Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
The debut Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, first book of the Raven’s Shadow series, is a success similar to Michael J. Sullivan‘s in that the book had been self-published before being taken up by a publisher. Such practice speaks for the book itself, because it wouldn’t have been picked up if the publisher saw no merit in that decision. I think the publisher made the right decision in placing that series into bookstores and the likes.
Let me first tell you about the main criticism that’s thrown at Blood Song: The book is full of tropes and clichés. I read that very often and I won’t deny this criticism. Yes, it has tropes and clichés, a couple of them, in fact. If you’ve read fantasy, you’ll have come across many of the core plot structures of Blood Song. But it doesn’t matter. This book is a prime example in showing readers and aspiring writers that execution trumps ideas and plot. Because this book is a blast to read and won’t bore you for a single moment.
So why the criticism? Because so many plot points are common in the fantasy genre. Young boy gets into a prestigious order and learns how to fight in gruesome training. Young boy finds out he has a gift that’s shunned and even persecuted in his kingdom. Young boy becomes the most skilled swordsmen ever and leads his friends and other men into war as a masterful strategist. Young boy makes powerful enemies. Just to name some easy to recognize tropes without taking anything away you can have the joy to explore yourself.
One reason why I liked it so much is because it has long training sequences where we follow the main character for years as he’s trained into one of the most deadly warriors ever. I enjoy reading training sequences and following the main character from the very beginning, so I might be a little biased. I think that Blood Song has one of the most interesting training sequences and that’s not just because I like such plotlines. Vaelin Al Sorna is simply a character you can root for. He’s the prime example for a likeable character, a young man you can lose yourself in; strong, skilled, intelligent and charismatic without behaving aloof. Abandoned by his father at the gate to the Sixth Order, he’s forced to adapt to his new and harsh surroundings. The Sixth Order isn’t soft with its recruits and Vealin will have to fight through gruesome tests to find his own place amongst the brothers of the Sixth Order.
Following Vaelin (nearly the only narrator) through the ordeals in the order and later when King Janus tries to use the only son of the Battle Lord for his own gains is satisfying. Vaelin makes intelligent decisions and has a knack for leading men in war. He’s a thinker gifted with many skills and abilities and from the start it’s obvious that he’s destined for more. Even if we hadn’t the intermissions from the POV of a scholar which tells us a lot about where the story is going, as these intermissions are Vaelin telling the scholar part of his life’s story while imprisoned.
While the setting is nothing new overall, Ryan does a good job conveying a realistic and vast world that holds many things for Vaelin to discover. One interesting part is the Order system of the Unified Realm. Each order has its own specific task, with the Sixth being the one to train men of battle. Interesting is the stance of the religions, which war with atheism and splinter fractions. The whole world is a whirlwind of conquerors and conquered and Vaelin wades through the currents.
But underlying, there’s more and when Vaelin is forced to save one of his brother’s from the clutches of an as invincible decried bandit chief, the world takes a turn for the worse and he makes a powerful enemy. The forbidden arts of magic, of which Vaelin’s Blood Song is part, might play a much larger role than the Order wants.
A minor annoyance is sadly that the kindle version has more errors than is acceptable. A better proofread would have been desirable. Nothing major, but jarring at times nonetheless.
Concluding: It’s a powerful debut somewhat rightfully labeled as clichéd and trope-y, but with an execution that makes this an easy recommendation from me. If you like epic fantasy with multilayered protagonists, following the main character from young years, and training sequences, this is definitely a book for you. I can only urge everyone else on to take this book up, as it’s without a doubt one of a better fantasy books of the last years.