A wonderfully gritty and creative swords and sandals epic from newcomer Anthony Ryan.

Anthony Ryan burst onto the fantasy fiction scene in 2013 with Blood Song, intially as a self-published title, but quickly moving to Penguin books with a three-book contract, which is now complete.

The complete Raven’s Shadow series, just finished in 2015.

Blood Song starts out as a simple enough coming-of-age story about a young noble named Vaelin al Sorna, who is cast out of his comfortable world into a gritty, bloody world of warrior training and hardship. It moves quickly, however, out of the bildungsroman trappings and morphs nicely into something more along the lines of Song of Ice and Fire, with geopolitical war mingled with petty noble squabling. Ryan at first hides the true nature world that Vaelin lives in, but as he grows older we learn that it is not a happy, prosperous world. This is a grim, war-torn land, where chaos and battle wait around every corner. Magic is slow in appearing at first, but when it does appear, it bursts from the page in an interesting and unusual way.

Much of the story reminded me of Glen Cook’s Black Company books, in part because of the war-ravaged world, but also because of the teamwork that develops through most of the first book. Vaelin and his brothers of the Sixth Order comprise a fun collection of rugged individuals, and their fates are tied to their terrible world in much the same way as the inhabitants of Westeros or Riyria. This is not a place one should want to escape to.

Overseas cover art.

Ryan has a wonderful talent for both mise en scène and action descriptions. It’s not hard at all to feel a very personal presence in these stories. There is a compelling degree of complexity in what should, at first glance, be very cookie-cutter characters, such as the outraged noble, the grim warrior, or the plucky street rogue. Somehow Ryan breathes new life into familiar trappings.

Towards the end of the first book there’s a curious display of the old “unreliable narrator” trick. I’m still not sure if I read those last couple of chapters right, and may have to go back and read them again. But we’ll see how it plays out with the rest of the series.

In any case, check these out, they’re quite good. And thanks to my friend Shaun for the suggestion!