Chains of Blood (The Chaos Cycle #1) by M.L. Spencer Book Review

Write on: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 by  in Charles' Reviews Read 2478


"History is written by the winners, unless it is written by the survivors."

I've always been fond of fantasy that picks up years, decades, or even centuries after the events of a previous book's story. It's why I'm fond of the old Star Wars Legends universe and the current sequel trilogy (even if both had flaws). My favorite "popcorn fantasy" in the Dragonlance novels did an excellent series based around the Heroes of the Lance and their successors up until the events of Dragons of a Summer Flame. Indeed, my love of "what happens next" inspired me to write Wraith Knight and Lucifer's Star (books that are sequels to universes similar to the ones I grew up reading about).

CHAINS OF BLOOD is the start of a sequel series to the popular indie fantasy series, the Rhenwars Saga. The Rhenwars Saga doesn't have to be read to start this book series but I highly recommend it. It is the story of a ragtag group of heroes who fail to save the world and then their successors who make things so much worse by trying to apply high fantasy logic to a more complex world. I read the entire series as it came out and reviewed each of the books.

The sequel picks up about thirty or so years after the events of the original novels. The world's peoples are at peace-ish and the threat of magic ending is abated. However, poor Rylan Marshall opens with his son being murdered and his daughter kidnapped. He's also forced to swear his soul to the Devil-equivalent right before being given amazing magical powers. Sworn to secrecy, Rylan is soon adopted by the mages of the setting and revealed to be heir to great power. Rylan will do anything to get his daughter back and the discovery of his twisted heritage won't change that.

I enjoyed Rylan's complicated emotional journey over one of the often-overlooked elements of fantasy that one man's hero is often another man's villain. Part of what made Rhenwars Saga so great is that it showed multiple perspectives of your typical fantasy protagonist. Sauron's human allies (and orcs for that matter) would have viewed Gandalf as a religious extremist. In Rylan's case, he grew up vilifying a character only to find out not only is he related but many people view said character as a hero.

There are other characters that are caught up in the confusion that followed the previous war with no one really writing a single "narrative" about it. Some people believe the forces of evil triumphed and are eager to get some revenge. Others believe it was a wickedly complex thing with no good guys or bad guys. A few think that a bunch of heroes saved the day and everyone should be friends now. The complicated nature of politics mixed with storytelling and how we remember history (even recent history) is a set of themes that resonate with me.

One of the other major characters, Gil Archer, is the son of a "hero" of the previous age. This has led him to having a strong sense of entitlement to his family's legacy as well as a racist loathing of the Muslim-themed Malikari. His teachers want to break him of the habit and broaden his horizons but he sticks to the values that are (mostly) cultural acceptable because they put him in a place of prominence. He's less than happy having to be Rylan's protector and being continually confronted with the fact his father was a complicated person in a bloody morally ambiguous war.

In addition to all these complicated issues, there's a lot of action and sorcery as well solid character development. While this book is best read after the Rhenwars Saga, it's also something you can just pick up and enjoy on its own. There's some Wheel of Time homages throughout the book that I appreciated and the "Chained Mages" seem like they'll follow up on the Seanchan's ideas in a way that I think could be quite good for the series. Having finished this one, I'm already ready to pick up the sequel.

Available here

Last modified on Tuesday, 18 August 2020 22:44
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.