The Judas Blossom
By Stephen Aryan
- The Judas Blossom
Author: Stephen Aryan
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
- ISBN: 9781915202529
- Published: July 2023
- Pages: 445
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 11/07/2023
- Language: English
How do you like your fantasy? It comes in so many flavours now that you can pick and choose what type you like. Dragons, magic, and high fantasy – tasty. Violence, political intrigue, low fantasy – a guilty treat. Stephen Aryan has chosen a different route, a book that has its heart in low fantasy, but also historic fiction. The Judas Blossom is a fantastical retelling of events across the Mongol Empire. A tweak to the order of events here, a character moved there. And just a touch of magic.
With the Mongol Empire in ascendency, the Persians are now a vassal state, but that does not sit well with many still willing to fight. As the decedents of Genghis Khan fight over who has power, the Persians begin to fight back via subtler means. Told through the eyes of both sides, who will end up victorious in the long term? The Mongols have might on their side, the Persians have desire, but there are also other players who have awoken antient magics.
As a fan of historic fiction, I am very comfortable reading Judas Blossom, it reads like one of the better Bernard Cornwall novels, or a Ben Kane. The sense of history and place is well realised. All historic fiction bends the narrative to make for a better pace, and when you have a character who can produce flames from their body, your book is never going to be historically accurate. Aryan never set out to write that book, but instead use real world inspiration for a low fantasy alternate history book. In this, he nailed it.
I am not versed in the Mongol Empire, so any inaccuracies have no impact on me. Instead, I read this book as a piece of highly entertaining fantasy fiction. The use of the Khans and Persians gives the book great structure. Aryan already had a solid foundation to build upon, the Mongol Empire sweeping across the globe happened. The likes of France and the Pope are mentioned in passing. There is a grounding to the book, but Aryan introduces the magical.
The story is told from several perspectives from the highest members of the Khans to Persians looking to undermine the Empire. Most of the characters are interesting to follow and Aryan has placed them in situations of influence so you know their actions will have an impact. The book also has some visceral action set pieces, from large scale battles to one-on-one skirmishes. Aryan’s violent encounters stand up with the best that either the historic or fantasy genres have to offer.
Aryan takes inspiration from the very low fantasy style of book, almost no magical realism. This first book is about the people, the real battles between factions that left thousands dead and conquered. Occasionally, a sprinkle of the unusual appears. A shadowy cabal who run events, or a warrior whose skills appear beyond the natural. It is only really in one character that true fantasy comes to the fore, and even here it is slowly drawn out and hidden.
Judas Blossom is a novel filled with promise. It is only the first outing in the Nightingale and the Falcon series, and I can only imagine that the magical elements will increase. There being no wizards fighting high elves is not a problem for me, as Aryan has done a fantastic job of writing a work of alternative history. It is a book that would appeal to fans of the fantasy genre, but also those who love their history. If you are willing to take off your historically accurate fan club hat, you have a well written portrayal of a time and place in history, with plenty of tweaks to make the fantasy elements work and the story power along.
Written on 11th July 2023 by Sam Tyler .