Blood Song (Raven's Shadow 1) by Anthony Ryan
The fantasy debut (as far as I know though I heard the author's name is a pseudonym so unsure if it is really a fantasy debut or not) of the year by far; an independently published book to boot but picked up by Penguin so will be traditionally published in 2013 most likely too but now it is a steal as price goes; my review on FBC (Mihir has a part too but I will post only my part):
INTRODUCTION: When I first heard of Blood Song, the blurb below seemed to indicate a traditional epic fantasy of the kind I have been moving away from, so I did not really pay attention to it despite some enthusiastic recommendations.
However I recently saw a comparison of the book with The Name of the Wind and that attracted my attention, so I got the Smashwords sample and after reading the first few paragraphs I will quote later, the novel became just impossible to put down and I had to read it asap and to reread it immediately on finishing it as I could not part from the wonderful universe the author created.
As for the comparison that made me open the novel, it definitely holds in the narrative pull as Anthony Ryan's prose is as compelling as Patrick Rothfuss', though indeed the content of Blood Song is quite traditional, while The Name of the Wind is "post traditional".
"An epic fantasy exploring themes of conflict, loyalty and religious faith. Vaelin Al Sorna, Brother of the Sixth Order, has been trained from childhood to fight and kill in service to the Faith. Ensnared in an unjust war by a king possessed of either madness or genius, Vaelin seeks to answer the question that will decide the fate of the Realm: …who is the one who waits?"
Note that while Blood Song has been independently published by the author, the whole trilogy which it so magnificently debuts has been acquired by Penguin and will be traditionally published starting in 2013, so grab the ebook at its currently value price as fast as you can!
Book two - The Tower Lord - is currently being written and the author hopes to have it done by the end of the year, but Blood Song offers a full reading experience and ends at a great stopping point.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Liviu) Blood Song starts with the narration of an enemy historian charged with chronicling the end of "Hope Killer" as Vaelin is known in the Alpiran Empire where he has been imprisoned for five years and from where he is now sent to fight a duel to the death everyone believes he will lose or even if he triumphs, he will be anyway killed by the duel's hosts for the deeds of his father, the former First Battle Lord of the Unified Realm in which most of the action takes place.
Because you see, the host city of the duel is the capital of the piratical Meldenean nation, capital which had been burned by Vaelin's father on King Janus' orders some decades ago, event which turned to be quite crucial in some other ways we learn about later.
After the introduction, the book goes back to the beginning and Vaelin's unceremonious dumping by his father on the steps of the Sixth Order when he was 10 and his beloved mother has just died of an illness and follows Vaelin's POV in the usual third person narration of epic fantasy; his training in the order, the expected trials that weed the weak and morally unfit, his order friends etc, the usual stuff you've most likely seen lots of times, but done brilliantly here.
"He had many names. Although yet to reach his thirtieth year history had seen fit to garner him with titles aplenty: Sword of the Realm to the mad king who sent him to plague us, the Young Hawk to the men who followed him through the trials of war, Darkblade to his Cumbraelin enemies and, as I was to learn much later, Beral Shak Ur to the enigmatic tribes of the Great Northern Forest - the Shadow of the Raven.
But my people knew him by but one name and it was this that sang in my head continually the morning they brought him to the docks: Hope Killer. Soon you will die and I will see it. Hope Killer.
Although certainly taller than most men, I was surprised to find that, contrary to the tales I had heard, he was no giant, and whilst his features were strong they could hardly be called handsome. His frame was muscular but not possessed of the massive thews described so vividly by the story tellers. The only aspect of his appearance to match his legend were his eyes: black as jet and piercing as a hawk’s. They said his eyes could strip a man’s soul bare, that no secret could be hidden if he met your gaze. I had never believed it but seeing him now I could see why others would."
While the Realm's Faith is different from the usual in the sense that it is literally godless being based on venerating the spirits of the ancestors from the Beyond, spirits that can be communed with by the truly faithful - or so it is believed of course - and its Fourth Order aka its Inquisition hunts heretics of all kinds but especially god followers, such being considered a major heresy - a lot of the rest is standard with the orders being devoted to healing (Fifth), learning (Third), battle (Sixth of course), ministering the living, communing with the dead and spreading the faith (First and Second) and of course six is not the usual "holy" number, which tends to be seven...
Also the Unified Realm is the usual pseudo-medieval country though this time it is also literally formed of four distinct and not getting along that well realms that have been united only occasionally throughout history, most recently by the elderly King Janus a while ago when he was in his prime.
And of course coming from a celebrated father and a quite famous mother - though the whys and the hows of that are to be found only later as the novel progresses - Vaelin is the ultimate boy with a destiny. But again there is a tweak, as his expected destiny - marry Lyrna, Janus' daughter and be the right hand of the King's well meaning but seemingly ineffectual son Malcius - seems to take a definite detour when he is dumped on the Sixth Order's steps and is accepted to the austere, celibate and generally hard life of an Warrior of the Faith. Though as we are in epic fantasy, destiny is not to be trifled with!
So if you like the "boy with a destiny" story, do not hesitate and get and read this book as it stands among the best such. But even if you do not like that much the above or if you moved away from this type of story like myself, give Blood Song a try as the narrative pull is just extraordinary, the world building very good - with a lot of thought behind, with depth and space and with lots of subtle touches you will enjoy along the way - while the characters from Vaelin to his "order brothers", Dentos, Barkus, Caenis and Nortah - all from quite different backgrounds from the very poor like Dentos, to Nortah, the son of the first minister of the realm who had to keep up in his rivalry with the Battle Lord, so he had to send his only son to the Sixth also - to various masters of the Orders, heretics, healers, fighters, tradesmen, noblemen and of course the several important women from Vaelin's life are simply outstanding...
Blood Song is just awesome and a top 25 novel of mine for 2012, novel that came out of nowhere but made me a fan of the author for the duration!