'Blood Song' is the first book in the 'Raven's Shadow' series by self published author Anthony Ryan. I've always been of the opinion that if an author/book is good enough then it will get picked up by a publisher and therefore anything self published is likely to be crap and not worth my time. The few sample's I've tried in the past year have done nothing to change my view. When I looked at this book on amazon my bullshit meter started beeping loudly when I saw that of the 239 reviews, 219 of them were 5 stars. In comparison Joe Abercrombie's 'The Heroes' only has 110 reviews of which 60 are 5 stars. Being the cynical slightly jaded Fantasy I am, I was thinking Mr Ryan and his friends and family have either been really busy or there's some sort of self publishing lovefest going on. At a guess and not wanting to besmirch Mr Ryan's good name, I'd say the later and that expectations of a self published book are so low that when one really shines it gets a boost when people rate it and this book does shine IMO.
The book starts out with a Prisoner, Vaelin Al Sorna aka The Hope Killer, the most hated man in the Empire being escorted onto a boat headed for a duel in which he is expected to die. His escort for the voyage is a Noble of the Empire and renowned Historian. Being stuck on a boat is a bit boring so the two get chatting and Vaelin starts to tell the "True" version of the events leading up to his capture an imprisonment. In that way many will compare it to "The Name of the Wind"(tNotW), but where as that is told in the first person PoV, 'Blood Song' is told in the third person. Kinda odd that. Another comparison to tNotW will be Vaelin's early years training to be a Brother of the Sixth Order in which he must past yearly tests to continue his training.
The Brother's of the Sixth Order are a Warrior Brotherhood who are one of six orders dedicated to serving the Faith which is basically a religion that doesn't believe in gods, but does believe their souls go to a nice place after they die. The Orders also serve the Unified Realm which is the name of Vaelin's homeland and consists of four realms which were recently Unified under the rule of King Janus.
Most of the book follows Vaelin and four of his Order brothers through a series of tests as they train to become full brothers. I really enjoyed this part of the book as the five of them came to grips with what being a Brother of the Sixth really means and I especially appreciated Ryan focusing on how taking another persons life affects people differently. To often our fantasy heroes don't blink an eye or really think about the fact that they just killed someone. Along the way Vaelin is faced with attempts on his life, learn's about "The Dark"(magic), caught up in a dark conspiracy and forced into the manipulative world of King Janus where he is forced to decide between his Faith and Loyalty to the King.
'Blood Song' was without a doubt a captivating "I can't put this book down" read for me. It's not perfect but the flaws for me were minor and really only related to the layout/format of the book. The prose won't set the world on fire and some may find the story a bit simplistic at times, but I say screw those snobs, a compelling story is what counts with me. It definitely deserves 5 stars compared to any other self published book I've read or tried to read and when compared to other books it's firmly in the above average category. All the publishers/editors that rejected this book really need to give themselves a stiff uppercut to the chin.
Ryan has recently signed with a publisher and this book will be released sometime next year. Get in now and read it for $2.99 while you can!