Anyone who reads a lot of fantasy knows by now to come with some trepidation to any sort of “bridge” book — the second book in a trilogy or the 2nd or 3rd book in longer series. Too often they simply exist to get us from the exciting stuff that got us hooked in book one to the exciting stuff that will wow us in the conclusion. Other times they read like they simply exist because the author can sell a trilogy more easily than a standalone or a simple sequel and so plot events are stretched out so thinly they almost snap.
The Blood Knight, for the most part, avoids the pitfalls of the bridge book. The strength of the book is the same as earlier ones — the reader is never quite sure of just who the “bad guy” is here. Greg Keyes gives us a broad enough viewpoint here so that we’re always on shifting ground. The characters find themselves in the same situation and one of the pleasures of the book is watching them try to adapt — shifting alliances and jumping in with strange bedfellows as they say. This is especially true at the end and leads quite nicely into what one hopes will be the concluding book of the series.
Description is another strength, as is some of the characterization, especially Cazio and the composer Leoff. Other characters are solid if not particularly compelling, and a few suffer from relatively weak characterization, such as Winna. Anne, about whom much of this book centers, has her moments, but she is a surprisingly distant character and her growth occurs far too quickly and is too much told than revealed. The plot is multi-stranded and episodic as Anne marches on her home castle to try and retake it from Robert, Stephen tries to find a lost artifact to save the world, and Asper tries to find Stephen and help him in his task. All have various obstacles to overcome in the form of armies and monsters and these plot points arrive with varying success. The great worm that seems to be tracking Stephen leaves great swathes of death in its wake, but one never really feels its presence in any concrete form and the final battle with it is woefully anti-climactic. The same is true of Asper’s meeting with the Witch of Sarnwood, whose horror is overlyhyped for what we get. The army battle is much better handled and the smaller, more intimately tense scenes with Leoff in captivity are some of the strongest scenes in the book, as is Anne’s moment of decision at the very end.
In the end, Blood Knight is not as strong as the beginning of the series. It is a bit thin, leaves the reader a bit more cold than earlier books, and while it has its moments, one wishes we could have lingered over them a bit more. It does, however, set things nicely in motion for the conclusion, offering up a few surprises and lots of tension to come. Recommended with warning that fans of the series might be mildly disappointed.