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Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Book Name: Blood Song
Author: Anthony Ryan
Publisher(s): Ace Hardcover (US) Orbit (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 2, 2013 (US) July 4, 2013

If you want to relax into epic fantasy about a living legend and his sword, you’ll love Blood Song by Anthony Ryan.

A father abandons his son at an orphanage for killers. To avoid beatings from the master’s generous cane, young Vaelin must learn to fight. His wish for survival must burn hot enough to keep him alive through ice storms and other tests of endurance. One orphan says, “I’m not sure I can swim that far.” The master replies, “Then try to drown quietly.”

Vaelin must have the strength to continue even as the other boys die, as his friends die. To fail at the trial of the sword means death, and to make certain Vaelin doesn’t have it too easy, assassins also hunt him. Only one thing can keep him alive. The Blood Song.

US & UK Covers of Blood Song

US & UK Covers of Blood Song

The tale told by Anthony Ryan begins with Vaelin full grown and fully captured. He has been sentenced to die in a duel. They call him the Hope Killer. The narrator, a historian of the empire, loathes Vaelin. The scribe’s enmity wars with his curiosity about the man who casts his shadow over the world. As the two sail over waters where orcas are revered, the scribe asks to hear the Hope Killer’s side of the story.

Vaelin Al Sorna does not tell the scribe the whole truth. But he will to you. Blood Song is that tale.

A frame story is a promise to the reader that something interesting will happen eventually. Impatient readers may wish to skip to Part Two of the book, which begins with a chilling tale told by Vaelin of a witch and her vengeance. Readers who prefer to glean their full money’s worth will learn of Vaelin’s early years as an orphan in the order house.

In Part One, the tests plunge Vaelin into perils and introduce intriguing facets of the world. The order is training him to fight for their ancestral religion. To Vaelin, gods of any kind must be false idols. How inconvenient for his conviction when he helps a girl escape, only to learn she is a believer in one such false god and marked for death by his own order.

So begins the strain of Vaelin’s allegiance, between his order brothers and to the good people he will be expected to destroy. In Part One we learn the backstories of the other orphans, at least those who live. In truth, I wished one more had died as there were a few too many, and a few too many had names that ended in “–s.”

I should have hated Nortah, but I loved him and not only because I could remember his name. Nortah bullies the other boys. He boasts of his minister father. His good looks would make Prince Charming self conscious, and Nortah lies to make himself look brave. He does this because he is in truth afraid. He doesn’t know why his father abandoned him to the order, and he hates the life he has been given, that of a killer.

By creating characters of depth and nuance, Anthony Ryan drew me into his tale. His world is of conflicted loyalty, human frailty, and love in a time of war. The novel is between Patrick Rothfuss and Joe Abercrombie in tone, and the magic reminds me of the Graces in the YA fantasy by Kristin Cashore. An unlucky few gain unique powers at birth that mark them as outcasts. These witches, these blessed pariahs, must hide their skill in “the Dark” or face the hangman.

Vaelin also courts the noose as he straddles his obligations to his king, his order, and his sense of human decency. The king took my breath away (without even needing a rope) with his statecraft, his snide cunning and ruthless practicality. His daughter impresses in equal measure. In other novels this princess could have been a caricature of deadly allure. Not so in Blood Song. Even in her moments of masterful coldness, the princess’s gown slips to reveal her frilly, pink humanity.

The velvety deliciousness of its characters no doubt helped Blood Song triumph as an Indie eBook on Amazon. Anthony Ryan secured a publishing deal with Ace in 2012 and Orbit in 2013. The audiobook was released this July. I regret to say that when I listened to it I assumed I was hearing the author, someone untrained in voice acting. That was not true, but I did appreciate the pauses added to the recording between sections. Too often, audiobooks will smash difference scenes together, with not even time between for a mouse to sip a breath.

Blood Song delighted me again and again with its minty-fantasy freshness. Vaelin ventures into an abandoned city that chills the blood, but he doesn’t find the horrors I expected. The king sends him on a mission to assassinate a noble, a task that becomes much harder on Vaelin’s conscience when said noble turns out to be less evil than advertised. In Blood Song, wars start over mundane reasons: failed diplomacy and greed. It’s up to Vaelin to end them with as much decency as a trained killer can muster.

Forgive me, but I have to mention the pets. Or, rather, the slavering, man-killing, adorable war hound and the foot-stomping, bucking, flatulent horse that both serve Vaelin with such faithfulness. I loved it when Vaelin warns a stable-boy to be careful, that his horse bites. The boy asks with reverence, “So you’re the only one who can handle him?” “No,” Vaelin says, “he bites me, too.”

Fame pools to Vaelin like treasure to a dragon. By the end of the story I felt he had earned it. Since Blood Song is but the first novel in the Raven’s Shadow series, I assumed Vaelin would accomplish few of the feats hinted by the historian in the frame sections of the story. I was so thankful to be wrong. Vaelin cleaves his way through everything with sharp sword and keener kindness. No plot thread is left untied.

Given that the wars were more pragmatic than poetic, the later importance of prophecy surprised me. And, yes, the world has a dark lord lurking, gnawing at the veil of death. He has infiltrated the realm with an agent of havoc, the One Who Waits. When this hidden abomination is revealed, cold barbs raced through me because I already knew from whence its cruelty had come. The people had lavished it with prejudice and misplaced hatred. The One Who Waits is only too eager to return the favor.

Now if you’ll excuse me, that’s my war hound calling. We’re due for a game of fetch the rusty sword.



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Really great review, A.E. Certainly locked it up on my to-read list 🙂

  2. Avatar Daniel says:

    Really enjoying it so far, though the copy my friend lent me is an advanced proof so there’s a couple typos here and there (it’s *mostly* tidy though, which is always a good sign). I can see how it would be compared to Rothfuss and Abercrombie, and anything that channels Rothfuss is just great in my book. Er, not that my book channels him… more Chris Wooding and the Tales of the Ketty Jay. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with something of Rothfuss’ scope, or an attempt at something like that, anyway. Clearly, Anthony Ryan does, though.

  3. Avatar Charlemagne says:

    This looks great! Great review, combined with very high ratings on Goodreads mean an easy addition to my TBR pile. Goodness knows when I’ll get to it, but still, a very good review.

  4. Avatar JSH says:

    I was wondering when someone was going to do a review of this book. I thought it was really good.

  5. Avatar Bibliotropic says:

    This is one book that’s very near the top of the list of books I need to spend my money on. I’ve heard so many good things about it, and I can’t wait to buy a copy and be able to sink my teeth into it! Excellent review, and it made me just want to read the book even more!

  6. Avatar Louis Brooks says:

    Just finished the book based on this review. Well worth a spot on your reading list. Now I have another series for which to anxiously await the next addition.

  7. […] Orbit books have said that they are: ‘incredibly excited’ that their ‘fantastic debut’ picked up this ‘well deserved accolade’. Anthony, well, he was far more modest and, if excited, hid it well saying that the award ‘happened’ and that it was ‘nice’. Certainly, many of the Fantasy-Faction team agree with Orbit and would like to congratulate Anthony on a reward well-earned; you can read our review of Bloodsong here. […]

  8. […] For those unfamiliar with Blood Song, here is an excerpt from ÆMarling’s 9/10 star review: […]

  9. […] fantasy. Miles Cameron, author of The Red Knight and The Fell Sword, and Anthony Ryan, author of Blood Song, enthusiastically answered my list of nerdy, spoiler-free […]

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