Raven's shadow - To fall so far

Raven's Shadow is the first series by a new author Anthony Ryan. It’s a trilogy consisting of Blood Song, Tower Lord and Queen of Fire. It’s also a series which starts so great and end in such mediocrity.

The first book is really one of the great works of Fantasy. The book is really great. Its set in a medieval fantasy world and is a single POV story following the protagonist Vaelin Al Sorna. He gets handed to a sort of templar like warring monk society as a child and the book covers his time growing up among the warrior monks and then how he ends up in the service of the king of the land. Being fantasy there is also some magic in play. Vaelin has a sort of magical gift, the titular Blood Song, which guides him, at least when he bothers to listen.

The book also has a brilliant narrative setup where is sort of has two narrators. The prologue and epilogue is told from the point of view of a historian how follows a condemned criminal to his execution. On the way there he convinces the criminal to tell him his life story, so he can record it. The main narrative of the book is then the story of the criminal, Vaelin. When I started the book, I was a little worried about how well this would work in that the prologue sort of spoils the main story, but my worried were unfounded. In the end the meta-narrative of the historian and the life story of Vaelin come together beautifully. The ending is truly epic.

After such a great start the second book, Tower Lord, is a big step down. This is not to say the say the second book is a bad book. It’s not. Rather it’s just that the first one is so great that you can have a big step down and still end up with a good book. Rather than being a single POV book like the first one, this one has multiple POVs. It also handles them in a way I just loath: Jump between POVs and storylines every single damn chapter. It seems like it’s become quite popular lately. I blame George RR Marten. The good there is in A Song of Ice and Fire is good despite the constant jumping not because of it.

The book also undermines the previous book's world building. Where Vaelin had to train from childhood to achieve his martial prowess, now there are characters popping up that are way too good for what training they have. Worst offender here is a new female character called Reva. Which is a shame, for aside from that she is the most interesting new character, and the only one with a proper character arc.

If there was one weakness in the first book it was that the romance was kind flat and passionless. In the second book there is a new magically induced romance. Another flat and passionless romance, this time with a side dish of questionable consent. That does not improve things.

Where the second book was still a good book, the third one, Queen of Fire, isn't even that. It is decidedly mediocre. There will be some minor spoilers ahead, but this book isn't worth reading anyway, so don't worry. It is time for the main characters to take the war to the Evil Empire. This war is really boring with short descriptions of uninteresting battles against mind-controller slave soldiers. They are like the worst evil overlord goons.

To spice things up Vaelin loses his blood song ability. Cliched sure but could be interesting. How does the hero deal with losing his defining super power? But after moping about it a bit early in the book he runs into a woman with the same ability, so he just spends the rest of the book following her around instead. So, the entire plot point really doesn't lead to any interesting character growth or anything. He can just spend the rest of the book ignoring the issue. So, what does he do? Spends most of the book traipsing across a glacier just to get a big exposition dump in the end that explain everything about the big baddie. Who turn out to be boring.

The most interesting character in the last book is Reva, and that's saying something considering that she has neither a character arc nor anything to do with the plot. Reva's character arc is basically complete by the end of the second book. There is some hope for something interesting when she adopts a girl early in the book, but after that the girl is never heard from again and has no bearing on the plot. She also has her own side plot that has nothing to do with the resolution of the main plot. She just sort of ends up at the same place as all the other characters in the end. But at least her sub-plot has interesting action and adventure, not just dry battle description or walking across a glacier.

The ending still leaves a bunch of threads hanging. Like the how Vaelin never deals with losing the blood song. Reva's hunt for the priest from her childhood never goes anywhere. The wolf god thing is never explained. And the prophecy from the first book? Apparently just someone's pipe dream or something because it never leads anywhere.

The last book is also the longest, and it really feels like it. Plot-wise, you could just rip out both Reva and Vaelin, and just have someone else get the boring exposition dumps. That way you could at least cut the length of the book in half to tighten up the pacing. But honestly, it would still be boring.

My recommendation is to read the first book, because it is really awesome. Then just skip the rest. Sure, that leaves a few plot threads hanging, but their resolution is boring and the final book has its own unresolved plot threads anyway, and the ending of the first book is way better than the end of the trilogy.