With all of the fanfare surrounding the first novel, I found the first instalment to be disappointing. The first focused solely on Vaelin and attempting to chronicle the creation of a living legend. It is not a new concept and has been done far better by the likes of Patrick Rothfuss in The Kingkiller Chronicles and Jack Whyte in his Camulod Chronicles. Now that Vaelin’s legend has been created (although poorly) the second novel changes pace and changes focuses. In my opinion, the change was masterful and has created a broad and utterly enjoyable world. For my money, this instalment far outranks the first.
The plot is quite complex and is not easily summarized. In essence, the story follows multiple storylines. Mainly those of Vaelin, Frentis, Reva, Lerna and the Chronicler (I apologize for misspelling any names. One does not grasp the spelling of them when one is listening to the audio). With the exception of Reva and Vaelin, the characters are separate at the outset and must each overcome their own trials. Vaelin, no longer in the hands of Valerians, finds himself adrift but must ultimately return to the realm where he is offered a position he would not normally accept. Reva, having lived a life of spiritual and physical abuse, is a trained assassin and no friend of the realm. She is in search of the sword of her father but she soon finds her quest is something she could never have expected. Frentis finds himself as a slave and bound to the will of ancient sorceress. He is at the will of this woman but a strange encounter leaves him with a will to survive. Lerna is the sister of the new king and is relegated to doing the work of her brother. She is tasked to make peace with a strong foe and it sent on a dangerous journey that most believe is bound to fail. The Chronicler finds that he is now the slave and is tasked to write a history of the exploits of a Valarian general. As the story progresses, some of the these storylines collide in war and ruin.
On a whole, there was substantial improvement in all areas of the novel and writing, with one minor exception. While the first novel was self published, this instalment was published and quite probably substantially edited. It was clear from reading this book as finished product was far more polished, the writing much clearer and crisp and the characters better drawn. My MAJOR issue with the first novel with the continually reliance on the “blood song”. Whenever the author was not sure how Vaelin would get out of a situation, the blood song would come to the rescue. It was essentially the author’s “all purpose” tool. While the Blood Song does play an important role in this book, its usage is better explained and understood and, given the multiple view points, it was used far less. I did not feel as if it was a crutch in this story and in fact it is used in a very interesting manner at the end of the book. You will have to read to see what happens!
By far, my favourite part of this book was the multiple views in the story. Each person’s story was largely self contained and quite interesting. This was not the Vaelin show and each person had to stand on their own merits. The character development was wonderful and in turn resulting in substantial world building. In my view, this series just jumped a few notches on the “epic” scale. It has been my reading experience that authors struggle with this many points of view and so many storylines. In this case, the author did an amazing job of keep the stories clear and moving forward. Within these view points we are also introduced to Reva who was favourite character. She is feisty, complicated, broken and shows an amusing lack of stereotypical female attributes. On that front, I was a tad disappointed that Reva turned out to be lesbian. While many of her characteristics were not stereotypically feminine, they are often stereotypically associated with lesbians. In a way, the author abandons perceived norms only to introduce other perceived norms. That said, it is such a minor part of the story that I probably need not have mentioned it.
The one issue that caused it to lose a star (or 1/2 a star) was the occasionally confusing transitions. I often found myself saying things like “when did he show up” or “when did leave such and such a place”. This was irksome as I was listening to the audio and usually in the car. I cannot simply go back a few pages to see if I just missed something. While this was not detrimental to the story in anyway, it was annoying enough that it took my star rating down. One other minor complaint. The author has a really annoying habit of having characters repeat what someone else had told them as a form of foreshadowing. I noticed it quite a bit in the first half and it was a bit annoying.
Can this Book Stand Alone
No. There was too much in the first book that comes back in the second. We are constantly reintroduced to characters big and small. While the major story is self contained and you could appreciate it for what it is, you will lose a huge element of the story if you try and skip the first. I do not recommend you try.
Overall, this was huge improvement over the first. The series has gone from one that marginally held my interest to one that I will read as soon as the next book is released. I am big on author improvement in their first few novels. Anthony Ryan has taken a huge step forward in my opinion and I applaud his work.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations. When reviewing language, mild obscenities are words like, shit, hell or damn. Religious exclamations are words such as Christ or Jesus when used as profanity.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 2.5
There are multiple references to a “pleasure slave”. One character is essentially forced to have sex with a person in power but there is nothing graphic. A couple of characters engage in a same sex relationship which is sexual in nature. The sex is implied. There are several other minor reference to rapes having occurred.
Mild obscenities – 10 F-words – 22 Religious exclamations – 0
Violence – 3.5
I found it to be less violent than the first. There was plenty at the end with limbs and heads that get hacked off in war. In between there are some skirmishes but it is less graphic than the first.