Following last month’s stateside release of Winterbirth, the heroic fantasy opener to Brian Ruckley’s Godless World Trilogy, Bloodheir continues the tale of the True Bloods’ struggle against the exiled Black Road nation, but with rather blasé results.
Under the leadership of the Horin-Gyre Blood, the banished Black Road have flooded south below the Vale of Tears, splintering the uneasy peace amongst the self-proclaimed True Bloods. Their strict credo of predestination has helped stimulate a monumental attack, an attack that snowballed from a mere raid to reclaim land into a major spearhead offensive to bring about the return of the Gods.
In a time of disunity and growing dissent, the ordinarily robust defenses of the Lannis Blood, the northernmost fiefdom, were quickly overrun. Orisian, with the help of two Kyrinin (fair-skinned, Night Elf-like warriors), was able to avoid the slaughter that claimed most of his family. Now the ruler of the remaining Lannis Blood, Orisian must decide whether to follow the orders of a neglectful High Thane or pursue information on the only threat that could trump the advancing Black Road army.
Though an entertaining book in its own right, Ruckley’s Bloodheir unfortunately takes a step backwards from the epic caliber established in Winterbirth. Instead of expanding upon the Godless World Bloodheir actually delimits its scope, focusing on a handful of characters to the detriment of others. In particular a large portion of the book is dedicated to Aeglyss, the half-human / half-Kyrinin na’kyrim, and his swift rise to terrible, hatred-fueled power. While Aeglyss is an interesting persona, the other main players just don’t get enough screen time in the wake of establishing the na’kyrim as the central villain.
The undisputed protagonist of the novel, Orisian, is far removed from the main plotline of Bloodheir. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but not enough happens with the young Thane to make his journey worthwhile to the reader. Orisian’s Kyrinin friends, brother and sister Ess’yr and Varryn, were some of the most dynamic character additions to the original troupe, yet in Bloodheir they only get a few lines, at best, and no new depth. For that matter a lot of the favorites of Winterbirth are only cursorily sketched; Orisian’s sister Anyara gets a mere handful of POVs, Roaric nan Kilkry-Haig gets none at all, and Taim Narran’s perspective, though a little more fleshed out, is still too tantalizingly brief.
The balance to this omission of character insight is a lot more time spent with the less savory personas of the Godless World. Aside from Aeglyss we also get behind the eyes of Mordyn Jerain, the High Thane Gryvan oc Haig’s chancellor and infamous Shadowhand. Again this extra layering of characterization is fascinating, but still feels like a shoddy tradeoff considering everyone else who gets overlooked.
All of this could be forgiven, however, if the plot boasted action worthy of an epic fantasy novel. But alas, not even a culminating battle at the end of the book is enough to warrant the noticeable lack of blood and gore in the previous 400-odd pages.
In the end Brian Ruckley’s Bloodheir suffers from middle-itis, that nefarious disease that tends to infect the middle tome of sci-fi and fantasy trilogies. Although I was disappointed in this installment, the Godless World is still a great fantasy read and worthy of attention…if only for its opening and, hopefully, concluding volumes.