Fantasy Review: ‘Blood Song’ by Anthony Ryan

I don’t know enough about Anthony Ryan to accuse him of being Nickleback of fantasy lit, Blood Song (Raven's Shadow, #1)but he certainly seems to have crafted a book designed to sell.  Nearly invincible protagonist humbly telling his story, long training sequence, love interest who holds her own.  And in fantasy literature, taken as an escape, I fail to see anything wrong with this.  New ground is not broken, deep thoughts are not explored, but a very entertaining story is told by a guy who knows how to write.  There will be detractors; I have seen ‘generic’ thrown out a few times, but for the average fantasy consumer?  I can see how this book has taken the scene by storm.

Told mostly in the third person for most the story the book never less has a cool little hook in its  chapter lead ins; a chronicler who once wrote a history of the protagonist is learning how he got it wrong from the man himself.  Hints that the scribe is not getting the same story we are gives a taste of the unreliable narrator but for those readers who hate being lied to the bulk of the story is told more traditionally. 

Like many good series openers this is a book with two stories going.  One is the story of Vaelin Al Sorna, a young noble dropped off by his father to instead train with a group of…I dunno, let’s call them warrior monks.  We watch his training, his growth, and eventually, the making of his legend (this is not a spoiler, we know we are dealing with a legend from the opening passage).  So Blood Song is the tale of how a legend became a legend.  Yet it is also planting seeds for a larger story, a story that will require a legend to reach its conclusion.  Clever, no?

Readers picking up Blood Song can expect a long training sequence.  These are hit or miss depending on how they are handled but I felt this one worked pretty well.  I appreciate the tough teaching that didn’t turn to near torture (hello Emperor’s Blades).  I also appreciate that the teachers were tough but there wasn’t that typical evil antagonist; some were tougher than others and maybe even unfair at times, but never do we have a Snape like figure that I have seen kill more mature books.   Schooling that is so much better than any else out there is a bit silly, Vaelin and his cohorts are basically invincible by the time they are done, but that is just the kind of story this is. Love it or leave it.

This book was fairly long so I would hate to lobby for more length but the second half of Vaelin’s story was a bit rushed compared to the first.  We linger on every aspect of his training and camaraderie with his ‘brothers,’ but once we get into his actual deeds we rush from one end of the map to another.  By the time we get to a betrayal I had really lost track of which fellow soldier was which and found it didn’t really affect the story enough to go back and figure it out.  This story revolved around Vaelin so much I realized at the end that almost no other character (outside of the king) important enough to this story that they couldn’t be replaced or left out.

There is a big however coming though.  For all of its fairly generic nature, and despite some criticism that I don’t think I made unfairly, I can’t think of a more readable book I have come across lately.  I hated to put it down, chewed it up in huge chunks, and forced myself to stay up late to finish it.  For every thing I saw coming there was a small twist that stood out.  This is a good book, a great story, and a series I will eagerly devour.  I put this in a little personal category with Sanderson and Rothfuss; I can see the flaws and would probably never place it in a list of my favorites, but I am highly appreciative of what Ryan has done here.

4 Stars

PS.  This is another example of an author going from self-published to a big publisher.  And another example of someone from Fantasy Review Barn reading it before it happened.  Pauline posted her review on her own site originally, but you can find it here as well.