Creatively, I loved John Meaney’s Bone Song, especially the highly imaginative world. At the same time though, I was disappointed by the shallow characters, a formulaic plot, and the disjointed narrative. Because of the uneven experience, I was a bit apprehensive about reading the sequel, but my curiosity in knowing how the story continued prevailed. Fortunately, despite a few hiccups, Black Blood turned out to be an overall much stronger and much more enjoyable effort.
Like its predecessor, the best thing about Black Blood is the incredibly inventive world which blends the paranormal with technology and the familiar for a deliciously unique setting. If you read Bone Song, then you should already be familiar with the deathwolves, necrofusion power reactors, Bone Listeners, sentient furniture and vehicles, zombies, wraith-operated machinery, and the crazy architecture that populates the sequel, but Black Blood does introduce a few cool new concepts like an execution that maximizes suffering — “Anything less than two hours dying was considered ‘easy and unusual kindness,’ prohibited by law; a bad-ass, ninja-like assassin; and the wonders of Aurex City. If you’re new to the world of Tristopolis however, then prepare yourself as almost every single page of Black Blood offers something to titillate the imagination.
Story-wise, the plot in Black Blood is still a bit formulaic revolving around a recognizable conspiracy to overthrow seats of power in the government and police force, while also dealing with racial tensions. What makes the story in Black Blood more effective than its predecessor is twofold. First, the plot does a better job of utilizing the author’s imaginative setting to make the mundane seem more fascinating (like that assassin I was talking about), using phones to hypnotize people, and discriminating between humans and non-humans. Secondly, the execution is just better — with faster pacing, greater suspense, and harder-to-anticipate plot twists, including a couple of unexpected deaths. On the flipside, the ending felt a bit rushed again and the final showdown with the main villains was disappointing.
As for the characters: because the author switches between so many different viewpoints, Donal and friends remain shallow individuals. Fortunately, between the stronger and more engrossing narrative and the highly inventive milieu, it’s easier to overlook this issue. Plus, most of the characters in the book are interesting creations, supported by solid dialogue.
While I mostly enjoyed reading John Meaney’s Bone Song, it’s the kind of book that I would have difficulty recommending to others because of its unevenness. Black Blood on the other hand, while still suffering from some of the same problems, is just a more balanced novel overall and a better representation of the author’s obvious talent. As a result, I would not hesitate in recommending Black Blood, especially if you’re in the mood to try something different. Personally, after reading Black Blood I now can’t wait for John Meaney’s next book, whereas before I was only mildly interested in what the author had to offer.
The Tristopolis books (Donal Connor) — (2007-2009) Black Blood was published as Dark Blood in the UK. Publisher: Lieutenant Donal Connor has been given the most bizarre of new cases. Four famous stage performers have died in recent months, thee of them in state capitals within Transifica, the fourth in far Zurinam. And now the idolised Diva, maria deLivnova is coming to Tristopolis. Donal’s boss is determined that nothing like this is ever to happen in his city. Connor is to have anything he needs as long the Diva lives. And so begins a dark investigation through a world where corpses give up their pyschic energy in the massive necrofulx generators that power the city, where gargoyles talk, where wraiths work in slavery, a world of the dead where corruption is alive. This is an extraordinary SF novel set in alternate universe quite unlike any imagined in SF before; a universe where magic and the supernatural and the undead are given a scientific rationale and hoorfyingly plausible rationale. The novel’s setting, Tristopolis, is the ultimate noir city; an immense baroque creation of haunted stone skyscrapers, black metal and city-wide catacombs. Its hero Donal Connor is immensely likeable and easy to identify with. Even once he’s dead.