I’ve been meaning to read Anthony Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow series for a long time but kept putting it off because so many people said the second and third books didn’t live up to the promise of the first one. After reading The Waking Fire (the first book of his new series), I wanted more so I decided to finally make the plunge.
The first book, Blood Song, follows Vaelin Al Sorna from his initiation into the religious/militaristic Sixth Order at the age of ten through his meteoric rise to become the most famous (or infamous, depending on who you’re talking to) warrior in the known world. I have a bias towards fantasy books about school/training/coming of age and this is a great example of that sub-genre, similar to Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. Vaelin is a terrific protagonist, he’s a natural leader but works hard for what he gets, he never seems like a Mary Sue character despite the accolades he receives. The plot is fine but it is dwarfed by the great characterization and emotional arc.
The next two books, Tower Lord and Queen of Fire are a total change of pace, the story shifts to being about the events happening across the entire world and we get a bunch of new viewpoint characters. Vaelin is still among them, but he’s done most of his growing in the first book so his viewpoints are more boring – his role is now just being the wise mentor figure and/or fearsome enemy to everyone else in the story.
I’m conflicted about how I feel about this changed structure, it makes sense that the author wanted to tell a broader story about saving the world, but that makes the book seem more generic because the wonderful character arc of a single viewpoint character is what made it stand out in the first place. The new viewpoint characters are fine but they suffer in comparison to Vaelin because we can’t spend as much time with them – Vaelin got a whole book to himself – and so they seem much less fleshed out.
The way the story wrapped up in Queen of Fire definitely had problems, significant characters from previous books were dropped with no resolution of their fates, the main plot with the war felt more and more improbable and much too easily resolved, and overall, it just didn’t offer enough satisfaction. Knowing that this was the conclusion that was being set up made me like the previous books less. I think the series is worth reading for Blood Song, though.
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