Friday, August 08, 2014

Blood Song - Anthony Ryan

Blood Song
A Raven’s Shadow Novel
Anthony Ryan

On the first page, we meet Vaelin Al Sorna, aged thirty or so, hated enemy of the Emperor and condemned to a terrible death for his crimes.  The scribe accompanying him wants to hear the real story of the man now known as Hope Killer, and Vaelin obliges, beginning with his memory of being taken to, and left at, the gates of the Order by his father.  His father then turns away and rides off into the mist.  Vaelin is all of ten years old.  From that point on, his life, his body, and his mind are tempered by the brothers.  The Sixth Order produces warriors for the Faith.  Of course there are other boys in his group.  They room together, train together, and eat together.  They die together, too.  Or alone, depending on the circumstances.  The training is brutal; not everyone lives to see the end of it.  That is a simple and accepted fact.
The Order is all the family that brothers have.  No matter where they came from originally, they are taught that they have no father, no connection but the Order.  As time goes on, most of the brothers trade stories of their pasts.  These pasts are quite varied.  Some come from nothing, some, like Vaelin, come from nobility.  Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to the King; a fact that earns him respect and hostility in equal measure.  As he grows, he discovers certain truths about both his father and his late mother.  These truths will change him.
As much as he’s like to remain on the fringes of things and just do his duty as a brother, he is inexorably drawn into the maze of politics that stretches across the Realm and across the world.  Partly because of his name, and partly because destiny seems to have a plan for him.  In fact, he sometimes hears what he calls his ‘blood song,’ a sense that he doesn’t quite understand, but a sense that has saved him from danger and even death.   While on his physical journey through life, he’s also, almost unconsciously, making a mental journey as well.
This is a huge, epic fantasy novel for those who like their fantasy grounded in dust and blood.  (Not so much for those who like fantasy with pixies and sparkles.)  Vaelin’s world is brutal, and it breeds people who can be equally brutal.  The cast list is huge, and the author does the reader a great favor by including the “Dramatis Personae” in an appendix.  The Realm spans many countries with varied geographies and peoples.  The author manages to create each place and person in vivid detail.  Even those characters that only appear for a few pages seem absolutely realistic.
The scope of this book is huge, both geographically and story-wise.  There are countless people, each with his/her own objective.  There are factions inside faction; plots within plots inside of intrigues. Yet it seems right that everything leads Vaelin to where he should be. There are scenes of cruelty survival, battle, betrayal, wonder, friendship, savagery, and even love.  The action is intense and quite grisly.  The battle scenes felt horribly real.   The last few pages of his story made me sad as I could only be for characters that I had come to care for.  If you enjoy fantasy with an edge, Anthony Ryan is the author to read.  (Bonus: the next book, TOWER LORD, is out how in hardcover)

Rating: 9
June 2014
ISBN# 978-125-26828-5 (paperback)


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