A Time of Blood is book two of John Gwynne’s Of Blood and Bone series and I received an advanced copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Huge thanks to Pan Macmillan and Tor UK for this.
It’s not often that I finish a book I love and struggle to articulate why everyone else will love it too. It’s been over twelve hours since I finished this masterpiece and my prevailing thought remains ‘it’s fantastic, read it, it’s fantastic, read it’… So I will do my best to explain why you should. I’d also like to note that while there are references to events and characters in Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series, this series can be read without having read them. You can find my review of the first book in this series, A Time of Dread, here.
A Time of Blood is the perfect sequel, it delivers more action, more tension, more bloody battles and further blurs the lines of good vs evil in a land where the heroes and villains of legend are still remembered, if not still alive. We continue to question motives and decisions and live in constant fear for the lives our favourites. Without the world building and character introductions necessary in a first book, A Time of Blood catapults us straight into the action and doesn’t let up, building tension for what promises to be a truly epic conclusion. Unputdownable, this novel is exactly what I look for in my fantasy reading and has gone straight onto my favourites shelf.
We kick off where A Time of Dread finished, following four point of view characters as they discover truths, endure betrayals, fight against the odds (and many a fantastical creature) and traverse the landscape of the Banished Lands. I enjoy reading epic fantasy with multiple point of view character chapters but more often than not there is one storyline/character arc that’s perhaps a bit less interesting or whose narrative slows the pace and plot in general – I am happy to report that is not the case here. Each protagonist was engaging, well developed and put me right where I needed to be to see the whole picture. I would be remiss if I didn’t also praise the excellent non-POV characters too, in particular the animals. I have formed strong attachments to the non-human characters of this series, and considering some of them are non-verbal, that is a great feat. This series is very inclusive in that I feel like every character matters and has an important part to play, no one is anywhere by accident and their words, actions and histories will all impact on what’s to come.
I would just like to take a moment to appreciate Drem’s characterisation, in particular though. As a man who was raised primarily by only his father, Drem gets nervous and overwhelmed in large, crowded places as well as when faced with difficult choices/impending peril. When placed in such circumstances, he reaches for his pulse in his neck. This happens often throughout the novel and each time I was struck by how realistic this made him. Often in fantasy, characters are placed in these life or death situations and are expected to be brave, fearless and driven by righteousness yet in reality, if any of us were in that position we would be terrified. I know I would, and to see this small gesture of anxiety occur for Drem not only in situations that would petrify the majority of us but also in regular, every day scenarios (like travelling through a new town) was really refreshing. Of course he’d be nervous, he’d never been around so many people before! It made sense for the character and it’s these little attentions to detail for all of his characters that really makes Gwynne a master of his craft.
This brings me nicely to the writing. It continues to be superb. A Time of Blood jumps straight into the action and the pace doesn’t relent from there. The conflicts that I expected to occur as a culmination of the events at the end of A Time of Dread happened much sooner than I predicted. I loved that so early on I was thrown off kilter in my expectations and I could just sit back and enjoy the direction Gwynne took. The pacing is excellent, it kept me turning the pages whilst also remaining true to life, nothing felt coincidental or placed just to create extra drama, and the battle scenes continue to be breathtaking. You can tell Gwynne knows each weapon and how it works in the right (and wrong!) hands and reading the characters take on different roles and skills in each skirmish is impressive to behold. No one is safe and it is testament to the incredible writing that each casualty feels like a physical blow. I was wholly absorbed in the action and that is exactly what I am looking for in fantasy. I touched earlier on how there are no clear cut lines for the good guys and the villains, the characters have too much depth and complexity for that, but each character ultimately believes they are on the right side, yet still have moments where they question whether what they believe (or have been taught to believe) is the truth and with each new revelation we are more unsure who our allies are. See, I say our as if I’m actually part of the story – it’s that immersive.
This instalment certainly lives up to its name, Gwynne continues to be unafraid to dish out war, brutality and loss and the climax does not disappoint. As expected, I was rapidly turning the pages, impatient to find out how these characters were going to triumph, or even if they would survive at all, and as usual I was left with an incredible finale that promises an explosive conclusion. I have no idea how Gwynne is going to manoeuvre his characters to conclude this epic series, but I have absolute faith that it will be a violent, emotional roller-coaster of excellence. I can’t wait.
Truth and Courage.
A Time of Blood comes out 18th April 2019.