Blood Song: Book 1 of Raven's Shadow Paperback – 20 Feb 2014
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'Blood Song is a tremendous debut . . . fast-paced, action-packed and character-driven' (FANTASY BOOK CRITIC)
A top contender for most impressive debut of the year . . . Blood Song is a powerful epic that, while ending with a sense of closure, hints at more to come (SFFWORLD)
An utterly engrossing high-fantasy epic from a major new talent that explores themes of war, faith, and loyalty amidst incredible action scenes and artfully developed characters (BUZZFEED)
Blood Song is a fantastic debut . . . Anthony Ryan is a master story teller (Mark Lawrence)
A mix of The Name of the Wind and The Left Hand of God . . . I cannot recommend this book enough (BESTFANTASYBOOKS.COM)
This is epic fantasy at its best with action, rivalries, espionage, the promise of future revelations and ever-present twists (BOOKBAG)
'Blood Song delighted me again and again' (FANTASY FACTION)
An instant sensation . . . an excellent start to this series (READ DREAM RELAX)
Smartly-written coming-of-age story . . . Compelling (SFX)
I still love - and want - that feeling of completely absorbing escapism that good fantasy can supply - and Blood Song brings it in force (PORNOKITSCH)
Ryan hits all the high notes of epic fantasy-a gritty setting, ancient magics, ruthless intrigue, divided loyalties, and bloody action (PUBLISHERS WEEKLY)
Well wrought characters, a fascinating world, and crackling prose . . . Not to be missed (KINGOFTHENERDS.COM)
'Blood Song is unique . . . The next Epic Fantasy book everybody should read' (BLOTTED PAGES)
An immensely satisfying and immersive experience (Dark Matter)
One of the next master storytellers (Fantasy Book Review)
The UK's bestselling epic fantasy debut of 2013 and the first book in the New York Times bestselling Raven's Shadow seriesSee all Product description
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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.
For storyline read other and far more eloquent and informed reviewers, If you are selective in this genre like me and like your fantasy with more than a hint of substance with not much more than a smattering of magic, try this. Yes there were certain similarities in style and content with the aforementioned and a bit of "Left hand of God" in there too, but there's nothing wrong with any of that in my opinion. This author has obviously troubled himself to learn what makes a damned good story and how a good story should be told and the reviews bear this out. I believe this is the authors first novel and self published?... if so, another pat on the back is due. The last few years have produced some excellent firsts and this well deservedly joins them. I eagerly await the next installment of what has been a great start.
I enjoyed the build and the characters were interesting, the story is good but promised a lot more, Blood song prepares you for an adventure but the plots never lead to the explosive climax that you expect.
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