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War continues to rage across the land as the Black Road marches on the True Bloods. Captain Taim Narran desperately tries to hold the Black Road back but faces problems at every turn. The worst of these problems come from the arrogant and inexperienced Aewult who commands the realms armies with inexperience and volatility. Meanwhile Aeglyss is rapidly becoming the World's most powerful na'kyrim and is set to unleash his new powers on an unsuspecting World. It would appear only young Thane Orisian understands the danger Aeglyss poses but can he do anything about it?
"Bloodheir" is the second part of Brian Ruckley's epic "Godless World" trilogy. Epic is a term too often used in the fantasy genre and is one I usually use for classics such as Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings". However, it is not a term that is misplaced here as Ruckley once again unleashes a superbly rich and complex fantasy novel. As with any middle book in a trilogy it benefits massively from not needing to do too much scene setting and as a result we are thrust instantly into a World of war, assasination and political intrigue. Of course, this means if you haven't read "Winterbirth", this books pre-cursor, it may well be totally lost on you as you muddle through complex family histories and terminology. However, as a continuation of a series this is pitched perfectly at an audience who want more warring factions and yet more love and loss.
Once again Ruckley gives us a strong cast of multi-faceted characters who are often duplicitous in their intentions. There are several sides here and you will find yourself struggling to figure out which one you should be rooting for. There is no true good and evil to be found and this makes for a far more rounded fantasy experience. If you want a stand out villain of the piece you will struggle to find one as characters on all sides are flawed and ultimately human.
In fact, despite being rich with vivid imagery this is fundamentally a book about characters and how they might behave. Despite being set in a traditional fantasy setting this is more of a novel of emotions and reactions. Characters have deep and varied backgrounds and there actions are rarely predictable. The tyrant can be a loving husband while the doting wife can also be a tyrant! Ruckley's writing differs a little in this outing in that the action can swiftly change from one characters viewpoint to another. This does make following the thread more difficult than the long narrative of "Winterbirth". However, it is also make "Bloodheir" far more exciting and adds a much faster pace to proceedings.
If I were to be picky, "Bloodheir" is slightly irritating as there is an obvious progression towards a final instalment that seemingly no serial novelist can avoid. Things seem to be motoring towards a conclusion and then everything ends quite abruptly leaving you yearning for more. No mean feat from a weighty 544 page tome! I highly recommend this accomplished and enthralling fantasy novel and cannot weight for an epic conclusion. Although you might want to read "Winterbirth" first
The Godless World is changing; the events of "Winterbirth" have left their scars and the Black Road is growing ever stronger. Many of the True Bloods are in mourning for their lost friends and relatives, but the battle isn't even nearly over. Encouraged by previous successes, the Black Road are pushing for further gains and they are being assisted by the rogue na'kyrim, Aeglyss, who is growing in power since being left to die on the Breaking Stone by the White Owls.
This isn't entirely welcomed, even amongst the Black Road, as many of them see Aeglyss as a half-breed and not a true follower of their creed. Whilst Aeglyss has the power to turn many of them to his way of thinking, others are not so deeply under his power and so there is discord. The same is true of the True Bloods, as whilst Aewult is the commander, as befits his position of the Bloodheir to the Thane of Thanes, the head of the most important of the True Blood families, his position seems to have gone to his head and he is not popular with many of the other Thanes.
Meanwhile, assisted by some of the na'kyrim friendly to their cause, Thane Orisian has taken some of his men in an attempt to capture K'rina, who is very important to Aeglyss, in an attempt to lessen his influence. At the same time, Aeglyss has come to the attention of the Anain, who are amongst the original beings created when the Gods were still in the world and are supposedly the most powerful beings in existence. It seems that there are to be two battles to be had; one physical battle between the two armies and a battle of power and influence between a powerful being and a powerful race.
There is an awful lot going on within the novel and it frequently proves difficult to keep everything separate. Many of the people on both sides are human and are descendents from the same ancestors many centuries ago, so there are a lot of similarities between the two sides and I was occasionally unsure of which side of the battle I was following at any given time. In addition, on either side, many of the family names were quite similar, particularly on the True Blood side and I got a little mixed up between some of the characters on that side as well, especially early on in the story.
Once I started to get a little more into things, however, this became less of an issue. As events progress, Ruckley spends more time following the major characters and switches between them a lot less, meaning you get to fully explore the personalities of each of them and they become a lot more distinct. From this point, I found it a lot easier to become involved in their struggles, as you could follow a personality, rather than a nameless and faceless army.
The beauty of Ruckley's writing is in how well he draws his characters. Unlike in many such novels, there is no clear line between good and bad. There are heroes and villains on both sides and the fact that the leaders on both sides are despised by many in their own armies blurs this line further. No character is without their flaws and even the ones who seem about to be cast as the hero often fail to live up to your expectations.
This is the other aspect of "Bloodheir" I most enjoyed; you can never guess what might happen next. Just when you think you have come to know a character, the focus switches elsewhere and by the time you return to this character, events have caused them to act in a way you might not have expected. The good characters become more hard hearted and world weary and the impulsive and blood thirsty develop caution and restraint. Whilst this meant that there was no-one you could really cheer on, the psychology of Ruckley's characters was spot on and this was by far the most realistic drawing of fantasy characters I remember reading in some time.
This, for me, was the saving grace of the novel, as I did find that the story was quite slow paced. As is common with the middle book in a trilogy, the main focus here did seem to be about moving characters into position for future events. Whilst there was a lot of jostling for position on both sides and there were a few battles later on in the story, I did find things a little slowly paced and tough to get involved in for much of the book. Had Ruckley's characters not been as strong as they were, it would have been a real struggle for me to read, but he has managed to keep me interested all the way through and by the end, the intrigue in the plans that the Black Road in particular were hatching made me long to know what was next.
I have often decried books for having a great storyline, but not having believable characters. Ruckley has provided the opposite, with a slow paced story being acted out by characters that had all the flaws of the people you meet every day. Whilst this made for a slower paced and tougher read, in the end I find that I preferred Ruckley's way of doing things and at prices from as little as 99 pence on eBay, finding out whether or not you prefer it as well is no great risk. This is a story that seems to get better as it goes and, given how captivated I was by the end, events yet to come promise to be incredible.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk