Once again I fell for the hype surrounding “Blood Song” by Anthony Ryan. A lot of trusted bloggers pitched this guy as the next best thing in fantasy, with many claiming it to be a “Darker Name of the Wind.” While it does have some cool moments, overall I was a bit underwhelmed.
Blood Song is told from the viewpoint of Vaelin Al Sorna. The story opens with Vaelin being transported to face a trial by combat. On his way to this trial he tells his life story to a chronicler from a neighboring kingdom. This “Rothfuss formula” didn’t really bother me too much, and even though it wasn’t the most original plot device, I found these brief interludes interesting. The real story begins with Vaelin’s father dropping him off to become a brother of the 6th order. The 6th order are defenders of “the faith” and for the most part the reader gets to watch Vaelin go from young recruit to respected leader in the 6th order.
At first I was interested in watching Vaelin progress within the order, but then at some point it began to feel way too similar, as if I had read this very story before. The 6th order was basically a rip off of Martin’s Night’s Watch from A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a bunch of young men who don’t really want to be there, but slowly they begin to believe that what they’re doing is honorable. This cliché has been done before, and unfortunately Anthony Ryan didn’t spice it up enough for me. Rothfuss had Kvothe going through the magic academy, Harry Potter had Hogwarts, Jon Snow had the Night’s Watch, and Peter V. Brett did it with Jardir in The Desert Spear. These are just a few that I could think of. I’m aware how difficult it must be to put a new spin on the whole “young man trains at a medieval academy” but when Vaelin befriends a large wolf it just reeked of Martin fan fiction. Needless to say I was excited when Vaelin finally journeys beyond the compounds of the 6th order.
When Vaelin finally does depart the 6th order things pick up a bit. He stumbles upon an ancient prophecy, and he slowly becomes the notorious legend that we met at the beginning of the novel. Since we know that this whole story is being told backwards, the sense of danger concerning Vaelin is diminished. We know that he will survive every encounter, so when an action sequence came up I wasn’t really concerned because I already knew the outcome. Not soon after leaving the 6th order another cliché is introduced in the form of a forbidden romance between Vaelin and a young woman. I appreciate that Ryan was trying to break up the constant testosterone fueled story by introducing the reader to a female, but she soon turns out to be another cardboard cutout, a sassy healer.
When the book opens and Vaelin is introduced as a living legend I was intrigued. Who was this mysterious bad ass? The Hope Killer they called him! Unfortunately after catching up with Vaelin at the present moment, (towards the end of the book) he didn’t quite live up to the grand persona initially introduced.
Overall it sounds like I’ve really talked a lot of trash with this book, and yet I must admit that I am interested to see where the story goes in book 2. Ryan does conclude the story nicely, and a final reveal did leave me a bit stunned. Ryan is writing fantasy for a reason, you can tell that the man has a love of the genre and I can see why he has a legion of admirers. For me though, there were just too many clichés littered throughout that took away from my enjoyment. I will purchase book 2 because I think that Ryan has some great potential, and hopefully he has the confidence to break away from the mold and give us something great.