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.
In my top ten books. . and one of the biggest surprises. I have over 100 audible books. I got this one for a cross country road trip and was totally sucked into it, , almost ran out of gas cause i was so engrossed. Looking forward to more from this author.
I highly recommend this book.
Say something about yourself!
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...
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.
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.”
Obsessive book hoarder, and intense audible lover.
Yes!! Because it is a well wrought story and relatable characters. I felt despair along with the main character as loved characters died, etc.
Hmm, since they all were so good in the story, I refuse to answer this one :)
He brought life to the characters and narrated with emotion that kept me enthralled.
Steven Brand's voice is wonderful, his narration was the perfect tone for the book. I read this first as a self published novel on Kindle, and even still I can't imagine the protagonists voice to sound any other way.
I still am floored that it took so long for a publisher to pick him up. If he can continue this story with the pacing, twists and enthralling characters he will quickly join Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Patrick Rothfuss and George Martin as the great living writers of Fantasy.
Several that would be spoilers if shared.
No, but even though his only other work on Audible is WAU outside of my normal reading I am considering picking it up just for his narration.
A dangerous man without malice?
BloodSong is surely going to be the beginning of a long and glorious relationship with these characters. The world that Anthony Ryan has created should exist. It is cohesive, realistic and functional. The magic reminds of something that Robin Hobb might have produced, the characters of something Orson Scott Card might have created and a world epic and grand enough to rival any George Martin has envisioned.
When I paid 99 cents for this on Kindle I had low expectations, but after one read and two listens I can say that it stands nearly as high on my can't wait list as the next Way of Kings book or the final book of Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller chronicles. If any of these names are on your hit list then you will not be disappointed.
Having invoked those names I should mention that the next novel is 100% complete and is only being heald back for a year by his new publisher to give time for this book to sell and the third is well underway according to the author so great writing, without the typical 2-3 year wait between books for this style of fantasy.
I am a writer from Toronto. I am 34 and hooked on audio books.
If you love epic fantasy buy this book! Great story and awesome narration. Anthony Ryan and Steven Brand are up and coming stars. With all the crap out there that gets 5 stars, I rarely write reviews. However, this book is so good I just had to.
"When I finish a good book, I feel like I've lost a friend." -- My Mom
We are being totally, knowingly, happily taken for a ride. Anthony Ryan has The Talent. He creates questions, histories, personalities and knows how much to reveal and what to leave unanswered. His characters are likeable, easy to relate to and I worry about them when I’m not listening. The world he has created is similar enough to know but different enough to be interesting. Steven Brand is the perfect voice for this story and these characters.
We are addicted. We are being played like a fiddle. We are enjoying every minute of it.