Vaelin Al Sorna's life changes for ever the day his father abandons him at the gates of the Sixth Order, a secretive military arm of the Faith. Together with his fellow initiates, Vaelin undertakes a brutal training regime - where the price of failure is often death. Under the tutelage of the Order's masters, he leans how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly.
Now his new skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin is the Sixth Order's deadliest weapon and the Realm's only hope. He must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning id he is to survive the coming conflict.
Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.
One of the big releases that was planned for this year was Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, and new, fresh talent in the world of epic fantasy. Blood Song is the first volume in the Raven's Shadow series with Tower Lord the sequel planned to be released summer next year. Blood Song started off as an self published book but right have been bought by Orbit and Ace. Prior to starting to write full time Anthony Ryan worked in a variety of roles for the UK government. He writes fantasy, science fiction and non-fiction.
The first thing that fall to notice is the introduction of Blood Song, it starts of in a most interesting way with the "Verniers Account". This first introduction explains some facts about the main protagonist, Vaelin al Sorna. Who is captured and awaiting a trial. These facts are all being told from the perspective of the scribe Verniers Alishe Someren. Showing the story in this waty produced a strong narrative from the first go, it readily gives this Epic sense to the story. When you see Verniers talking to Vaelin several subject are being mentioned but what, how and when it all came to pass remain obscure until the story shifts its focus on Vaelin. What you do learn from the start is that Vaelin is a criminal or at least that it is imposed on him, Vaelin has quite the reputation and goes by many names, the most important one is: Hope Killer. Blood Song is divided into five parts and each of these parts gives a "Verniers Account" where you have the change of perspective, this adds a great flavor overall to the book, and sometimes the small recaptures, or looking to future events be it small or large rekindles the flame of the storyline. With only the first introduction Anthony Ryan had gotten me hooked to his story, it had really set the mood straight for me. There are so many question raised by just this part that I was eager to find out the answers to them.
Like I mentioned above the first focus is on Vernier and in the introducing chapter of the different parts of the book you do see him converse with Vaelin, but after these accounts the story switches back to Vaelin himself and tells the story of how everything came to pass. Don’t just think this is a short flashback to just the events that led to the capture/arrest of Vaelin, no it’s very detailed in terms that Anthony Ryan goes back as far as when Vaelin was dropped on the steps of the Sixth Order as a young boy. Vaelin was dropped off by his father at a young age at the Sixth Order of the Faith an military order tasked with protecting The Faith. Choosing this way to expose the whole storyline added a lot of depth to Blood Song as there are many references later on that refer to events that transpired early on. But this also gave a great introduction into the dynamics of the world with the different Order’s what they do and the different characters. On top of it you really see how Vaelin’s character is made and shaped by the harsh tests of the Sixth Order and the King’s Court. In the lines of Epic Fantasy with the emphasis on the coming-of-age of Vaelin this book is just amazing.
Vaelin himself is a solid protagonist; when you see him first he is harsh, confident and skeptic. But when you see him in his younger years he doesn’t have much of the above mentioned traits. Vaelin’s father had a famous reputation and the it does seem to overshadow Vaelin on many levels, when he is conversing with the King or other characters the references to his father keep on popping up and on some level also causes Vaelin a few troubles. Being part of the Sixth Order, Vaelin has to abandon the links to his family and with some pressure off of his shoulders, his character now truly becomes quite solid in the storyline. On top of this what really made Vaelin’s character grew up in Blood Song were the individual tests to which Vaelin was subjected to, like the Test of the Wild, Test of the Bow and Test of the Sword. These individual tests ranged from surviving in the woods to the final trial of a 3 against 1 sword match. In relation to the whole backdrop of Blood Song these Test aren’t just show and tell, straight to the point, they have a lot of information that is used to create a rich story but also information that is crucial later on. Like in the Test of the Wild and the encounter with Sella, this might have seemed to be over to soon but the information provided raised a few questions and luckily to my pleasure this was followed up later one. But just getting back to Vaelin. His character is just super; strong, determined, calculated and deadly. By saying this he might seem perfect, but he is far from it, Vaelin faces a lot of tough choices as the story progresses and not always makes the better call… on top if this all, he finds himself also in a tight weaving of the King’s court and doesn’t at all lessen his problems.
Next to Vaelin there are other numerous secondary characters. The first being his friends that he makes at the Sixth Order and go through the same ordeal as Vaelin with the different tests. Now I really liked how Anthony had created a diverse set of friends for Vaelin with each excelling in different fields and having different thoughts and motivations. And even though the focus is on Vaelin himself, there is still enough time invested in showing his friends to make them well rounded characters and not just simple additions to the story. Next to the friends of Vaelin, there are also several masters and the Aspect (leader) of the Sixth Order that do take a bit more to the background of it all but when they do appear their characterization is just as solid and very important. One thing that nicely broadened the whole perspective of Blood Song was that Anthony Ryan showed also different Orders and the Aspects and other important characters of them. Like when Vaelin is on his “internship” at the Fifth Order, he gets to learn their Aspect as well, and leads to an interesting turn of events. I already briefly mentioned on important encounter above, Sella, now her character and what she can do is cool and shows a completely different thing. She has the Dark or also referred to as Gift. She initially comes over as quite fragile but on the whole she is more than confident and determined and hope to see more of her and what she can do.
Another part where Blood Song readily draws a major strength from is how the storyline and pacing is build up. The story starts of a bit on the slow side but not meant in a negative way, instead it really shows how detailed the world in itself is. Anthony Ryan takes his time to get down to the details of what makes the world go round. Take for example the younger years of Vaelin in the first part really gave a clear insight into everything. The second part and onwards throw a lot more pacing in to the story and Anthony Ryan shows how to take his story further as you on one part start to make connections and on the other hand you as a reader never seem to have learned everything just yet. Though it might have been a bit of slow start, once you are into the story of Blood Song, it hard to get out of, and despite it being quite a tome clocking in at 592 pages, it doesn’t feel like that many at all. On top of this once you have finished Blood Song you will wish it was longer!
Blood Song has a lot of cool good stuff in the story. From sword fights, the individual tests, large and small scale battles, political intrigue and a lot more. It also has one thing that remains largely in the background as it is something not spoken of and often times feared. The “Dark” or also known as Gift (a bit like magic). Like I mentioned above, Vaelin meets a stranger, Sella who is said to have the Dark and you shouldn’t let her touch you. Now there are plenty of references early on that The Orders of The Faith see the people who have Dark abilities as heretics and plan to hunt them down. But you don’t really get this well established reasoning behind it, this is only revealed much later on and the showcase of this in the woods and how it bolsters the already intricate plot line of Blood Song was carefully constructed. All through the book this was lingering in the back of my mind, what the significance could be and how it would play out in the end. And yes again an a top of it: Vaelin learns that he is carrying a special gift himself! It is very cool how Anthony Ryan realized the magic in Blood Song.
As you can make out from the test above: Blood Song is an read of epic proportions, it’s incredible and when looking back on the whole Blood Song went above my expectations 10fold. It’s a winner. The level of detail that Anthony Ryan includes in Blood Song is almost unheard off and even though the book counts quite a few pages there aren’t any moments that drag at all, writing such a big book can sometimes break it, but this isn’t the case at all for Blood Song as Anthony Ryan keeps on revealing more and more of the world and ready takes storyline further after each page, taken together with the narration of the scribe Vernier makes it only that more interesting. The main protagonist Vaelin shows all the virtues of a great main protagonist but isn’t without some flaws, being overshadowed by the past of his father, navigating through a web of politics and even having to fend off his own demons; he is a solid entry. The secondary cast, though taking roles on the background, still feel fleshed out in quite the detail. Blood Song has a lot of good stuff working in it’s advantage and if you know what’s good for you, you will be picking up Blood Song soon. The sequel: Tower Lord is planned to be released 2014.