Gwynne throws readers right back into the thick of it from the very first page. After the events at Starstone Lake, Drem and his new friends flee to the Order of the Bright Star to bring news of a terrifying new threat. The path ahead of them is long and treacherous as they must journey through the untamed lands of the Desolation while being hunted by cultists, demons and an unrelenting sorceress with the power to create monsters and raise the dead. Meanwhile, chaos reigns in Drassil as the Ben Elim ‘debate’ over the future and our star-crossed lovers, Riv and Bleda, find themselves in a dire situation which will ultimately force them to choose between family and each other. Things are not looking good for our protagonists and they are about to get a whole lot worse.
AToB is a sequel that successfully builds on the first book in every possible way. Gwynne continues to instil a strong sense of dread and horror, even turning it up a few notches as we get to see the true evil and cunning of the Kadoshim as they put their plan into full effect. There are epic battles and each are visceral, tense and exciting. In AToD, Gwynne had swapped out the usual large scale engagement that readers have come to expect in each of his books’ final act for smaller skirmishes, which made sense to the story. For readers that might have been disappointed by this, AToB boasts not one but two massive battles in its third act, earning its name by the sheer amount of blood that is spilled as the forces of the faithful and the fallen duke it out. Even better, Gwynne makes each feel authentic in terms of setting, forces and events. We usually don’t get these kinds of battles until a series’ final book but when has Gwynne ever shied away from treating us readers time and time again to a staple feature of epic fantasy that we all love.
One of the best things about Gwynne’s writing is his characterisation and there is plenty of character growth for each of our protagonists within the pages of AToB. Whereas in AToD, Riv and Bleda felt a lot like bystanders for the majority of the book, they really come into their own here. Drem continues to be my favourite character. Having experienced everything that he endured in the first book he has found camaraderie among his new friends, all of whom (animal, human and giant alike) are great characters in their own right. We also get a new viewpoint character whose story is very compelling and serves as an excellent counter viewpoint to our other protagonists.
Before I can gush over AToB any further, I will finish by saying I have reached the stage where every time I pick up a book by John Gwynne, I already know that I am going to love it. Gwynne’s storytelling, battlecraft and characterisation is simply top class. A Time of Blood is one hell of a sequel, epic fantasy at its finest. In Wrath, the final book of The Faithful and the Fallen, Gwynne did a fantastic job of wrapping up the story and its multiple threads. I have no doubt he will deliver in A Time of Courage too. If there is one major issue I have with the series, it is that I just don’t want it to end.