Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk is the first in a new high fantasy series that will feel both familiar and fresh. Blood and Iron has many typical elements of high fantasy while also pulling in more diverse characters. While the premise held promise, the writing and characters failed to deliver and I ended up simply frustrated. Many of the initially interesting and heartening elements of Blood and Iron ended up feeling exceedingly superficial as Blood and Iron morphed into a very typical high fantasy. If you are looking for another fantasy series just for the sake of reading fantasy, Blood and Iron might appeal, but if you were hoping for a story that brings something new to the genre, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Note: I received Blood and Iron through Edelweiss for an honest review. Some things may have changed in the final version.
Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk (The Book of the Black Earth #1)
Published by Pyr on March 11th, 2014
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Page Length: 428 pages
How I got my copy: Edelweiss
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It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn't even begin to understand.
Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn't last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen's court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire's caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.
- The fantasy world of Blood and Iron is filled with warring empires, cults worshipping sun gods, and magic chaos storms. While we only actually adventure in a couple areas of the world, others are introduced or hinted at, building up opportunities for more adventuring in future books.
- The characters in Blood and Iron are refreshingly diverse. There is a queen ruling without a husband and trying hard to hold on to that power, a gladiator who happens to be gay, a slave girl who is far more than she appears, and of course our main character Horace who’d like to think he is just a carpenter. For a genre that tends to fall back on a narrow range of character choices, it was nice to see this level of diversity.
- The biggest problem that I had with Blood and Iron was that I just never cared about the characters. The writing was such that even during action scenes, I felt no suspense. It was obvious everything would turn out, and even if it didn’t, I wasn’t attached enough to the characters to worry for them. There was actually a part of me that was hoping the main character would be killed since then at least the story would feel fresher.
- Blood and Iron has one main plot line told from Horace’s perspective and then another plot line that follows Jirom (the gay gladiator) after he splits from Horace. The problem is that those two plot lines never reconnect and therefore Jirom’s ended up feeling completely pointless. This further frustrated me since it made it feel like Jirom was a token gay character and he was only in the story to have a crush on Horace. Blood and Iron could have completely cut him from the story and nothing would have changed….
- The romantic element doesn’t surface for a while, but once it does, it is just so awkward. There are some definite power issues Horace’s relationship, plus a strange love quadrangle because everyone is interested in Horace.
- The magic system in Blood and Iron at first has nice and interesting rules: magic users get cuts all over their bodies when they use their magic, therefore they can’t use it for very long. However, Horace is of course special and proves very quickly that his magic doesn’t follow those rules and that makes him pretty much all powerful. There was promise of Horace still be limited because he lacked skill in the various elemental magics, but of course he then unlocks those secrets in the middle of battles whenever it is convenient for the action.
Blood and Iron had potential and interesting elements, but quickly failed to live up to that potential. I was so excited to see a fantasy world with non-straight characters, but that hope was eventually crushed by the realization that those characters don’t actually matter to the story. If you are looking for a typical fantasy that is full of familiar elements, you might like Blood and Iron, but don’t expect to be surprised.
Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk
© 2014, Anya. All rights reserved.