Published by Orbit
Anyone setting out to write one long novel in the form of a trilogy must in some way deal with the burden of the second installment. Initial volumes and concluding volumes are much more simple and straightforward than those in the middle. Volume one introduces characters, world, issues, and ideas. Volume three takes the threads from previous volumes and brings them to some sort of conclusion. Middle volumes, though, tend to be the place where authors either stand tall or fall flat. How do we get from the end of book one to the beginning of book three in some kind of narratively compelling way?
Brian Ruckley gives us one answer in the second installment of The Godless World, Bloodheir.
For those who have not read the first volume, Winterbirth (previously reviewed by Rob), it is the story of an invasion from the northlands by a people long exiled. They are the Black Road; they believe in predestination and the fact that they will prevail over their southern neighbors in the end because it is fated. With the help of a halfbreed sorcerer, Aeglyss, the Black Road shatters the peace of the central Thanedoms, laying waste to the bloodlines of several ruling families. The end of the volume sees the young Thane Orisian on the run, his lands in control of the Black Road, and the halfbreed sorcerer coming into unseen, unfathomable power coupled with hatred.
In Bloodheir, Ruckley weaves a compelling tale that mostly treads close to one's expectations. I use the word "mostly," as there are enough times and situations where he deviates from the expectation to make this a refreshing read. Given the setup in Winterbirth, it would have been easy for Ruckley to follow the trite formulas of fantasy and give us something we'd read time and time again, where the unhomed princeling comes into his own and begins the process of gathering his troops to fight off the evil in his lands. The truth of it is, we see very little of the princeling in this book, which may come as a disappointment to those who were hoping to see his character further developed.
The absence of the princeling leads us to one of the most refreshing things about this book. We spend the majority of the time with some of the "bad guys" from the first book: the Thane of Thane's Chancellor, the halfbreed sorcerer, the Thane of the invading Black Road. In spending time with them, Ruckley explores the motivations of the invading force and the political climate at home which allowed the events in Winterbirth to come to pass. Scenes involving Kanin, the Black Road Thane, are especially interesting, as Ruckley explores a bit more of the Black Road's philosophy of predestination, which felt a bit thin in the first book. Here in Bloodheir, though, it is much more convincing and compelling.
The time spent with the sorcerer Aeglyss doesn't fully live up to the promise of Winterbirth. The end of Winterbirth left the door wide open to do any number of interesting things with him. And while he realizes much of his potential as a character in Bloodheir, it seems Ruckley goes just a little too much for the wringing-of-hands, society-rejected, evil character as opposed to something wholly unique. Even given that, he's still a sympathetic character with great potential for the concluding volume.
Though the plot ends up largely where a reader would expect, Bloodheir throws quite a few surprises into the mix along the way. Characters and characterization are handled in ways that I found surprising throughout. Quite a bit of blood is spilled, and not all of it that of minor characters. There are also signs of powerful forces at work under the surface of reality which make one think that Ruckley has a few trump cards yet to play in his Godless World trilogy.
In short, Ruckley takes up the threads from the end of Winterbirth and brings us successfully through the difficulties of a second volume. Though nothing happens here that will convince someone who didn't enjoy Winterbirth that this series is worth their time, those who enjoyed Winterbirth should feel that the ante has been upped and that the forthcoming volume will be a must-read.
© 2008 Joey O'Donnell
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