The Black Song – Waving Through A Window

91hy43v3cmlI continue to be very happy that Anthony Ryan has decided to return to the world of Blood Song. The Black Song is the conclusion to Raven’s Blade, a duology that starts with The Wolf’s Call set five years after the original trilogy. The Black Song is a strong and enjoyable conclusion to this duology that sets up additional books by the end. However, it suffers from a couple of strange issues that are definitely worth talking about. So let’s dig into the pros and cons of this new book by one of our favorite writers. Please note, this review has spoilers for the original Blood Song trilogy, and should not be read by anyone who wants to avoid reveals for the original three books. You have been warned!

To get a better sense of what the overall story of the duology is, please check out my review of The Wolf’s Call. For those who want a short summary, Vaelin has traveled West to rescue the love of his life, Sherin, that he shipped off to a different continent against her will to keep her safe in the original trilogy. When he arrives at this new Asian-inspired land he finds Sherin perfectly fine and well established. However, he also finds a Ghengis Khan style warlord in possession of a blood song threatening to destroy all of the known world. Thus, Vaelin gets embroiled in a conflict where he is the clear outsider trying to bring down a man who possesses the unique tool that made Vaelin a god of war many books ago. In The Black Song, Vaelin’s attempts to regain his lost blood song in order to fight the coming hordes and it doesn’t take a genius to guess from the title of the book that this attempt goes poorly. Vaelin’s efforts leave him with a corrupted song with a thirst for blood, and he must find a way to fix it before he becomes just as bad as the villain he is trying to defeat.

A lot of The Black Song is just continuing the plot threads of The Wolf’s Call with an added layer now that Vaelin has this corrupted song to manage. The world and characters are enjoyable, there is a clear objective that we build towards with a number of awesome set-pieces along the way. In my Wolf’s Call review, I talked about how exciting and enjoyable it is to be back in the shoes of one of my favorite protagonists, and this still rings true in Black Song. But it hits a snag when Vaelin’s “outsider looking in” treatment is amplified from The Wolf’s Call and Vaelin ends up feeling a little too adjacent to the plot. While I adore Vaelin, my favorite passages in The Black Song ended up being the ones told from the sister and the second in command of the villain – as they were much closer to the conflict and emotionally invested in its outcome. Vaelin has this sort of pale detachment to the whole affair as he is much more focused on his new corruption. This would be fine… except that Vaelin doesn’t actually reach a complete conclusion to his personal story in The Black Song. It is quite clear that some of Vaelin’s internal conflicts will be addressed in whatever book Ryan writes next. The result of all of this is some confusion as to whether Vaelin was the best protagonist for The Black Song. On one hand, I absolutely loved getting more time with him – but on the other, this didn’t feel like it was truly his story to tell.

But, don’t think that I didn’t enjoy The Black Song. The escalating conflict between the ragtag group of good guys and the ever-growing antagonist was gripping and exciting. It is very clear that Ryan has grown a lot since his first trilogy, and his ability to write a climactic conclusion to a conflict has only improved. There were a number of set pieces, like the part of the story set in the temple of spears, that were enchanting. Initially, I was going to complain that Sherin and Vaelin’s relationship didn’t change enough over the course of the book, but in the last 25% there is a lot of growth that feels appropriate and I ended up really liking where the characters netted out.

All in all, The Black Song is a solid book and another enjoyable chapter in the saga of Vaelin. I don’t think it was as strong as the duology’s opener, The Wolf’s Call, but it is still definitely worth your time. I am very excited to step through the door that the end of this book leaves open and look forward to whatever story that Ryan decides to tell us next. The Raven’s Blade duology has jump started my investment in the next series and I am ready for more.

Rating: The Black Song – 8.0/10
-Andrew

How Rory Thorne Destroyed The Multiverse – Thankfully There Is Another One

81g3gpska-lRight before my city enforced strong restrictions and everything closed due to our current pandemic, I metaphorically looted my library. I figured that if I was going into isolation I might as well grab as many books as I could carry to the front desk and just try reading some random things that caught my eye. The results of this have been… mixed. Turns out that publisher marketing teams know what they are doing and are extremely skilled at putting nice covers on questionable books. But, there have been some gems out of the pile of disappointment I grabbed, and How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse, by K. Eason, is definitely one of them.

Thorne is a fantasy and science fiction hybrid, one of my favorite things to stumble upon. Combining the two genres is hard to do, but a number of my all-time favorite books fit into this niche, so it’s safe to say the premise excited me. How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse tells the story of, well, Rory Thorne. Rory is the princess of an intergalactic empire that grew from humble fantasy beginnings over untold generations. She is the first girl to be born to the royal line in a ridiculously long time, so the royal parents decide to follow the age-old tradition from when their kingdom was first founded: ask the faeries of the land to grant her a blessing. It seems like a cute and fun idea until the faeries actually show up and bless Rory with 13 gifts. They are varied, interesting, and mostly benign – except for two. One faery gives Rory the ability to always be able to tell when people are lying, and a second gives her a well of courage to know when not to back down. We then rapidly get taken through Rory’s journey to adulthood and get key glimpses into how these two gifts forge her into a fascinating adult. This takes up roughly the first third of the book, and then we shift to something new.

The first third of the story is about building Rory’s personality and attaching the reader to her, and the back two-thirds are about stripping her of all her tools but her mind and throwing her into a political sea and seeing if she sinks or swims. This portion of the book is a political thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page. It’s extremely satisfying to see how key moments from the first part of the book made Rory into a person who can handle challenges thrown at her in the second part of the story. It makes Rory feel extremely alive, relatable, and likable – and makes all of her victories feel extremely earned.

The world and cast are fun, cool, and do a great job of pulling in the reader. Thorne leans more towards science fiction, with the fantasy sprinkled in for some magic realism…in space. The formula works well for the book as the magic always feels like a subtle catalyst that keeps the plot moving and keeps things interesting without overstaying its welcome or stifling Rory’s achievements. One of her many talents is picking up support characters, and helping them shine. The secondary characters are all fun and interesting in their own right, but they also serve as a powerful mirror to look back at Rory, work as a foil, and further her continual growth in the latter part of the story.

The plot is very satisfying, with twists and challenges that kept me coming back. But, if one were to just glance at the back blurb of Thorne, you would see some cursory paragraphs about the plot and the following statement: “[the book] is a feminist reimagining of familiar fairytale tropes and a story of resistance and self-determinationhow small acts of rebellion can lead a princess to not just save herself, but change the course of history. ” While I understand that this tagline is there to catch the eye and sell books, I honestly think it does the book a disservice. Everything that quote mentions is definitely a part of this book, but I feel like it narrows the success of the story. How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse should resonate with every reader, as it tells the story of how every person can face adversity and challenges. It tells a particularly compelling story for women and facing sexism, but as a man, I still found it extremely relatable to my own personal trials and tribulations. This book is great for literally anyone.

The one place that I felt Thorne dropped the ball a little was in the finale. Things wrap up very quickly and it feels like a lot of loose ends are tied up in a short number of pages. What is surprising is the ending reads like Eason was wrapping things up and removing the possibility of sequels, but this is the first of an intended duology. I am not exactly sure where the story is going next, but I am still excited to find out when it becomes available.

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is a unique gem of a book that is hard to classify. Its pacing, storytelling, tone, and genre-blending are all uneven, but they serve to enhance the power of the narrative instead of detracting from it. Rory is a relatable and endearing protagonist that you would need a heart of stone not to like. Other than its strange climax, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse has been one of the best books I have read this year so far. If I had managed to get to it when it came out last October, it definitely would have made it into our top of 2019 list. I will not make the same mistake with the sequel.

Rating: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse – 8.5/10
-Andrew