Friday, 4 July 2008

‘Blood Ties’ – Pamela Freeman (Orbit Books)


When I went out for lunch with the publicity lady from Orbit, a few months ago, ‘Blood Ties’ came up as one of the books that Orbit were most excited about and really wanted to push. A few reviews have already gone up around and about the place so I figured that I’d hold off for a bit (or until I needed another fairly slim read for the daily commute, whichever came first…)
My inability to get comfy and read ‘Toll the Hounds’ on a packed train bought ‘Blood Ties’ up to the top of the ‘to be read’ pile and I polished it off over the last couple of days. Well, I wouldn’t say ‘polished it off’ actually…

‘Blood Ties’ is the opening book in a trilogy that’s set in the Eleven Domains, areas of land that were invaded and resettled over a thousand years ago. The original inhabitants now wander the land as Travellers and are not welcome anywhere at all. The Warlords govern the Domains but these men are about to find that not everything lies under their control. In a land teeming with ghosts and fae creatures it is three humans who will come to challenge the status quo. Bramble is a village girl who the blurb describes as being ‘forced to flee her home for a crime she did not commit’ (she looked pretty guilty from what I read!). Ash is a safe-guarder with a special talent and a manipulative employer who will not let him go. Saker is an enchanter with a grudge who will do anything to see the land returned to his people…

For the most part, ‘Blood Ties’ is one of those smooth effortless reads where you suddenly find that you’ve read fifty pages without realising. There’s some beautifully described landscape that I could almost see and the story flows well alongside it, everything progressing naturally. Having said that though, when you look at what’s going on (and what it could end up meaning) there doesn’t seem to be any real sense of urgency about the characters or even the story itself. Seeing as ‘Blood Ties’ is the first book in a trilogy I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt for now…

As the first book, ‘Blood Ties’ does a lot of ‘scene setting’ which translated into a whole load of long journeys on horseback. Richly described journeys that serve no other purpose than world-building are quite high up on the list of things that I hate in fantasy books… If this wasn’t bad enough, one of the main characters ends up staying in a village for a couple of years (even though she’s on the run) and goes through some kind of time dilation sequence all of which seems to be purely so that she can arrive at her destination at the same time as two others… I have to say that I found this to be more than a little contrived…

It was really the characters that saved this book for me. Freeman spends a lot of time introducing us to them and letting us have a little look in their heads. Having got to know them this well I found myself really engaging with who they were and the struggles they were facing. Even the guy who looks like he’s being set up as the ‘evil villain’ has a side that will make you understand where he’s coming from at the very least.
What I really enjoyed is the way that Freeman takes time out to examine the consequences of various actions on lesser characters that may only appear for a sentence, or two, in the preceding chapter. This approach gives a sense of things being fleshed out as well as throwing up a few surprises to spice things up a bit…

‘Blood Ties’ is a beguiling read where some of the imagery on offer can suck you in before you realise the shortcomings. It has a real easygoing style that reminds me a little bit of David Eddings’ work. I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing; I’m wavering between the two…
Not great but the jury will remain out until the second book comes along.

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

5 comments:

SQT said...

I liked it better than you I think, but that's a very fair review. I didn't really think about the "convenience" factor when it came to some plot elements, but you're absolutely right.

Robert said...

Not sure about the Eddings comparison, but it is lighter-fare fantasy. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it and look forward to the sequel! Hope all is well by the way :)

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Nice review :)

I enjoyed it a bit more than you, I think, but I did acknowledge that some bits seemed contrived -- especially with the local gods always helping out Bramble and the way that Bramble and Ash met towards the end.

Still, a good read, I felt. According to Pamela things will pick up quite a bit in pace in Deep Water, due September.

~Chris
The Book Swede

Graeme Flory said...

Robert - It was the way that everything seemed to conveniently fit together that made me think of Edidngs... I'm still going to give the sequel a go though :o)
I'm all good here, hope life's treating you well!

Hey Chris! I'm hoping for a pick up in the pace so I'm glad you said that!

SQT - That makes it three people who enjoyed it more than me! :o)It was a fun read though, I'm just hoping for better things from the sequel...

gav (nextread) said...

Gah this isn't any help! LOL. I'm sitting on the fence about wanting to read this one and what do I find? A review that sits on the fence. Well not exactly as it didn't put you off reading the next one but you know what I mean.

The getting inside people's head thing sounds like someone I'd like...