Reviewing books can, at times, be quite difficult. There are the bad books and authors you have to wade through – which is an obvious difficulty. But more troublesome to me is the need to differentiate between “one-of-a-kind” authors and “great” authors. Not everyone gets to be a “one-of-a-kind” author, and sometimes relegating an author to simply “great” can be difficult for a reviewer.
For example, Kelly McCullough has quickly become one of my most beloved authors, with his A Fallen Blade series keeping me reading until the wee hours of many mornings. The rapid pace with which I have read and reviewed the first four books of the series should be sign enough of just how much I’m enjoying McCullough’s writing, his characters, and his world.
Does McCullough fit into the “one-of-a-kind” category of author? Not yet – though I hold out hope for further along in his career. That being said, these books are time and again some of the most enjoyable books I read. I might rate Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive books 10/10, but I would be hard pressed to identify between Sanderson and McCullough who I enjoy more.
With the fifth book in his A Fallen Blade series, McCullough allows for Aral Kingslayer to begin enjoying life a little more. He has made some personal growth, has come to several beneficial discoveries, and is not so brought-low by addiction or depression as we have seen him in the previous books. This character growth is one of the defining aspects of this series, and one of the reasons that it is so easy to latch onto Aral as our hero.
Drawn Blades picks up quite soon after the fourth book of the series, and finally reveals to us one of Aral’s oft-mentioned past friends. Siri, the First Blade of Namara has finally surfaced, and there’s trouble afoot that only Aral can help with. His status as “indispensable” could have begun to become annoying, or tropey, but it doesn’t, with McCullough using characteristics founded well and truly in the early books to develop his importance without it becoming ridiculous. He’s not all-powerful, he’s not all-seeing, and it seems that more and more Triss and Faran are doing a lot of the heavy lifting – which is not to say that Aral isn’t still a brilliant Blade, but just that he hasn’t reverted to an all-perfect caricature.
As happens in many of these books, there are several minor crises that need completing before the real story can begin, but when it does there’s no stopping until the last page hits. We finally get to walk around inside the Sylvani Empire, and the future of Aral and his companions is becoming a lot clearer, with several big tasks needing completing sooner rather than later.
The additional characters that are brought along to provide our heroes and villains with their foils and fill them in on information are interesting, though aren’t given a lot of room. Aral and Triss still spend too much time in their own head, a convenient excuse to explain away the author’s desires for his primary characters. There is a lot of talking between Aral and Triss – as well as Aral and Faran, Faran and Siri, and Siri and Aral – which sometimes feels unnecessary, other times reads very slowly, and only sometimes is really intriguing. There’s a lot of set up necessary, I realise, but the oh-so-obvious need to explain things to the reader (read: character who for whatever reason doesn’t know the information we the reader need to know) can become quite tiresome.
Nevertheless, I consider these relatively inconsequential issues in the larger picture of a beautifully told, wonderfully fantastical tale of epic proportions. Kelly McCullough’s A Fallen Blade series is an absolute must for any self-confessed fantasy fan, as five books in, and they’re still absolutely brilliant reads.
Review by Joshua S Hill
8/10 from 1 reviews
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