For me, this book may be a victim of unreasonably high expectations and the misfortune of being read so soon after completing The Name of the Wind. I expected to be enthralled by a unique story that was hailed by many as equal to if not better than The Name of the Wind. In my opinion, it failed on both accounts. While I was not blown away by this story, I do see the draw for many readers and would not hesitate to recommend it. If you read The Name of the Wind and thought that you would like it better if the author spent less time rambling, focused more on fighting and injected the main character with a large does of testosterone, you will find this novel to be suited to your tastes.
The story opens with our hero, Vaelin, as he is in the custody of the enemy. He is the greatest warrior of his country and feared by his enemies. His legend has proceeded him. While being transported to near certain death, he is given the opportunity to tell his story to a scribe. In relating his story, he tells of his childhood, his rise to legend and his downfall. The story follows him as a young child, pledged as a warrior to a religious order, his rise through the ranks and the creation of his legend. The story quite literally covers the majority of his life until the novel’s present time so the scope of the story is quite vast.
You Will Not Be Bored
The story does not lack in action. Vaelin is a warrior in a fanatic religious order. It is filled with intrigue related to the order’s purpose, the possible existence of magic, a potential secret order within the religion and political gamesmanship.
The author has created an interesting fantasy world and interesting religious order. It is broken into multiple segment where each numbered segment focus on different skill, i.e. warriors, healers, scribes, etc. While this is not an original concept, I find fantasy that creates complex religious orders to especially interesting. The clear intention in this novel was to recreate a form of the crusades. Religious warriors with distinct goal of riding the world of the dissenters/infidels while the royal overseers are manipulating their fervor for their own ends. This is one of the strongest aspects of the story.
The author has also created some interesting (with the exception of the main character) and strong characters throughout. Unlike recent fantasy novels I have read, the female characters were well drawn and interesting. While there is a bit of the unrequited love motif and the women the protagonist can never hope to truly have (a major annoyance in my books) the author treated this theme differently and I found it to be enjoyable.
On the whole, the book was interesting and well developed. That said, there were elements that disappointed and some that downright annoyed. I will say it again, this book is not in the same league as The Name of the Wind. That said, I can see how some of the elements I disliked could be positive elements for some readers. I will focus on the two areas that I disliked the most.
The Writing Style – I think Anthony Ryan is a perfectly competent writer. I am simply not a fan of his structure. The writing is terse, without emotion and significantly lacking in description. While this does result in a story that moves quickly it also has the effect of causing the story to pass you by. Instead of taking time to focus on important aspects, the author chose stuff to a long period of time into a relatively short space. Vaelin was supposed to be a legend in his own time but given writing style and clipped storytelling I simply did not buy his legendary status.
The Blood Song – This is really the kicker of the story. The Blood Song is a form of magic skill in this novel. Unfortunately, I thought it was a crutch to the story. I made an non comprehensive list of some of the great things afforded our hero as a result of the Blood Song,
1) An early warning system
2) A GPS
3) A lie detector
4) A metal detector
5) A telepathy unit
6) A mind reading tool
7) A weapon
8) A life coach
9) A tool that is basically a life map i.e. go to this town and you will be happy and healthy
10) Quite possibly a mental illness
Honestly, I felt that the author used the “magical ability” as a crutch. Not sure how the Vaelin is going to get out of the situation? Blood Song to the rescue. This was a disappointing element of the story. While it was minimal used in the beginning it substantially increased as it progressed. In my opinion, it turned what could have been a great story into an average story.
I did listen to audiobook version of this one. The narrator was quite skilled but he rarely changed his voice with the character. This often made it difficult to figure out who was speaking.
From looking through my friends ratings on Goodreads and elsewhere, I see that this book is amongst the favorites of many of them. I simply do not share the sentiment. I did enjoy it enough to continue the series but the reviews of the second installment leave me questioning if the series really is for me. Regardless, try it yourself. There are certainly things to like and you may not share my dislikes.