Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
There’s virtually nothing in Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song that fantasy readers haven’t seen before. Vaguely European medieval world? Check. Protagonist with a special magical gift? Check. Walled-off academy wherein a young protagonist learns many diverse arts? Check. A set of religious/mystical Orders that safeguard the realm and its affairs? Barbarians in the north? Hidden secret Order? Check, check, check.
Yet, this is a confident, unapologetically traditional novel that will likely please fans of military and warrior epics. Ryan, to his credit, doesn’t go in for a lot of world-building or the potential flab of multiple character perspectives. Other than the framing device of introducing the story from the perspective of a scribe from a southern empire, who interviews the now-legendary captive, Vaelin al Sorna, much of the narrative follows the experiences of the man himself. As we soon learn, Vaelin was left as a boy by his father at the gates of the Sixth Order, which trains warriors to serve the faith, a sort of medieval Army Ranger battalion.
Roughly the first third of the novel is taken up by Vaelin’s training, an increasingly harsh series of lessons and tests. It’s a little comparable to events in Patrick Rothfuss’s popular The Name of the Wind, but this school is much more martial than university-like. It’s stuff we’ve seen before, but I enjoyed watching Vaelin and his fellows grow in skill and maturity, with glimpses of the outside world and its issues, which occasionally intrude on their training.
Most good military fiction involves the hero learning, over many bloody battles, that the purity of the warrior’s ethos doesn’t always align with the slimy nature of realpolitik. This is true here. As he graduates from his final test, Vaelin finds himself falling into the favor of a manipulative, ambitious king, who sends him on sham missions against an insurgency of heretics in the north, then into actual set battles against the empire to the south, for reasons that sound worthy on paper but reek of the king’s self-interest.
While the too-noble-for-this-war-too-dutiful-to-stop-fighting-it themes are familiar, Ryan does a great job with the savage crunch and clamor of battles, and capturing the many small details of a warrior’s life and its hard disciplines. There’s a bit of droll humor, too. There’s even beauty in the writing, in the depiction of a primeval northern forest, or in a pod of orca whales pacing a ship. Fantasy can so easily crumble when modern sensibilities or glibness creep into it, but Ryan seems to recognize the importance of a believably mythic world, of keeping the basic themes simple and clear.
That said, there are weaknesses. The story suffers from a few cliches, and only a handful of characters are more than a sketch. The Princess, whose calculating nature makes it unclear whose side she’s on, is interesting, but there wasn’t very much to distinguish Vaelin’s brothers-in-arms from one another. I was a little disappointed that the Faith, so central to what the Order does, was never explained in much detail, and that the magic-related side of the plot, while seemingly important to the larger series Ryan has in mind, felt a little shoehorned into the story.
Still, such issues are to be expected in a debut and I think much of the praise from readers is warranted. If this isn’t quite the next Game of Thrones, it takes many ideas that worked well in that series and channels them into one hero and his reality. Audiobook narrator Steven Brand doesn’t do a wide range of accents, but he has a confident, unpretentious voice that fits the text. While some readers have complained about grammar issues, they weren’t evident to me in this format.
I really have to quit falling for these high-rated sword and sorcery series. No offense to the people that rated this book highly. To each their own.
There are some sword and sorcery series that knocked my socks off, like Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series, and Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series. (All of these are available here with Audible and I highly recommend them).
But I'm finding the ones I just cited are exceptional and relatively rare. They are at the vanguard. And then, there is a legion of other series following in a distant, distant second. All of them well-reviewed, but I'm finding it's because they just intrinsically resonate with a certain class of reader.
As I said, that's wonderful. Nothing to deride there. I have certain genres/motifs that hit me the same way. This just isn't one of them.
The narration is dull, you can not distinguish between characters and even scene transitions. I found myself lost in several areas, rewinding to hear portions over again to figure out what was going on. I am hesitant to purchase Book 2 but want to find out what happens to the characters. Might purchase a hard copy instead.
Yes, it's a great story, robust characters, interesting mysteries, good world building.
In some ways, the narrator has a good voice for this kind of epic: A bit gravelly, as if the story is being told by an old soldier.
But there's no attempt to give voices to the different characters, and at some points the narration gets monotonic. Depending on the text, the narrator will recite sentences in the same cadence and inflection. There are moments when you find yourself anticipating the rhythm of each sentence as the narrator repeats the same cadence.
It was distracting at times, but ultimately didn't interfere with the enjoyment of the story itself.
Thirty-something geek who loves sci fi and fantasy.
I picked up this book after seeing it recommended several times on Audible, and after reading numerous positive reviews here. I was not disappointed. This is a major work in fantasy, and Anthony Ryan will be a name to watch as this series matures and expands.
The main narrative is set within a frame story, similar to that of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles books (e.g., the main character is giving an account of his life to an interviewer). The circumstances of the interview are different enough, though, from Rothfuss, that it still feels original. The similarities to Rothfuss end there, however. This is a fairly dark fantasy, though not so grimdark as Joe Abercrombie or George R.R. Martin. We witness the training of Vaelin Al Sorna in the Sixth Order, an organization that’s a cross between samurai, agoge (the training of Spartan boys) and Jedi knights. The first half of the book, which covers Vaelin’s time in the Order, is fascinating, coming-of-age stuff. Numerous mysteries present themselves right off the bat, and most go unresolved by the end of the book. Vaelin’s camaraderie with his fellow trainees is the best part of the book. The other characters are well fleshed out, especially Norta and Caenis. Vaelin is an heroic character, and it’s very clear he’s got a big destiny, but he is grounded by self-doubts, guilt, and a consistent, genuine humility. He’s a wonderful character, embodying the escapism we crave in fantasy, while remaining a very human character with whom we can easily identify and sympathize. He is a living weapon who accepts his position, but not without regret.
The second half of the book deals with Vaelin’s adventures in service to the Realm. This part of the book was less engaging than the first, I found, if only because the internecine politics of Ryan’s world get tossed around in rapid succession, and are hard to keep straight at times. The focus of the first half of the book is traded for more broad-scoped world-building, and while it’s intriguing, it lacks the fundamental humanity and direction that the training segments had. Still, toward the end it builds some powerful momentum, with suspense sustained by the frame story. Eventually, the frame story and the past narrative merge and many things fall into place. It’s a nicely-designed narrative structure, and is quite satisfying once it reaches its end.
Ryan’s world feels familiar, yet unique. He doesn’t try to subvert every cliché like Martin or Abercrombie, but instead relies on good characterization and believable political/religious structures. One of the main themes of the book is man’s proclivity toward religion and the myriad gods we invent. This is a subject I’ve never seen tackled in such a direct way in a fantasy story before, and it’s a most welcome addition to the genre.
This is, of course, the first in a series (whose ultimate number of volumes I don’t know). The book sets up many compelling plots to be resolved in future books, and raises the stakes by the end to be bigger and more important than the book first promised. I am greatly looking forward to book 2 when it comes out. I highly recommend this book to any fan of modern, mature fantasy. Ryan deserves to be listed among the modern greats in the genre; I look forward to his continued career.
A note on the narrator: Steven Brand does a good job with the text. His husky voice lends itself well to Vaelin’s personality, and his pronunciations and speech rhythms are generally fine. He does stumble now and then (possibly from turning a page?) but these are negligible. The only complaint I have with him is that he lacks range. He has basically only one voice characterization, and while it works for many characters, it does not for all. Moreover, during dialogue between two or more characters, or even internal asides from one character, it can sometimes be hard to tell who is talking, or what is being spoken aloud or in a character’s mind. He is no Steven Pacey, but then again, who is? That said, he still does an adequate job with the story, and because almost all of the tale is told from a single character’s perspective, it gets much easier to tell who is talking as the story progresses. I would have liked a little more variety and emotion from Brand, but I’ve heard much, much worse.
This is one of the best books I have 'read' in a long time. Wish the narrator used different voices for each character like other narrators do. While the narrator did a fine job of reading his lack of voices was irritating and made some scenes confusing. I had to buy the Kindle version and refer to it in order to understand who was saying what during some conversations. This book deserves a better narrator. Michael Page would be fantastic.
By using one voice for all characters (even female characters had the same voice as the male characters) it becaming confusing at times as to which character was talking. I finally had to purchase the Kindle book to refer to in order to make sense of some conversations. The worst was when there were more than 2 characters having a conversation.
Easily. I was eager to get back to it when I had to put it down to attend to life's many responsibilities.
While this is Book 1 it can easily be read as a stand alone book. The story is complete with the possibility for the bigger question to be answered in future books without you being left with a cliff hanger at the end of this one. The story is fantastic. I can't say enough about the world, relationships, and writing style of Anthony Ryan. I eagerly await his next book in this series.
Ask me no questions I will tell you no lies❤️
Top ten. I really like Scott Lynch, George R R Martin, Sanderson, ect but I enjoyed Anthony Ryan on a whole new level.
The Order's different dimensions, fighting for the faith.
Vaelin the main character was the best. I won't get into why I don't write paragraphs on what the book is about, because I believe if you like a book it won't be the lengthy tell all that you enjoy.
Just thrilled to find such an awesome listen.
I have been through so many books with rave reviews and have been a bit disheartened in finding a book I could love. The reviewers of Blood Song are right Anthony Ryan is the best. I don't give five stars as I find most books fall short but Ryan earned it!
Book was very interesting and held my attention throughout the 21 hrs of the story.
Always wanting to know what happens next.
It was hard to be dragged away from listening to do other tasks...
Enjoy the adventure
An excellent medieval fantasy book and entertaining from the beginning to end. I enjoyed the theme of personal sacrifice as the cost of loyalty. Best shown when the main character is mislead by the government to do their bidding vs. pursuing his own plans. Reminded me of the Mark Twain quote - “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.”
Excellent first book, I'm counting the days until July 2014.
To the point. I enjoy Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, Joe Abercrombie, Neal Stephenson (70% of the time), and Mark Lawrence. This is just to give you an idea of what makes me tick. If you enjoy these authors too and are often disappointed in fantasy books then you need to give this a listen. It's a strong book from the first page to the last, it's long but it will leave you wanting more. I was ever impressed by the writing, the excellent plot and the twists that you don't often find in books of this nature.
Give Anthony Ryan a try and I promise you won't be disappointed.