I stumbled across Blood Song by Anthony Ryan from a Books on The Knob post. She said it was at the upper end of her “bargain” category, and at $4.99 I had to agree with her. However, I was in the mood for an epic fantasy, and I decided to give it a look and check the ratings.
Holy Stars, Batman! The book had over 700 reviews and an average rating of about 4.8. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen something like that. Of course, I read a selection, and they didn’t sound like sock puppets. Suddenly $4.99 was sounding pretty reasonable, even for a new (to me) author.
I’m glad I gave it a try. Blood Song is excellent. When I did a bit more research, I discovered the book had originally been self-published, but Ace Books, a division of Penguin, had picked it up. It looks like the current Kindle version is the original self-published file and a revised version is coming out later this year. On his blog, Ryan says the changes will be minimal, and I believe him. Yes, I found a few typos, but nothing that ruined my enjoyment, and far fewer than in some Big Six books I’ve read.
So what’s the book about? The main character, Vaelin Al Sorna, is a brother of a fighting order. The book deals with faith, politics, betrayal and friendship. Vaelin was sent to the order as a boy, and the first part of the book details his training. Later in the book, we learn more about the politics of the world as Vaelin is swept up in the designs of his king and other orders, including one devoted to stamping out heresy.
Because it is fantasy, there are magical elements, but they are subtle and introduced slowly throughout the book. In fact, through much of the book, it’s not clear if what we’re seeing is magic or superstition. Ryan handles the subtlety well, and the book doesn’t sound like a fantasy role playing game turned into a book.
Vaelin is a well-drawn, sympathetic character. You care about him and what happens. Ryan uses an interesting storytelling technique with a framing story where Vaelin narrates his story to a courtier who is escorting Vaelin to a trial by combat. I assumed Vaelin was being honest in his narration, but as the story goes on, we learn that the story we are reading and what he’s telling the courtier aren’t the same, leaving the open question of “what is the truth?” Since truth is a theme of the book, it’s an effective technique.
Blood Song is the first book in the series, and according to Ryan’s website, he’s finished with the second book, but there’s not yet a definite publication date. Go ahead and read the first book, though. It ends satisfyingly, leaving you wanting to see what happens next but not leaving you hanging off a cliff.