A Time Of Dread – Putting The Epic Back In Epic Fantasy

34392663I have a personal problem. My issue, is that I honestly am kinda tired of epic fantasy. There are of course outliers, such as series that change up the formula to the point where they are unrecognizable, but in general I have gotten bored following farm boys in a medieval Europe settings where they fight universal evils. I just feel like I have read this story 20 times in my life at this point and am hesitant to start new epic fantasy novels. As such, I have found myself going through the same emotional journey each time I pick up a John Gwynne novel. First, “why did I decide to do a high fantasy novel?” And then second, “oh right, because Gwynne is an incredible writer and I could read 10 of these”.

Gwynne broke into the fantasy scene not so long ago with his reimagined epic fantasy, The Faithful and the Fallen. It was a four book series that followed the classic farmboy with a destiny, but with a twist – there were several farm boys. The series did an incredible job blending the best of the old genre staples with a number of new ideas that made it feel fresh and exciting (review can be found here). Add to this the fact that Gwynne’s writing is fast, character driven, and exciting and you get the perfect formula for a memorable series. All in all, I enjoyed the quartet – though I thought the ending was the weakest part of the series. However, many of the things I didn’t like about the ending (its open nature and how it left a lot of loose ends) set the stage for Gwynne’s sequel series (Of Blood and Bone) that started this year with A Time of Dread. At first I was not thrilled that Gwynne was revisiting his world, but that didn’t stop me from requesting a review copy from the lovely people at Orbit because Gwynne is nothing if not consistently good. Sure enough, despite my initial misgivings A Time of Dread is a powerhouse of a book and I have fully bought in to Gwynne’s second journey through his world.

Many reviewers I have seen have mentioned that a reader can pick up A Time of Dread without reading the previous series and be able to follow along fine. While I think this is true, I also think this is a bad idea and highly encourage you to read The Faithful and the Fallen first. A Time of Dread takes place more than a hundred years later and the events from the first series have become the history of the second. It is a cool transition that made me feel immersed and connected with Gwynne’s new cast almost immediately and helped set the stage for the plot of Dread. Speaking of plot, Dread tells the story of a small and almost completely new cast of characters 100+ years after the ending of The Faithful and the Fallen. The big evil was vanquished, the land was saved, and everyone lived happily ever after… but not really. Similar to Game of Thrones, A Time of Dread tells the story of a not so happily ever after and the problems that face a group of people who put aside everything to stop a common enemy. The top baddy might have died, but his demon lieutenants (called Kadoshim, basically bat-angels) live on and carry on his work. The angelic beings who fought on the side of good (Ben-Elim) have set up shop in the human realms to pursue these demons, but rule everyone with an iron fist and destroy anyone not devoted to the cause.

The themes of the book surround change and adaptability. Both the Kadoshem and the Ben-Elim have been begun to adapt in the wake of their war – and the changes have deep ramifications for the humans who are just trying to coexist beside them. The story follows four characters (a significant step down in the number of POV’s from Gwynne’s previous novels), each with a different point of view of the Ben-Elim (everyone is pretty much on the same page with “screw the murder bat-demons”). One is a templar of the human division of the Ben-Elim army, devoted to their cause. A second is a hostage taken and trained under the Ben-Elim to ensure the good behavior of his people. A third is a warrior captain of a rival order to the Ben-Elim with a history of grievances against the angels. And the fourth and final is a man forced to the edge of the world to escape the persecution of the Ben-Elim for not living his life the way they desire. It creates an interesting tapestry of opinions that complement and conflict with one another to make the reader unsure who to believe or trust. This moral swamp is a nice change of scenery from the usual good vs. evil epic fantasy, and had me hooked early and kept me interested until the end.

Another vestige of the previous series that has been kicked to the curb is prophecy. Man am I tired of prophecy in fantasy novels. The first series revolved around prophecies and their interpretations, but A Time of Dread feels so much more open and free without the shackles of visions of the future. On the other hand, one great thing that did carry over from the previous books is Gwynne’s likable characters and intense action. The cast is wonderful, and I think I already like them as much as the characters from the first four books despite having only been with them a fourth as long. The action also remains top knotch and is takes a larger share of screen time than previous books. I also appreciated the mix up in different types of action/combat in A Time of Dread. Instead of battle after battle, you get things like a group of thugs walking through (and triggering) dangerous traps set by a protagonist. I am glad Gwynne decided to branch out and it makes the book feel fresh.

I don’t really have any complaints for A Time of Dread. Nothing was wrong with it and it nailed all of the positives I mentioned above. If I had to pick something, I would say I am a little disappointed that Gwynne has avoided doing any real world building for awhile. The world of The Faithful and The Fallen isn’t boring, but Gwynne has some real world building skill and I am a little sad I am not getting to see a new world from him.

At the end of the day A Time of Dread does nothing wrong and plenty of things right. This book has rekindled the ashes of my passion for epic fantasy and I am excited to see where the story goes next. Gwynne’s modern epic fantasies are the best thing to come out in the subgenre in years, and Of Blood and Bone looks like it’s going to raise that bar even higher.

Rating: A Time of Dread – 9.0/10


The Murderbot Diaries and Dominaria – An Interview With Martha Wells

32758901Martha Wells is a woman with a ridiculous number of talents. I have recently been selling her Murderbot Diaries series to anyone who will listen. She also has a number of popular full length books and does writing for a number of established fictional universes such as Star Wars. Most recently, it was announced that Martha would be tackling the story for Magic the Gathering’s next card set, Dominaria, and writing the story pieces that come out alongside the new cards. With so many cool things going on for her, I decided that I really wanted to see if I could talk with Martha about what it was like to write in so many different formats and subjects. To my joy, she got back to my numerous questions about her work and the answers are posted below, enjoy:

I have been reading your Murderbot Diaries and describing them as novellas. Do you think of them as novellas? Or just short books? How do you define them as works of writing in your mind?

The first one was actually intended to be a short story, and then I realized it really needed to be longer. I still wanted to keep it short, so novella length seemed perfect. I’d also written novella-length work before, in my two Stories of the Raksura collections. It just seemed the right length to tell the story.

The Murderbot series has some of the best writing for a shorter novel I have seen. What is your technique when it comes to dividing page space in a book this small, and how does it differ from a book like The Cloud Roads?

Thank you! I don’t think I used any particular technique. I’ve written a lot, including a lot of work at shorter lengths, and after all that experience I just have a feel for how to pace a story or book for the length I want. In a longer novel like The Cloud Roads, there’s more room for subplots and more detailed exploration of the world. In a novella, you have to concentrate on the story and let the reader pick up on the details of the world as the plot develops.

What was your inspiration for the Murderbot Diaries? What made you want to write a story about relatable AI’s with a talent for killing people?

I’ve seen a lot of stories about AIs who want their freedom and immediately use it to kill humans, which seems like a very human-centric view of the situation, motivated by guilt at how the humans are using the AI. So I wanted to write an AI who was mostly indifferent to humans, who just wanted to be left alone, who had no particular desire to hurt anyone that wasn’t trying to hurt it.

Murderbot’s love of media left me with some big questions. Do they love TV because their personality was programed to love TV? Is it something that they completely developed on their own? How much of Murderbot’s identity was crafted by code and how much was made by her experiences or something else?

No, it wasn’t programming. As a combination of AI and human brain tissue, the constructs like Murderbot all have the potential to develop their own personalities. The governor modules are supposed to keep that from happening, but they aren’t always successful. I think that becomes more obvious in the later novellas where Murderbot encounters other contracts and bots.

You have written a number of sci fi and fantasy novels at this point. In your opinion, what are the major differences when it comes to writing in each genre?

I don’t really think there’s much difference at all. They both require consistency in world building and engaging characters that the reader will care about.

I saw the announcement that you would be writing a series of shorts for Dominaria, the next Magic the Gathering set. Are you a magic player yourself? Is this something that you pursued because you wanted to write in the magic world or was this something where Wizard of the Coast came to you for your excellent writing?

They approached my agent with the offer to write the fiction for Dominaria. I’ve been familiar with Magic for a long time through the artwork, which is so gorgeous, though I’d never played the game. (Most of my game-playing experience is all in older RPGs.) I was excited by the opportunity to do something new, in such a well-established, beautifully illustrated world, and it’s been a lot of fun.

What is different (easier/harder) about writing for an expanded universe like Magic (or Star Wars, as I know you have some books in that ring as well)?

It takes a lot of research. Even if it’s something that you’re a big fan of (like in my case Star Wars and Stargate Atlantis), as a reader or viewer who isn’t thinking of writing in the universe, there’s a lot of detail you can miss. When you’re going to actually work with an established universe, you have to take in a lot of detail, understand how everything works, as well as the personalities of your characters. It’s a lot of fun, but it can be a lot of work, too.

How do you feel about your Star Wars novel Razors Edge being relegated to the now non-canon Legends timeline? Would you like to write another Star Wars book in the current canon universe?

It was very disappointing. I really like the current canon universe and the new movies, but I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to do again.

Is there another license you’d be interested in writing for that you haven’t had the opportunity yet? (e.g. Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, etc)

If I had the opportunity, I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, so I’d be tempted to write something for it. But right now, I want to concentrate on my own universes.

What are some of your favorite sci fi and fantasy novels?

I have a ton of favorites. Right now I really enjoyed The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera, the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin, the Court of Fives series by Kate Elliott, Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee, Jade City by Fonda Lee.

The cover art for your work is consistently amazing, do you have a favorite piece of cover art out of all of your novels?

It’s hard to pick one. I think the covers for the Books of the Raksura by Matthew Steward and Yukari Masuike are some all time favorites.

Do you wear novelty socks?

Sometimes! I have octopus socks.

Thank you again to Martha Wells for taking the time to answer some questions, and for those of you unfamiliar you can start reading her new Dominaria storyline next week on the Magic the Gathering site!

One Good Dragon Deserves Another – Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger

51dk2bbubyflI thought about spacing these out a little more, but as they say in every single fantasy book with a blacksmith (read: all of them), strike while the iron is hot. Please take a moment to read my review from last week on The Heartstrikers book one, Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron, or a lot of this review won’t make any sense. It was an impressive introduction to a dragon based urban fantasy, and despite its flaws I immediately bought the second book in the series (One Good Dragon Deserves Another) and started reading it. I wanted to jump into a follow up review for book two because it addresses a number of problems I had with the first book, whilend taking the positives and kicking them up a notch for an incredible read. The Heartstrikers is rapidly jumping up my recommendation list and I am super excited I have three more books left to read.

So what’s better about One Good Dragon? Well for one, it’s about twice as long as its previous novel. This gives it a huge amount of additional space for plot, world, and character development. The first book ends with a devious plot from a rival dragon gang foiled, and Julius surviving his mother’s wrath by the skin of his teeth. The second book simply picks up right where Nice Dragons left off, as the aforementioned rival dragon clan comes back for round two. A big theme of The Heartstrikers books is destiny, and the abilities of dragon sages to see and influence the future. In One Good Dragon, an enemy sage has learned a way to force fate down the paths she desires – making things truly unpleasant for the Heartstriker clan. Julius, concerned for the potential destruction of his family, steps up and involves himself in the plots of his mother and enemies to try and save everyone. The plot of book two is a lot more complicated, but a lot more rewarding. Book one felt like a prologue compared to One Good Dragon, and the step up in complexity lead to a much more fulfilling and exciting read. However, I will say that my one complaint for book two was that I had a slightly difficult time understanding some of the internal logic of Rachel Aaron’s world near the end of the story, and she might want to make the workings of some elements of her story a little more clear.

That being said, holy cow did the world building and character development take a significant step up (and it was already strong to begin with). In Nice Dragons Finish Last most of our world building was centered around the Heartstrikers and New Detroit. While it was excellent, it was somewhat narrow in scope – especially compared to the second book which sees an explosion of new characters and cultures introduced. Several new kinds of magic, cultures, and places show up in One Good Dragon and the series has reached the point where I am excited for each new page to see what Rachel Aaron will dream up next. In particular, I loved her “dragon hunter” from the Scandinavian Fjords in this book and hope she continues to work in magic from all over the world (which I am sure she will).

The characters were the big sell from book one, and somehow they have gotten even better. Rachel continues to introduce the reader to a number of Julius’ extended family, each a personality that makes the Heartstriker melting pot more delicious to dive into. In particular, book two brings us Julius’ oldest and most powerful sibling, Amelia, and I can’t get enough of her. In addition, some of my previous complaints about Julius and his repetitious thoughts are gone. His character felt much more coherent and enjoyable to be around, despite still liking him a good deal in the first book.

Overall, One Good Dragon Deserves Another is bigger, better, faster, and stronger than its previous novel. Rachel Aaron clearly improved her already good writing between the books, and I am now selling this series even harder than I was before. The Heartstrikers is turning out to be a real treat and I recommend you check it out as soon as possible. P.S. I am really enjoying the naming conventions.

Rating: One Good Dragon Deserves Another – 8.5/10

Nice Dragons Finish Last – So Many Feelings

20426102I am really annoyed because I thought I had a hidden gem review with this book. Unfortunately, every other reviewer I know apparently read Nice Dragons Finish Last, by Rachel Aaron, at the same time as me and has already gotten their review out. However, at the end of the day I am just happy that this story is getting a bunch of exposure because I have so many strong feelings about it. Nice Dragons is a self published (I think, I couldn’t actually confirm) urban fantasy with a ton of heart, and is currently criminally underread. It is the first installment in a five book series that just put out the final book this week. The plot, characters, and worldbuilding are frankly incredible, and while it suffers from some small but noticeable problems, Nice Dragons provides some of the most fun I have had in awhile.

The plot is initially simple. Julius is the youngest and smallest dragon in the Heartstriker family, a dragon clan famous for its large size (number of members) and a powerhouse in the magical world. His mother is extremely disappointed that he doesn’t seem to be doing anything with his life other than avoiding the plans and machinations of her and the other children. To remedy this, she seals his magic and throws him into Detroit with the ultimatum that if he doesn’t do something to make her proud in the next few days he will be put to death. He links up with one of his older siblings who gives him a job/quest, which will hopefully impress his mom and result in his continued existence. While a harmless starting point, things predictably spin out of control and rapidly expand in scope. Rachel has a real talent for keeping a lot of plates spinning at the same time, and the book explodes into a number of different plot threads that are all intertwined. Overall, the story held my interest and kept me engaged the whole way through – and I bought the second book immediately after finishing Nice Dragons.

The worldbuilding is really on point for an urban fantasy. I think that saying urban fantasy has lazy worldbuilding as a genre is a gross generalization, but I will say that I expect less of it than when reading a more traditional fantasy novel. Rachel took that expectation and broke its spine over her knee. Nice Dragons has an astounding amount of imaginative worldbuilding that puts you in a place that is both vaguely familiar and completely new. The book mostly takes place in a reimagined Detroit, and the changes she described paint a city that has evolved into a magical city state – self ruled and self regulated. The mix of background subjects that Rachel draws her inspiration from is also impressively diverse – including lore from England, Mesoamerica, Russia, Scandinavia, and more. This lore is used to highlight small loveable details such as the fact that Heartstrikers are feathered Aztec dragons descended from Quetzalcoatl. It is a small detail, but it felt so fresh in the landscape of traditional european dragons. Every single new idea and detail Rachel introduced in her world had me excited and awestruck.

While I enjoy heaping praise on the plot and worldbuilding, the real place that this book shines is the characters. I ADORE the full cast of this book. It is filled with unique and memorable characters from top to bottom regardless of their immediate importance. Julius’ oldest brother Bob is particularly delightful, and ranks up there with some of my all time favorite characters. Julius himself is wonderful, if a little whiny at first, and the second protagonist Marci (who you meet a little ways into the book) balances him out perfectly. Everyone feels relatable, interesting, and fun making me feel highly invested in each member of the cast.

Despite all my praise, Nice Dragons definitely has a few shortcomings. The most glaring is that a couple conversations in the book can be extremely repetitive. Julius feels like he talks about his status as the weakest dragon in his clan every ten pages, and constantly goes to pains to remind you how he usually tries to avoid his older siblings. Occasionally, his frequent talks of how scary his siblings are can lead to some great emotional payoff when you finally meet them, but often I found myself thinking “yes, yes, I know” when reading pages. Additionally, there is a romance subplot that can be painfully awkward sometimes, though I do like the general direction that it is going.

I read Nice Dragons Finish Last in almost a single sitting, and bought the sequel immediately after setting it down. This by itself should tell you my overall feelings about the book, I highly recommend it to everyone. The Heartstrikers is shaping up to be my favorite urban fantasy ever, and will definitely place well among all books that I have read. If you want to read about a lovable dragon taking on impossible odds, surrounded by fantastic characters, in a kick ass world – then this might be the book for you.

Rating: Nice Dragons Finish Last – 8.0/10

The Will To Battle – As Tense As The Last Round Of Musical Chairs

51ydnovnysl-_sx328_bo1204203200_We are back again with another review for a Terra Ignota book by Ada Palmer. This time it is for the third book in the series, The Will to Battle. As usual you can find the reviews of the previous books here and here, and if you don’t want some mild spoilers for the first books you should probably turn around now. Then again, I am not your boss so you do you.

We have arrived at the third book in the Terra Ignota series, and I am excited. These books are the fastest to rise to my tier 1 recommendation list, and each new book has only reinforced my decision to place the series that high. When we last left our group, the historical narration of the story had ended and we moved from the past tense into the present. The Will to Battle sees a dramatic shift in story telling style, as the previous two books were told from a historian’s perspective (with their knowledge of what happens in the future coloring how they describe events in the past). The last two books of the quartet are told in the present tense, creating a much more tense and exciting atmosphere. At the end of book two, Seven Surrenders, the hives were all poised for a giant clash. Tensions were high and war was looking potential for humanity for the first time in centuries. The Will to Battle is a book about the moments and tensions before a war, and dear god did it stress me the hell out. The book paints a picture of several groups ready to slaughter one another, each of which is just waiting for an excuse. The is the first thing I have ever read that feels like it paints a vivid picture of pre WWI tensions, where each party is eyeing the other distrustfully. As a result, every single thing in this book feels like it could be a world ending disaster and every decision and choice characters make feel important.

I had to put The Will to Battle down several times while I was reading it, simply because of how much it was stressing me out. The characters all feel like they are having match lighting competitions in a room waist deep in gunpowder, and waiting to see which match kills them all was a weird nightmare of fun. Of the team that read it, one person compared it to the feeling of walking a burning tightrope between skyscrapers and I myself thought it felt like riding a boat to the beaches of Normandy. On top of being an emotional roller coaster, Ada Palmer decided to actually flesh out and answer a lot of lingering world building questions about her universe in the third book. Tons of things are fleshed out and expanded on in The Will to Battle like, the backgrounds of hives, previously alluded to laws and concepts, backgrounds on characters and jobs, the minds of several leaders, and more. Palmer shows you a number of the homes of various hives, and their wonders at even more character to the diverse hives and ignited my imagination. The Will to Battle made me feel like I actually solidly understand Palmer’s world, but then again I felt the same way at the end of her book two so who even knows.

Everything that was amazing about Palmer’s previous books remains true with her third. The characters are complex and one of a kind. The politics are complicated, fascinating, and engrossing. The prose and writing is top tier. The plot is captivating and I have a physical need to know what happens next. The book is constantly surprising and delighting. It should be obvious at this point that everyone here at The Quill to Live recommends this series. It is probably one of the most difficult and rewarding things we have ever read, and we want the world to read it.

Rating: The Will to Battle – 9.5/10
-The Quill to Live team

Johannes Cabal the Detective: There’s a Dirigible on the Cover, What More Do You Want?

7675981If there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s horror stories. If there’s one more thing I like, it’s murder mysteries. If there’s one last thing I like, it’s dirigibles. You can imagine my excitement when I first discovered that the second book in the Johannes Cabal series was titled Johannes Cabal the Detective, the increase in my excitement when it was revealed that said detecting took place on a dirigible, and my final and greatest flux in excitement when the book turned into a Cabal-themed Murder on the Orient Express with the titular necromancer as the main character.

To the uninitiated, what are you doing reading a review of the second book in a series without having read the first book or review? That’s pretty silly and just asking for things to be spoiled. Things like the fact that Cabal survives the first book, is not damned to hell at the end, and wins back his soul. That should have been pretty obvious for any who realized that this was a series, but I digress. To said uninitiated (shame), Johannes cabal is a necromancer of some little infamy who sold his soul to the devil for necromantic knowledge. Unhappy with what that was doing to some of his test results (he is nothing if not rigidly scientific), he made a deal with the devil to get his soul back. This involved running a demonic carnival to steal peoples’ souls. As this second book continues with him as the main character, you can safely make the assumption (or read what I wrote 5 sentences ago) he survives and is successful. There, you’re caught up. You can read in my review of the first book here that I greatly enjoyed the humor, setting, and episodic nature of the first book but was let down by the lack of horror elements. How does Detective stack up?

While the storytelling style of the first book fit the plot rather well, with each episode telling the story of one of the more memorable stops on the demonic carnival’s itinerary, Johannes Cabal the Detective is much more a single story and plot arc, which once again worked well for the story it was trying to tell. Linear, well thought out, and interesting, even without the flavor from the characters this book would have made a fun and efficient (if not exceptional) murder mystery. The clues were all there, the murders themselves were confusing at first but elucidated as well as one expects in such stories as the tale played out, and the cast of characters was both well chosen and well written. I wish some of them had more to do than just die, but not everyone can see the detective’s grand reveal at the end.

On that topic, a stuffy germanic necromancer with a short temper and generally negative outlook on life solving the murders of people he neither cares for nor particularly likes is a story I didn’t know I needed until now. Cabal slots into a distinctly Sherlockian role with great aplomb, putting to use his cutting wit and scientific nature with snark and sarcasm that lands far more often than not. I won’t spoil their identity as it is a particularly fun reveal, but a character from the first book features as a main supporting character here, playing a particularly sardonic Watson to Cabal’s Holmes. The first book had its funny moments, but Detective definitely upped the game, and the hopes of a cutting remark or incredibly backhanded compliment had me turning pages more than any of the cliffhangers did. The fleshing out of this supporting character further was welcome and added to the comedic element, and I was glad for their inclusion throughout the duration of the novel.

Speaking of cliffhangers, there was a great deal more action in this novel than in the first of the Cabal series. Dangling from high places, flying crazy aerial vehicles, outrunning explosions, winning fencing duels, raising dictators as voracious zombies and inciting mass revolts? Oh yeah, that’s all there and more. When you consider that Cabal is, as a character, about as stiff and anti-fun as can be, he manages to get up to some of the most ridiculous hijinks you can imagine, and the juxtaposition of his character in these various disasters is both compelling and hilarious in equal measure.

For those of you hoping for a spookier outing in this sophomore novel, unfortunately you will be disappointed. While there is still an air of the occult about everything (main character being a necromancer and all), there are even fewer actual horror elements in this novel than in the first. Having adjusted my expectations somewhat after book one, this didn’t bother me as much, but it does still need to be stated. Howard definitely chose to go for more of a murder mystery/political intrigue tale here, and while it works (very, very well), my deep and eternal thirst for scares is far from sated by this outing.

If action, intrigue, gunfights, daring swordsmen and reckless pilots, dirigibles, and political unrest sound like fun to you, Johannes Cabal the Detective is a must read. It continues the story of the titular character in fine form, fleshing out who Johannes is as a person while taking the reader on an absolutely wild ride through the skies of a small and overambitious shithole of a country (Cabal’s words, not mine). I highly recommend this book (and its predecessor, don’t be lazy) to all readers, as I think it has something for everyone to enjoy.

Rating: Johannes Cabal the Detective – 8.5/10

Blood of the Four – The Antagonist Protagonist

y450-293An interesting stand alone found its way into my lap this month, courtesy of the lovely people at Harper Voyager. The Blood of the Four, a joint work by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, tells a story of dark fantasy, people large and small, and a nefarious queen with a secret agenda. The book has a huge multitude of POVs that follow royalty, slaves, priests, and artists – each with a small piece of the story. The weird and interesting thing about this book is that there isn’t really a protagonist in the story – other than the antagonist. The division of narration falls 50% on the antagonist, Phela, and 50% on a number of other bit characters. Spending so much time with a woman that you desperately want another character to murder was a strange experience, but it certainly was memorable.

The book takes place in the kingdom of Quandis, a fantasy city state founded on the bones of four godlike sorcerers. Unfortunately, the magic of the four is no longer around – but the legacy of power and splendor that they established is still going strong. The city is led by a group of royals, pampered aristocrats who have their every whim indulged. Far below the royals and normal folk are the Bajuman. Forced into a slave like existence despite their huge numbers, the people of Quandis are taught at an early age to ignore the Bajuman no matter what. Because magic has been kept at bay in Quandis, royals and Bajuman have lived together in an uneasy peace for centuries. However, Princess Phela’s desire for power and flagrant disregard for others is changing everything as she makes a bid for godlike power.

The characters of the book are its selling point. As I mentioned, the really unique thing about Blood of the Four is that its protagonist is sorta the antagonist. Phela manages to both be extremely dislikable and still captivating to read, which is a very rare combination. She does this through excellent exposition, with the authors revealing just enough of her plan and thoughts to keep you interested in what she will do next. Besides her, there is a litany of other bit pieces that you will come to know. For how little time we get with each, I was surprised how much I quickly got to care about the small characters. A mild spoiler is that a major theme of the book is that, while all the small bit pieces seem unrelated at first, you will quickly begin to realize that they have a lot more overlap than initially realized and that many of them know each other. The fusion of the many small POVs into a larger group POV is seamless and beautifully done.

As a mild warning, the book is extremely graphic in both sex and violence. My other contributors like to claim I am basically a puritan inquisitor when it comes to sex in novels, but I actually didn’t mind the over the top scenes in Blood of the Four as they felt like they fit the intense voice of the novel. I also really appreciate the choice to make Blood of the Four a standalone book, as Christopher and Tim use a number of character narrative tricks and surprises to keep the book exciting – but that wouldn’t work well in a longer series. On the other hand, I didn’t appreciate the culture and world building.

I have never actually read a book before and disliked the culture, so this is a weird topic for me. I brought up briefly before that the Bajuman, a slave like race of people, live in the lowest rung of society in Quandis. They play a major role in the story and their cultural standing is a major part of the driving force that moves the plot along (i.e., they are treated terribly and several characters want to stand up to Phela to stop this). My main issue is that Blood of the Four claims that this is a world where the Bajuman are SO looked down on, that it is so ingrained to ignore these people, that many cannot even get their brain to recognize that Bajuman exist. There are multiple scenes where Bajuman are literally invisible because royals have been conditioned to ignore them so much. It is a weird over the top recurring plot point, and I found it pulled me out of the story immediately every time that it happened. This, plus the fact that the plot is not the most original I have read, dampened its otherwise really positive character and narrative qualities.

Blood of the Four is a unique read for both its strengths and its weaknesses. I recommend you check it out just to experience the weird prantagonist. The intense prose and strong characters of Christopher and Tim make me want to check out their additional work, but the offputting worldbuilding in Quandis makes me glad that this is just a stand alone. Overall though, I had a pretty good time with Blood of the Four and think you might too.

Rating: Blood of the Four – 6.5/10