why I enjoyed this novel so much and to add my own 5 star rating to the masses.
> The Characters - No black and white heroes/villains or run down cliche's here. Just characters that are all too real, with their own unique personalities, world views and faults. And as they go through deep life experiences, they actually develop! For example, when we first met Nortah, I envisioned him being your typical spoilt, petty brat. Very quickly I was disspelled of that impression - by the end of the book, he was one of my favourite characters. People shouldn't be judged solely based on first impressions, and they can change.
> The Pace - Considering the first 300 or so pages are dedicated to the 'training' section, there are a surprising amount of significant moments, many of which foreshadow later events. It nevers gets boring. Mr Ryan finds a fine balance when building his carefully crafted world, never cramming too much information in, yet not leaving his readers hanging either. It kept my interest, left me wanting more.
> The Intrigue - So many mysteries, large and small, are scattered throughout this novel: from the reason Vaelin was given to the Sixth Order; The Witch's bastard, the One Who Waits, and many questions surroundings the plot and various characters goals and motivations. What I especially enjoy is the fact that many of the answers are within the text before the reveals! Mr Ryan has created a consistent world, where every action makes sense within the context of his world. Learn the rules, then pay close attention.
All in all, a fantastic debut and an excellent start to the Raven's Shadow Trilogy. I will certainly be purchasing the next book, 'Tower Lord'.
(Additional Note: part of my motivation for writing this review in the first place was to counter a couple of the ridiculous negative reviews for this book. I can respect opinions that differ from my own. That's not the issue. But to give a book a low rating simply because the reviewer was stupid enough to buy the same book twice is sacrilege in my opinion. Reviews are intended to measure the quality of the product, not the IQ of the reviewer.)
on 21 November 2013
Maybe it's because I just expected this book to be a moderately entertaining fantasy novel, with lots of sword wielding, that the superb nature of it sneaked up and mugged me before I realised what was happening. Like lots of fairly prolific readers, I have my 'champions' in my chosen genres. So Bernard Cornwell is unassailable in his mastery of historical fantasy novels and, until now, George RR Martin is just the master at 'medieval fantasy' and the best thriller writer, by far, is Jeffery Deaver. I also confess to a guilty craving for the odd Jeremy Clarkson when I need a boost of irreverent comedy raving but don't tell anyone! Each of these 'masters' tops the list because of something special in their style. But it never occurred to me that there might be an author that could combine elements of these styles in a single book. Until now.
Blood Song is, quite simply, an excellent book when judged by any normal standards. The story is sweeping in scale, the heroes believable and imperfect, enough action to keep the most bloodthirsty satisfied and all told with an engaging and inclusive style. Every element of this book is judged to perfection; just the right amount of romance, gore and a sensible plot line. Too many books of this genre are little more than pastiched computer games in written form but not this one; it has real depth.
The structure of the book in general and the world in which it is set is very close indeed (possibly plagiaristically so) to George RR Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series (or Game of Thrones as it's better known these days) but Mr Ryan's writing style is so fluid and engaging that this hardly matters. The point is that everything that I love in Mr Martin's books is here too and, here, the action moves a bit more quickly than in GRR's glacial style. Given that GRR Martin is, presently, the top of this tree, that's praise indeed.
But here's the thing. No one writes thrillers like Jeffery Deaver, What is unique is his ability to trick the reader into 'seeing' a story picture that is false. So the last person you suspected is the villain. "That can't be right!" you cry and you re-read sections only to find that, sure enough, the author didn't actually SAY that, you just allowed yourself to follow that route. Furthermore, obscure and unimportant trivia half way through becomes hugely significant at the end. It is delicious stuff and, no matter how many Deaver novels you've read, he will still fool you. Well, that style is evident, in spades, in Blood Song. This isn't just light entertainment, it's a very clever and devious book that will hook you big time. At the end you will be saying "Ah, now I see!".
So what I now have is a fantasy novel that blends the styles of two of my favourite authors into a truly wonderful story; I never thought that it could be done! Each of my 'masters' has achieved that rank through many readings of a large body of work (and it's not always consistent) so I won't depose GRR Martin on the basis of this single effort by Anthony Ryan. But if the next in this series is anything like as good as this, then move over GRR 'cos there's a new king.
By the way, there is another nod to Ice & Fire in that, in Mr Martin's books there is a board game frequently mentioned (called cyvasse). Aficionados asked to be told the rules of this game but Mr M was forced to admit that he never created any rules for this fictitious game as it isn't important to the story, so fans have made up their own (!) In Blood Song, the author uses an appendix to set out the rules of his similar game, keschet.
That this is just the first in a series of these books is clear from the outset and, here, the ending of this book is perfectly set up to lead into the next stage of the saga. The ending isn't clumsy, as is so often the case with series, and the whole pace of the overarching story seems to be leading to a trilogy.
If there is but one complaint, it is one that others have also commented upon; there are lots of quite complex names used throughout. Keeping them straight in your mind is hard enough but the fact that some 'goodies' become 'baddies' (and vice versa) and some characters have more than one name means that the occasional mental pause to gather your thoughts is necessary now and again. But this isn't a book for the stupid so, unless you think that reading more than two books a year makes you a 'swat', the names shouldn't spoil your enjoyment.
I absolutely loved this book and just can't wait for the next in the series. It fully deserves its five stars.
on 4 November 2013
Blood Song, the first in a fantasy series titled Raven's Shadow, takes the reader on a trip through the intricacies of a world of wars, interfaith conflicts, intrigue and battle. The societies, geography and political structures developed by the author are all very believable.
As regular readers of my reviews will know, I care deeply about character in fiction. This book does not let the reader down. The characters, and there are many, live. All are flawed in their own ways; all are individuals. No stereotypes here.
For reasons I won't bore you with, I was unable to read this book in a short time. The extended time period was nothing to do with the book but only reduced my enjoyment in the sense that I found myself impatient to get back to it as soon as I was able. The story certainly held my attention.
This is a book that will suit those who like their fantasy to involve battles, unusual friendships, a background love story, minor references to a form of magic and details of fights and weapons. But it has an added theme that interested me a great deal: the book examines religion and its association with various gods. It analyses faith and hints strongly at the lack of validity in many claims made by religions. This is done through story, rather than through the less attractive type of proselytising sometimes evident in books that touch on religious matters. So, it's thought-provoking as well as entertaining.
I found I grew more and more attached to the main protagonist as he fought his way through the many barriers placed in his way. The pace is good throughout and description is generally limited to those aspects that require explanation. There are many evocative scenes and a great deal of variety in location and setting, making the journey both interesting and engaging.
I enjoyed the read. It's a long book, typical of the genre in the sheer volume of words and pages. Good value for money. I recommend it to all who love fantasy and suggest those who have so far avoided this genre might try this as an introduction to how good such storytelling can be.
on 28 September 2012
All I can say is 'goodness me'. This is a bloody good book. I have an innate distrust of unpublished authors, mainly because of the easy some of them shamelessly self promote. I know it's hard for them to get noticed but it just doesn't sit well with me. So, I stick with authors that are published - there's enough of then after all. I just happened on Anthony Ryan's book by chance. I think someone recommended it on Patrick Rothfuss's blog and thought I'd try it as all the reviews seemed genuine unlike the reviews you see of other unpublished authors. If a reviewer has only written one review ever it stats to ring alarm bells.
I digress. The point is, this is a truly impressive fantasy book. it is so well rounded - the story is fascinating, the characters interesting, there is depth, it's an interesting world you don't know where it's going and the story never disappoints. I don't put too much creedence in the adage that a first book can only be so good. Plenty of recent authors have proved that incorrect, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, to name a few. I think this is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. Really, if you like fantasy then you won't be disappointed. I am flabbergasted that a book as good a this is not in print. What the hell are editors doing. Can't wait for the next one Anthony. I think your fame will spread. Completely changed my perspective on unpublished authors.
There's a lot to recommend about Anthony Ryan's Blood Song. In most respects it's a traditional fantasy novel that respects the genre's conventions, but's it's well-written and engaging and it has an interesting perspective that gives it a little bit of an edge and sets it apart from most works of this kind.
Even if the early part of the book seems to be fairly standard plotting, there's an underlying unease about the situation then that keeps you involved. This is as it should be since the "blood song" of the title is indeed a guiding sense of warning that keeps the young Vaelin Al Sorna alive throughout the difficult years of his training as a warrior in the service of the Sixth Order, defenders of the Faith and the United Realm of King Janus. The first part of the book then goes through the standard template of apprenticeship, the honing of Vaelin's skills through tests and bonding with fellow warriors, but in addition to being well told, you do get a sense of other elements of the wider problems in and beyond the Realm that will undoubtedly come into play once we get to the world outside.
Even that seems fairly familiar territory, with war being on the horizon and conflict not only with foreign states, but also with Deniers of the Faith and from mysterious agencies that use the power of the Dark, Vaelin seeming to play a part in a Destiny that has been foretold in ancient books. It doesn't take too long however to recognise that it's not all peace, love and goodness under the rule of King Janus, that the expected divisions between the forces of Good and Evil aren't that clear and that Vaelin - known now as Hope Killer - might not even be on the side of Right.
It's this kind of touch that makes all the difference. How often do we really get to see and understand the working of the "forces of darkness" from an insider's perspective? It's the way that it's told however that really counts, Anthony Ryan building up credible characterisation that takes into account the usual motivations of greed and ambition but also how fear, personality, power and the weight of history have a part to play in the shaping of Destiny. It's not just all about some ancient prophesy then, or the wielding of mysterious powers, but Blood Song becomes a question over how much power we have over our own destiny. And that's interesting.
on 2 April 2013
So, minding my own business, I was looking through the recommended section on my kindle and saw this for a few quid. As always I looked at the reviews, and immediately became suspicious. One bad review out of near a hundred good ones- but I took a gamble, and boy was I rewarded.
This is quite possibly one of the best opening novels I have ever read. My normal genre is fantasy, and as such I think I have quite high standards when it comes to these books- I haven't been this impressed with a first book since the farseer trilogy (Robin Hobb).
In terms of the book itself, there was something for me on every page. Not once did I become bored or frustrated with events, characters, story, or, well... anything! The pacing is extremely well done, as are the characters. Whilst it lacks the depth of detail in environments that I am used to with authors such as Hobb, the rest of the factors more than make up for this- character arcs are extremely well done, and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the fate of almost everyone the book introduces to you.
Literally the only thing I found mildy off putting was initially the names were quite foreign- but this is something that I eventually liked anyway as it does perform the role of setting it slightly apart from standard lord-of-the-rings esque names for everything.
Believe the reviews, I have never been so grateful for taking a risk on a book- which is also minimised by the unbelievably cheap price I got it for. Brilliant read, and I cannot wait for the next book of what I hope is a long saga.
on 16 September 2013
I bought this book on the basis of earlier reviews and have to say it is one of the best fantasy books i have ever read (and i have read a lot). I find it hard to believe that this is a first novel and cannot wait for another in the series. There are moments of great characterisation (male and female - and animal!!!) Some parts of the plot you can work out as the book progresses (which i like) and others will have you groan as the oncoming train has been lighting the tunnel for a while. I found it an absorbing read and i wanted to know what happened next. I also liked the level of back detail that created a more believable world but that did not drown the plot or characters. I bought my copy from Amazon, but i think it is a shame that i have not seen a copy in any bookshops Unless they have all sold :-) Buy it, read it and enjoy it.
on 22 January 2014
If you're like me and read in bed before sleeping you will find this book holds your imagination and attention so fantastically well, you will look up and find 4 hours have passed and you're due up in 5. The characters will stay with you, I didn't find myself thinking "hmm hang on who is that again ?". The lands are well planned out and traveled within the story. This has everything you look for in a fantasy book, I only hope the time passes by quickly so that I can get my hands on the second book.