May 30th, 2008, 06:50 PM
Pamela Freeman - Blood Ties
Review originally available at Realms of Speculative Fiction.
Pamela Freeman - "Blood Ties"
"Blood Ties" is a typical representative of the new wave of fantasy literature - that is, it can easily remind the reader of Karen Miller's "Kingmaker, Kingbreaker", Brian Ruckley's "The Godless World", Scott Lynch's "Lies of Locke Lamora" or Joe Abercrombie's "First Law" trilogy - it reminded me of these books anyway, but the list of books that fall under this label doesn't stop here. The template of a medieval city is the prevalent setting for the story - most of the events are happening in the world surrounded by merchants, thieves, craftsmen, farmers and the like. There also have to be people who hold the power and pull all the strings - in this case this role is taken by warlords, whose power is absolute and omnipresent everywhere, except in the free cities. Their men are all over their Domain - officially, they are soldiers, bound to protect the people, but in truth, they are mostly just merciless thugs and brawlers. Gods, old legends and histories play a large and important part in the story. The role of the outsider is given to the race of nomads (surprise!), who are shunned by the so-called "Acton's people"; but they are slowly being integrated into the populace. Freeman uses other genre convention as well - the warlord, a power-crazed figure that lusts after conquering, joining together, and then ruling all the Domains; we also have magic, although used rarely. A welcome refreshment to the fantasy formula is the way how Pamela Freeman handles prophecies - instead of using a trope of an old, doom impeding prophecy that would (pre)determine the plot, there are just usual mundane prophecies that people are very familiar with, since they can get them from the stonecasters, who are able to read the fate of others. This is the point, where I noticed the first difference and realized that this book is not just another example of new wave fantasy, but has merits on its own.
The first thing I've noticed about "Blood Ties" is that each chapter tells a story of a different POV. It's a well-versed and familiar pattern by now, but what counts is that Freeman succeeds in not changing character perspectives at a wrong time -- we all know the feeling when an interesting POV's story is abruptly cut off just to be replaced by a duller POV -- I guess this is partly due to the fact that I found most of the characters interesting enough, plus, there are only three main protagonists - Saker, an enchanter (who appears rarely and his chapters are relatively short), Bramble, a village girl, who has the ability to tame even the wildest horses, and Ash, a safeguarder by proffesion. Unfortunately, there are still some nasty cliffhangers present in the book, but nothing that would make you fuss over too much or even resent the author. What I really liked is the small twist to a classical POV structure - in select few chapters, a couple of minor characters convey their stories, which usually reveal information relevant to the main story arc.
The plot, as mentioned before, is unashamedly straight-forward and very typical - travelling, surviving and stuff like that, but the lack of young-apprentice-turns-hero prophecy felt like a balm to my eyes. Freeman creates a world where asking about your fate is almost like going out for a beer and accepting the answer you get is the most logical thing to do. It makes the whole thing a lot more convincing - "why me? I'm just a simple farm boy!" is a classic answer when a hero-to-be hears the news/rumors that he is supposed to be The Chosen One; but when he starts slaying beasts/foes with one hand, gathers followers with the other and in between uses his superior wits to achieve the unachievable - then you are safe to say that the suspension of disbelief is heavily strained. But in "Blood Ties", the characters rarely complain about their fate (and even when they do, they do it half-heartedly), not to mention that they don't need to repeat how ordinary and unsuited for the task they really are - by that point in the story this will already be crystal clear to the reader.
The thing that bothered me the most is character development, which is a bit unsatisfactory at times. You observe the main protagonists learning this and that, travelling to and fro, but their emotional and personal growth seems somewhat erratic or even illogical at times. [warning - minor spoilers ahead] For example, Ash has strong feelings for Doronit - he adores and lusts after her badly (he is more than partial where she is involved); so it was hard for me to believe, that at a certain point of the story he suddenly realizes -- without any proper explanation -- how she deceived and took advantage of him. Seeing through her wicked ways right at a crucial moment, he stands up against her and acts against her orders. Besides, even though he treated Martine as his friend, he barely knew her at that time, and was even a bit suspicious of her. Or, if we look at Bramble - she masters the skill of treating and training the horses, but isn't able to judge her faithful roan unfit to enter the chase? [end of spoilers]
And then there is Saker, who shows no personal growth at all, he just keeps doing things he does - partly for reasons of his own, but mostly to please his deceased father. Family matters permeate "Blood Ties" (I guess that's what gave the novel its name - relationships, between spouses, between parents and their (fostered) children, and between siblings present a discernible thread in the book. The main theme I observed in the novel is a wish to belong - to be a part of something, to be loved by someone and to have family/home to return to. This is rather unusual for a book of the fantasy genre, where theme(s) of heroism, loyalty, despair and so forth are usually in the fore. Here, an important part of the story is built on family bonds - ghosts of the dead are everywhere, returning to the world of living for revenge, love or simply to repay a debt, but only a few gifted people can actually communicate with them.
All things considered, this novel is good, the world-building is subtle and efficient, and the plot -- classical in its essence -- has a couple of innovative elements. If you enjoy a light and fast-paced read in the vein of "Kingmaker, Kingbreaker" (and some of the other books I mentioned at the beginning), you'll certainly enjoy this one as well. "Blood Ties" is an easygoing and entertaining book that never fails to be interesting. I can't wait to read the sequel.
(3 Evil Fruitcakes and a half!)
May 30th, 2008, 07:51 PM
Very nice thoughts, and I'm glad to see another review of this one as I've been thinking of giving it a try. I think you've convinced me. It'll be interesting to see how a semi-traditional fantasy story meshes with the themes of family and belonging that you mention. Plus, ... there's ghosts!
Bowl for my bong
Last edited by mjolnir; April 29th, 2011 at 02:14 AM.
May 31st, 2008, 04:03 AM
Yeah, if there weren't for the ghosts...I wouldn't even bother No really, I'm glad you liked the review.
June 1st, 2008, 04:58 AM
I recall enjoying this as well. Very understated, almost 'anti-epic'. The astrology and ghosts in it are so far better than the politics of the duchies, but she might flesh the latter out in the next two.
October 11th, 2008, 05:58 AM
So Deep Water's been out for a fortnight or so. Anyone had a chance to read?
August 31st, 2010, 12:12 PM
This book is on my list of ones to try and get at my library as they stock it. This review did peak my interest more
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