The Crown of the Blood is the first volume in the series of the same name, written by Gav Thorpe and published by Angry Robot Books.
Ullsaard is a warrior and General of the fierce and deadly Askhor troops. All have fallen beneath his mighty army, helping to create the greatest empire the land has ever known. At last the time comes to head back to the heart of the empire, his King and his wives, but when he returns to the capital life seems very different than he remembers.
Could it be that everything he was fought for, the lands he has conquered in the name of his King, has all been a lie?
The Crown of the Blood is a pure high fantasy epic with fantastical beasts (rock people, panthers the size of horses (and used in the same way) and even Dinosaurs!. Gav Thorpe is an experienced author, having sharpened his teeth on writing Warhammer novels, and this experience is very telling in the way he manages to world build effectively without taking up vast paragraphs of book space. Minimal and descriptive is the method employed here and it works very well, a process that also seems very natural, the fantastic almost taken for granted. This matter of fact style gives the book a more realistic edge than much high fantasy fare and you don't get diverted for a few chapters of waffling back story which gives more space for the characterisation, plot development and big, fierce, meaty battles (ooh yes!).
Although set in this high fantasy world, the actual characterisation is both gritty and realistic, there are no real heroes and villains, just different personalities, each believing their cause is just. Neither does the author attempt to pass moral judgement on the characters, instead this is left entirely to the reader.
The Central protagonist is clearly no angel, but who could be when you job is to lead a bunch of war hungry warriors in constant search of their next battle and join in with the bloodthirsty fighting?. Although in a high position as a General, able to reside within the palace and have audience with the royal family, Ullsaard is always struggling to overcome his lowly birthright, only one of the descendants of Ashkor can have any real power and Ullsaard is forever hitting this glass ceiling.
Not being one of "the blood" makes his success all the more remarkable - 3 wives and 3 sons, a home in the palace and a considerable estate is a clear testiment to his battlefield abilities and tactical skills. Being outside of the circle of nobility has given Ullsaard a kind of Napoleonic Complex and his drive and ambition are unrelenting.
The Crown of the Blood is very much a masculine book full of blood, sweaty, hairy warriors in fierce epic battle both physical sense and the political. Gav Thorpe also makes it clear that no-one is good at everything, each person has their own skills and ability and a scribe is no less worthy than a warrior while battles of the mind and the court are no less important than battles with sword and shield.
The Crown of the Blood should really have a warning sticker on the front (Angry Robots take note) it's one of those books that are almost impossible to put down, so much so that you find yourself unconsciously continuing to (try to) read after geeting up to make a brew / go to work / go to bed (delete as applicable and don't try this at home kids). The novel also stands out with a very strong opening scene and excellent end, with a genuinely unexpected twist.
If you like a clear, uncluttered, intelligent story that is easy to read yet full of realistic characters and an energetic testosterone filled, action packed plot with an unexpected ending - or simply like fast paced fantasy then buy this book, now.
Written by Antony, 01 September 2010.