Blood Song

Seems like forever ago that we had someone comment on the site that we should check out this series. (Bonus points to anyone that knows where that suggestion is located…) So it’s been sitting at the back of my head ever since then, just worrying away at my sanity, while I watched my TBR pile ebb and flow. In fact, I’d all but forgotten about it when I came across an available audio book copy at my local library. Public Libraries ftw yet again.

BLOOD SONG is the first book in the Raven’s Shadow series by Anthony Ryan and looks to have been his first traditionally published fantasy novel. Being at the back end of this read and noting that fact made me pretty impressed indeed. Because the story doesn’t exactly read like someone’s first published novel and this makes me realize that I’ve likely been missing out by not getting to this book, and this author, until now.

Vaelin Al Sorna is a Brother of the Sixth Order, one of the relatively few groups of people trained to provide a service to the realm and their king. Those within the Sixth Order are trained to be ready for battle, to defend the faith of the realm, and to defend those within it. Vaelin was left with the brothers of the Sixth Order when he was still quite young, after his father gave him away rather than deal with him after the death of Vaelin’s mother. This is a fact that grates on Vaelin and drives him to become one of the best that the Order has ever seen.

The story is told within the frame of Vaelin as an adult, now known as the Hope-Killer, as he is transported by boat to another realm to fight a duel to the death. It is fully expected that this fight will end in Vaelin’s death, and as he travels toward his doom, we learn about the events that have led him to this point, from the time that he was left at the door of the Sixth Order until now.

It’s always nice to find an author that can string words together well enough that I can forget about the fact that I’m reading a book and just enjoy the story. Mr. Ryan does a great job of pulling us into his world, filling it with breadth and depth and color that a fully defined world needs. There’s space built into nearly every aspect of the world. From its peoples to its places to its history, everything is laid out and built with a fine touch.

Characters are well-wrought and well-defined. Vaelin grows up surrounded by boys of his age that are all learning and training the same as him. They grow to have a true bond of brotherhood and connectedness that I love to see in stories. The bonding of people in a group as they struggle and learn brings a level of commitment and loyalty that comes out in every aspect of who they are.

The magical element in the story, the eponymous Blood Song, only ever plays a minor role in what happens. An important role to be sure, as Vaelin’s access to this magical source leads him to make several decisions that might have otherwise turned out poorly for him. It also leads to him being protected on occasion by a Wolf. However, it’s nothing so in-your-face or ostentatious as you’ll typically find in other fantasy stories. So it’s more like Song of Ice and Fire in that regard, than say, Wheel of Time.

Although I do tend to enjoy stories that are more magical (or at the very least speculative) in nature, I don’t know that my overall opinion of the book fell at all because of what was or was not in this one. The big piece of the story that colored my final opinion was how much “concentrated” story was to be found in it. I don’t come across books like this very often, where so much of the story seems even-keel and ultimately mundane, but they do come along every once in a while. Where even though everything is happening in a new and fascinating world with interesting characters, there’s a lot of story that is very “everyday” to the character of interest, and I end up losing a lot of my excitement about it. Now, when things of note do happen… I mean, this guy really knocks it out of the park. Super good. Loved those moments. It’s just that they end up being so relatively few and far between, and the story is such a big one, that I really didn’t end up getting overly excited about it.

Apparently the author is in the middle of writing a follow-up trilogy to the one that begins with this book and continues the story of Vaelin. I definitely think that his is a story that I’ll continue with, but not necessarily something that I’m going to rush out and buy them all. Yeah? Good solid story that, I think, lots of people will enjoy. Especially those with a love of well-crafted, well-wrought stories that take their time and savor every last step along the way.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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