Review: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Orbit Books, 2013

Blood Song is a title that has been sitting in my Kindle library for quite a while now but for some reason I just hadn’t read it yet. With Orbit have re-released Blood Song this year I decided to finally give in and read it. Vaelin Al Sorna is our primary narrator for the tale in Blood Song. Given at young age by his father to a Monastic order of warrior monks (one of Six Orders) Vaelin rises through their ranks, acquiring a handful of companions: human, canine, and equine. Vaelin eventually comes to the attention of the King and is drawn into the world of politics, his father was the King’s most trusted General, and becomes embroiled in the King’s plans for economic conquest. Meanwhile, mysterious forces work behind the scenes manipulating events and magic to prepare the way for “the one who waits.”

This book was pretty damn awesome. That being said it is also full of familiar fantasy elements that stays true to its traditional roots. At the same time Blood Song manages to walk a very fine line between the grim and gritty fantasy of more recent years and the hope and optimism of the past. Much like Rothfus’ Kingkiller Chronicles the structure of Blood Song takes the form of an oral history being related by the protagonist to a historian. Much like that other series the various sections of Blood Song are broken up by some verbal sparring between Vaelin and his skeptical, borderline antagonist chronicler Lord Verniers. I don’t know why but this sort of framing for a fantasy novel remains one my favorite; it should come as no small surprise that I enjoyed it here as well.

Vaelin is not an outright unreliable narrator but over the course of the novel Ryan drops enough information to show us that he is molded by the culture he grew up in and his knowledge and perception of the world around him is limited to what he has been taught. As a result Vaelin remains a rather curious lens through which we experience the various peoples and cultures of his world. There are many moments where the narrative feels very much like a spotlight shown on a particular place and time with much of the surrounding world hidden in the shadows just out of sight. Ryan uses this to his advantage creating a fast-moving focused narrative that never strays far from the story at hand. The reader learns and Vaelin learns and the information is never overwhelming and never distracts from the plot.

While Blood Song doesn’t shy away from violence and there are certainly dark deeds and black portents the novel manages to never feel as oppressive or grim as it could. Indeed there is a bit of a sword and sorcery vibe to the world of Blood Song. The lack of lengthy exposition, the inclusion of magic whose workings remain mysterious, and heavy reliance on character development over world building lend the novel a decided old school feel. While Blood Song introduces the idea of a world-endangering threat  its intrusion into the story is typically reflected in the cost it has on Vaelin’s life. The resulting examination of the costs of power and the effect of reputation present an epic story that manages to still maintain a very personal touch.

Blood Song, originally released by the author in January of 2012 was picked up and released by Orbit books in July of 2013.  I admit that I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t jump on the Blood Song bandwagon earlier. Blood Song, the first in the Raven’s Shadow series, is a title that fantasy fans should not miss. Well wrought characters, a fascinating world, and crackling prose that makes the novel’s staggering 592 pages fly by make a Blood Song a novel not to be missed. The wait for 2014’s Tower Lord is going to be a long one.

3 thoughts on “Review: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

  1. Pingback: The Spotlight: Blood Song By Anthony Ryan | Another World

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