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Rise of the Blood Royal: Volume III of The Destinies of Blood and Stone    by Robert Newcomb order for
Rise of the Blood Royal
by Robert Newcomb
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robert Newcomb's Rise of the Blood Royal is the third in his Destinies of Blood and Stone series. I recommend reading these books in sequence as, not having read the earlier volumes - and despite a useful introduction in the Foreword - I felt I was missing quite a few references to earlier characters and events. In this world, there are four nations - Rustannica and Shashida separated by an insurmountable mountain range from Eutracia and Parthalon. The former two countries have fought a centuries-old War of Attrition. Those with powerful blood wield magic, a craft that has two sides to it, the dark (Vagaries) and the light (Vigors).

Emperor Vespasian and his empress Persephone rule Rustannica - at least they believe they do. A body of mystics, the Pon Q'tar, is led by Gracchus Junius. The Pon Q'tar raised both monarchs, moulded their characters, and now subtly manipulate their rule. This empire is reminiscent of ancient Rome with powerful legions; women of the Priory of Virtue, who are very like Vestal Virgins; a large slave (skeen) population; and the regular torture and massacre of captured enemies in the arena for the entertainment of the masses. But there's unrest in Rustannica, which is fast running out of the gold needed to fuel its economy. Since Shashida is rich in the precious metal, Vespasian proposes to invade Shashida and loot its gold mines.

In Eutracia, Prince Tristan, his twin sister Shailiha, and their Conclave of the Vigors seek to bring a resolution to the War of Attrition - and to reunite both Vagaries and Vigors that they believe must coexist. Tristan has been told that he must make his way to Rustannica and there contact an underground movement, the League of Whispers. Events move quickly in Eutracia after old wizard Faegan discovers subtle matter. It reveals maps and instructions for Tristan to cross the Azure Sea, and provides the means to do so. While this evolves, chance awakens an old evil, Khristos the Viper Lord, who leads a multitude of monstrous Blood Vipers across Eutracia, slaughtering all in their path - and takes orders from Gracchus.

The story moves steadily forward, interspersed with blood and gore. Tristan - who is 'sick of killing and of seeing others killed, regardless of which side of the craft they served' - and Vespasian converge on Shashida, where a battle involving millions of warriors is fought and long banned forestallments invoked as the two most powerfully endowed men in this world come into direct conflict. This book ends in something of a stalemate, but with Tristan well placed for his next moves in The Destinies of Blood and Stone. Though Robert Newcomb's writing is a little heavy on exposition for my taste, I am sure that his myriad of fans will be thrilled by Rise of the Blood Royal.

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