Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon
Magic is an elusive and dangerous thing in the kingdom of Quandis, forbidden to all except a few select priests who spend their lives preparing to handle the ancient magic, and even then inhale only a few smoky tendrils of the powerful magic. Princess Phela thrives on sneaking through hidden passages of the castle, seeking to overhear others’ information and secrets. When Phela hears her mother, the queen, confessing (in a drug-induced haze) to her lover Linos Kallistrate that she, the queen, has been exploring the far depths of the castle seeking out the magic of the Four, who are the gods of Quandis, she’s appalled at the heresy, but eager to find a way to use this secret to further her own ambitions.
Meanwhile, among the Bajumen ― the hereditary slaves of Quandis marked by their deep blue eyes and serpentine brands ― Blane is seeking the only way out of slavery by becoming a novice in the priesthood of the Four … where he promptly begins seeking out the forbidden magic for his own purpose of freeing the Bajumen people from their oppression. His sister Daria, long thought murdered by her master, actually survived the attempt and, her telltale blue eyes somehow fortuitously changed to grey by her near-drowning and her brand hidden by coral scars, is now a powerful naval admiral. And Demos Kallistrate, a young nobleman engaged to Phela’s younger sister, experiences his family’s horrendous downfall. Is it due to his father’s illicit relationship with the queen?
Blood of the Four (2018), an epic stand-alone fantasy novel by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, focuses on the highest and lowest inhabitants of the realm of Quandis, telling the tale of the turbulence that hits this kingdom from multiple points of view. The story has several interesting elements, including power struggles in the royal family, slaves fighting for freedom, and conspiracies galore. It’s distinctly reminiscent of A Game of Thrones in some ways.
Unfortunately this fantasy novel is a DNF (Did Not Finish) for me, though I did do some skimming through the rest of the book to satisfy my curiosity about the plot. Blood of the Four is, if not grimdark, then standing within spitting distance of it. With near-unrelenting brutality, detailed violence, explicit sex (including group sex), multiple gruesome murders and assassinations, plenty of F-bombs, and magic with a seriously nasty edge to it, it’s aggressively not my thing. To be fair, there are some threads of hope, and some sympathetic characters to offset the many unpleasant ones. And the violence arguably isn’t as gratuitous as it is in A Game of Thrones, but there was certainly more than enough of it for my taste.
Judging from that amount I read, my sense is that if I hadn’t found the storytelling too off-putting for my taste, I would have rated it 3.5 to 4 stars, but I don’t feel like I read enough of it to give it an official rating. Epic fantasy fans who aren’t put off by hard R-rated novels may enjoy Blood of the Four.
I’ve never read anything by Tim Lebbon, I think he mostly does horror or maybe not, that was the impression I got. I have read Christopher Golden and just about everything I’ve read or attempted to read by him was just too dark for my tastes. I need likable characters and hope and the least amount of ‘onscreen’ violence necessary in order to truly enjoy a book. Too much nastiness on the nightly news to want to visit it in my downtime.
I’m of the same mind, April. If I’m reading a classic and trying to improve my mind, I’m okay with darkness, death and despair; when I’m reading for fun and enjoyment, I’m looking for lighter fare. Horror and dark fantasy aren’t fun for me, at least not in a full-length novel where I’m living in that world for an extended period.
I’m happy to report that my two copies of Blood of the Four will be finding good homes with a couple of other FanLit reviewers, so maybe we’ll see additional reviews of this novel with different viewpoints show up later.