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

The Wolf’s Call – Blood Song 2.0

51dr4slulel._sy445_ql70_So, many years ago when I was first starting out the site, I stumbled upon an absolutely incredible self-published book called Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan. The book was, and is, one of my favorite reads, and it rapidly gained a following before being picked up for publication. It became a massive success in the genre and everyone was clamoring for more. However, when Ryan released the second (Tower Lord) and third (Queen of Fire) books in the trilogy they were met with mixed reactions. I talk a lot about the controversy surrounding the books in this ancient (in relative terms) post here. Long story short, some felt the later books suffered because the story POV  moved from one to many and that Queen of Fire ended without a satisfying resolution. Well, I have good news for everyone. If you were a fan of Blood Song and didn’t like the later books, there is a new installment of the series that both returns to a Vaelin centric focus, and answers a ton of lingering questions from Queen of Fire. If you were a fan of all of the books like me, there is now another excellent installment of one of my favorite series by one of my favorite authors. It’s called The Wolf’s Call.

So what is the plot of The Wolf’s Call? Our story picks up several years after the end of the original trilogy and Vaelin has resettled into his role as the Tower Lord in the north of the realm. But, as we all know, conflict tends to follow Vaelin around like a baby duckling. Vaelin learns of trouble brewing to the West, on a new continent that we only hear mentions of in the first series. While initially reluctant to do anything other than sulk in his tower, Vaelin eventually finds the motivation to join the conflict and sails into a new land with only a few of his closest companions from the original trilogy. Vaelin must then use his lifetime of experience in war to stay alive, achieve an objective I won’t spoil, and turn the conflicts that find him in this new land.

The plot of The Wolf’s Call is exactly what I thought it would be, and I am very ok with that. Ryan essentially used a new far off conflict (which he seeded during the original trilogy) to move Vaelin to a new location, strip him of his entourage, and reset his story. It involves a new look at the powers of the Gifted and an antagonist that mirrors Vaelin’s military mind and physical prowess. While there was very little that surprised me about the plot, I still enjoyed it in its entirety. It is mostly just a series of events and situations that Vaelin must react and respond to, which are always fun to read. Vaelin is a weird character, and his unique qualities make him one of my favorites. He is this strange mix of exhaustion and responsibility that paints a picture of a man who is utterly bitter about how much he has given to the world, with a moral compass that refuses to allow him to stop. It creates the perfect personality that you can both deeply identify with (especially as I get older) but also idolize at the same time. I really like his quiet and contemplative personality in a world of charismatic heroes. He is also a complete badass.

You could argue that Vaelin is a Gary Sue, a protagonist that is overpowered and obnoxiously talented – but I would disagree. Even though Vaelin is definitely incredibly strong for a protagonist, his slow built to this point feels earned from his previous books and I feel no guilt reading about him kicking ass after all of the training and experiences he has gone through. Ryan also does a wonderful job of continuing to flesh out his Raven’s Shadow world (though the new series is called The Raven’s Blade) and I like the new setting. It is an interesting hybrid of merchant city-states and Asian culture, with an invigorating new cast. Although we spend 95% of the book in Vaelin’s POV, we do get a few interludes from the sister of the antagonist which do a great job of adding an undercurrent of tension and urgency throughout the book.

My only real issue with The Wolf’s Call is that it suffers from Ryan’s signature problem: if you have not read the previous novels recently, you are going to have a hard time remembering who everyone is. I just wish he added a few more context clues and minor flashbacks when reintroducing characters and names. This lack of context slows down the beginning of the book and it took me a little bit of time to get back up to speed. However, once I was about a fifth into the book I had a clear memory of who most of the cast were and it was fairly smooth sailing until the end.

The Wolf’s Call is a book that everyone will enjoy and is the closest spiritual successor of the original Blood Song. The book has a straightforward plot that explores doors left open at the end of Queen of Fire and sets the stage for an explosive new conflict for Vaelin to stumble his way through. I love Vaelin Al Sorna, and it feels so good to see him take the stage again in his glorious, broody, form. If you haven’t read The Raven’s Shadow trilogy yet, please do yourself a favor and check it out – and if you have, The Wolf’s Call should be at the top of your to-do list.

Rating: The Wolf’s Call – 9.5/10
-Andrew