A Time of Blood by John Gwynne

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Rating 7.7/10
Bigger, bolder, bloodier featuring incredible scenes that are cinematic and deadly.

Following on from the catastrophic finale of A Time of Dread, this is a high action, high tension blinder of a read. When you pick it up that first time, be prepared not to put it down until the last page. It follows standard film sequel rules: bigger, bolder, bloodier. There are all kinds of monstrous creatures chucked in, perhaps running a little too far with it… I’m looking at you Ulf and crew. Still, it makes for some seriously incredible scenes, cinematic and deadly. Even with all this action, the absolute standout was the characters, or one in particular: Drem. He is the heart of this book, the one to stand with and cheer for. What he considers to be his limitations are the very reason his thoughts and actions are so meaningful, he overcomes them, pushing through his boundaries to be the hero everyone else knows him to be. He feels the most real, especially as he’s the one person who genuinely develops in this offering, there is real change and growth. If there is a Bright Star here, he’s it.

Which feeds right into the problem with this series, for me at least. I just don’t love these people anywhere near as much as I do those in the Faithful and the Fallen. Yes, yes, I know how rubbish a reader that makes me. It’s like I broke up with someone and can’t move on. But the memory of the past is too strong and its influence is everywhere here, from the battle call ‘Truth and Courage’ to the statute of Corban and Storm that stands outside Dun Seren, from the sword dance to the shield wall. Details big and small pervade every aspect of this series, so much that the story actually relies on it. There is an inescapable commemoration of the people and events from the original series, it might be history here but it’s far from forgotten. The tales of heroism and sacrifice are not just myth, they remain in the memories of the long lived and have been passed down in ways which have ensured they form the political, cultural, and emotional foundations of society. Even when negatively framed, communities are still constructed as a direct response to the past. And all it does is make me miss it more. Intellectually, I know how ridiculous and unrealistic this is. John Gwynne can’t write about the same people forever no matter how much I want him to (and that kind of thing never works anyway), but I can’t help but feel the emotional connection is lacking in comparison. It’s exacerbated by the relative lightness of this series, there’s not as much time or space for development of new characters, again leaving them to be defined in part by the past. It circles round and round again.

In any case, if you know John Gwynne then you know that things end on a pretty dire note. And perhaps you also realise how much of an understatement that is. I think I can get away with saying that there are insane battles. That nobody is safe. And that I really hope John Gwynne knows how he’s going to get people out of this goddamn mess, because I sure don’t… 

ARC via Netgalley

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