BLOOD OF HEIRS by Alicia Wanstall-Burke (SPFBO Finalist Review)
Phase 2 of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is drawing to a close at the end of this month! Keep track of the finalists’ scoreboard here.
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And if you have no idea what’s going on here, go ahead and check out our introduction to round 1!
It’s the last week of SPFBO 5, so here we go with eighth finalist review: Blood of Heirs (The Coraidic Saga #1) by Alicia Wanstall-Burke.
Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.
Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.
Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?
Laura and Beth have abstained from judging and scoring Blood of Heirs for impartiality purposes.
(The cover? Production value? Prose? Editing?)
I read Blood of Heirs and reviewed it for the Hive so I will be drawing on my review then and the notes on my kindle copy to feed into this discussion.
The cover, with its emphasis on the twin blades and tattooed forearms in the foreground, appears initially abstract but then draws you in to a shadowy protagonist lurking behind those forearms. It makes for a refreshingly different take on the “stand with your back to us” or “have your hood up” school of show/don’t show the protagonist kind of covers.
I also loved the twin blades on the cover, Theo. I thought it linked nicely to the significance of the blades later on in the book.
I really like the cover, and was quite happy to have a promising female main character! The start was quite promising and had me interested right from page one.
I agree with Julia, I was also interested right from the beginning. Especially as the story starts as a coming of age narrative, which I tend to enjoy. I also thought the prose was excellent, and it immersed me into the story immediately.
Thoughts on… THE CHARACTERS
(Do you have a favourite? Is the main character sympathetic? How’s the dialogue? Are the protagonists believable? Do we care about their plight?)
Lidan daughter of a chieftain and Ran son of a duke are both cursed with awful parents who they seem to be on doomed quests to try and impress. There is a certain sympathy engendered by the elements of sad childhood stories.
I clicked with Lidan right away and enjoyed reading about her all the way through. I enjoyed seeing her grow and stretch from being a young girl into a woman with her own opinions and plans.
Lidan’s mother in particular seems an especially cruel re-imagining of Livia from I Claudius, while Ran’s father is as aloof and disinterested as Jorg’s in Prince of Thorns. I liked Sasha for the kindness she showed Ran and the touching backstory that revealed a lot about the world.
I actually liked both characters right from the onset. As Theo said, Lidan and Ran both have cruel and overly ambitious parents who care more for status, or inheritance, than they do for the wellbeing of their children, so I felt sympathy towards both of them, and became invested in their journey. They both suffer, and that made me care for their plight. I was also very intrigued by two side characters – the old crone, and the ghost who follows Ran for most of the book.
Ran was a lot harder for me to engage with, especially at the start. Not just because as a character I didn’t really care for him at the start, but also because his side of the story seemed to be a bit too familiar. It took me quite a while to warm up to him and care what would happen next.
I did feel at times some characters made overly foolish decisions that didn’t feel realistic. Such as Ran refusing to open a scroll that had the potential to fill him with knowledge he’d desperately been seeking. I also found Lidan’s overly horny, promiscuous father somewhat stereotypical, but I did admire his tenderness towards Lidan.
Thoughts on… PLOT/STRUCTURE/PACING
(Slow start? Hard to keep up? Does the author use flashbacks/POV shifts? Do these work well or not? Did each chapter keep you turning the pages?)
The story follows two timelines and Wanstall-Burke keeps them separated longer than you might expect. In Anna Smith-Spark’s The Tower of Living and Dying, the middle book of her Empires of Dust Trilogy, the travails of Orlan in Sorlost and Mareth conquering the rest of Irlast are almost entirely separate. The threads sown in the first book have parted and communicate and influence each other by the subtlest of interactions of news and rumour.
Wanstall-Burke starts with her protagonists in very different parts of the world and they stay that way – it is only the monsters they meet, and the shared cultural prohibitions on magic, that place them in the same world. To that extent this can almost be read as two separate stories and that can be a little harder to engage with in the first book of a trilogy, than in the middle. That structure can make it less easy to see where the story is going and Wanstall-Burke is setting out a stall for the long game of a trilogy to connect and resolve those threads.
Theo makes an excellent point, I also found the fact that the two main protagonists never meet quite frustrating. I failed to see how they correlated together into the story. I wanted to know an inkling of how their stories may entwine, so by the end I felt unsatisfied by that.
As I said above, I was quickly hooked by the start of the book! Shortly after that it stalled a bit for me and felt like all the typical fantasy tropes. I was getting a bit wary about it being just like so many other fantasy books I had read before at that point. Luckily it didn’t take too long for the story to take on a new direction and swave from what I was expecting! I for one didn’t mind the two main characters having their separate stories at all. Once I was invested in both characters I more or less devoured the whole book. I always wanted to get to the other POV again to see what was happening there, just to want to get to the next again right away – so I was definitely fully invested. There’s quite a cliffhanger at the end. One of my only complaints is how I have no real feeling of where this story is going to go.
I was invested in both the characters’ story arc. Although I agree that it wasn’t a particularly fresh story, it did follow the same patterns as many other fantasy books, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. There was enough to hold my interest. I particularly liked the scenes with the ngaru monsters, and loved the twist about their origins at the end.
Thoughts on… WORLDBUILDING
(Does it have a magic system? How immersed do you feel in the world? Does it feel original? Why?)
We see the world through our protagonists’ eyes and that makes for quite an immersive experience. This is a world full of flavour, of mystery, but the limited perspectives that we get through Lidan and Ran’s eyes, mean we don’t get that overview which you might find elsewhere.
I liked that this one was inspired by Australia instead of Europe for one. It’s not very obvious on its own, and I only realised it later on, but it explains why the book just felt a tad different – in a good way!
There is a mysterious Woaden Empire at war with Ran’s father and willing to use the magic that other nations reject. However, dangerous as that threat is, it isn’t the main foe or the engine of much beyond Ran’s initial embarrassed defeat.
The magic is still a big mystery, which worked fine for me. There are monsters, and ghosts and a strange older woman, who can do – things? I for one am looking forward to finding out just what exactly is going on…
I also really enjoyed learning about the culture Lidan is growing up in.
I enjoyed the world-building, even though as I said above it doesn’t feel overly original. The world felt dark, cruel, and perilous, which made our main character’s plight all the more engaging. I’d like to know more about the Woaden empire, the other clans who have conflict with Lidan’s father, and about the magic and monsters which is kept quite a mystery. So overall I feel Burke does a great job of enticing a reader to continue with the series by leaving much open.
QUOTATIONS that amused/resonated with you
There’s quite a few I noted. When the characters are travelling through a stormy forest:
“The patches of moonlight and shadow danced, spinning and weaving against each other like lovers, bound in a waltz played by the wind.”
Or at the end of a long dry season:
“Lidan ached to hear the far-off roar of an approaching summer storm and smell the promise of rain.”
Or meeting a stern stranger:
“He seemed square, without any soft edges to speak of; like a brick of stone atop a horse.”
I really loved this line:
‘A man without fear is a man without half his mind. This place won’t kick the fear out of you, it’ll only teach you how to hide it.’
There were also quite a few places where the dialogue made me laugh, this was one of them:
‘The stupid man has a smile on his face wider than his arse crack.’
This is a rich story that sweeps the reader along with some memorable prose, relatable characters and fearsome monsters. The story rattles along, but there is just this sense that both Ran and Lidan are running from something, Ran from his father’s justice, Lidan from her mother’s cruel ambition and her father’s political betrothals. Beyond Lidan’s career aspiration to be a ranger, I didn’t get such a clear sense of what they were both running to – of what their goals were.
Despite some flaws, this was one of my favourite reads in the SPFBO finalists. It is not perfect, but a pretty damn good book that had me well entertained, and made me already buy the sequel to!
I really enjoyed reading this book, although there were a few points in the plot that frustrated me, on the whole I was extremely engaged throughout. I am even curious to see where the story leads next.