Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Series: Raven's Shadow #1
Also by this author: Tower Lord
Published by Ace, Orbit on 2012-11-20
Also in this series: Tower Lord
From “a new master storyteller” comes the beginning of an epic fantasy saga of blood, honor, and destiny... “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.
I have to confess I had a copy of Blood Song by Anthony Ryan for over a year before I finally got around to reading it. It is very much my type of book, so I had to wonder why. Really, I think the answer is simple. This book had received so much praise that I was worried my expectations were too high. On top of that, this book was originally self-published and I had to wonder if the praise was because readers had lower expectations of it. Well, now that I have read it, all I can say is:
I have drunk the Blood Song Kool-Aid and join the others in saying this book absolutely deserves the praise and high ratings based on sheer quality. It’s not hype, it’s not based on lower expectations. This book is just an amazing read whether it is self or traditionally published.
The setup of this book feels quite familiar. The story starts with Vaelin Al Sorna, a child who is destined to earn himself many names in many legends. That certainly gives potential for a reader to feel like they’ve been there before, read that book. Also gives the potential to feel like the protagonist is going to excel at everything, be one of those annoying characters that can do no wrong. But somehow I found myself fully absorbed. If there are generic elements to it (which I guess there are), I found myself just not caring, drawn from one page to another to follow the story of Vaelin, because ultimately, this is a character driven page-turner of an epic fantasy. And for the record, Vaelin is fallible and can (and does) do things wrong. He may excel in some areas, but certainly not all.
I really enjoyed the setup and political positioning of countries, people, and especially the Order in this book. The Order is a religious group based on the Faith. It has 6 branches, each with their own specialty ranging from healing to war. Vaelin is left at the doors of the Sixth Order, the Order trained in war and fighting for the Faith. He is to consider the Order his family now and sever all ties to the man who was once his father. This training is grueling and deadly, only a small percentage of the boys who enter live through the training and testing to take to the final step to become a brother. Parts of this reminded me of Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games, because these are kids and they are expected to survive and cope in an environment where they watch most of their peers dwindle away, knowing full well, they may not survive the next test themselves.
I’ve heard this referred to as the next Name of the Wind. And, true, the stories are structurally similar. Blood Song has journal passages from Verniers, who is trying to chronicle Vaelin’s life. The rest of the story is told as a flashback from Vaelin. That certainly sounds reminiscent of Name of the Wind. Pair that with a young protagonist who finds himself without his family and is destined to fulfill prophecies and earn himself a place in legends. Also sounds the same. Add to that they are both character driven page turners, yeah, I can see why people make the comparison. But honestly, I don’t care for it. I feel like these comparisons almost become superficial once you get into the books. There are differences, while Ryan’s writing is by all means excellent, I’d say Rothfuss probably has the prettier prose. I also get a much larger sense of intrigue from Blood Song. But my biggest complaint for the comparison is that I just feel the stories and characters are different and unique in their own ways and Blood Song deserves to be thought of not as ‘the next’ anything, but just as itself, Blood Song. After reading the book, I feel that is praise enough.
The book really examines blind loyalty to both faith and country. And of course, conflicts occur when one loyalty to one is in opposition to the other. Who do you serve? Your King or your Faith? And are either really what serve you or others the best?
The events in this book are a constant effect of powerful people making plays to solidify their interests, using people, armies and servants as their pieces in the game. And I am left with the feeling that this book was just the first couple of moves in a much bigger game. I can’t wait for next book to be released so I can see where it will take us next.