Today I am reviewing ‘Blood of an Exile’ by Brian Naslund. This was one I picked up back in December after my sister let me loose in my favourite independent bookshop with a voucher to spend (which is very dangerous), and that I have only just got to after being approved for the second in the series ‘Sorcery of the Queen’ which I will be reviewing later.
Sentenced to die. Impossible to kill.
Bershad was supposed to die. When he was caught attempting to assassinate a fellow noble, he was given the harshest sentence: a command to slay dragons, so his death might serve the kingdom. Yet for some reason he never lost a fight and is now the most successful dragon-slayer in history. However, as a doomed man Bershad is still shunned by his peers and his countrymen. But that could all change.
The king who sentenced Bershad has just given him a way out: kill a foreign monarch and walk free forever. But Bershad couldn’t care less about the fates of kingdoms – until the dragon-slayer discovers he could save an innocent child in the process.
His mission might also save every creature in Terra.
Sentenced to die. Impossible to kill.
That was a hook right there, and I am glad that I followed it. Blood of an Exile was a fantastic read that blended the idea of a heroic quest with political manoeuvring and a sometimes-questionable morality which I always love to see explored, especially in the ‘hero’.
Firstly, I have to talk about the Dragons. I always have and will always be a sucker for stories that involve Dragons, and this book does them brilliantly. Naslund has taken these fantastical creatures and woven them into a living, breathing world, and looked at how that will affect the ecosystem both when they are part of it, and when they are removed. That is something you rarely see, especially when it is combined with the fact that these Dragons aren’t above the natural world. They’re not Gods or some foreign element introduced into the world for the purpose of the story – they’re part of it, and that is an approach that I really enjoyed (and makes me look at the real world and go, where are our Dragons?).
Putting aside my Dragon bias, I have to say that it was the characters that really sold this book for me. Firstly, there is our ‘hero’ Bershad, a Dragonslayer not by choice, but as punishment – also just the idea of being sentenced to hunt down Dragons as a drawn-out death sentence is inspired. For me, Bershad was the perfect blend of ‘hero’ with a good heart, and respect that borders on reverence for the creatures he has to hunt, and questionable decisions and morals. You can’t help but respect his willingness to fight dirty to achieve his goals, especially in a world and a profession designed to kill him. He isn’t perfect, he struggles with guilt and trust, and he makes for a fascinating character because of that.
Other stand out characters for me were Rowan, not just because he was incredibly likeable as a person, but because of his friendship with Bershad, which was one of the standout relationships for me within the book. Ashlyn was another favourite, partly because of her passion for Dragons. But also for her skills and the way she adapts to the situation around her, moving chess pieces, researching and playing a pivotal role in the unfolding of the narrative. And the use of the multiple person narrative meant that we got to know so many of the characters really well, gaining insights that you wouldn’t get with a narrower viewpoint, and again building up the layers of the world and narrative. Each character had such a unique and distinct voice that there was no way to get lost amongst the cast of characters.
I don’t think there was a single character that wasn’t well written, and they all added so much to the world and the story that even if they were the antagonists, you couldn’t help but enjoy reading about them. In particular, what I liked was that the ‘villains’ regardless of where they sat on the scale of grey to black, had motives that were woven through their story. Motives that especially in the case of the Emperor felt incredibly realistic, even those that stretched realism was so well-written that you could see and understand their motives. Which added another rich layer to the tapestry of this world.
Beyond the wonderful inclusion of Dragons in this world, the world-building in Blood of an Exile was beautifully done and layered to create a living, breathing world that felt as real as the one we’re in. It incorporated politics, culture and history, as well as the natural world and ecology of a world with Dragon’s. The world that is created – Terra- is expansive, and the variety of landscapes and settlements made for a vivid background to the narrative and left me wanting to spend more time lost in each place, drinking in their character and flavour.
It was impossible not to become invested in this book, from the wonderful to the brutal aspects of it. And this book delves deep into the darker aspects of political intrigue, conflict and underworlds. It is not necessarily for the faint-hearted as it is violent and bloody at times, all entwined into a story that hooked me from start to finish and is definitely going to be high on my list of Dragon Fantasy for a long time to come.
Blood of an Exile (Dragons of Terra #1) – Brian Naslund – **** (4/5 Stars)
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.