A Time of Blood

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 23 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis

Defy the darkness. Defend the light.

Drem and his friends flee the battle at Starstone Lake to warn the Order of the Bright Star. They’ve witnessed horrors they’ll never forget, such as magic warping men into beasts. But worst of all, they’ve seen a demon rise from the dead – making it even more powerful. Now Fritha, the demons’ high priestess, is hunting Drem’s party.

Concealed in Forn Forest, Riv struggles to understand her half-breed heritage. She represents the warrior angels’ biggest secret, one which could break their society. And when she’s found by the Ben-Elim’s high captain, he swoops in for the kill.

As demonic forces multiply, they send a mighty war-host to overthrow the angel’s stronghold. This could decimate the fractured Ben-Elim. And their allies in the Order may be too overwhelmed to send aid – with Fritha and her monstrous beasts closing in. Like heroes of old, Drem and the Bright Star’s warriors must battle to save their land. But can the light triumph when the dark is rising?

Review

Thanks to the publisher and author for a finished copy of A Time of Blood (Of Blood and Bone #2) in exchange for an honest review. Receiving a copy of the book did not influence my thoughts or opinions on the novel.

Have I told you guys how much I love John Gwynne? His writing ability is obvious, but he is genuinely one of the nicest and most engaging human beings I have met via social media. He is one of only a handful of authors who will literally answer each and every tweet, DM, etc. sent his way, and I don’t mean with just a one or two word response. Can we have more authors like him?

A Time of Blood (Of Blood and Bone #2) is an engaging and praiseworthy successor to the phenomenal A Time of Dread. Think of it like a 500 page ‘Battle of the Bastards’ but with angels and demons and bears, OH MY. Battle lines are drawn, armies are weaponized, and all-out chaos is on the brink. This is epic fantasy at its finest and we are not worthy.

What I really enjoy about Gwynne’s writing has to be his characters. Each one is fully fleshed-out with a backstory, present-tense engagement, and motivation for a future of their own making. While there is an overall tone of good vs evil, there is a harsh shade of gray that looms over the entire battlefield and its surrounding areas. We see characters with obvious external conflict, but also the internal as they attempt to pick a winning side or figure out just who they really are. Those we see as friends, some even becoming like family, have only schemed their way into the fold and their true colors are shown as the skies begin to darken.

Since Book 2 is practically a seamless transition from Book 1, the world-building schematics have already been laid out for your pleasure, but we dig a little deeper into certain sections this time around. A few things that are more built-on this time around are the characters and creatures of the world. Much like Book 1, we are given four (4) POVs, three (3) of which we are familiar with from the previous novel, and a new one which revolves around Fritha who is a priestess and captain of the Kadoshim’s covens. Though Drem is still my favorite (which it is difficult to not pick him), Fritha’s backstory and motivations are of high interest as the book plays out, giving us insight into her upbringing and what clicked to lead her down this path.

Oh, and I mentioned creatures. Holy moly, there are so many! Giants, giant worms, demons, bears, crows, ‘ferals’, etc. Has a very Tolkein-esque quality to it that I absolutely loved. Honestly, just missing wizards and hobbits, but I digress. Every single creature in this book plays a role, and several are given human-like qualities that actually give the reader a bit more engagement opportunity through emotional attachment.

Gwynne had firmly established himself as one of my go-to authors for epic fantasy after I read Malice (and no, I haven’t finished The Faithful and The Fallen series and I am a terrible book blogger), but Of Blood and Bone continues to cement him as a “drop everything you are doing right now” author and I can bet he will do the same for you.
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My very first book by John Gwynne was this novel's predecessor, A Time of Dread, and it revealed to me not just an author who has rapidly become one of my favorites, but a complex world that simply begged to be explored: for this reason I backtracked to Gwynne's first series, The Faithful and the Fallen, and now that I have read its first two books I am getting a more detailed picture of the historical background for this new series titled Of Blood and Bone.  As I said in my review for A Time of Dread, it's not necessary to have read the four volumes of The Faithful and the Fallen to enjoy this new saga, but having walked through half of that journey helped me to appreciate this new story more, and every time there is a mention of characters or events from the past, it feels like meeting some old friends.

Unlike all other books I read from this author, who likes to prepare the scene at a leisurely stride, A Time of Blood starts at a high speed and never, ever stops, increasing its pace all throughout the story with almost no respite at all: the playing field has been set, the pieces are all in their places, and now there seems to be room only for action. The forces of evil are on the move, and as we learned previously, they have been preparing for a long time for their comeback, yet what's terrifying is how they prepared: not just by working secretly for their return, but by forging alliances and increasing their numbers in ways that go well beyond the simple act of recruiting troops. Prepare to be shocked, terrified and revolted at the same time…

As for the forces of good… well, in some instances they have unwittingly moved in directions that might ultimately aid the ancient enemy: the Order of the Bright Star and the Ben-Elim are still allies, of course, but somewhat uneasy ones, and their different perspectives on how to prepare for the battle against the never-vanquished Kadoshim often generate the kind of attrition that undermines such alliances. The members of the Order are proud of their past history and present accomplishments, and don't look too favorably on the Ben-Elim lording it over everything and everyone, posing as the sole saviors of humanity.  There is a definite feel of political strife here that counterbalances nicely the physical battles and adds a worrisome note to what might be the outcome of the final struggle that looms ever closer on the horizon.  And where politics are concerned, there is always the possibility of deceit and betrayal, which in a few instances come completely out of the blue and leave you reeling in shock.

A Time of Blood is indeed a book in which revelations abound, either concerning characters or present and past events, and it's because of these surprises that the quick pacing of the story becomes more like a flood against which we have no other recourse but to go with the flow and see where it takes us. As if this were not enough, the novel contains an amazing number of battle scenes described with such a cinematic quality that it feels as if we were watching one of those complex action movies where the different clashes are choreographed with great skill and allow you to follow the single skirmishes together with the overall battle, without losing any detail. If this story were ever to be transposed either to the big or the small screen, these would be epic scenes, indeed, and once more I'm in awe of the author's technique in blending the descriptions of weapons wielding with the characters' feelings as they fight, adding the human side of the equation to what might otherwise be a simple portrayal of clashing steel.

The term epic is indeed the only one that can be correctly applied to this story where the brewing conflicts of Book 1 have come out into the open, encompassing a whole world, and we witness the bloody combat in which men and giants, angels and devils fight against each other together with their own allies - bears and wolvens and hellish creatures that are the stuff of nightmares. A title as A Time of Blood hardly prepares you to the level of violence described here, although it must be said that it's never gratuitous and always serves the narrative purposes of the overall story, not to mention that it's wonderfully balanced by the themes of hope and love, of friendship and loyalty that have often been the only light in this encroaching darkness.  Still, John Gwynne is not the kind of author who cossets his characters, so they are more often than not put through the grinder, to the point that there is never the absolute certainty of their survival - and previous experience with his writing has taught me that no one is truly safe, which adds another layer to the high level of tension that runs through this book.

Speaking of the characters, they continue to shine and to gain new facets as their journey moves forward: my favorite remains young Drem - the hero of this tale - as he moves from the naive boy who lived in the wilderness with his father and had little experience of the world, to a determined warrior who knows he has to find his courage and fulfill his role in the coming war. It came natural for me to draw a parallel between Drem and Corban, the main character from The Faithful and the Fallen: in my musings about the latter I wrote that he gave off some "reluctant Chosen One" vibes I did not particularly enjoy, since he seemed at time prone to the why me? kind of whining that annoys me a little. While I'm aware that I don't know Corban's whole story yet, and therefore I know that I should suspend my judgement, I can't help but feeling more partial toward Drem who does not show any of the usual signs of the fictional hero, but is rather an ordinary person called to deal with extraordinary events and doing his best to face them with bravery and determination.

What is very enjoyable in the characters of this saga (and the one that preceded it) is that they are equally flawed, be it because of pride, or arrogance, or the penchant for evil, but they all share one common trait: they believe in what they do, even the villains, they have a reason for being what they are, and even though there is no way I can sympathize with some of the "bad guys", I can see where they come from, and this makes them real, and relatable just as much as the heroes of the story. And this is one of the elements that makes these novels so intriguing and riveting.

Did I find any fault in this second book? Yes, one: it ended too soon and did so on a massive cliffhanger which makes me wish I could read the final installment right now.

But it's not really a fault - it's an encouragement. As if I needed one… :-)
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Oh man.  I wish time travel was a thing so I could dart into the future and get my hands on the last book of this trilogy.  I need the final installment immediately.  

“We live our lives by Truth and Courage.  Love and loyalty, friendship and honour are our guiding lights.”

I absolutely adored The Faithful and the Fallen.  The entire quartet was insanely epic, and each book was better than the last.  I was crazy excited to get my hands on A Time of Dread, the first book of Gwynne’s followup series Of Blood and Bone.  As much as I enjoyed it, that book had more of a grimdark feel to it than the original series, which saddened me and kept me from loving it to quite the same extent, though I see now that it was a necessary writing decision.  A Time of Blood more than made up for that.  While still dark and definitely bloody, this second installment had more of the optimism that made TFatF so wonderful, shining a light into the darkness and fighting to overcome it.  I was ecstatic to feel the return of that hopefulness even in the midst of dark and terrible times.  Something that Gwynne does wonderfully well is balance sorrow with hope.  We should mourn and avenge our fallen, but we should also preserve our memories of them and honor them by living life to the fullest.

“Life is harsh, and complicated…To survive each day and be with the ones you love, that is becoming enough for me.”

One of my favorite elements of TFatF was Gwynne’s inclusion of animal characters, and how he gave them loads of personality.  The close ties between man and beast in the Banished Lands has proven incredibly moving, and I very much appreciate the crows and bears and wolven-hounds as they’ve been showcased.  Not only do these animals seem like important characters in their own right, but their loyalty to and friendship with their humans is absolutely beautiful.  When one of these animals dies, they are mourned just like any other fallen comrade.  There’s a special place in my heart for Gwynne’s crows, the only animal characters with speaking lines.  I love how very crow-like their dialogue reads, managing to convey thought and personality without ever seeming human.

“Moments like that, when you act when there is no room for thought, they show the truth of a person.”

Another element of TFatF that I absolutely loved that was carried into Of Blood and Bone is the almost Judeo-Christian feel of the war between good and evil.  The Ben-Elim appear very angelic, and the Kadoshim are their malevolent counterparts.  However, they are not so cut and dried as that.  As we come to see in A Time of Dread and A Time of Blood, the Ben-Elim have flaws of their own, despite their apparent moral superiority and lovely white-feathered wings.  Especially in A Time of Blood, we see how the Ben-Elim have not practiced what they preached, and have kept certain darker parts of themselves hidden.  These darker parts are now coming to light, and suddenly they don’t seem all that different from their demonic rivals.  In fact, through the eyes of one of our perspective characters, we see a loyalty to the Kadoshim that seems to be missing from the Ben-Elim.  I love the spiritual warfare feel that this story brings, but I love even more that things aren’t as straightforward as they appear.

“War makes monsters of us all.”

Speaking of that perspective character, Gwynne did a great job crafting a disturbingly evil individual whose backstory nearly justifies their actions.  As I always choose to do when reviewing Gwynne’s work, I won’t be naming names, but that character is among the most twisted sympathetic characters I’ve ever encountered.  I found them demented and misguided and brilliant, and I truly felt for them and could see the reasoning behind their decisions even as I was horrified by them.

“Sometimes, dark deeds must be done to accomplish great ends.”

As always, Gwynne did a brilliant job of crafting his battle scenes.  They were easy to follow and completely consuming.  He does a wonderful job of conveying the emotions flowing through his characters in the midst of battle, and showing how those emotions must be dealt with quickly so that the characters can focus on the matter at hand.  We see characters push through fear and rage and physical pain to continue fighting for what they believe in, and I have immense respect for that. 

“Fear is not the enemy, it is the herald of danger, and that is only wisdom.”

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that left me this desperate for the next book, with no word of when that book will be published.  The third installment of this trilogy is a book that I will be eagerly awaiting and will start reading as soon as I can get a copy.  Everything else will have to wait.  There was nothing about A Time of Blood that I would change.  Not a single solitary thing.  Gwynne has become on of those rare authors whose books I will immediately preorder as soon as they’re available.  If he writes it, I’ll read it, no matter what it is.  I don’t think I can give an author higher praise than that.

Truth and Courage!
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