Blood Song by Anthony Ryan is a coming of age story, just one with lots and lots of death.
Vaelin al Sorna is on his way to a duel, one that most think he will lose. As he ponders his death, he tells his story to a scribe of the empire his realm had fought in a great war. Vaelin had killed the heir to the empire and he goes into great detail as to how he was led to that point. The story starts when a ten year old Vaelin is dropped off at the House of the Sixth Order – a faith-based entity that teaches the young boys to become soldiers of the Faith. Now, this is where it gets interesting and the story takes off. Unlike most coming of age stories, this gets into the nitty-gritty of how the boys grow up to be soldiers of the realm. There are a number of tests over the years that boys don’t live through. Vaelin succeeds and through the years, his reputation grows. Then some things happen, plots thicken politically and Vaelin is sent to fight in the war for a King he knows he must obey, even though he doesn’t trust him. Vaelin’s story is tragic as he loses “brothers”, learns about his faith and humanity, and comes to love throughout this story.
This is a stunning debut for Mr. Ryan, one that kept me reading late into the night. Normally I don’t like tutoring/education stories where a lot of it takes place during classes or schooling. But this story has so many different avenues that it goes down that I couldn’t put the book down.
The different Tests that the boys have to pass are incredible and so vivid that you wonder how anyone could pass those. Though it is told only through Vaelin’s POV, there was so much character depth of the supporting characters that you felt you were there with them. The years they are in training pass quickly, never lingering longer than necessary, which is great for this plot.
Vaelin’s growth over the years is great to witness because he truly grows as a character. His chagrin for murder, but the knowledge that he is a murderer for his faith is unnerving sometimes because you feel for him. The decisions he makes to spurn charges given to him are thought-provoking and a good turn to what you think he would do.
Though there are a ton of political plots and schemes, because we are in Vaelin’s POV makes it bearable. I enjoy a good plot, but sometimes stories get too bogged down with twists and turns that it takes away from the story. There is none of that here. Vaelin does what he must and deals with the consequences of the schemes going on around him.
Before each part (the story is divided into 5 parts), there is a “present-day” account by the scribe taking Vaelin’s story down. What is really great about these parts is that the scribe hates Vaelin because of his killing the empire’s heir, but toward the end of the story, he starts to grudgingly respect him. And the fact that Vaelin doesn’t tell the scribe everything that is told to the reader, is great, such as his allowing someone to live when they shouldn’t or sending away the woman he fell in love with. It was a fantastic move by Mr. Ryan to show that even the most faithful can hide something.
There isn’t much that is bad with this book, but I can point to a few things that irritated me just slightly.
These characters in the Order are brothers by necessity, but they always call each other brother. It gets tedious when every sentence ends with “…., brother.” And it goes back and forth throughout the whole novel. A bit excessive to me.
Another thing that made me a bit upset is that there is all this talk of Vaelin’s reputation and how feared he is, but I didn’t get that as a reader. Sure there were things he did that would make others fear or respect him, but not as much as the author tells us he is. This story is long enough that I can understand we have to take it with a grain of salt sometimes, but I would have wished for a bit more here.
And the magic system was somewhat left unanswered with this book. While cool and interesting, I was left with too many unanswered questions to the magic, especially Vaelin’s Blood Song. I’m sure this will be explained within the other two books of this trilogy, but I wish there was more.
5 out of 5