Bloodheir Review

16 12 2008
Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley

Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley

Brian Ruckley is a solid if unspectacular writer. His debut novel Winterbirth featured a northern world reminiscent of Scotland, full of Blood’s (another name for clans), fierce warriors, and wild untamed lands. It’s no surprise to find that Ruckley is a Scotsman and in many ways is writing what he knows. But this setting has been the inspiration for a plethora of books and stories from the awesome Song of Fire and Ice series by George RR Martin to JV Jones and others and for a novel to stand out it needs to be truly original. Unfortunately I wasn’t blown away by Winterbirth. It felt very generic. I felt like I’d read this story before and while I enjoyed it it was more a comfort read than anything special.

I guess the completist in me prompted me to read Bloodheir. There were moments in Winterbirth that suggested at some untapped potential and while I didn’t have exceptional hopes I wanted to see what happened with the story.

Bloodheir is a better book than Winterbirth. Ruckley is surer with his craft and he takes the time to develop the setting a lot more. I love the concept of the Godless World and the motivations it has created in people as a result. The Black Road are a fantastic horde-like enemy. They’re religious fanatics on a crusade against the True Bloods. At the same time there are other creatures, the human-like Kyrinin, the Na’kyrim half breeds, the mysterious Anain.  Yet there is a nagging sense that Ruckley is not fully exploiting this setting. A great deal is made of the powerful Anain but they seem to shake some leaves and that’s it. Big whoop. Perhaps they’ll be more prominent in the next book.

Ruckley is at his best when he deals with the minor characters. Taim Narran, a grizzled general just trying to survive so he can see his family is by far the best character in the book and his chapters are easily the most vivid in the book. Wain and Kanin, two Black Road siblings, are probably the next best characters and when Wain falls to the villain’s powers I despaired. The remainder of the characters are a struggle however. His villain, the Na’kyrim Aeglyss, has become a clichéd physically weak sorcerer. He commands awesome powers and armies but struggles to walk. Orisian, ostensibly our main character, is an awful character, pouty and pathetic. I kept on hoping that he’d take an arrow through the head. The great and powerful characters, the Bloodheir of the title in particular, are almost to a man stupid and you wonder how they ever got to where they are. I know it suits the plot to have them hotheaded but if I was a Thane of Thanes I wouldn’t send my son to wage war without at least a few experienced generals with him.

Bloodheir falls prey to the same faults that plague middle books in trilogies. While lots of things happen including murders, sieges and battles there is still the sense that the story is not being propelled onwards. In many ways I feel that if this book disappeared and the concluding volume was all that remained I wouldn’t miss anything.

Ruckley writes “moments” exceptionally well. There is a scene of a battle in a terrible rain storm in Winterbirth that stays with the reader long after the book is finished. In Bloodheir there is a similar moment of a battle in a blizzard which is the most vivid sequence in the book. It remains with me long after the story has ended.

Despite my reservations above I did enjoy Bloodheir. It has nicely set up the story for the concluding volume and I am truly interested in seeing how the story turns out.

6.5/10

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