Often, the second book in a trilogy is accused of something called “Middle Book Syndrome.” The idea is that the second book in most trilogies is mostly filler and very little plot movement really happens. And often it is true. But if anyone accuses Brian Ruckley’s second book in The Godless World trilogy, Bloodheir of suffering from middle book syndrome, I’m afraid I will have to scoff in his face.
Bloodheir moves the story from the personal to the epic. In the first book of the trilogy, Winterbirth, most of the story was about the harrowing near escapes of its protagonists, with occasional insights into the minds of the villains. While that sort of writing style continues in Bloodheir, the action moves out from the immediacy of survival for the heroes and catching them for the villains into grand political machinations and sweeping battles. Some of the minor characters who were encountered in the first book, such as Taim Narran and some of the Inkallim, move out into the fore, and add more dimensions to this epic fantasy.
As the story begins, Orisian is now Thane of the Lannis–Haig Blood, but his lands have been overrun by the forces of the Black Road. He and his sister Anyara are all that is left of his Blood, and very few of his people are still free. Meanwhile, the na’kyrim Aeglyss — one of the few people in the world able to access the Shared — survived his torture at the hands of the White Owl kyrinin and appears to have become more powerful. But his mind is broken and he begins to use his power to try and take control of all the world. Orisian is forced to choose between fighting for his people and fighting for all people everywhere. It’s a hard choice, and his eventual decision may have disastrous results.
Whereas in the first novel, Ruckley focused on the battle between the Black Road and the True Bloods, to the point where the reader almost forgot about the magic aspect of the story, this second novel centers much more on the magic of the Shared and the rise of the strange and powerful race known as the Anain. Those are hoping to find more magic will get a healthy does of it here. The Shared is an interesting concept, the idea that the magic is a part of everyone, but only a few — the blending of two races known as na’kyrim — are able to tap its power, and even then only in limited fashion. The reader begins to see that the battle Orisian and Anyara are fighting is much more than a dispute over land: it is a struggle against a once-known and vanquished horror that appears to be rising again.
Ruckley’s characterization continues to be good. He refuses to have his characters make sudden, abrupt changes in personality, instead opting for slow changes. They way they change, and the way they behave and react to their environments, is believable. In particular, the way that Ruckley describes two types of love intrigued me. Orisian’s love from afar of E’ssyr reminds me very much of myself as a youngster, and Orisian’s reaction and behavior are very much in line with how a young man might act when he feels desire for a woman he respects and whom he refuses to force into love with him. Mordyn Shadowhand and Tara’s love for one another as a married couple is well-written as well. The passion and loyalty they feel for one another is a tangible thing, and anyone who has ever experienced it in real life will see that Ruckley was able to truly capture that feeling. And these are but minor parts of characterization in the grand scope of the story.
For those who felt that there was an excessive amount of description in the first book, they will find that the sequel has toned down the descriptions of grand vistas, and instead focused much more on action and battle sequences. These are described in bloody and violent detail from the POV of a few of the characters, and there is enough gore to satisfy any bloodlust.
Events continue to get progressively worse for the supposed heroes. Rather than leave a light at the end of the tunnel, as many books with middle book syndrome do, Ruckley chooses to leave his characters on the edge of a precipice, having few successes and almost no resources. The reader still is unsure who will win; I thought this was refreshing and was much of the reason I enjoyed Bloodheir so much.
I highly recommend Brian Ruckley’s The Godless World. This second book cannot be read without reading the other, but ach one has its own strengths and weaknesses, although of the two, I think Bloodheir the stronger. It is full of the action one expects of an epic fantasy. Ruckley’s novels are some of my favorites, and I have little bad to say about them. If I did, it would be a critic being a nitpicker, trying to find something wrong with the novel so he could be said to have fairly reviewed it. Ruckley’s novels are some the few that I can find nothing wrong with whatsoever, in my own not-so-humble opinion. If you enjoy epic fantasy, you should not be disappointed by Winterbirth or Bloodheir.
FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.
The Godless World — (2007-2009) Publisher: An uneasy truce exists between the thanes of the True Bloods. Now, as another winter approaches, the armies of the Black Road march south, from their exile beyond the Vale of Stones. For some, war will bring a swift and violent death. Others will not hear the clash of swords or see the corpses strewn over the fields. They instead will see an opportunity to advance their own ambitions. But all, soon, will fall under the shadow that is descending. For, while the storm of battle rages, one man is following a path that will awaken a terrible power in him — and his legacy will be written in blood.