Blood Song (Raven's Shadow #1) by Anthony Ryan - Book Review

Write on: Thu, 22 Oct 2020 by  in Jordan's Reviews Read 5214

Blood Song is an artfully crafted coming of age tale full of friendship, love, war, and magic. Fans of epic fantasy rightfully revere this as one of the best fantasy novels of the last decade. The opening sequence of the narrative evokes comparison to Robin Hobbs’ Assassin’s Apprentice. Both novels are framed with an outer narrator filling in the gaps for the more tightly focused main sequence. There is a lot of common ground in the two works, each richly painting physical details and characters in a manner that immerses the reader at once, and keeps them riveted to the account.

Most of the tale is a close third person perspective that follows Vaelin Al Sorna, son of a famous general. After the death of his mother, the boy is surrendered to a monastic order of soldiers and trained exhaustively in an array of martial skills. His “brothers” as he comes to see his fellow acolytes, form a tight knit group of elite warriors whose prowess and struggles will shape the fate of the land. Pepper in the schemes of a power-hungry king, and the clandestine plots of a secret society of magic users, and you have the recipe for a deliciously epic fantasy novel.

The world building is mostly cut-and-dry medieval inspired, with a pinch of spice in the form of the Orders and the Faith. Overall, I wouldn’t say that worldbuilding is the book’s strength, but neither is it a weakness. There are a number of familiar tropes (Academy, Chosen One, Training Montage, Secret Society etc) present in the novel, and while most of them are not particularly unique, they are at least well-executed.

The prose is what truly propels this novel into the elite category. It isn't profuse and purple, it is elegant, with an eye for details that evoke an immersive image, that lure us in. More precisely it is the voice which entrances, a fireside recollection of an intriguing acquaintance. The tight focus on Vaelin’s perspective of events keeps the reader invested and engaged throughout the training and testing years of education, which in the hands of a lesser storyteller may have bored. Ryan paints a vivid portrait of a talented and determined boy growing into a fierce, noble, and eventually quite legendary man.

I will say that there was a single discordant note in my estimation of Blood Song. Without getting specific enough to be a spoiler, Vaelin agrees to do something for someone in a position of authority that felt, to me at least, grossly out of character. The surrounding story provided a surface level explanation as to why he would agree to this onerous task. But frankly it did not ring true for me. It felt like a plot contrivance that stuck out against the backdrop of an otherwise superb novel. I set the book down for the evening, and by the next night I simply shoved aside my misgivings and continued. 

I was by no means disappointed with the conclusion of the novel. In fact, the mysteries dangled before this reader proved an irresistible lure and I devoured the remainder in earnest. Blood Song is eminently readable, its pages will sneak by as you stay up well past your bedtime. A great ending capped off a great book, one that toyed with my expectations in the most pleasing way, twisting and turning and moving the goalposts with masterful poise. Blood Song is a deeply engrossing tale, a story of war and brotherhood, love and magic, a novel that deserves a place of honor high upon the shelf. 


Last modified on Thursday, 22 October 2020 23:46

Jordan Loyal Short is an author of epic fantasy, an inveterate nerd, and a small business owner. He has worked in a variety of industries, as a waiter, bartender, copywriter and more. These days, Jordan lives in Washington state with his wife where he is currently daydreaming about the end of the world. Books by Jordan Loyal Short: The Skald's Black Verse The Weeping Sigil Travels in the Dark

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