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.