Raven’s Blade #1
Ace Books; July 23, 2019
432 pages (ebook)
4.5 / 5 ✪
About two months ago—when I requested the Wolf’s Call from NetGalley—I was cautious, though not terribly excited. While I loved Blood Song like I’ve loved no book since, the Tower Lord and Queen of Fire subsequently killed any passion I had for Anthony Ryan. I hated QoF so much, in fact, that it got DNFed after I skimmed a few more of Vaelin’s chapters around the 50% mark. I had heard that this new book was supposed to be all about Al Sorna in a way unseen since Blood Song, but wasn’t sold.
Upon my request being approved a month ago, the first thing I did was download the book and skim the first few chapters. The first features an account from someone else—like it did in Blood Song—then sticks to Vaelin like glue. By this time I was more cautiously optimistic, if guarded.
I finished the book on Saturday. And it was a total surprise: I loved it. Not as much as Blood Song, as Wolf’s Call is not without its faults, but they are few enough in number that the story itself can make up for them. I really loved this book. It was great. But when I started this review I noticed an unwillingness to recommend it a 100%. It’s not anything to do with the ending (there’s a bit of a cliffhanger), the pacing (it could be better), or the lack of Vaelin’s song (remember, he lost it). It’s because of Tower Lord.
Tower Lord was a good read. But compared to Blood Song it was shit. Sorry, but it was. Now, I know that Anthony Ryan would be crazy to repeat the same mistake he made before. Kinda like in DBZ when the creators attempted to transition on from Goku. It was so awful and the uproar so great that there’s no way it’d happen again. Except. Except that he already did it once.
The Wolf’s Call is set years after the events of Queen of Fire. The Volarians defeated, their lands now in possession of the Unified Realm, the Queen of Fire—Lyrna—now rules over them with an iron fist. But the queen is away, touring the Volarian Empire. So when there is unrest in the Realm, her Tower Lord departs to deal with it. Vaelin Al Sorna is greatly changed from the boy we first met in Blood Song. He has lost friends, lovers, a child, his song, and more besides. He is different, but not so much. And when whispers come from across the sea—a living god, an unstoppable army, a mustering Darkness, Vaelin’s once lover, Sherin—he departs to confront them. Though Vaelin may not wish to see another war, he will not abandon any of his own to such a fate without a fight.
I mean, it sounds good. Right?
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the return of Vaelin Al Sorna. I think his character development, as well as Nortah’s, is key to the success of the Wolf’s Call. There are a few other returning characters—Sherin, Ahm Lin, etc—but none others that were featured in every book in the original trilogy like the Sixth Order brothers. The secondary characters definitely helped, but in the end, it’s all about Vaelin. His story guides the plot in Wolf’s Call in a way not seen since Blood Song. While I enjoyed the world, the overarching plot and to a lesser extent the setting, the story’s real triumph is its characters. And say what you want about the Raven’s Shadow—but its character development and depth were top notch. I’m happy to report that this carries over quite well.
There’re but a few issues I have with it. I’ve mentioned the future, the pacing, a cliffhanger, the setting—I’ve nothing much more to say about them. The future I can’t control; the pacing’s not too much of an issue, more an annoyance; I don’t care for cliffhangers in general. The book is set in the Venerable Kingdoms, which are pretty much just Dynastic China complete with their own Steppe and Mongol Horde. I mean, it’s obviously China and Mongolia and whatnot, but the author has made an attempt to flesh it out on his own rather than cutting and pasting everything. I would’ve liked to see more of an effort in terms of culture and influence and stereotype, but whatever. It’s hardly anything to ruin the entire book. It’s just a bit disappointing.
The biggest issue I had was that sometimes, more than a little, it feels like Ryan is forcing it. Like he’s forcing everything to go through Vaelin. That’s the issue with having a single primary character. In the first Raven’s Shadow, he told Vaelin’s story. In subsequent books, he split the story between other characters to expand and tell a story about the world. Now, I didn’t enjoy it, but I know why the author chose to do it that way. In the Wolf’s Call, it seems like he’s trying to tell the story of the world, but through Vaelin alone. Meaning that Al Sorna has to be everywhere for everything, and central to every event. And it’s making him feel… stretched thin. And somewhat unrealistic.
And that’s it. That’s my biggest issue with the text. I mean, yeah—I’d definitely buy it. Hardcover, straight-up. And I’m usually pretty cheap. I always loved Blood Song because it could be read on its own, as a single tale. The Wolf’s Call, instead, definitely will connect directly to its sequel. Now I don’t know what that will be. It might be another Tower Lord or Queen of Fire. But, as I said before, I’m cautiously optimistic.