The Wolf's Call by Anthony Ryan

(8.4/10) This is fantasy with a totally legendary feel; it’s epic in every regard.

Robin Hobb meets Joe Abercrombie in a story that delivers so many gut-wrenching blows. This is fantasy with a totally legendary feel; it’s epic in every regard and certainly something that needs to be added to your reading list.

The best part for me was the villain. The Darkbalde is a rather enigmatic figure and his story is slowly revealed through flashbacks that only build up the suspense. These sections were by far my favourite because they carried with it an echo of prophecy, an echo of deeds worthy of song. Dark magic was layered on intrigue to create a legend that may be entirely self-deluded, but it is a legend nonetheless.

The Darkblade has created an army and he is ready to conquer the world; his men love him, and they worship him as a god and a liberator. They will do anything he asks without question because it’s he that asks. Vaelin (the protagonist from Blood Song) is somewhat reluctant to get involved in all the drama and to take on such a powerful enemy. Vaelin is clearly the most capable and experienced man in the field (even though his magic has faded) though he still wants no part in the war that is to come. Well, that’s until he hears that his lost love has been dragged into the mess caused by The Darkblade. His hand is forced, and he must intervene for the affection he still holds for her. Her life is at risk, so he draws his sword and sets sail.

“An old love, born in youth, but now stained by bitterness and regret. The wounds left by betrayal never truly heal.”

What unfolds is a story driven by a need for revenge and justice. It’s fast-paced and balanced well with cinematic style action and intense moments of dialogue. And the characters are truly fascinating people, many come with stories I want to hear and history I ought to know. The setting has a Germanic tribal feel in places with its forests and barbarian type aesthetic. It reminded me somewhat of Roman fiction with some fantasy elements thrown in. And it all works rather well. It’s something every fantasy fan will appreciate.

This is my first Anthony Ryan novel and it has given me a good feel for his writing and his world; however, before progressing with this series I ought to go back and read his previous trilogy, The Raven’s Shadow. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out much with The Wolf’s Call, in terms of plot, but I think my engagement and investment with the characters would have increased if I knew a bit more about them. It’s all good reading a summary in here about their exploits but reading it first-hand would have been better. Overall though, it’s still accessible to new readers.

So, this is a solid first entry in a duology that I just know is going to be incredible. Exciting times ahead for Anthony Ryan fans!
Sean Barrs, 8.8/10

His legend might echo throughout the land, but Vaelin al Sorna’s tale is not yet finished, the final tally of his great deeds still to be counted. Chasing down brigands as part of his duties as Tower Lord is simple enough, but that easy living is threatened by the arrival of an old foe. One who taunts Vaelin with stories of a man who thinks himself a God and who stands at the head of a Steel Horde bent on conquering the world— or destroying it. Such distant threats might have been dismissed if not for the woman endangered by this warlord’s bloody progress: Vaelin’s long-lost love. And he owes her a debt that must be repayed. Now, Vaelin must travel across the world to stand against incalculable enemies and a man who shares one of his darkest names….

This first instalment in a new/follow up series possesses the same factors which gave the first half of Blood Song such power, a main character to root for and a structure that allows him to shine. It’s focused through Vaelin’s point of view, providing a sense of closeness and cohesion that significantly increases the story’s emotional impact. The narrative is mostly linear, though each of the three parts has a small section from a new character at the beginning. Happily, Luralyn is genuinely fascinating and her voice is used effectively to offer a way into the ‘enemy’ perspective. Starting with her was a gamble, the relevance isn’t immediately clear, and following on from two books where POV changes were problematic, it’s enough to be worrying. Especially because the story starts out slowly, Vaelin’s ‘how-i’m-living-now’ section didn’t really seem essential to the main plot. But then all of a sudden I was seriously involved.

The book has that familiar classic fantasy feel, a drawn out journey that gets heroes to where need to be. Sure, it takes a while, but it’s fun and there are some necessary attitude readjustments that have to be made before certain people are ready to be who they need to be. Here, Anthony Ryan’s skill for meaningful interactions, humour, and human psychology is well on show. Characters old and new are made interestingly complex with a sentence or two, able to make an immediate impression and provoke all manner of reactions, from disgust and horror, to sorrow and awe. It’s just one factor in why the second half of the book was so excellent: action, adventure, surprises, everything necessary to keep those pages turning. Fast. The writing is punchy, spare when it needs to be but holding enough weight to carry the more emotional scenes.

And so to the question I’ve been asked most: is it necessary to read the first series before starting this one? My answer is yes to Blood Song, no to the others. The poor reviews for both Tower Lord and Queen of Fire, as well as the fact I felt like even Blood Song fell apart by the end, meant that I didn’t finish the first trilogy. In all honestly, I didn’t suffer much here. There were a lot of references to the past, but many of them I recognised from the first book and even if there were others I missed, it didn’t much impact the story as far as I could tell. Of course, people who’ve read those two books might feel differently. While past actions and previous relationships are important, there’s more than enough information and depth with regards to backstory and significant/transformative emotional moments given here that readers could manage. It’d certainly be useful to read Blood Song to get a sense of how it all started and who the main players are, plus there are some great moments in that book it’s be a shame to miss.

Most importantly though, the ending of The Wolf’s Call is cool as shit, bloody and brutal, more than enough to make you desperate for what comes next. The game is on.
Emma Davis, 8/10

Reviews by and Emma Davis

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