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Blood Song: A Raven's Shadow Novel    by Anthony Ryan order for
Blood Song
by Anthony Ryan
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Anthony Ryan, an admirer of David Gemmell, delivers a remarkable story that the latter would have been sure to enjoy reading in Blood Song, first in the Raven's Shadow fantasy series. In addition to Gemmell's work, it reminded me a little of Sherwood Smith's extraordinary Inda epic.

As the novel opens, Imperial Chronicler Lord Verniers interviews a captured enemy of the Alpiran Empire, Vaelin Al Sorna, whom he and his people hate as Hope Killer. The Emperor's revered (but unskilled) heir died in battle at his hands. It seems that, rather than being executed, Al Sorna is being sent to the Islands to fight their Shield (champion). En route he shares his story with Verniers (though what the latter learns differs in key details from the tale that unfolds for readers).

It begins as ten-year-old Vaelin Al Sorna is delivered to the iron gate of the Sixth Order by his father, Battle Lord to King Janus. In parting, his father reminds him of the family creed, 'Loyalty is our strength.' The boy feels abandoned and betrayed and it is a very long time before he learns the truth behind his father's actions. Vaelin knows that 'The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm.' Its Brothers train rigorously for battle.

It is a long, brutal road, but Vaelin and his classmates become brothers in every sense but that of birth, and he shines as their leader. Over the years, whenever Vaelin is outside the protection of the Order, there are attempts on his life - why? And what is the very large wolf that appears to warn and protect him? Vaelin acquires a Volarian slave-hound, rescues a Denier witch (whose magic allows her to influence others), meets his half sister, falls in love with Sister Sherin of the Order of Healing, and learns of a mysterious seventh Order of the Dark.

Gradually, Vaelin discovers his own blood-song heritage and becomes aware of a powerful enemy from the Beyond, one who can 'take the bodies of the living, wear them like a cloak.' And always, his actions reflect his family creed. After he completes his Order's training, the Macchiavellian King makes him Sword of the Realm and blackmails him into repeatedly doing his will. These tasks culminate in the attack on the Alpirans and a subsequent (but not unexpected) betrayal.

Anthony Ryan's is a powerful new voice on the fantasy scene and Blood Song an amazing debut from a master storyteller that leaves me on tenterhooks, waiting for the sequel. Very highly recommended!

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