A DRM-free epic fantasy tale about a bloody coward (to understand the joke read further… or just disregard my awful sense of humour)
Mature Content Rating: R (Sexual content, language & disturbing imagery)
Can a coward save a kingdom? This is the big question being asked by Bruce Blake in his novel Blood of the King. You may know a coward or two, you might even be a coward or two… (but that would make you two people?) You are, however, not the one on trial. Our protagonist’s name is Khirro, a farmer made to fight in a battle that soon turns into something more than your common kingdom feud.
Have you ever been in that position where you are reading/watching something and the protagonist gets him/herself in more trouble than they can handle? This is often times what makes a good story, but what if the character has been proven to be unexplainably invincible? That’s right, we have all been there thinking, “I know they are going to get out of this. You just can’t kill off a main character.” Such thoughts take away from the peril of the situation, and sadly we are more often correct than not. Bruce Blake has no qualms about killing off characters, when it makes sense. As many Dark Fantasy stories go, Blood of the King is not afraid of death and any of the other more depressing things in life that will fill the reader with that sense of dread, or the gut wrenching feeling that there is no rose garden with some thorns… a lot of thorns. Blake uses words to craft a world that comes alive, sometimes revealing more of an awful scene than some would like, but he does it in a way that makes you want to hold onto that book for dear life as you watch the characters living out their own nightmares.
Not only does Blake have a handle on how to write wonderful prose, but he doesn’t let it bog the story down. Blood of the King starts in the middle of an all out war and from there progresses on a journey through a land of terror that make you think twice about carrying some mystical vile of blood to the ends of the earth. (I hope that you would think twice about this already, but for those of you who don’t…) Beautiful imagery, intense action, and intriguing plot are woven together in a way that keeps things moving and sets the world alive.
Words might be what make up a book, but they aren’t everything. Books need story and characters, two things that Blood of the King is gushing with. The reader will learn a lot about the back-stories of many of the characters introduced throughout this epic tale. Ever wondered what motivated the characters is a book, or wish that there was more meat when it comes to the whys of some of their psychological quirks? Bruce Blake will not leave you wondering. The author reveals said information in a variety of ways, but something that is magnificently used (thus deserving special attention) is dreams/visions. Khirro is reminded of his past by certain triggers in scenery, the words of mannerisms of his motley crew, but more importantly is informed through vivid dreams/visions. These scenes are what makes Khirro come alive and are the biggest selling feature of Blood of the King.
Have no fear. Khirro is not the only character that the reader will learn about. Some titbits are dropped about other characters along the way, but most important, the antagonist(s). Khirro gets most of the attention, but the POV changes to the perspective of the bad-guys often enough to give the reader an inner circle view of their motivation(s) and watch as they creep closer and closer to their goal(s). There is no crazy high-wizard twiddling his thumbs in a dark tower until Khirro walks in and says, “I’m here to slay you, Evil Man!” The reader gets to know the antagonist(s) in parallel to Khirro and his crew… and not all of them are as they seem.
The ending is very well done, giving that sense of suspense and final resolution that make for a stomach-knotted conclusion that is the selling point of many thrillers. Such a strong conclusion does still pleasingly leave some unanswered questions that will make the reader want to come back for book 2 and book 3 after finishing this title. The final chapter is almost a tease for what is coming next in the series, but ties up a few unanswered questions enough to leave that sense of intrigue for the reader to chew on until they click the “Oh my goodness, buy it now” button at their favourite distributor for book 2.
I must say that I loved learning about the character’s back-stories in this book. It isn’t too often that the reader is able to get into so many character’s heads… but sadly a lot of this isn’t revealed until later on in the story. The beginning has a fair amount of hand waving when it comes to “so, why are you coming on this quest again? And don’t say, ‘because I feel like it,’ or ‘because you look like you need a hand,’ because those aren’t real answers.” A lot of the party members with Khirro are thrown together in a poorly implemented, “let’s do this thing” moment to the point where the reader isn’t totally convinced of the reason that any of them (including Khirro) are there.
Along similar lines, Blood of the King suffers from the classic, “don’t you remember this magic thing” syndrome. What is that, you say? Well, Khirro carries the blood of the dead king in a vial. He is tasked to bring the king back to life with it. That is okay, but the blood has some weird “let’s fix this problem” powers to it. Don’t know where you are going? Let the blood lead the way! Mortally wounded? Let the blood heal you! Don’t know whether to trust that person or not? It’s okay. The blood says that they are a good person. I excused this with some reservations until a reveal at the end that will squash a lot of the reasoning behind it… For the sake of remaining spoiler free, I will not say any more.
Another big issue I had with Blood of the King is the primary female character. At first she seems like someone that Bruce Blake wants to spend a lot of time developing. She is portrayed as strong and the sort of “I can take care of myself” sort of woman. Sadly, save for a few scenes, she is essentially useless, and her DIY mentality fades over time. It’s almost like Blake forgot who she was. By the end she puts off that damsel in distress vibe that she is adamantly opposed to upon her introduction. She does a little bit in developing Khirro’s character, but I feel like the book would have almost been stronger without her. She seems to only add some “Oo, that is sexy” moments, and they come fairly more frequently for my taste.
Despite a few hand waving scenarios and poorly developed female character, Bruce Blake tells a wonderful story. The prose is magnificent, the action is wonderful, and the characters back-stories are truly informative and enlightening. If you like fantasy and don’t mind a darker story with some mature content, feel free to enter the dream world of Khirro, travelling with him through whatever perils may await you in Blood of the King.
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