Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Wow. I opened this book prepared to be disappointed: I knew it had received literally thousands of perfect scores on Amazon and Goodreads, and was somehow convinced that it couldn’t actually be that good. But . . . it really is. Wow.
Blood Song is the first in Anthony Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow series (the second book, Tower Lord, is out later this year), and it’s simply a stunning start to what will undoubtedly be an amazing series. The world and its mythology are vividly established, the story is exciting and, most importantly, the characters are impeccably introduced and developed. The main group of characters, the Order brothers, are almost as awesome as Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards, and the main character, Vaelin, is now firmly established in my Top 10 Favourite Fantasy Protagonists (somewhere between Kvothe and Jorg).
One of the main things I loved about the story was how it was entirely focused on one POV: that of Vaelin, abandoned as a child at the gates of a monastery by his father. Blood Song follows Vaelin’s journey as he and his new-found ‘brothers’ are trained and initiated into the order of battle-priests, where they are forced to undergo rigorous and dangerous tests of survival and skill. The rivalries and camaraderie between the boys is continually a joy to read, and I loved watching them develop as a group throughout years of training, during which their loyalty is tested as they confront dark plots and assassination attempts against their Order, and each endure personal trials of their own. The characters develop brilliantly, the battles are fantastically plotted and exciting, and the gradual reveal of the underlying plot is spectacular.
The main story itself is framed by another narrative, written in first person from the POV of the man to whom Vaelin is narrating his story. This reminded me very strongly of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, which is by no means a bad thing: as with Rothfuss, the switches are infrequent enough to not be annoying, and serve to show us more about Vaelin while also teasing us with hints about things we have yet to learn about. The ending – which came around far too soon despite the book’s 728 pages – is a perfect balance of resolution and cliffhanger, and I can’t wait To get around to reading Tower Lord.