We have fought battles that left more than a hundred corpses on the ground, and not a word of it has ever been set down. The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners.
Vaelin Al Sorna’s life changes for ever the day his father abandons him at the gates of the Sixth Order, a secretive military arm of the Faith. Together with his fellow initiates, Vaelin undertakes a brutal training regime – where the price of failure is often death. Under the tutelage of the Order’s masters, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly.
Now his new skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin is the Sixth Order’s deadliest weapon and the Realm’s only hope. He must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict. Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.
I have to confess I had a copy of Blood Song by Anthony Ryan for over a year before I finally got around to reading it. It is very much my type of book, so I had to wonder why. Really, I think the answer is simple. This book had received so much praise that I was worried my expectations were too high. On top of that, this book was originally self-published and I had to wonder if the praise was because readers had lower expectations of it. Well, now that I have read it, all I can say is:
I have drunk the Blood Song Kool-Aid and join the others in saying this book absolutely deserves the praise and high ratings based on sheer quality. It’s not hype, it’s not based on lower expectations. This book is just an amazing read whether it is self or traditionally published.
The setup of this book feels quite familiar. The story starts with Vaelin Al Sorna, a child who is destined to earn himself many names in many legends. That certainly gives potential for a reader to feel like they’ve been there before, read that book. Also gives the potential to feel like the protagonist is going to excel at everything, be one of those annoying characters that can do no wrong. But somehow I found myself fully absorbed. If there are generic elements to it (which I guess there are), I found myself just not caring, drawn from one page to another to follow the story of Vaelin, because ultimately, this is a character driven page-turner of an epic fantasy. And for the record, Vaelin is fallible and can (and does) do things wrong. He may excel in some areas, but certainly not all.
I really enjoyed the setup and political positioning of countries, people, and especially the Order in this book. The Order is a religious group based on the Faith. It has 6 branches, each with their own specialty ranging from healing to war. Vaelin is left at the doors of the Sixth Order, the Order trained in war and fighting for the Faith. He is to consider the Order his family now and sever all ties to the man who was once his father. This training is grueling and deadly, only a small percentage of the boys who enter live through the training and testing to take to the final step to become a brother. Parts of this reminded me of Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games, because these are kids and they are expected to survive and cope in an environment where they watch most of their peers dwindle away, knowing full well, they may not survive the next test themselves.
I’ve heard this referred to as the next Name of the Wind. And, true, the stories are structurally similar. Blood Song has journal passages from Verniers, who is trying to chronicle Vaelin’s life. The rest of the story is told as a flashback from Vaelin. That certainly sounds reminiscent of Name of the Wind. Pair that with a young protagonist who finds himself without his family and is destined to fulfill prophecies and earn himself a place in legends. Also sounds the same. Add to that they are both character driven page turners, yeah, I can see why people make the comparison. But honestly, I don’t care for it. I feel like these comparisons almost become superficial once you get into the books. There are differences, while Ryan’s writing is by all means excellent, I’d say Rothfuss probably has the prettier prose. I also get a much larger sense of intrigue from Blood Song. But my biggest complaint for the comparison is that I just feel the stories and characters are different and unique in their own ways and Blood Song deserves to be thought of not as ‘the next’ anything, but just as itself, Blood Song. After reading the book, I feel that is praise enough.
The book really examines blind loyalty to both faith and country. And of course, conflicts occur when one loyalty to one is in opposition to the other. Who do you serve? Your King or your Faith? And are either really what serve you or others the best?
The events in this book are a constant effect of powerful people making plays to solidify their interests, using people, armies and servants as their pieces in the game. And I am left with the feeling that this book was just the first couple of moves in a much bigger game. I can’t wait for next book to be released so I can see where it will take us next.