Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review - Blood Song

Book one of the Raven's Shadow; Blood Song - Anthony Ryan

This book won many fantasy readers debut novel of the year award last year. As soon as I heard the buzz around Anthony Ryan when he first came on the scene, I began following his blog. The guy seems extremely nice and is basically living the life I want to be living in terms of his success story with writing.  To say I was looking forward to this novel was an understatement.
The blurb:
Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

Vaelin's father was Battle Lord of the Empire of King Janus. Vaelin's rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He has little memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the Empire, but the world.
Some books have an amazing opening chapter, others are slow to get going but turn out to be awesome and there are even those that start mediocre and never recover. Anthony Ryan falls into the rare category of those authors who as soon as you read the first few pages you know instantly that you are going to click with the author and love their book. I can’t explain what this feeling is. I had it when I read GRRM, Hobb and Gemmell. Something in the prose just resonates with you and gives you a tingle.
I got this feeling straight away when I began reading Blood Song and it stayed with me throughout.
Vaelin is a great protagonist. He has the renowned status of Gemmel’s Druss the legend, the conviction and honesty of Hobb’s Fitz and the innocent and likeability of Rowling’s Harry Potter. The great thing is Anthony Ryan achieves this with his main character without even trying. Vaelin just is who he is. Throughout the novel there are echoes of similarities to the characters mentioned above but it never feels like they are being copied. Instead, it feels like Vaelin was the original character and all the others spawned from him.
Every decision he makes is a sensible one. There is never a point where as a reader you think, “why the hell is he doing that?” And it is this that makes the reader really identify with the character. It also allows Vaelin to transform from the innocent boy dropped off at the Order to the feared legend he becomes effortlessly. The transition is so smooth, that towards the end of the book, you stop and question how it all got to this stage. The answer is that is the book is just that good.
As with all books, the supporting cast has to be great. In Blood Song, this is the case. Every character breathes life on the page. They all have their own history that is integrated into the tale without feeling forced. They all evolve as the story progresses, yet evolve in a logical way. Many retain an element of mystery to them and Ryan strikes the balance between revealing enough about them to keep them interesting and revealing too much.
Frentis, Caenis, Sollis and Sherrin were particular favourites but there was not one character I found boring and that includes the dogs and horses!
The world is well established whilst being simple. The various factions are well explained and the political intrigue provides an understanding from all points of views. (On a personal note I am slightly gutted that it is eerily similar to the set up of the world in my novel but hey what can you do?) On many occasions Vaelin finds himself fighting on the wrong side and knows it. It is a refreshing perspective to read about and works well.
The plot itself unfolds effortlessly. The story follows Vaelin’s early life and whilst the tale feels epic in the events that happen, you still get the sense that things are just beginning. There is a mystery of sorts throughout, and Ryan does a good job of drip feeding the information. If I’m honest I pretty much guessed straightaway who the antagonist was but Ryan threw enough doubt in there for me to question my suspicions, so that when the “reveal” did occur I was satisfied.
Overall, I enjoyed Blood Song immensely. Ryan self-published the novel and has now been snapped up by a publisher. It is of course well deserved, but unfortunately it means we have to wait a little longer for the second instalment.
My rating: 9.5

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