Brian Ruckley's Winterbirth (Canada, USA, Europe) generated some mixed reactions among SFF readers. It's one of those works which people either love or hate. Lucky for me, Winterbirth ended up being one of my favorite reads of 2006. Which means that I had high hopes for the sequel, Bloodheir.
Ruckley fans will be pleased to learn that the author delivers once again in this second volume of The Godless World trilogy. Hence, if you enjoyed Winterbirth, chances are that you won't be disappointed by Bloodheir. By the same token, if you were put off by the first volume, its successor follows the various storylines with the same style and tone. Thus, it is unlikely that such readers will fancy Ruckley's latest.
I remember first picking up Winterbirth because Brian Ruckley's writing style was being compared to that of George R. R. Martin. Storywise, Ruckley's series has nothing in common with GRRM's ASOIAF. Nevertheless, it appears that both authors share a predilection for dark, gritty and uncompromising fantasy epics. And like Martin, Ruckley is decidedly not averse to killing off major characters.
The Black Road has overrun the north. Emboldened by their crushing victory over the Lannis Blood, they are pushing south in order to destroy the True Bloods and reclaim their rightful place in the world. Gryvan oc Haig, Thane of Thanes, sends his son, the Bloodheir Aewult, at the head of an army to deal with the invaders. Little do they know that the Black Road's forces have been swelled by the largest mobilization of Inkallim troops in memory, and they will stop at nothing to reach the end of their Road.
Amid all that chaos, having survived crucifixion upon the White Owl Kyrinin's Breaking Stone, Aeglyss underwent a transformation. Na'kyrim everywhere can now sense the foul burgeoning of his powers in the Shared, and even the dormant Anain are stirring, roused by the realization of the menace posed by Aeglyss. As war erupts, the na'kyrim falls in the throes of madness, and he uses his powers to twist people and events to serve his own dark desires.
Bloodheir is another fine example of worldbuilding, even though Ruckley continues to tease us with glimpses of the past as the plotlines progress. Although magic plays a somewhat bigger role in this sequel, it remains subdued to some extent. I don't know if Katherine Kurtz's Deryni were an inspiration, but the na'kyrim are similar in a variety of ways.
I found that the characterization was the most improved aspect of Bloodheir. There is definite character growth where Orisian and Anyara are concerned. We learn more about characters such as Rothe, Taim Narran, the Shadowhand, Kanin and Wain of the Horin-Gyre Blood, and more. Aeglyss is a complete basket case, which makes him an unpredictable power player in this tale.
Once more, the presence of the Black Road and their creed in a godless environment adds another dimension to the story. And the Inkallim, those religious fundamentalists with their own agenda in this conflict, remain my favorite facet of this series.
As the middle book in a trilogy, Bloodheir serves to fill the gap between Winterbirth and the final installment. As such, there isn't much in terms of resolution. Nonetheless, the storylines progress nicely, and after a few twist and turns this novel sets the stage for what should be an excellent finale.
Bloodheir is a worthy sequel to Winterbirth and a very good read in its own right. Without the shadow of a doubt, it should be one of the fantasy books to read in 2008.
The final verdict: 8/10