Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Today I bring to you my first Anthony Ryan book. Blood Song, book 1 of the Raven’s Shadow series. Before we get into the book let’s take a look at our author. Anthony Ryan was born in 1970 in Scotland. Honestly I thought he was younger when I read this because his first published work was in 2013, but as well all know it’s never too late to follow your dreams. He started out self publishing and still does, but also has deals with Penguin Books & others. Always nice to see a success story.

It looks like he has a nice catalog of books. I know his newest book Pariah has been met with many good reviews. It’s what made me look him up and start with this book. In the series I’m reading it has Blood Song (2013), Tower Lord (2014), and Queen of Fire (2015) then there is also the Raven’s Blade Duology Sequel Series to Raven’s Shadow Trilogy The Wolf’s Call (July 2019), The Black Song (August 2020). Definitely a journey ahead of me before I get into his other works. Now onto Blood Song. 

The synopsis of the book is “Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order to be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate and dangerous life of a warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order. Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the Unified Realm—and Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright knows no bounds. Even his cherished memories of his mother are soon challenged by what he learns within the Order. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the Realm but the world.”

Now all of that doesn’t really do the book justice, but it’s a good start. What is mind blowing is you actually begin with Vaelin near the end of the book, his title is “Hope Killer”, a prisoner of a foreign land. He’s on his way to a duel to the death he is expected to lose. A historian records the story of his life. It’s clear his captors view him as a barbaric invader, but still wish to record the life story of this notorious figure. I mean why not? It’s an interesting start that I personally enjoy. You will check in with the present from time to time as his story unfolds. Even the historian changes his attitude a bit as we go on as well. Its a nice side dynamic.

The book stars Vaelin. You are always with him. I have to say I love this character. Vaelin is very human, but weighs his options and makes the best decision he feels that he can. There’s not always a black and white decision to be had. As son of the former Battlelord in Unified Realm (I guess you could equate that to like Chief General) he of course comes with some expectations and ability. Imagine being a child of ten and the center of your world, your mother, dies then your father hands you over to a religious warrior order, the Sixth Order, without explanation. Going from a wealthy lifestyle to that of a lowly recruit in a warrior caste system. No, they do not take it easy on anyone because once you join up then your old life is supposed to be put behind you. Luckily Vaelin has the hardened parts of his father and the natural ability to connect with people that seems to be from his mother in him.

We follow Vaelin starting as a young recruit. This order puts youth through seven years of seven deadly trials to rid the physically and morally weak. Anyone in this order is expected to be the best warriors in the Realm, and possibly strong contenders for beyond.. Even early on you will see how Vaelin’s order are superior fighters to the main army. There’s other orders that also have different responsibilities and specialties as well. It’s quite a fascinating belief caste system that Ryan has created. They actually have to pick another order to learn for a short time. Vaelin’s choice is quite interesting and helps him learn more about his mother’s past. We get a decent look at all the orders, or is that really all of them, hmmm. Hope we get more info on them in the future. 

The magic system in this world is still a bit of a mystery as there seems to be different ways to use magic that I’m not certain are connected or not. I’m not sure if it really even matters to the story at least in book 1. Just something to get a taste of here and there. We may come across a character that gives a more in-depth look in the future, who knows? Regardless, in Vaelin’s Realm it’s a bad thing and using it is heresy. They call it the Dark and using it gets you hunted down violently. Any religious order needs its heretics after all. Of course there is the Blood Song, unfortunately it is a central part of this book so I actually do not want to say too much. It’s more like a passive ability. It’s a pretty awesome ability for a warrior to have. Read the book to find out more.

We spend most of the book in Vaelin’s country, the Unified Realm made up of conquered kingdoms ruled by King Janus, whom we get to know quite well. For most of the book he seems like a pretty clever and well learned man. He of course isn’t always easy to deal with and you get a look into how others may not be so happy with his rule. Then there is his daughter the Princess, who may be even smarter and strategic than he. Vaelin learns that making deals and getting favors from royalty comes with costs of course. The thing about Vaelin though is that he may start a mission one way, but alters his mindset with new information as he goes. He does his best to not sell his soul one could say. Vaelin still wants to be able to live with himself at the end of the day. The trials and tribulations are there throughout for our young warrior. Thanks to Vaelin’s adventures we also get to see the Alpiran Empire and a brief look in more “uncivilized” lands as well. There is also talk of different parts of the world so you get a sense there’s still a lot to learn and explore in future books. I really hope we get to know more, but there is still much to experience in the Unified Realms due to what happens at the end of this book. Its a well structured story and believable world.

To shorten what I want to say to you. If you want fantasy, magic, a single compelling character PoV, cool battle scenes, interesting secondary characters, slow burn romance, interesting world building, and pretty straightforward writing with realistic twists then this is the book for you. Just do not expect a fast paced story as by the end of this book Vaelin is still quite young, but still has an adventurous life even to this point. So what you waiting for readers? Go read it already. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing my time in this world. 


The Emperor’s Soul | Short Story Review

I picked up The Emperor’s Soul as part of my first time read through Sanderson’s Cosmere. I recently read and loved Elantris. Just like Elantris, The Emperor’s Soul is set in the same world: Sel. Sanderson’s short story was published in 2012 and won the 2013 Hugo Award. Depending on what version of short story you have, the page count can very. My version is 124 pages. You can find The Emperor’s Soul in Arcanum Unbounded, which is a collection of Cosmere short stories.

Arcanum Unbounded Praise

Before I get to the review, I want to give Arcanum Unbounded some praise. This is probably one of the most put together short stories collections I’ve seen. Most collections just put all of the stories together in no particular order even some are out of chronological order. What I liked about Arcanum Unbounded was the format. I will admit I have not read every story in this collection only because these stories take place in other worlds and as part of other series. For an example, Edgedancer is a novella related to the Stormlight Archive, which I haven’t read.

Each story either starts with an awesome picture or a beautiful map of that world’s solar system. After the artwork, the story follows. At the end of each story is an Postscript where Sanderson’s talks about what inspired him to write this story. Overall, I thought this made this short story collection worth the purchase. I recommend picking this up if you are a big fan of the Cosmere and want to dive deeper then just the main series and standalones.

The Review

I went into this story completely blind. I knew it is part of the same world as Elantris and is a fan favorite. But I had no idea how great this story really was. We follow Shai, who is a thief and forger. I immediately was invested in this story based on that alone. It reminded me of the show White Collar. In White Collar you follow Neal Caffrey, who’s a con-artist turned informant for the FBI. There are so many similarities between the show and this short story.

Some things I really like was the strong female character and the unique magic. The magic really made it interesting and drove the plot forward. I liked the format this story had. There is a time frame for which a magical task needs to be completed. Every chapter was a particular day leading up to the deadline. This format drove the pacing of the story. Right away we discover how high the stakes are for the Shai and how impossible this task might be. Nothing is more fun to me then watching a main character try to beat the odds.

Overall, this story was phenomenal. You really don’t need to read Elantris to follow The Emperor’s Soul. It only takes place on the same world but both events are separate of each other. This is definitely a great standalone short story in the Cosmere and makes me really excited about how everything is interconnected in some way. I personally wouldn’t recommend this as your first entry into Sanderson but if you some how pick this up as your first experience for Sanderson you wouldn’t be disappointed. I think these stories are the type of thing one who loves Elantris, Warbreaker, Mistborn or Stormlight Archive would seek out. But with that said, this story is worth the time. It’s beautifully written. The character Shai is amazing and the magic system is mind-blowing. Easily the best short story I’ve read this year. 5 out of 5 stars.


In the Orbit of Sirens: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up, we had In the Orbit of Sirens, The Song of Kamaria Book 1, by T.A. Bruno. This is the last book in the semi-finals round for my Team Space Lasagna reviews, although I may read some more of the semi-finalists and review them if I get a chance and there will be more to come in the finals round later this month.

How was this book? Well, let me tell you. I’m mad. Hopping mad, I say! And why?

Well, you know the movie Avatar, right? Came out in like 2009, they’ve been threatening us with sequels for a solid decade? Bullshit Dances with Pocahontas plot? No actual Airbenders in it? You know the one.

Anyway, In the Orbit of Sirens is like “what if Avatar, but actually really good and with an imaginative plot and characters instead?”

So, the stuff that I loved about the movie (I’ll stop referring to it specifically now, I absolutely don’t want to imply this is derivative) – the amazing planet and landscape, the premise of humans as invaders unsuited to live in the new world, the wealth of visual storytelling, great creatures and biological interplay, the deep communion between alien sentients and their environment that humans lack – all of that was in the book, in spades. And even more so – the interconnected nature of the life-forms wasn’t so dumb and didn’t involve any gonad-braids at all – not even one! The biosphere and its layers and complexity were amped up, and on top of that you got an actually interesting and original plot and concepts.

Talking about creativity, Bruno’s attention to detail goes above and beyond. One day I will get a 3D printer and I hope his work (like this dray’va below) will be available to make miniatures out of. Although among all the creatures and characters in this story, in my opinion the dray’va were done the most dirty. That was really sad, man.

What did they ever do to deserve … oh, right. All the things.

Anyway, where was I?

Earth has been overrun by the hostile Undriel. A pair of colonist / refugee ships, five years apart, have arrived at Kamaria where the air is unbreathable due to an aggressive bacterial something-or-other. The lead ship arrives with the mission to find a cure for humanity so the colonists of the second ship will be safe. The first part of the book interfolds the two groups’ stories really interestingly, as challenges and adventures befall both on their quests to adapt to life on Kamaria and escape the doomed solar system of Earth, respectively. Really nice.

My only complaint here would be that the opening seemed a bit … unpolished? Whether that was just an illusion because I got used to the writing, or if some parts had received more editing than others, it was hard to say. But the opening chapters were a little cumbersome with unnecessary adjectives and stuff – I don’t say this often because I fucking love adjectives but for the elegant and exciting opening the book has, it was made more difficult than it needed to be. Just my opinion, obviously I got past it and I was heartily glad I did. It may have put me off if I was leafing through it at a bookstore or on the Amazon’s Look Inside click-through, you know?

Bill Herman, of the Competing Mechanics Shop Hermans – I’ll say this here because I can’t find a better place for it – is a grade-A moron and deserved everything that happened to him and his entire family. I do wonder if we’ll see more of that in later books. The threat of the Undriel has not actually gone away, and remains a focal plot point of this book and the story going forward, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Certainly shits all over unobtainium. But then, everything shits all over unobtainium when used unironically.

By the time we started to get a good look at Kamaria and its native species, I was enthralled by it. And like I said, there’s a whole lot more thought and care in this, and a whole lot more imagination and creativity put into the plot. The interweaving threads with Roelin and Nhymn (harrowing), Elly and Denton (adorbs), the simple colonist-family dramas (comforting) and rivalries (tropey but fun) are all excellent.

Mitch Harlan, of the Douchey Colonist Ruling Class Harlans – I will again say this here in absence of a more appropriate spot – there is no way someone as abrasive and shitty would ever work on a scout team. He should have been auto-failed the moment he showed up. Was he allowed to even be considered because of his Connections? I wasn’t buying it, but that shit happens I guess. My theory was that Mitch would become a rival scout of some kind and would eat Siren goo because he’s a giant idiot and that he’d threaten Elly, but Bruno was ahead of me on that one. Good stuff. They still should have shot him in the face at the first opportunity. I’m just saying, these things happen. The Scottish guy could definitely have made it look like an accident.

I really enjoyed the way we moved through the months and years of the colony’s existence, and gradually caught up with the Roelin flashbacks and dream sequences. Even before that crossed the WTF horizon and turned into some sort of hallucinogenic time travel event, it was great. The origin of Sympha and Nhymn was such a sad story, and best of all it didn’t have a whole bunch of helpless feather-wearing Native American analogues wailing insultingly to hammer anything home (although make no mistake, the Auk’nai do have wings so there may be something like feathers there).

All in all this was a great story and left me wanting more.

I was also unable to shake this as the mental image I had of Roelin and Nhymn, since I’d just been watching Moon Knight as I was reading the book. But both stories were actually enhanced by that comparison. Actually…

Even the Auk’nai staffs are kind of like … well anyway. It was awesome. I love these little interconnections.

Sex-o-meter

Denton and Elly are sweet. There wasn’t really any sex in the story, certainly nothing graphic, and it doesn’t suffer for the absence. One completely normal and inoffensive nezzarform out of ten possible great big nezzarforms shaped like confrontingly-swollen wing-wangs.

Gore-o-meter

With a healthy heaping plateful of beastie attacks, grenade blowy-uppy and assorted space and air dogfights, In the Orbit of Sirens was a gory one – but again it was appropriate to the plot and I didn’t find it off-putting. Just enough to show the reader that Kamaria’s not playing. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

So – are the Sirens … what are they? Pure weapons-grade WTF is what. There’s a whole lot of mystery here and a whole lot of the psychedelic ragged-edge-of-science stuff I like from an alien biome. I enjoyed the big Ganon blight energy of the nezzarforms. The Auk’nai crystals and the lunglock, in fact the whole wider crystal thing seemed like a McGuffin as of the end of the book but I guess we’ll see. I liked it. I thought Sympha, at the start when Roelin flew there, was bigger than mountains – was that a dream? The sizes seemed a little inconsistently presented but I may just have been not paying enough attention. Are the ribcage mountains other things? The Sirens are clearly a greater whole than just Sympha and Nhymn – they’re just the top of the iceberg. And what are the Undriel? The hints about their origins were just tantalising enough, and their actions deliciously ghoulish. Left me wanting more. The WTF-o-meter is giving this a Cubone the size of an offshore oil rig out of a possible offshore oil rig the size of a Cubone.

My Final Verdict

A brilliantly imaginative story in a mind’s-eye-visually stunning setting, all the beats were there and it makes for a most excellent song. I give this one four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.