Thursday, December 10, 2015

Blood Song Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Anthony Ryan
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: A Raven's Shadow Book One
Pages: 575

Buy on Amazon!

Anthony Ryan’s debut novel Blood Song is impressive. Following the adventures of a boy who grows into a man under the tutelage of a religious order that’s reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition provides a lot of interesting opportunities to explore religion and growing up. At the same time, it feels like the novel doesn’t really explore some of the more controversial aspects of these ideas.

There is a potential for this story to go in a less traditional route, but at the end it really just stuck to the basics. The novel’s major character Vaelin al Sorna and some of the accompanying secondary characters are developed pretty well but there aren’t any real standouts.  What you have here is a well written book – impressive as a debut for sure – but it needs a little something extra to place it as a top tier fantasy novel.

After the death of his loving mother, Vaelin al Sorna a young boy not yet a man is taken to the Sixth Order where he is to be trained in the art of combat.  He must forsake his family, his loves, and his friends. All there is, is the Order.

As Vaelin grows up he learns about his father’s service to King Janus as Battle Lord and his mother’s past is not what he thought it was either. Vaelin is soon drawn into the conflict between the state and his religious order as well conflicts within his own personal life.

Blood Song bares a striking resemblance to Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles since both stories contain a similar structure: story within a story. Vaelin al Sorna, begins telling his life story to a chronicler, much like Rothfuss’ Kvothe begins telling his life story to the character, Chronicler. The major difference in the structure is The Kingkiller Chronicles uses a third person narration for Kvothe and Chronicler in the present tense, while using first person for Kvothe to tell his story in the past.  In Blood Song the chronicler, who’s name is Lord Verniers, narrates in first person in the present, while Vaelin tells his story in the past in third person.

Of the two styles I found liked Rothfuss’ better.  He allows his readers to keep guessing about what his narrator is potentially lying about.  That’s not to say Ryan’s style is ineffective. In Blood Song, readers will know exactly what Vaelin is lying about when certain parts of his third person narration don’t match up with Vernier’s first person narration. While it’s necessary for Ryan to establish embellishments on the truth in order for the plot to make sense, this is one example of how Ryan keeps the storytelling fairly traditional.

Blood Song has the potential to explore religion and faith’s impact on the psyche of a young man coming of age.  Sadly there’s not a lot of internal exploration there for Vaelin al Sorna, nor is there a lot of deep discussion about it amongst his friends, teachers, and allies. With religion playing such a large part in the shaping of the plot, I was hoping the subject would be explored more, but I got the feeling that Ryan didn’t really want to step on too many toes.  Religion can be a sensitive subject, but a lot of fantasy authors have managed to broach the subject, whether it’s been arguing for religion like in Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy, or against it like in Pullman’s Dark Materials. These authors have managed to write controversial books but still tell great stories.

One of the strongest points in Blood Song is the actual blood song, which is used as the story’s magical centerpiece.  Vaelin’s blood song basically allows him to hear voices in his head, occasionally sees a mysterious wolf, and have strange dreams where he discusses his true self with an unknown woman.  What makes this compelling is that the author treats the blood song as something that’s ambiguous.  Is the blood song helpful? Is Vaelin going crazy? Is the blood song manipulating Vaelin to serve an evil purpose? The reader is never given an answer.

Politics don’t enter the story until later, but when it does, it adds an extra complexion to what was pretty much a straight-forward coming of age story.  The Order is keeping secrets from the rest of its members, and it too has its own goals especially when it comes to seeking out prophecies. The greedy King Janus and his daughter Myrna are not part of the Order and they each have differing political aspirations that not only conflict with the Order but with each other.  These characters and/or institutions all wish to use Vaelin to further their own ends.

By the end of Vaelin al Sorna’s story there are plenty of questions, yet at the same time a lot of the novel’s plots are resolved.  There’s certainly enough interest developed where I will be looking into reading the sequel.  Fans of Patrick Rothfuss who are still waiting for the third book, might find a temporary reprieve from the endless wait in Blood Song.

Score: 8.2

No comments:

Post a Comment