In my review of A Crucible of Souls, I compared it favorably with 90s fantasy. It seems like we get less and less “straight-up” fantasy these days. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I’ve suffered a bit of traditional fantasy fatigue. But The Plague of Swords was so good I didn’t just enjoy the book—it left an itch for fantasy that needed scratching. So naturally I reached for my review copy of Blood of Innocents. It as an enjoyable read, but it suffers from no small amount of “second-book-ism,” leaving me somewhat disappointed but still hopeful things will pick back up in book 3.
Blood of Innocents jumps right back in where A Crucible of Souls left off, with no handrails. Nor does it have any pretensions of being a standalone as well as a sequel. The “dramatis personae” is a godsend (it is also spoiler-free, so look freely). The city of Anasoma has fallen to the Indryallans. Caldan has fled, accompanied by Miranda, his love interest, rendered near-catatonic at the end of the first book; Amerdan, the sort of vampiric shopkeeper; Elpidia, a physicker; and Bells, an Indryallan sorcerer captured at the end of book 1. There are two other primary storylines. One follows Lady Felice’s attempts to fight the Indryallans from within Anasoma. The other follows Vasile—former magistrate, former drunk, and human polygraph—and the remnants of Lady Caitlyn’s band—leader Aiden, tribal sorcerer Chalayan, and steppe swordsman Cel Rau. The Five Oceans Mercantile Concern figures prominently in the latter two storylines.
Blood of Innocents is most successful in remedying some of my complaints about A Crucible of Souls. Minor POVs that suffered relative to Caldan in the first book now have the necessary foundation to be interesting in their own right. The mysteries hinted at in the first book begin to be uncovered. There is a lot of worldbuilding in general—it’s the books strongest point. It unfortunately suffers from second-act-ism. By that I mean it primarily seems to exist as a bridge to get the characters from where they are at the end of the first book to where they need to be at the end of the third book. It doesn’t help that much of that consists of characters physically traveling. Much of the book is eaten up by Caldan traveling less from Anasoma to Riversedge. Less than an inch on the map in the front of the book. The book makes clear it’s actually a fair distance, but there is a certain psychological hurdle thrown up there. And of the three main plot threads, arguably only one gets an effective climax.
All that being said, Blood of Innocents remains a light, fun, old-fashioned read, and I look forward to reading A Shattered Empire (and not waiting nearly so long to do so).
3 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: The publisher sent me a(n unsolicited) copy of Blood of Innocents.