Alright, I am going to be honest here; I did Brian Naslund a disservice when I judged his debut book, Blood of an Exile, by its name and cover and shelved it for later. Although I hated both title and art, after finishing the novel I have to admit that they suit the book perfectly, and I am just being a judgmental ass. Released back in August of last year, the book is the start of the Dragons of Terra series and definitely would have been a contender for my top of 2019 list had I actually got to it in a timely manner. I apologize, Brian Naslund, and hopefully this review will slightly make it up to you.
Blood of an Exile is a book with powerful characters, a rich world, and a fairly inventive plot. Ostensibly, the story follows our protagonist Silas Bershad the Flawless, a man who was sentenced to exile as a dragonslayer for crimes that are revealed throughout the narrative. To be a dragonslayer is a death sentence, and they are forced to roam the land helping towns and cities kill dragons until they die (usually very quickly). However, Bershad refuses to go down and has managed to make a name for himself as the most famous and successful dragonslayer in the world. Very soon after we meet Bershad, he receives a task from the man who exiled him with the promise of freedom should he complete it. Using his status as a famous dragonslayer, Bershad is to sneak into a neighboring country that is gearing up for war, kill a king and save an innocent child in captivity, and then make it back alive with the child in hand. To fail would mean dying an exile, to succeed would mean saving the country that hates him and his freedom.
Initially, this book was looking a bit trope-y and I was concerned I was going to read something I had already experienced hundreds of times before. However, Naslund rapidly disabused me of this notion by showing Blood of an Exile is more than meets the eye. First off, while Bershad is our main protagonist, the story is actually told by four major POVs, an alchemist, an assassin, a princess, and Bershad himself – each of which holds a key piece of the narrative that slot nicely together. The major themes of the book are nature, ecosystems, and how destroying key pieces of any environment can greatly upset the balance. Multiple of the POV’s (including Bershad) are dragon lovers. While they recognize that they are dangerous animals that can cause great harm, dragons are common in this world and are a key piece of every ecosystem they are a part of. While Blood of an Exile is very much an action-packed adventure fantasy, it is also a story about amateur scientists desperately trying to keep humanity from destroying the Earth for fiscal gain – an angle I was not expecting and loved in equal parts. There is a huge focus on the study of dragons and the understanding of their nature. This does a very powerful job of painting them as real living and breathing creatures.
The world-building is phenomenal, with the various political entities feeling like they have clear and memorable identities that aren’t just cut and pasted real-world countries. The cast are all fantastic, even down to the side characters. Even the villains aren’t motivated by the simple goals and are engaging to read and think about. The book does an incredible job exploring how the quest for the betterment of civilization can cause horrible unforeseen problems if you aren’t very careful. Naslund does a very good job using a magical fantasy setting to get you to think about your own waste and usage in the modern world, so expect to be a little uncomfortable.
As for negatives, there are only a few. Although I found the book to be an exciting and compelling read, I felt as though there was a small mismatch in the narrative style and strengths of the book. The characters in Blood of an Exile are treated as tools to move the story along. They are picked up and put down as needed only when their POV makes sense to further the narrative. What this means is that it can sometimes feel like certain characters were getting uneven page time. This felt a bit odd, given that the characters of this book are so strong that I would have been happy to just spend time in their head. The aforementioned princess POV is one of my favorite protagonists, and she shows up as a POV only in the back half of the book with little to no warning. I would have liked a little more even pacing with my time with each character. The book is also fairly crass; which isn’t a problem for me, but it’s something others might take issue with.
In the end, Blood of an Exile was a surprising gem of a book that went unnoticed by many in 2019. It brilliantly combines exciting action, sympathetic characters, smart themes, and a deep world to create a coherent and unique story. It is always rare when you find a book that is both smart and fun at the same time, and Blood of an Exile has both in spades. Brian Naslund should be very proud of his debut book, and I can’t wait for the sequel, Sorcery of a Queen, which comes out this year.
Rating: Blood of an Exile – 8.5/10