Like most epic fantasies, “Bloodsworn” starts in a quiet little village that lies in between two feuding nations. While far from the war themselves, the town takes strides to ensure that, should conflict find them, they’re ready. They prepare for two of their youth to be selected every year to be trained in the capital Academy, and take great pride in those Chosen. The residents of Jalard themselves are fairly traditional in their beliefs though; girls should not be warriors, and relations between the same sex are forbidden. So when two people no one expected to be Chosen are selected, friction between the villagers mounts, and when those Chosen disappear suspicions continue to rise. When those not selected decide to figure out what’s going on—again, like most epic fantasies—they uncover a plot that has devastating consequences for Jalard and the people of Sharma as a whole. But the heart of this story isn’t in the conflict, it’s not even the bloodoath which makes someone Bloodsworn—it’s the characters, their growth, and experiences that set this book apart from other epic fantasies.
Let me get this out of the way first: the Bloodsworn aspect, the title of this book, plays a very, very small part. It most likely will have a bigger impact in the next book, but don’t go into “Bloodsworn” expecting this aspect to be the central focus the way the synopsis sets it up. Also, given the beliefs of the villagers in Jalard, there are some characters who are fairly homophobic. It fits with the story, but it’s definitely frustrating, especially given one of the main characters is gay and you end up just wanting this young man to be happy and not be bullied for who he is. I do think the author handles that topic well, but just a little forewarning in case fantasy slurs against queer people is upsetting.
There are a lot of POV characters in this book, and a lot of backstory when it comes to the history of these people’s gods and their magic, so it can be hard at times to figure out just who the story is supposed to be about. I never got lost or confused by who was who however, even if certain characters made me want to shake them at times. That’s the hallmark of good writing after all, if the characters draw you in enough to where you are yelling at them. The cast of characters does dwindle by the end too, and I always applaud authors who aren’t afraid to really put their characters through the grinder to show just how harsh their world is and appropriately convey the stakes of what the main characters need to stop. Each character has their own struggles and personal growth to undergo all while trying to stay one step ahead of an enemy that has unleashed a new type of monster into their world that can disguise itself as regular humans. Some characters grow more than others, some characters make it to the end that I really wish hadn’t, but this book does a good job of balancing the stakes and world with a lot of action. The book is long, and some chapters can feel a little slower with exposition at times, but they are soon broken up by wild chases and fights for survival that really draw the reader in.
It's been a bit since I’ve read a traditional epic, dark fantasy story and “Bloodsworn” definitely ticked off all the right boxes! I truly felt like each character had a distinct voice and each provided something unique to both the adventure they were on, as well as to the plot as a whole. I do think there were maybe a few too many POV characters however, and sometimes the backstories could go on a bit too long, which is why I’m giving this 4 stars, but overall, this was a very satisfying book for me. Here’s hoping the bloodoath aspect makes a difference in book 2, and thanks to the author for sending me a copy for an honest review!
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