Thursday, 13 March 2014

'Blood Song' - Anthony Ryan (Orbit)

We have fought battles that left more than a hundred corpses on the ground and not a word of it has ever been set down. The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners.
Vaelin Al Sorna is the Sixth Order's newest recruit. Under their brutal training regime, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly - all in the name of protecting the Realm and the Faith.
Now his skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if 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.

Maybe it’s the demands of an increasingly busy life; maybe it’s just the fact that hardbacks are cumbersome and I have never liked trade paperbacks (a pointless format if ever there was one), I am resigned to the fact that I will never be on top of the big releases in genre fiction. That’s the way it goes sometimes and it’s not as if there aren’t great bloggers out there with time to do just that (I read them all the time and get very jealous).
Anthony Ryan’s ‘Blood Song’ was a bit of a big deal, in blogging circles, when it was first self-published and then when Orbit took it on, repackaged it and then sent it out into the world again. I’m still interested to see how many extra copies of a book can be sold after it has done so well first time round (self-published) but that’s another story… ‘Blood Song’ passed me by in its first and second incarnations and I was determined not to miss out this time round. I spent the larger part of last week reading ‘Blood Song’ and it was time well spent to say the least. If you’re like me and haven’t got round to reading ‘Blood Song’ yet then I would totally recommend that you go and do just that.

At first glance, ‘Blood Song’ really didn’t look like it was going to last the pace with me. A boy taken in at a young age and trained to be a bad-ass killer by warrior monks who aren’t all that bad once you get to know them. I’ve read enough ‘rites of passage’ fantasy fiction to know when I see it and it was clear that ‘Blood Song’ wasn’t going to break any new ground.
It does though, at least a little bit. While most other authors will opt for playing safe with a young protagonist (let them get into a little bit of trouble but be on hand to bail them out) Ryan doesn’t do this with Vaelin at all. While Vaelin might well be a little too good to be true in terms of his physical prowess, never really threatened, Ryan is fully prepared to let Vaelin have his head and face the consequences of his decisions in future books. There’s an element of uncertainty then that has piqued my interest and the potential for more tough decisions to be faced, down the line, that I will be there for. Vaelin’s advancement follows all too familiar paths but it’s what you see Ryan doing behind the scenes that makes it work so well. I found Vaelin himself to be a very engaging character that I was rooting for throughout. A young man stuck in a situation not of his choosing and trying to do the right thing by himself and his Order, even when he has the opportunity to go back to his old life. Vaelin may have his darker moments, which also send the book off in new directions, but you can’t help but get behind a guy who has been abandoned and is trying to make his way in the world, no matter where it takes him…

I found that Ryan doesn’t really play with his tropes for the rest of the book but he does the familiar stuff so well that it’s a real pleasure to read. Vaelin’s world is one defined by warfare in all its forms and Ryan uses this to deliver a story where the politicking is as furious as what happens on the field of combat. If that wasn’t enough, there’s stuff brewing in the background that threatens to turn everything upside down… This is only the first book people! Ryan builds a strong sense of anticipation for what is to come and does it with an assured confidence in his own ability to deliver (that’s another reason why I will be back to see what happens next).

A fully realised world that doesn’t overshadow the actual plot, a plot that does its job admirably (whilst promising more to come) and action that stirs the blood whilst leaving you in no doubt about the brutal nature of the Sixth Order. There is nothing not to like about ‘Blood Song’ and I’m left hoping for more of the same from ‘The Tower Lord’(which isn't too ar away I think).

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