Catching up with my blog backlog, it’s time to hit up one of my major scores from Readercon. Thanks to the power of twitter, I got to meet Evie Manieri, author of Blood’s Pride. Twitter is awesome like that what with facilitating a community outside of the little cell phone windows too.
So I’ve been excited about the fantasy side of our genre a lot more recently than I had been in a few years. People like Sam Sykes, Joshua Palmatier/Ben Tate and the new Scott Lynch just over the horizon have really brought me back to swords and magic again. Now I first found out about Manieri and Blood’s Pride because of ye old twitter again and it caught my interest right away. I was impressed enough to actually break my Paperback Rule and spring for the hardcover when I was at Readercon.
We’re just going to get on with the Inside of the Flap (hardcover and all)
Evie Manieri’s Blood’s Pride is the first book of The Shattered Kingdoms, an engaging, action-packed, and “highly imaginative” (Kirkus Reviews) series of fantasy novels with epic scope and “the perfect mix of romance, family ties, betrayals, and agonizing dilemmas” (RT Book Reviews).
Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation.
Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising—but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?
Set in a fictional quasi-Medieval Mediterranean region with a strong cast of male and female characters, the series “presents a striking world with civilizations similar to those of the Vikings and the nomadic cultures of the Middle East, and with the Mediterranean sensibilities of the ancient Greeks. Her characters are passionate and memorable, lending a personal touch to a complex tale of clashing cultures and philosophies. Fans of Sharon Shinn, Elspeth Cooper, and Gail Z. Martin should enjoy Manieri’s approach to culture and drama.” (Library Journal, starred review)
The quotes in this flap copy are good. They show a lot of promise right in there, especially the talk of worldbuilding. I love me some worldbuilding. The Norlanders, the Shadari and the Nomas all have very distinct and unique cultures. A lot of details have gone into the cultures of the three peoples. While the book never actually goes to the Norlanders home, their physiology is shaped by their home environment. Coming from a frozen, dark land, sunlight can actually burn and kill them because it’s not something they have to live with. The Nomas culture is one I really find interesting and want to see more of in future books. The men are desert nomads. The women are ocean going nomads. They only get together a couple times a year. The Shadari are really the primary people for Blood’s Pride. They’re a subjugated culture. They themselves are discovering bits and pieces of of their past in order to shape their future. The pieces always fit within a larger picture. I felt that the grand picture of the glory days of Shadari were fully realized, even if we didn’t get to see all of it on the page. It was lurking there in the background with all its influence.
One of my favorite details in Blood’s Pride is a pretty small one but the kind that really makes the different cultures come alive to me. When the Norlanders invaded, they did on the backs of flying beasts kind of like drakes. The two different people use different words for them. The Norlanders call them triffons and the Shadari call them dereshadi (giving my spellcheck a heart attack). (Also, spellcheck doesn’t like the world spellcheck) I know things like this are set dressing in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve always thought that the set dressing in fantasy needs more colorful details than any other subset of the SF world. Maybe it’s because I read so much fantasy back in my formative days and I’ve seen so much it takes more to impress me. Details like that impress me.
So I’ve talked a lot about the details of Blood’s Pride, but what about the characters and story? That’s really where the meat and potatoes of any book comes from. The book opens with an actual Dramatis Personae. Hell yes. There are a lot of people in this book and while I never really lost track of who was who, it’s is a comfort to have. It’s also really helpful for people writing blog posts who can’t spell.
There really is a lot going on but at the same time I thought it was very streamlined. The Mongrel, aka Meiran (see the bad ass on the cover above) is the merc to beat all mercs. A scrappy group of rebels among the Shadari hire her to come in, bust some heads and free their people. It is simple at its heart, like all good stories should be. But also like all good stories, there are a lot of complications. The Norlander governor is in his sickbed leaving his children to maneuver among themselves. Frea, know to the Shadari as the White Wolf, is an iron fist. Eofar, not so much. He’s actually friends with Daryan, his personal servant who happens to be the next in line to lead the Shadari. Isa wants to be the proper Norlander but it isn’t what’s in her heart. There’s a schism among the Shadari rebels between Harotha and Faroth. The Mongrel, she was hired to crack head but is going about it in a very roundabout way. She’s got a half dozen of her own motives. At every turn she seems to be helping a different section.
Got enough layers yet? Let’s add in some prophetic visions for Harotha to chase after. Oh wait, and what’s the number one conflict between people? Relationships. Across cultures for good measure. I’m not going to spoil who’s with who but it’s a very real driving force for these characters. As it should be. It’s a driving force between real people, so it should be in fictional people.
Isa is actually my favorite character. She goes thought some heavy stuff in the course of this book, more than anyone else I think. Physically and emotionally she gets beaten up quite a bit in her quest to be a “true Norlander” even though she was born and raised in the Shadar. Her character arc is the most profound. Around the 2/3 mark of the book she’s the focus of one of toughest and best moments of the book.
So I’ve talked a lot about the world building and the characters with their many layers of plots. Bringing this around to a conclusion, Blood’s Pride is very reminiscent of the high fantasy of the 80s and 90s. Moving around the POVs a lot and the huge plot web really bring the feel about to me. Blood’s Pride is like the fantasy books from back in the day but with all the crap from back in the day stripped away, distilled down to all the good parts.