Review: Mage’s Blood
So Steve sends me this huge book, almost 700 pages long, that looks like yet another epic fantasy wannabe. Steve has sent me lemons before, so I started MAGE’S BLOOD a little jaded. I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy, and I was concerned this one would end up a lemon.
The first thing you notice will be the obvious parallels in earth geography and naming conventions (shihad=jihad, Hebusalim=Jerusalem, etc) and similarities in religions, races, and cultures. I thought to myself, this guy is lazy, can’t even be original. Then you’ll notice that there’s a couple of simple infodumps, but they’re short: the student mage reciting lessons or fathers telling children about history. While the prose flows well, it’s nothing particularly fancy, and there’s a big learning curve with the jargon/names. You have to push through the first 150 pages of set-up.
Turns out, it takes that many pages for David Hair to get his story going. And here I am, mere days after starting it, having been yanked through the rest of the book in a frenzy of magic, love, lies, blood, and politics.
Every dozen years the seas recede enough to reveal the Leviathan Bridge–a 300 mile land bridge created by mages to join the east and west continents. The intent was altruistic: a way to encourage trade and relations between the people. Unfortunately, the people of the west decided to use the 24-month period to conquer the heathen in the name of their god, and for the past two moontides crusaded across the east, plundering and killing. At the start of MAGE’S BLOOD, the next moontide is mere months away, with the expectation that the horrors will happen all over again.
Elena is an undercover spy, acting as bodyguard for the royal children of Jarvon. She’s grown to love them and her new home, so contemplates leaving the life of a spy and becoming her own woman. But unbeknownst to her, her boss Gyle plans to have her kill the children she’s been protecting.
Ramita is in love with Kazim, and they’re engaged to be married. But one day she arrives home to find, to her horror, that her father has promised her to another man who is wealthy and powerful, the greatest mage in the known world: Antonin Meiros.
Alaron is one-quarter mage, and his rich aunt Elena (yes that one) is paying his way through mage school. But not being pure-blooded mage makes him persona non grata and the target of ridicule. Graduation is coming up, but before that he must face weeks of grueling tests, including defending his controversial senior thesis.
To be honest, setting all that up in 150 pages, for what will ultimately be a four-book series, is actually pretty good. Hair’s prose may not be fancy, but it’s smooth and crisp, and carries you along at a good clip. It can sometimes get too crowded with all the place names, those take time to learn, but he tries to help with the learning curve by using semi-familiar naming and geography. The action scenes are creative, especially when magic is involved–he tries to show what mages can really do and the often terrible consequences.
Elena, Ramita, and Alaron are the three central characters, and Hair draws them well, the main story revolving around them and what they do; I really appreciated his consistency switching between them, which shows Hair’s excellent control of unfolding story and characterization. Hair also does well with the secondary characters, their PoV scenes don’t clutter the narrative, yet include as much detail as the main characters. He’s created a fascinating and diverse group of people that I understand despite their cultural differences.
I’m still a little ambivalent about how he handles the setting. As a fan of Urban Fantasy, I see the usefulness in using an existing culture and place. This means an author can focus on the story and characters, and as a result, the pace of a book can more quickly engage the reader. Then again, I love the strange and unique settings in recent books like THE WAY OF KINGS or THE BLINDING KNIFE. Not that MAGE’S BLOOD isn’t without its own setting development–Hair spends the most time on the magic, how it works, where it came from, and the culture surrounding it. It gets a little tedious at times, but at least I don’t have to complain about not understanding. Another positive is that while the geography and cultures are similar to ours, he doesn’t stint on describing clothing, the races, their cultures and behaviors, as well as the landscapes and politics of each.
So: 150 pages of set-up; 400 pages of unfolding intrigue, traveling, mysteries, the occasional action scene; then with about 150 left to go BAM, Hair punches out a quick succession of events that completely twist everything that came before. Hair isn’t afraid to take the story where it needs to go; the results are hard to swallow because by the end I became attached to these characters and I didn’t want to see them suffer. The end isn’t what I thought it would be. It was better. While it ties off the storylines of book one, it sets up so much potential for what’s to follow.
There’s much more I could cover as I try to explain this book, there are so many great details of character, setting, and story–unfortunately there isn’t enough room here. This is the kind of book for those who like epic fantasy, but find Malazan inaccessible (?!?!) or Game of Thrones too gritty. You may find yourself as engrossed as I was.
Recommended Age: 18+ for content
Language: There’s some, the worst of it replaced with a made-up word
Violence: Some, and when there is violence it’s bloody
Sex: Lots of the graphic variety; references can get crass
MAGE’S BLOOD doesn’t release in the U.S. until September 13th (here it is on Amazon if you want to preorder), but has been available on Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!) for the last year, as it was originally published in the U.K.
MAGE’S BLOOD is the first book of The Moontide Quartet.