The second of Kevin James Breaux’s Soul Born Saga, Blood Divided is set about twenty years or so after the war at the end of Soul Born in which Karn, the vessel of an ancient warlord’s soul and saviour of the kingdom of Illyia, died. Since then, the kingdom has been ruled from Kel Tora by King Ethan who married a pregnant Tala, Karn’s soulmate, and has raised his children, Lucien and Autumn, as his own. However, he is growing increasingly ill and unrest is stirring.
A summit is called to bring the nobles of Illyia together, but out of nowhere a man who calls himself Khaos appears who claims to be Karn’s son with the enchantress Opal, and says that the throne of Illyia is his. There is also another child of Karn, Megan, who has followed her brother to Kel Tora to kill him in revenge for killing their mother, but there is danger as mages have been banned in Illyia since the last war.
As civil war breaks out and Khaos tries to destroy Tala and her family, Megan joins Kel Tora in its fight against Khaos’ powerful necromancy, which threatens the balance of nature itself.
Comparing Blood Divided to Soul Born, there is a clear progression in the style of writing and there is a more complex plot and wider range of characters. Breaux has brought in some interesting ideas, such as the ghost of Opal haunting Khaos but who is increasingly blacking out for periods of time and is in a race against time to help stop him, repenting her own actions from years before. The plot moves at a good pace and is darker than the previous book, with more graphic sex and violence, and there is an interesting clutch of secondary characters.
The main problem I had with the first book was the need for a good edit to form a more coherent and smoother plot. Blood Divided is better written and for the most part is a richer and better story, but I still think editing is an issue. As far as I’m concerned, the use of the word ‘mom’ and terms like ‘sweetie’ in a medieval-style fantasy novel is inexcusable; modern Americanisms like this are just completely out of context and jar. Some people might not find this a problem, but personally I really don’t like it, or the use of modern names such as Ethan, Megan and Nathaniel as I just don’t think they add to the medieval fantasy atmosphere.
You can tell Breaux’s got a great deal of enthusiasm for his story, which comes through in the fast-paced action and the chaos of invasion, but he has a habit of using clumsy allegory and descriptions, particularly when people are speaking to one another. For example, at one point Autumn ‘trumpets with excitement’, which makes her sound like a panicked goose, at another point Khaos screams ‘like the declaration of a childhood race’, and somebody else has a face which is pale ‘as if painted white with one slap of a wet brush’. I can see what he’s trying to do and I think his own enthusiasm is running away with him, but this makes the flow of dialogue uneven, and is sometimes just downright silly.
There are some interesting characters in this – the head of Kel Tora’s guard, Vasche, is a very likable, solid character who carries the plot well in the second half, and Megan, who is learning to manage her prodigious nature-based powers and resisting the temptation to indulge in highly destructive magic like her mother and brother, is a strong woman who takes it upon herself to protect the city of Kel Tora despite being an outcast, and is also reasonably well written if a bit obsessed with looks, which seems to be a problem with many of the female characters.
Unfortunately not all are as well constructed, and Princess Autumn and her mother Tala rapidly become quite irritating despite the bulk of the story focusing on them. This is largely because they’re both relatively pointless regarding the plot and don’t seem to do anything but run about, dress in nice dresses and dream about their beloveds. Autumn was fine at the beginning when Kel Tora was still at peace, but once war breaks out neither of them spare the slightest thought for the people of the city that they are supposedly the rulers of. Autumn’s brother Lucien is severely underused and barely seen despite taking over as head of the city and leading Kel Tora’s fight, with Vasche basically taking over this role in the dialogue. Tala is an Avatar for nature and presumably has been anointed as such to take some sort of action when Khaos turns up who threatens nature’s forces, but she’s completely impotent beyond having some visions. She isn’t accepted as Kel Tora’s queen due to being an elf, but this then is an opportunity for her to pull everybody together and get them to see past their prejudices, but instead she just continually frets about Autumn who naffs about squealing, mooning about how beautiful her new half sister Megan is with her cool handmade clothes, and putting herself and others in danger. Megan can pluck arrows out of thin air and burst into a ball of flame – what she’s wearing whilst she’s doing this is largely irrelevant.
Overall this is an improvement on Soul Born and carries the story forward well with a sudden cliffhanger preparing the way for the third book, and I would like to find out what happens. Breaux’s writing can jar a bit with the modernisms and wild metaphor but its fast paced and easy to read and the story has enough going on that any irritations are also balanced with some interesting set pieces. Hopfully Tala and Autumn will have a greater presence in the next book and will focus less on themselves and more on the future of the people fighting for them, and I expect the next book will be an epic conclusion to the Soul Born saga.
Review by Cat Fitzpatrick
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