Friday, 30 May 2008

‘Bloodheir’ – Brian Ruckley (Orbit Books)

Despite a slow start, I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Winterbirth’ and the prospect of more goodness to follow meant that ‘Bloodheir’ swiftly became one of my ‘can’t wait to get hold of this’ books for 2008. So why is then that I’ve only just got round to reading it when I’ve had a review copy sat on my shelf for a few months? Well, apart from the fact that I’ve been spoilt for choice as far as good reads go a number of other reviewers got there before I did so I thought I’d wait for a bit. It’s now the week before ‘Bloodheir’ is released and I’ve finally got round to reading it. It’s great. I loved it and if you enjoyed ‘Winterbirth’ then I think you’ll enjoy it too.
I interviewed Brian last year and one of the questions I asked was what we could expect to see in ‘Bloodheir’, his answer was,

If my agent’s response is any guide, the answer to that is ‘dark’. I’ve always thought of the trilogy in fairly straightforward beginning, middle and end terms (scriptwriters would call it the ‘Three Act’ structure, I think). In ‘Winterbirth’, the main characters are presented with a set of problems; in ‘Bloodheir’ the problems get worse, for pretty much everyone, and some possible solutions are (faintly) hinted at…
That’s the long answer. The ten word answer is: Bigger battles, reversals, faltering alliances, assassination, Anain, Highfast. More snow

Not surprisingly (seeing as he wrote the book!) Brian hit the nail right on the head with his answer, ‘Bloodheir’ is a very dark book full of betrayal and setbacks and it was this that made it such an enthralling read as far as I was concerned.
The war between clans of the ‘Black Road’ and those of the True Blood continues and monumental stupidity on the part of the Bloodheir helps to ensure that the outcome is in no doubt. Or is it? Whilst internal divisions trouble both sides the na’kyrim Aeglyss uses his new found power to twist people to his will for his own ends. If this wasn’t bad enough Aeglyss’ power has awoken the Anain which can only spell trouble for everyone…
Before you start reading ‘Bloodheir’ it’s probably a good idea to have a quick flick through ‘Winterbirth’ first. Not only is it a great book but it will also refresh your memory in a way that the ‘What has gone before’ section (in ‘Bloodheir’) fails to do. I didn’t re-read ‘Winterbirth’ and quickly got bogged down catching up with a whole bunch of characters that the introductory piece hadn’t mentioned. This is a very convoluted tale so, as you can imagine, there is a lot to catch up on! Because of the size of the cast, and everything that is (or will be) happening, it also takes a while to manoeuvre everyone into place which means you get a lot of journeys/meetings etc which are important to the plot but aren’t exactly enthralling to read. Ironically, it’s the level of detail that Ruckley goes into which redeems these passages. The attitude seems to be that if you’re going to be stuck on a long journey then you may as well learn something about the surrounding area while you’re there! It’s a really ‘gradual’ approach to world building that doesn’t get in your face, I was surprised to find out just how much I’d picked up (about the world of the True Bloods and the Black Road) without even realising it.
Just before the halfway mark, Ruckley gets everyone just where he wants them and things really start to happen. I’ve heard Greg Keyes be compared to George R. R. Martin but, to my mind, Ruckley edges Keyes in this respect for the sheer grittiness of his work and the fact that he can throw the reader a wicked curve ball that blows your expectations right out of the water. Characters who are seemingly aimed down one path often find themselves doing completely different and Ruckley is also not afraid to kill his characters where necessary so don’t get too attached to anyone! Having said this, it’s quite hard not to get attached to characters that are well drawn and sympathetic, I even felt sorry for Aeglyss on more than one occasion.
As far as I’m concerned, ‘epic fantasy’ isn’t all that epic if there isn’t at least one major battle. Ruckley puts the ‘epic’ into his work with some particularly brutal affairs where no expense is spared in showing the reader exactly what is going on. More please!
‘Bloodheir’ is another slow starter from Ruckley and I hope that this is something that he avoids in the final book. However, once you get past that then I think you’re in for a treat of a read that will appeal to all fans of epic fantasy. I’m looking forward to the final book…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Have a click Here for my review of 'Winterbirth' and there's also an interview with Brian Here if you fancy a look!

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