Author Jon Sprunk
Number of pages 427
Publisher PYR Books
Publication date 11 March 2014
Blood And Iron starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand. Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.
Blood And Iron is Jon Sprunk’s fourth novel and the first book in his new 4-book series, The Book Of The Black Earth. It tells the tale of three people that are fighting their own war against the corrupt Akeshian Empire. Horace is a crusader who washes up on the shores of his enemies after a shipwreck. Jirom is a slave turned gladiator whose biggest wish is to bring down the empire that enslaved him. And last but not least, there’s Alyra, a beautiful young woman who enters slavery voluntarily to spy on the Akeshian court. Their paths become intertwined and will shake the foundations of the empire.
While Sprunk’s first series, the Shadow Saga, was epic sword and sorcery, The Book Of The Black Earth is a change in type of subgenre. Blood And Iron is still epic fantasy, but with a lot more political intrigue than Sprunk’s previous books. Horace’s and Alyra’s tale is one of court intrigues and finding out where their loyalties are lying. Horace finds himself in a web of lies and deceit in an empire where power display is everything, where showing or hiding weakness means the difference between a position of power or certain death. So, while this tale is completely different from the Shadow Saga, it’s still written in Sprunk’s familiar style: fast paced, with a lot of room for emotional and heartbreaking scenes, interspersed with great action sequences. The other familiar thing about this author’s style are his points of view. Sprunk tells his story from every angle, not only from the point of view from the good guys, but also from the other side. In this case from the point of view of queen Byleth. This is an approach I really like and it gives the author a lot of room for character development. Sprunk takes this opportunity with both hands and develops that masterfully. This character development is one of the main reasons that Jon Sprunk has become one of my favourite authors.
Let’s take a look at those different characters now. Horace is the main protagonist and a man with a sad past, which was revealed gradually throughout the book, through flashbacks. He’s a fantastic character and it was a real pleasure to read his often emotional tale. Despite being washed up on the shores of his enemies and being captured as a slave, Horace tries to make the best of the situation to become a free man again.
Alyra is a beautiful young woman who lost everything because of the empire’s strive for domination, so she enters slavery voluntarily to spy on the Akeshians. With Kit from the Shadow Saga, Sprunk showed us that he can write great female characters and Alyra is no exception. And although I didn’t like her as much as Kit, she’s still a character strong enough to have won my heart.
Queen Byleth is the only character that I didn’t like as much as the rest of the cast. She’s not badly written, not by a long shot, but I didn’t felt enough connection with this character. Maybe a little more development in the next books and I do like her, we’ll see.
And then there’s Jirom. This ex-mercenary turned gladiator is, to me, the best character in the book. I even think he’s one of the best fantasy characters ever. This guy is cool and his introduction chapter is one of the coolest character introductions I’ve ever read, period. It’s brutal and emotional at the same time and I love it! Sprunk takes with this character’s personality a direction I’ve rarely come across in fantasy books and I hope we’ll see a lot more from Jirom in the rest of the series. That’s enough talk about the characters. By now you understand that I like Sprunks characters a lot and the way he weaves his storylines is emotional, sometimes heart wrenching and always entertaining.
Let’s talk a bit about the world and its magic system now. Blood And Iron takes place in the same world as the Shadow Saga, but on a different continent. This gives the author the canvas of an already well-developed world, but Sprunk doesn’t stop there. No, he adds a complete new continent to that world, with an original civilisation and topography. That civilisation, the Akeshian Empire, is decadent, with strange attitudes towards honour, and rotten to the core. The power is in the hands of the rulers of city states, which are looked upon as gods. An all-powerful emperor recedes above all this, while the church tries everything they can to gain more power. It’s a cruel and hard civilisation, where slavery still exists. Sprunk gives us some clues as to when and where to situate this new series towards the Nimean Empire in his Shadow Saga, but it becomes not quite clear when you read the book. So I decided to ask the author himself and this was his answer: “The two series actually take place at about the same time, give or take a couple years. The Nimean Empire I mentioned is the OLD Nimean Empire. The new one, ruled by Josey, has just begun. I don’t make the distinction yet because news of the new empress has not yet spread to all corners of the world, and also because Horace wasn’t keeping track of current events after the traumatic events that happened in his past.”
The magic system is based on the four elements with some very interesting additions. One of the coolest are the Immaculata, physical wounds magic users get when practicing their craft. When Horace appears to be a magic user and doesn’t get these Immaculata, you can imagine that this fact will attract the attention of all kinds of people. I already told you that Sprunk’s battle scenes are great, do know that the magic battle scenes he describes are awesome. Read the chapter where Horace fights Puzummu and you’ll see what I mean.
And now for my conclusion. Jon Sprunk showed us with his Shadow Saga what a brilliant storyteller he is and with Blood And Iron it isn’t any different. A fresh new continent, great characters and a superb story are what you get when reading this book. Blood And Iron is an amazing, interesting, very good and entertaining first book in what could very well become one of the best fantasy series of the next decade.
Author Gail Z. Martin
Number of pages 624
Publisher Solaris Books
Publication date 01 February 2008
Having escaped being murdered by his evil brother, Jared, Tris must take control of his magical abilities to summon the dead, and gather an army big enough to claim back the throne of his dead father. But it isn’t merely Jared that Tris must combat. The dark mage, Foor Arontala, has schemes to raise the Obsidian King.
The Blood King is the second book in Gail Martin’s Chronicles Of The Necromancer and takes off right after the ending of The Summoner. Prince Martris and his friends are still the honoured guests of king Staden and are determining their strategy to launch an attack against Tris’ brother Jared. While his friends are training their battle skills in Staden’s palace, Tris must train his magic skills in tests to the death with the Sisters. Meanwhile, Hawthorn Moon day is coming closer and with that the day that Foor Arontala could resurrect The Obsidian King and start his plans for world domination.
If you’ve read my review of The Summoner, you’ll know that my main issue with that storyline was the lack of connection I felt with the side characters. After reading The Blood King I can say that this problem is almost completely resolved in this book. The side characters are getting a lot of screen time and are well developed. Nothing wrong with that and the characters are more likeable this way. The only negative thing I can say about this is that, because of that huge amount of character development in this book, the story felt a little unbalanced. There isn’t much action in the first 300 pages and that makes it, when looking at The Blood Kingon itself, a little boring. The second part of the book is more a mix of an action and character driven tale and it is in that part that Martin’s great talent for storytelling is showing its best side. So, my advice to you is: read The Summoner and The Blood King back to back and you’ll have a great coming-of-age tale about a guy with powers that are not so common in most fantasy books. That way you’ll avoid the little unbalance I’ve talked about and you’re going to enjoy this tale a lot more. I suspect that this was what the author intended when writing these two books. So, to cut things short, when you look upon The Summoner and The Blood King as one long novel, you’ll see why this series is such a best-seller.
The worldbuilding is, as usual with Martin’s novels, superb. She knows how to create a vivid world with great magic and that shows in The Blood King. The world of the Winter Kingdoms is well developed with rich details and definitely a pleasure to read about. And just like I said in my review of the first book in this series, is the religion the most interesting aspect of this world. That religion consists of one goddess, divided in eight aspects, with the Crone as the second most interesting aspect. The title for best divine being, however, goes to the Formless One. I loved reading about this deity and the way Martin describes the feeling of horror, that takes a man when it’s coming for the soul, is perfect.
Another thing Martin knows how to write is a superb magical action scene. The great finale between Tris, Jared and Arontala is a perfect example of this and it is that part of the book that is the best of the whole story. Those scenes are splendidly written and a real joy to read. They made me read on and I was unable to close the book before I got to the conclusion of the tale.
And that brings us to the conclusion of my review. The Blood King is, like I said, a little unbalanced, but if you read book 1 and 2 back to back, you’ll see that this problem is mostly solved. The first two books of The Chronicles Of The Necromancer are an interesting, well developed tale and, although not perfect, definitely worth your reading time. Gail Z. Martin has a natural flair for storytelling and I can say that I liked this tale. This series is a best seller and after reading two books I can perfectly understand why.
In today’s guest post Kenny Soward talks about the characters in his Dead West novels, which are co-written with Tim Marquitz and J.M. Martin. The second novel, The Ten Thousand Things, will be released by Ragnarok Publications March 2014.
The Dirty, Desperate Characters Of Dead West
When Joe Martin asked me to join him and Tim Marquitz in a zombie-inspired supernatural horror series based in the Old West, I leapt at the chance. It wasn’t because “Dead West” promised to be fast-paced and full of gore. It wasn’t because I’d get to depict zombies getting blown to pieces by everything from lead balls to explosions. Sure, that’s all fun. But even better was the chance to work in one of the coolest periods in US history—the 1860’s.
The Era of Dead West Historically, even without the added spectacle of the living dead, this was a brutal time, full of Western expansion that meant hope for some and genocide for others. It was an innovative century and inventions abound: the regenerative furnace, the telegraph, the steam locomotive, the light bulb, dynamite, the repeating rifle, photography, and so many other cool things. Just before “Dead West” takes place, the Civil War had shattered the country and America still bled. It was the decade of the First Transcontinental Railroad, a time when dirty, desperate people fought their way westward to escape all that and forge a new path, lured by the promise of free land, silver, and gold, all just waiting to be had. They went to make a fresh start. To get clean again. So the opportunity to write characters from that era was unavoidable.
The People of Dead West Certainly, dirty, desperate characters exist in epic fantasy, too, but I kept thinking about one of my all-time favorite TV series, Deadwood, and how cool it would be to immerse myself in that world, but with dark and mystical layers and a “weird west” vibe. The rest is history—well, the history of our particular characters. Nina Weaver is a half-breed Native American struggling to find her identity in a rough-and-tumble world. She dresses like a boy to hide her gender and the color of her skin. She’s diminutive, but far from weak. She can wield a knife. She can shoot. And she has an iron spirit. These things are necessary to survive, and she fully embraces this aspect of her existence even as she struggles with the death of her mother. Her father, Lincoln Weaver, has lived an adventurous life in the scouting and fur trade. An unforeseen tragedy left him a widower and his daughter without a mother, so Lincoln is a man getting older by the day, dedicated to Nina, watching her grow up in a new and violent world, wondering what kind of life she’ll have when he’s gone. Although these are the main two protagonists, we introduce a full roster of other characters such as a Nez Perce Indian named Red Thunder; a couple of business owners with their teenage girl, a railroad boss and his questionably sane subordinate, a prostitute displaced from her brothel, a couple ex-Confederate soldiers who happen to be brothers, some roughrider and gunfighter types, and one of the most intriguing of the lot, a missionary Jesuit priest named Thomas Mathias, who brings the greater question of faith into our story, and also becomes quite the wildcard to further the plot. All that, and we haven’t even gotten to the antagonist, a mysterious mystic bent on unleashing Hell upon the New Country. These are the dirty, desperate characters of Dead West explained in a few short paragraphs. We’ve worked hard to flesh them out and make them live right off the page, nurturing complex emotions and forging relationships and alliances amidst the social conflict within the group as well as the turmoil of an untamed land in the throes of the worst scenario imaginable. We hope you give “Dead West” a shot, and that these characters become as endearing to you as they are to us, even in all their dysfunctional glory!
It’s 1868 in the Sierra Nevada, during the expansion of the Central Pacific Railroad. Nina Weaver and her pa, Lincoln, trundle into Coburn Station with a wagonful of goods they’re looking to barter. Of all the rotten luck, their world—and the future of the American West—is forever changed when a sudden swarm of zombies invades town on the hunt for some human-sized vittles.
Stalked across the Great Basin by an evil they hardly understand, Nina Weaver and her hard-bitten bunch o’ ragtag death-dealers have learned one crucial lesson: the only sure thing in life—and death—is a loaded gun. ‘Deaduns’ and other horrors have come a’callin’, and Nina struggles to uphold unlikely alliances as the stale waft of rot threatens to overrun the West. Can Nina and company stand against…The Ten Thousand Things?
Kenny Soward grew up in ‘70s Crescent Park, Kentucky, a suburb south of Cincinnati, listening to hard rock, jumping bikes, playing Nerf football, and acquiring many a childhood scar. His love for books flourished early, and he burned through his grade school library, and in high school spent many days in detention for reading fantasy fiction during class. The transition to author was a natural one.
He attended the University of Kentucky, and took creative writing classes under Gurny Norman, former Kentucky Poet Laureate. Kenny’s latest releases are Rough Magick (GnomeSaga #1) and the “Dead West” series with Tim Marquitz and J.M. Martin. He also fancies himself quite the blogger (see http://www.kennysoward.com).
By day, Kenny works as a Unix professional, and at night he writes and sips bourbon. Kenny lives in Independence, Kentucky, with three cats and a gal who thinks she’s a cat.
Today it’s time for another giveaway. I’m giving away not one, not two, but no less than three copies of The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Of The Year Vol. 8, a superb collection of SF and Fantasy stories from, among others, Joe Abercrombie and Neil Gaiman (with thanks to Mike Molcher of Solaris Books, who was so kind to provide the books).
The celebrated The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series comes to the UK – Solaris is proud to be the new home for the latest volume in Jonathan Strahan’s critically-acclaimed SFF anthology series! The best, most original, and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by the multiple-award-winning editor. This highly popular series is released in the UK for the first time and includes stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents, including Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, Karin Tidbeck, An Owomoyela, Madeline Ashby, Lavie Tidhar, Charlie Jane Anders, Geoff Ryman, Caitlin R Kiernan and many more. With a fantastic range of diverse authors and cutting-edge science fiction, this essential book is an established series in the US but has only been found on import in the UK. It now joins Solaris’ high-profile anthology list.
RULES: The giveaway is closed and the three winners have been randomly picked.
The three winners are Danielle C, Margo Hurwicz and Jjoeri Smeets.
Congratulations to all of you! An e-mail has been sent to you.