I count myself a fan of Devin Madson. 2018’s We Ride the Storm was an amazing read. I knew immediately that I needed to grab some of her other works, so I finally picked up The Blood of Whisperers. Set a generation before the events of We Ride the Storm, this first book in Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy does not disappoint.
We are treated to three viewpoint characters in this book. Hana, a scion of the Otako family who finds herself fighting to reclaim the throne for her cousin. Darius, sworn to protect both the current Emperor as well as Hana. And Endymion, a young man with mysterious powers. Each of these viewpoints is told in first person perspective, and Madson excels at both making us care about her characters as well as showing us all the ways in which they grow over the course of this novel. Characterization and character growth are strengths of hers, and they help The Blood of Whisperers truly shine. The world building is also excellent. Some of the family relations can be a little complex, and because Madson avoids any infodumps there were moments when I wasn’t quite sure how the various politics of yesteryear had worked to create the current situation. But that’s more a feature than a bug, as it allows the focus to remain solidly on these characters. In addition to deep characters and wonderful world building, Madson treats us to a very interesting magic system in this book. It’s based on empathy, being able to feel another’s emotions, and I’m really looking forward to discovering more about what Empaths can do as this trilogy progresses. I also must praise Madson for the way she gives us characters that are likable, but also incredibly grey. Each of the three viewpoint characters - to say nothing of the various side characters! - has their own desires and motivations. Sometimes these align with the other viewpoint characters and sometimes they don’t. But you won’t find simple good guy or bad guy stereotypes here. These characters are too real for those sorts of oversimplifications.
As I mentioned before, there were moments in the novel when I did feel a little confused about the political situation. This is one of the dangers of complex worlds, communicating all that information to the reader in a way that isn’t an infodump but still gets them the information they need before they’re halfway through the book can be a challenge. Other than this, there were a couple odd turns of phrase - for instance, people are always doing things in a desultory manner - or things that fall under my personal pet peeves - “fire!” was used in reference to releasing arrows in at least one scene - and while those things are mildly frustrating to me other readers may well pass over them with hardly a thought.
The Blood of Whisperers contains deep, complex characters set in the midst of a fully realized world. It was a lot of fun to read and I’m looking forward to grabbing the next book in this series. If you love excellent characterization in your fantasy, as well as unique magic and a non-Western setting, give this one a try.
Review by Calvin Park
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