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.