There are a lot of good fantasy novels out there, ones that are great fun or manage to challenge the genre, but it’s extremely rare that one manages to get itself to the point that I rank it up with The Lord of the Rings and The Gentlemen Bastards as one of my all-time favourites. Anthony Ryan has done exactly that with his debut novel Blood Song, the first novel in the Raven’s Shadow series.
Telling the story of Vaelin al Sorna, the son of the realm’s battle-lord, we follow him from his youth to adulthood as a member of a group of religious warriors known simply as the Sixth Order. Joining him as he faces innumerable trials and tribulations, we’re given a good look into this world that Ryan is building, while also being presented with one of the best protagonists that I’ve read about in quite a long time.
In fact, Vaelin is probably the most striking thing about this story. Inspiring, skilled and important, he fits the same mould as protagonists like Patrick Rothfuss’ Kvothe, and Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry while also managing to standing separately. A warrior bound to the Faith, his nation’s beliefs, he grows from a child confused by his skills and fearful of his betrayal to his mother’s legacy, to a man determined to do what’s right by those he commands and leads; his own suffering and sacrifices notwithstanding.
It’s definitely the markings of a traditional hero, but wrapped up in the realistic human struggle of a person’s doubts and fears and backed by political drama that he finds himself caught up in.
However, for as much praise as Vaelin deserves, Ryan’s story is just as compelling. Using the aforementioned format of a framing narrative of Vaelin telling a historian about the truth behind his actions, we’re given the growth of this man and the development of a supernatural conflict that will undoubtedly stretch across the rest of the trilogy.
It is also told with such a precise attention to pacing that no event seems like it’s drawn out, while also providing enough detail to make the events feel alive. In fact, for a book that sits at just over 600 pages in the trade format, it definitely does not feel like it is that long. Things move at a constant pace from beginning to end, avoiding the pitfalls that caught the starts of some of my favourite novels, such as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lies of Locke Lamora, and kept my attention from the very beginning to the moment I read the final page.
Actually, despite the less than positive reception the community seems to have towards the subsequent novels, I’m eagerly anticipating jumping right into the sequels to see how Ryan’s story continues and comes to its conclusion.
Overall, Blood Song is an absolutely outstanding book. Reminiscent of the novels that got me into the genre, while also managing to feel modern and fresh, Anthony Ryan has provided a read that I feel is the closest thing to a perfect fantasy novel that I’ve experienced in years. I highly recommend checking this one out.
Blood Song by Anthony Ryan Rating: 10/10