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Book Review: Blood Song

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on June 24, 2016

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Blood Song by Anthony Ryan came out at a really awkward time, in the midst of several other “coming of age” fantasy novels that got significantly more acclaim. Mainly Patrick Rothfuss’ sumptuous The Name of the Wind. Blood Song follows a noble born boy to adulthood after he gives up his title to join a religious warrior order. We watch him progress through training, befriending the rivals that other books would have made into his enemies and also, almost accidentally, befriending the heretics who believe in the existence of gods. Most of the book can be read from the perspective of politics, warfare and the like, but there is a strong supernatural thread that actually represents the actions of the story’s antagonist.

The framing device of the story is that the protagonist has been captured and held for many years after the events of the book by foreign enemies and is finally being transported for his trial by combat in the company of a historian who begins committing his version of events to paper. These snippets, while distracting you from the main plot, are some of my favourite parts of Blood Song., The historian has a powerful personal hatred of the hero, Vaelin, in the beginning. A hatred that gradually transforms into begrudging respect and admiration by the end.

There are many different threads that this book tries to follow and they end up in a bit of a tangle.

There is magic in this world, unique gifts that certain people are born with. These have become associated with fringe religions as the Faith of the Northern Kingdoms considers every one of them to be an abomination. Causing no small measure of distress to Vaelin and several of his cohorts as they gradually realise that they are in possession of magical gifts of their own that must be kept hidden at all cost. The titular Blood Song is Vaelin’s gift, an ability to follow the flows of fate and predict future events as they happen.

He is part of a religious order that forbids romantic involvement but he becomes infatuated with a woman in one of the Faith’s orders of healers and they later fall into a relationship when they are out on campaign.

The Faith practice a form of ancestor worship, believing that the dead can contact them from beyond the grave, this forms a portion of the supernatural conflict as this belief is proven horribly true. The dead can speak to the living and are for the most part malevolent. Whenever someone comes close to death it provides an opening for these conversations and frequently the dead masquerade as gods to provoke the living into violence.

Vaelin matching wits with the political machinations of the King and his daughter, who was once intended to be his bride before he renounced his birth-right, dealing with plots and rebellions at home before they can commit to a war abroad forms another strong component.

His training with his fellow brothers in arms creates a delightful military fantasy. We watch him raise his own legion to go and fight abroad, picking up characters from throughout his childhood to assist him.

A combination of one or two of these elements would have made for a fantastic book but as it is, Blood Song is too cluttered. I found myself wishing that the story would give focus to one or two elements and fully develop them rather than jumping onto the next tangent. I enjoyed Blood Song, and it is clearly intended to be the starting point of a series that will no doubt weave a wonderful tapestry with all of these loose threads but as I have said before and I will say again: a book has to stand alone on its own merits. 

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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