This was my first introduction to ML Spencer, and certainly won't be my last. Chains of Blood follows the story of Rylan Marshall, a suffering, poor soul whose son was killed and daughter kidnapped by demons. He's haunted by the incident, and is determined to rescue his daughter no matter the cost. The plot is straightforward, and my initial impression was "Yeah, we've read this before." But I'm never one to be off-put by a common plotline, so I continued. I'm really glad I did.
Without a doubt, this is dark fantasy. I love me some good dark fantasy reads. Rylan faces challenges to his quest, of course, and it comes in the form of secret oaths, betrayal, and everything he thought he knew about himself being a farce. The cast of supporting characters get some POV's in this story, which I loved. As the story progresses, it becomes clear his daughter Amina has been taken by the Turan Khar, a large enemy force bound to the will of the Warlord, and she is being used as a bargaining chip to force Rylan to the Warlords will, because he is the son of powerful mage. The concept of the Warlord being in complete control of his subjects was fascinating.
I had a few complaints, although they weren't enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story. Rylan as character was a bit hard for me to relate to, except for his fierce love for his family. I’m not sure what made it hard for me to really like him - maybe the fact that we are kind of thrown into his POV and the story itself without really getting to know him? He came across as quite clueless, and some of the decisions he made were a bit confusing. There were times he killed dozens of people at a time, usually in quite convenient ways, and was confused at how he did so. Maybe it’s a product of me not understanding the magic system, too.
Speaking of, the magic system at times was really, really cool. One really neat aspect was the idea of mages being chained together - it reminded me of the Mord Sith from the Sword of Truth series, or the Wheel of Time’s Seanchan and how they chained Aes Sedai. This chaining not only connected the two mages together so they could share and use each other’s power, but it connected them to the entirety of the Turan Khar empire, funneled through a chain worn by the Warlord. It ensured their everlasting love and Devotion to the Khar cause, and took away all semblance of free will. So it usurped everything that makes one human- emotions, physical body, soul, and mind. Quite clever, and quite scary at the same time.
What I was confused about was the source of Magic itself. Users could control this magical force, and it didn’t seem to have limitations. It seemed to take a physical toll on the user, but then there were ways around this - chains (as mentioned previously) to share the power, or magical artifacts such as the one Gil uses to increase that power to unstoppable ends. It felt a bit too convenient at times. Rylan could accidentally kill as many people as he needed to, and Gil could pretty much stop anything that came at him.
All that to say, this book was very well written and soundly structured, prose-wise. The author has an incredible talent to plop you right into the action and uses descriptives without being too flowery, and yet doesn’t sacrifice beauty in the telling. There was just the right amount of “show don’t tell” mixed with backstory and, well, telling.
3.5/5 for me. I’m sure this is going to hit the right spot for a lot of readers, and I won’t hesitate to pick up another book from the author.