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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk

Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Book of the Black Earth

Publisher: Pyr (March 11, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy's Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 


When trying to make a good impression, the saying goes you should put your best foot forward as soon as possible, and that's definitely true for books as well. The fact that Blood and Iron was a bit slow in doing so may have weakened it a little in my eyes, but it is by no means a bad book. Indeed there are a lot of strengths, ones that I think would have made this book even better if the narrative had seized full advantage of them and taken things all the way.

The book's description begins with "Set in a richly-imagined world, this action-heavy fantasy epic and series opener is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus." If that sounds like your thing, then I have great news for you, because that is exactly what Blood and Iron delivers. "Richly-imagined world" doesn't even begin to do the setting justice; this is one incredible feat of world building Jon Sprunk has managed to achieve in his creation of an empire resplendent in its diversity of people and places.

The writing certainly does not skimp on the details. Every time a character enters a new environment, we are treated to an explosion of information about the surroundings, from the beautiful shoreline where the main protagonist Horace washes up after a shipwreck, to the decadent throne room of Queen Byleth's palace where he ends up being a political prisoner of sorts. When it's discovered that Horace possesses the latent abilities of a sorcerer, we are introduced to the beginnings of a complex world of magic as well.

Individually, the characters are also pretty interesting. Considered a "savage" by the slave-keeping, bloodthirsty culture of the Akeshians. Horace is our main character simply trying to stay alive in the intricate web of customs and politics in Byleth's court. Byleth herself is someone I could not get a bead on for much of the novel. Depending on whose point of view you're looking at, she's either strong or powerless, a tyrant or a victim, manipulative or vulnerable, though perhaps that is why of all the characters I found her the most intriguing.

For the most part, however, it feels like the plot of this novel is too too narrowly focused on the machinations at court, when my overall sense is that it wants to be something more. I didn't exactly get the feeling there was war and a greater conflict on a grand scale out there, which is what I think the narrative wants you to know but somehow doesn't quite manage to convey. It's almost like the bigger story is always just there lurking beneath the surface, and I kept waiting for it to break out but it never did, at least not until close to the very end.

Part of this has to do with what I thought were a couple of underutilized perspectives, namely those of Alyra, a slave who is really a spy in the queen's court, and Jirom, the badass mercenary and gladiator extraordinaire. Scenes with the former working for her underground network or the latter fighting in his army's battles, both of which would have expanded the story's scope, were only inserted here and there between Horace and Byleth's dealings with each other. All the while, there seemed to be a lot more nonessential rehashing of events between the protagonist and the queen that take place at the palace. 

It took a while for it to click with me where this story wanted to go. As such, the novel has the feel of a long introduction, albeit a good one. Like I said, there's a lot to like in here; it just takes a while for everything to consolidate, but the ending was without question stronger than the way it began. Now that we've got the ball rolling, I'm looking forward to seeing what the second book will bring.


A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Pyr Books!

10 comments :

  1. I completely agree that the best character was the queen. She alone kept me guessing; I almost started liking her despite knowing what she had done in our first introduction to her. The next book should just focus on her.

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    1. Yep, it was a risk, but I actually liked what he did with the queen's character. Could have fallen flat, what with all the different perspectives and ideas of her, but the contrasts worked surprising well.

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  2. I've been on the fence about this one. I'm all for "richly-imagined world" and "action-heavy fantasy epic" but "sword-and-sorcery Spartacus" doesn't exactly hit my sweet spot. Given that, I'm not sure I'd have the patience to stick with it, even knowing the end pays off.

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    1. Haha, I was all over "sword-and-sorcery Spartacus" That stuff's like catnip for me :D

      Anyway, some stories need time to take off and this is definitely one of them. If the first book intrigues me, I usually give a series til the next book to hook me (much like Seven Forges) and the good news is judging by the ending this one looks like it's well on its way.

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  3. Interesting. Still can't decide if I want to read this one or not. I've been a bit impatient lately with books that take a while to get into. But then, I know I have read plenty my self like that that I will highly recommend after finishing and seeing that the investment in the beginning pays really off.

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    1. I agree, I have been impressed and pleasantly surprised before in the past where the later books in a series have ended up completely blowing me away. It has made me more willing to invest the time in stories that need a bit of setting up.

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  4. I hate it when the first book in the series takes a while to get things going. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it in the end.

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    1. I'm glad too! Because I don't mind it when things take a while to get going, but I do hate it when it doesn't pay off.

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  5. I have a copy of this, need to decide if it's a high priority or medium priority. It does look cool, and so long as the writing is good, I don't mind if it has a slow start.

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    1. I'm the same way! I don't mind a little investment if I think the payoff will be worth it :)

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