Blood Lust by Garrett Robinson

Blood Lust by Garrett RobinsonCombining a sound portrayal of character with an engaging perspective on the gritty fantasy world and one of its more famous monsters, Robinson creates a tale that please both high and low fantasy readers.

This book contains references to events during later books in the Nightblade saga. So, a small risk of spoilers ahead.

Sun’s parents are dragging her across the kingdoms as part of their plan to build closer ties with other noble families. Bored, Sun starts sneaking away from the group whenever they stop. An overnight halt in a small town in Dorsea seems just another opportunity to break the tedium, until Sun ends up fleeing the local constables. Albern, once a famous archer but now old, offers her both a place to hide and a tale of Mag, famed as the Wanderer. A tale that begins with Mag losing everything to an evil conspiracy and setting out to seek her revenge. Sun is enthralled, but the price of hearing more is accompanying Albern while he completes a brief—yet secret—task.

As with Robinson’s other Underrealm series, this book skilfully balances action with depth of world, allowing the reader to both root for the characters and develop their own thoughts on wider events without a sense of being told who to support or what they should believe.

This focus on allowing the reader to deduce things rather than having a character provide a detailed history also has the advantage of neither leaving a reader who has not read other books set in the world adrift, nor making a reader who has come straight from another such book wading through repetition of matters they recall well. As such, this book is likely to serve both as an entry point to those new to Robinson’s world and as a pleasing new perspective on events to those already familiar.

Unlike other books in the world, it is structured as a narrative within a narrative: events during Sun’s time with Albern are interspersed with the start of Mag’s quest for vengeance, told as if it were happening. Each of these arcs begins and ends a significant character arc while leaving a larger goal outstanding, making this a series within a series.
Robinson switches between these two stories frequently, but not frenetically so, walking the line between so immersing the reader in one that they lose connection to the other and yanking the reader away just as they have fully immersed.

However, the tale of a young noblewoman conversing with an old man during a single evening and the tale of two warriors journeying through dangerous lands and facing evils are sufficiently different in tone and weight that some reader who are not deeply drawn to the finest nuances of character might find Sun’s arc feels thinner than that of Mag and Albern.

Sun is a solid protagonist, her mix of youthful rebellion and lack of life experience making her decision to accept the offer of protection and a tale of daring do from a stranger rather than head back to the safety of her parents very plausible. This inchoate desire not to live the life she does rather than to live a different life is balanced by a sharp insight into things she is familiar with, both preventing her seeming shallow and creating an engaging struggle between reason and emotion as events unfold.

Albern is similarly interesting, both as the primary supporting character of Sun’s arc and the protagonist of Mag’s tale. Seen both as his older self through Sun’s eyes and his younger self through the biased—consciously or not—lens of his own description, he is realistically contradictory and engagingly mysterious.

Mag, while the archetypal warrior without equal, is also no mere cipher: rather than balance her skill at combat with arrogance or some other social inability or allow her to become a female version of the classic geekish wish-fulfilment, Robinson crafts her a complex network of emotional responses, past experiences, and unexamined assumptions that make her as prone to success or failure outside of a fight as other characters.

The remainder of the cast in both stories share this layer of characterful nuance, becoming both comfortably familiar and fresh at the same time.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers seeking a character-driven fantasy story to fill a few hours.

I received a free copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.

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