Blood Song

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Raven’s Shadow #1

Subgenre: Epic High Fantasy

Our regular readers will remember when about a month ago SP unexpectedly went dark thanks to real life rogues making off with a pair of laptops. So, in the midst of talking to insurance companies, rolling bank account numbers, and shopping around for replacement laptops (which was totally not fun), Kent and I stopped in at a local book store for some retail therapy. Now, I not only get a lot of reading material through NetGalley but I also work at a large public library. Bookstores are somewhat foreign places to me these days. So when I sat down to figure out what book was going to come home with me I said that a) it must be something I hadn’t read yet (Fool’s Assassin removed from options), b) it must be as much page weight for my money as possible (several standard length novels removed from options). After looking around for literally the biggest, fattest doorstopper released in the last six months I found an answer: Anthony Ryan’s Tower Lord. Which necessitated buying Blood Song, as I hadn’t read that yet. (Aw shucks!) After finishing up Blood Song, I knew I had made the right choice.

“The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm.”

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 to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. 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 cherishes the 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 realm, but the world.

The Speculative Post's Review

Setting

Characters

Plot

Writing Mechanics

Genre

Just so you know, if you ever have your house broken into, the book you choose to distract yourself from life and de-stress with will need to be one of two things (if not both): light and fluffy, or deeply engrossing. I’m not sure light and fluffy would have worked for me, but Blood Song was certainly engrossing in its grittiness. I think it’s a testament to how good this book really is that I fell in love with it in the middle of sleepless nights, stressed out days, and general turmoil.

Blood Song is Anthony Ryan’s debut novel (excepting the work he self-published on Smashwords), and there are veteran writers who would be proud to claim this book. Vaelin is our narrator and protagonist, and it was wonderful to find that Ryan, while making him a leader, hasn’t made an overpowered character that a power gamer would build for a D&D dungeon crawl. He’s not the best at several fighting styles of the Sixth Order, but what he does excel in is charisma and tactics. He understands his fighting brothers, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to use those individual pieces to create a single, impressive whole team. I loved this. We’re so used to, as readers of epic fantasy, either characters who are shining, glorious stars who cannot help but be noticeable because they have no equals, or characters so nasty and so evil that we cannot look away. While Vaelin does stand out amongst his peers, they all stand out as well in their own ways. In fact, Blood Song is an exceptional party book, even though the focus of the book stays squarely with Vaelin.

I also very much enjoyed Blood Song’s setting in a monastic order. However, do not think that this is an order where those who don’t fit are simply shown the door. Ryan, and Vaelin, make no bones that what the Sixth Order does to its novices is nothing short of abuse. (Note: if reading about children being in unnecessary life and death circumstances or liberal use of corporal punishment makes you squeamish, stay far far away from this book.) Novices either exceed and meet excruciatingly high standards, a few wash out, and a few die completing dangerous trials. The Sixth Order is a militant one, and all of their Faith is focused towards one end: being death dealing machines. Nothing more. If you’ve read a lot of books about fighters become knights and so forth… you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Sixth Order makes those knights look like pansies.

The monastic setting is, in some ways, Blood Song’s largest weakness. The book opens when Vaelin is ten and enters the Order. It ends when he’s in his early twenties, so the bulk of this book is about Vaelin’s training. It’s deeply focused inward at the Sixth Order and the building of Vaelin’s team of allies, and only moves outward to look at the Realm at large in the last portion of the book. Think of Blood Song as the building of a hero through the making of his first major legend. It means that the first section of the book is somewhat slow, and again, if you don’t like training books this might hit a sour note for you. However, Ryan is good enough at characterization and worldbuilding that I wasn’t tempted to walk away. I was learning things about Vaelin and his world slowly but surely, and that info was paced well enough that I was never bored.

At the end, this is a strong beginning to what promises to be a solid epic fantasy by an author who will likely go very far in the field. If you love Robin Hobb, Sherwood Smith’s Inda series, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, or Patrick Rothfuss, may I introduce you to a new friend, Anthony Ryan?

Tower Lord

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Raven’s Shadow #2

Subgenre: Epic High Fantasy

When Blood Song survived being read in not terribly book-friendly times, I immediately dove into Tower Lord and found myself absorbed. Where Blood Song was full of promise, Tower Lord managed to be one of those few second books where not only is the promise of the first fulfilled, but the ante is upped.

“The blood-song rose with an unexpected tune, a warm hum mingling recognition with an impression of safety. He had a sense it was welcoming him home.”

Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’s vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more.

Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm. But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’s wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do.

The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.

The Speculative Post's Review

Setting

Characters

Plot

Writing Mechanics

Genre

There are a few major shifts in Tower Lord. First, Ryan has moved from having one point-of-view character to several. There’s some good reason for this (spoilers follow for those who haven’t read Blood Song. First, Vaelin’s been out of the Realm for five years, and hasn’t had much chance to keep up with all the latest news. Second, events start rolling as soon as Vaelin starts to return to the Realm and move so fast that were we only relying on his narration, we’d never know what was going on.

Last week I complained bitterly about Kameron Hurley’s inability to successfully juggle all the points of view she used in Mirror Empire. Here’s an example of how to do it right. Tower Lord flits back and forth between genders, age ranges, cultures, magic users, and mundanes. All point-of-view characters are fully fleshed out, have a substantial and meaningful background in their world that applies to the plot, and when they make decisions that are out of character it is because they literally have no choice to do anything else and that fact has been made very clear by Ryan. There’s no feeling of sloppiness to these point-of-view changes. They are masterfully done, and the fact that this is Ryan’s second book (excepting his self-published work) and that his first book did not have multiple points of view is astounding. Ryan’s work doesn’t feel like he’s a new author at all, but someone who’s been in the game for a number of years and has worked out all the kinks in his writing.

Where Blood Song took place within a religious Order, Tower Lord takes place exclusively outside of that Order. Vaelin has turned his eye on more mundane life and takes up a post in the northern reaches of the Realm. Brother Frentis, a major character from Blood Song has also been out of the Realm and is on his way back home. Our two female point-of-view characters, Princess Lyrna and Reva, have nothing to do with the Sixth Order or any of the other Orders. This really changes the flavor and the dynamic of the book.

You might guess that the plot changes focus as well, and you’d be right. Blood Song is tightly focused on Vaelin, so you only get peeks at what’s to come. In Tower Lord we’ve moved to a worldwide conflict that promises to get bigger in the third installment. That kind of shift can be jarring, but Ryan gave us enough breadcrumbs in Blood Song that I wasn’t surprised by this shift. It was well supported, and well executed.

My one complaint? It ended too soon. Keep in mind, this is a 500+ page doorstopper I picked up because it was so enormous. Now I have to wait until next year when the third book comes out.



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