“The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners.”
Vaelin Al Sorna’s life changes for ever the day his father abandons him at the gates of the Sixth Order, a secretive military arm of the Faith. Together with his fellow initiates, Vaelin undertakes a brutal training regime – where the price of failure is often death. Under the tutelage of the Order’s masters, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly.
now his new skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin is the Sixth Order’s deadleist weapon and the Realm’s only hope. He must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict.
Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.
I can’t explain what it is that I love so much about coming-of-age stories. Growing up with a character, gaining friends, experience and scars – it’s amazing to see someone grow. That’s why I loved John Flanagan’s The Ranger’s Apprentice series, and it’s exactly the same reason I picked Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song from the shelves. (That, and my writer’s voice kept telling me to read some fantasy tales because that’s what I’m writing. Nothing beats researching through a hobby!) Also, one does not simply say no to that cover.
I just finished the sizeable book half an hour ago. It’s been many hours of sneaking pages during breakfast. Now here’s an honest review on a great book that I truly recommend.
Naturally, I did my research before picking up the book. The ratings on Goodreads were great, and I was ever more curious to discover that Anthony Ryan first published Blood Song as an indie writer. I went to the bookstore the next day and bought it, big doorstop of an epic novel.
My enthusiasm died a little at the slow start. Pages of a not-yet-relevant prologue stared up at me in blinding italicised font. A little overwhelming and I wasn’t a fan of it, but I’m glad I persisted. Unfortunately, these italicised interludes popped up several more times throughout the book, remaining my least favourite sections. That said, I appreciate their role in retrospective, the way everything neatly fell into place by the end.
But moving on – the story itself. Was. Brilliant. It was everything I set out to buy, and more. By the end, I was stunned by how… linearly complex the story turned out to be. Story arcs rose and lingered with satisfying pace. I love it when the author drops details early on that keeps me wondering, knowing it will play a bigger role later, until the moment comes in the final acts. In many instances, these revelations fall short with predictions. I was delighted to find that Ryan provided believable twists to most – not quite all, but definitely most – of these cases. Definitely made me late for uni more than once (okay, that’s partly my habit of aiming to always finish on a chapter; Blood Song had some loooooonnnggg chapters). I’m thrilled to continue the story in upcoming books of the trilogy, which can’t come out soon enough.
As in most fantasy novels, the world in Blood Song is a character in itself, supporting much of the plot with its politics and slight tinge of magic. I’ve always been bad with world-building, both writing and reading it, so I wasn’t surprised when Blood Song‘s world overwhelmed me at the start. The country in which the main character, Vaelin, lives, is comprised of four fiefdoms united under one king. Ryan built in a strong sense of history and especially religion, which is a key theme he mentions in book interviews. He did a good job pulling me into the realm, enough that I wasn’t jarred by the places I thought were a little underdeveloped.
For me, Blood Song – and most good stories – shines in characterisation. I’ve winced at books with protagonists I just didn’t like. Vaelin Al Sorna does not fall into that category. Ah, Vaelin. Naturally a splendid fighter, intelligent, says the right things at the right time, and stands firm in his beliefs. Everyone’s standard hero. But Vaelin doesn’t stop there. He’s far from perfect, his moral compass gets confused at times, he isn’t above swearing and losing his temper, and he’s always getting picked on by his temperamental war-horse. What I love most about Vaelin is that he grows and he changes. He doesn’t forget his experiences, good or bad, and he learns from them. He makes no excuses for himself. He’s a character I both love and fear, whose eyes I trusted to experience the story through. I have never trusted a character so much.
Here’s something the author had to say about Vaelin, taken from his interview with Upcoming4.me:
“There was a famous study produced by the US Department of Defence after World War II that indicated only ten percent of combat troops actively fired at the enemy, most were deliberately firing wide for the simple reason they didn’t want to kill anyone. I saw Vaelin as one of the ten percent, a group that has no compunction about taking a life in a worthwhile cause and no tendency towards post traumatic stress when the war’s over.”
Oh yeah. Vaelin Al Sorna is a badass.
It wouldn’t be fair to simply say this book had me hooked. I was there, and only the start of a new chapter could make me even think of putting it down for a break. That’s not to say it wasn’t without its faults. For one, Ryan’s grammar wasn’t always up to grade in some areas. More specifically, it felt like he had read somewhere that writers should avoid the semi-colon, and so did a find and replace search for all the semi-colons in his story, replacing them with a comma. It doesn’t impact the quality of the story at all but it did jar me from the flow at first, until I got used to it. As a whole, Ryan’s writing is not the most polished but he is nothing if not consistent. He knows his genre, did his research and it shows. Ryan’s writing has a formal tone that suits the manner in which his characters speak, that probably wouldn’t work as well elsewhere.
Reading this book taught me many things. Firstly, that writing fantasy is hard. Doing it well is a whole new level. From a writer’s perspective, I looked at Blood Song and imagined myself in Anthony Ryan’s shoes. All I saw were a mass of places where I would have gotten hopelessly stuck. I’m sure Ryan had his share of trouble, but he pulled through and we have an amazing novel to thank him for.
I picked Blood Song because I wanted to experience a fantasy story similar to my own: a journey. And some pleasant similarities I found indeed. It seems the idea of annexing nations into a larger power is a common one, as are militant backgrounds and, unsurprisingly, wars. I learned so much about brotherhood and politics. Wars especially. Gets me pumped to reflect and continue writing!
Finally, I learned to never slack off on research. It will show.
I really need to stop rambling before this poor excuse of a review puts you off a wonderful book – and I assure you, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan is a very good book. One not without its faults, but certainly one that many readers of adventure, fantasy and coming-of-age would enjoy.
Anthony Ryan has his own wordpress blog at http://anthonystuff.wordpress.com/ Be sure to drop by!