Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Blood Song

I've had my eye on Anthony Ryan's Blood Song ever since my interview with Michael J. Sullivan.  Blood Song was a book that Sullivan singled out as a recent great read. His words about it, and further research were enough to convince me to give this book a read.

At the age of 10, Vaelin al Sorna's father leaves him at the gates of the 6th Order, a militant religious group devoted to the arts of war.  Over the course of the next few years Vaelin is trained, hardened, and tested repeatedly in the various skills required of any great warrior: the sword, bow, horseback riding, tracking, wilderness survival, and more.   During that time Vaelin learns to put his past behind him, embrace the faith, and look to his fellow brothers of the 6th Order as his only family.

However, the past has this bad habit of popping back up from time to time and there are people, powerful people, who are unwilling to forget just whose son Vaelin al Sorna was before joining the 6th Order.  Before too long, Vaelin finds himself ensnared in the struggles of the great and mighty.  Struggles that will not only test Vaelin's skills, but also his faith.

Blood Song is one of those books that reminded me of some other fantasy works I'd read, but at the same time, managed to stand on it's own as a fantasy novel that is different enough stand out from the crowd.  Ryan is a writer that does no hand-holding for the reader, and instead drops them right into his world mid-stream.  From the opening, Vaelin has been captured by the Alpiran Empire, a land mass that barely makes it onto the map that's provided, but we don't know how, or why.

While captured, Vaelin tells the tale of his life, which reminded me a bit of The Kingkiller Chronicles, a story of which his training with the 6th Order was a big chunk of.  The tales of his training again was reminiscent of The Kingkiller Chronicles and Harry Potter, yet still different enough to be interesting. The biggest difference being that Ryan doesn't linger on the "schooling" aspect.  The ensuing ten years of Vaelin's life unfold over the course of about half the book.

Ryan uses this portion of the book to show the reader pieces of the world, the various politics at play, how many of the various faiths throughout the land work, who many of the players are, and how all these things work (or don't work) together.  I'm definitely a fan of this show - don't tell approach, and it works particularly well here as it made me want to keep reading the book and learn more about the characters and the world they inhabit.

With the exception of a few short sections where events are seen through the eyes of the chronicler, Blood Song is seen wholly through the eyes of Vaelin.  I liked that Ryan limited the POV shifting and instead focused on Vaelin and the events that he is part of.  The success of having a limited POV is based a lot on having a character that is interesting enough to be around for the course of the book.  That's definitely the case here as Vaelin is a character I greatly enjoyed.  He's a guy I could relate to in some ways, didn't like in others, and when he got thrust into interesting situations he kept me incredibly entertained.  Add to that the fact that there many of the situations Vaelin found himself in were incredibly tight spots with no clear "right" way to do things and you have a recipe for success.

I wouldn't say that Blood Song is a fast paced book, but it is deliberately paced, and has an incredibly interesting plot which I found quite addictive.  Ryan also mixes in some great action and adventure.  These scenes are definitely the star of the book as they are vivid, tense and insanely entertaining.  Again, I was happily reminded of other works of fantasy as Ryan's tight pacing and vivid description of the action sequences was reminiscent of Steven Erikson.

By the time I had worked my way through Blood Song I was quite taken with the characters, and the world.  If I had my druthers, there'd be more time spent with the female characters as they were quite interesting, and well written, just in too small of doses.  I definitely have high hopes for the rest of this series given that the opener was so strong.  Blood Song isn't available in print until July, but it is available for your fancy e-reading device, which is way better than having to wait.  Strongly recommended.

Grade: B+


Mihir said...

I'm glad you reviewed this debut Ryan, I for one am completely enthralled by the story even though it has some stereotypical fantasy elements. I think the author's execution and his intelligent handling of the story makes his such a strong debut story.

I'm hoping it catches more readers when it gets a wider re-release next June from Penguin.

Ryan said...

Well said Mihir. I think Blood Song deserves to be one of the big releases for 2013.

Essord said...

Good review. Telling sufficient without giving the story away too much and giving some insightful analysis. It has at least peaked my interest for a possible read. I will keep an eye out for the book release as I'm not an e-book reader.

Ryan said...

Thank you Essord. You should definitely look into reading BLOOD SONG. Check out Fantasy Book Critic's review as well, that helped spur my own interest in the title.