A generation has passed since that bloody night when the Norlanders’ great ships bore down on the Shadar, and from the backs of their great flying beasts, the ‘Dead Ones’ slashed and burned the desert city into submission. Now the enslaved Shadari toil in the mines for the increasingly rare black ore, the Norlanders’ greatest prize.
The Norlander governor is dying, and his three alienated children struggle against the crushing isolation of their lives in the desert. Eofar, the eldest, searches desperately for the runaway Shadari slave who will soon give birth to his child. His fiercely ambitious sister Frea, her perfect face hidden beneath a silver wolf’s helm, works the helpless slaves to death to further her interests at the far-off Norland court. And Isa, the youngest, tries to mould herself into the epitome of the icy northern warrior, though she knows nothing but the burning sands.
Into this world strolls the Mongrel, summoned by the Shadari rebels to lead their bid for freedom. Her terms are unusual – and unsettling: she will name her reward only after the Norlanders have been defeated. Her presence is like an acid, stripping away the lies of the past, and bonds of blood and race are shattered, only to be replaced by new and unexpected alliances.
An interview with Civilian Reader first made me aware of Evie Manieri’s debut novel Blood’s Pride. It sounded really good, plus I saw several people be very complimentary about it on Twitter. So when I had the chance to review it, I jumped. It turns out that the people of Twitter spoke truly when they said Blood’s Pride was a wonderful debut. It is a wonderful epic fantasy tale, with a close personal feel. On the book jacket there is a quote from Fantasy Faction that says “Combine Trudi Canavan with [George R.R.] Martin and you won’t be far off”; however, to me Blood’s Pride evoked another Australian author, Rowena Cory Daniells, whose works – especially the Outcast Chronicles – gave me the same sense of immediacy and the same urge to keep turning pages. In fact, clocking in at 516 pages, Blood’s Pride is a big, fat door-stopper of a book, but I finished in a bit over a day. And that is something that rarely happens these days!
While Blood’s Pride had some amazing world building and a grabbing plot – more on both of those later – what grabbed me most were the characters. Manieri fills her world with some amazing people, who for better or for worse, do what they think is best and do so even if they are flinching from the consequences. While from the above flap text it seems that the book focuses on the three Norlander siblings and the Mongrel, in fact the cast of main point of view characters is far larger and Frea, the middle sibling, and the Mongrel don’t have their own points of view. The points of view are mixed between all three races present in the narrative, three Norlander, two Shadari, and one Nomas. I liked all of their story lines, but my favourites were Isa, Rho and Harotha. Isa is the youngest of the three siblings and somewhat the odd one out. I loved how she came into her own during the narrative, finding herself, her strength and an innate wisdom that made her leap off the page. Her final decision in this book left me both saddened and proud, because she chose to do what was right at great personal cost and I’m hoping we’ll see that courage repaid in the next book. Rho is a Norlander guard and he crept under my skin. I loved his connection to Dramash and the unreasoning feeling of protectiveness he has towards the boy. Harotha broke my heart in several places, protecting those she loves with cruel words and discovering that not everyone changes for the better. The Mongrel’s story and character was fascinating and while at times her refusal to explain her actions to Jachad made me want to slap her, she stole every scene she was in. Manieri created some well-formed bad guys. Especially Frea, who is stone-cold and ambitious, but Manieri manages to create empathy for her, by showing what has formed her character and informed her choices.
The world building was fabulous. The races inhabiting the world of the book are fascinating. I loved the warm-blood/cold-blood juxtaposition between the Shadari and the Norlanders and the latter’s forced nocturnal way of life as a result of their physical traits. I loved that this hadn’t anything to do with vampirism, but was due to their adapting to the harsh conditions of their homeland. They are also a strong honour-based warrior culture and I always enjoy those. The Shadari are warm-blooded and well adapted to their desert habitation. I found their culture, where literacy is taboo for anyone other than a priest and even looking at writing evokes a feeling of horror in most regular Shadari, to be fascinating. The idea of institutionalised illiteracy is abhorrent to me, but I loved how Manieri fit it in to the narrative and even made it seem logical. The Nomas don’t seem to differ too much from the Shadari, but are very much different in their cultural development, with their nation split into two by gender, the men folk trading in the deserts and the women folk trading by the sea. They even worship opposing gods, the men worship Shof (the sun) and the women Amai (the moon). While most of the action was focused on the Shadar and the Shadari temple in Blood’s Pride, there is a definite sense of a well-defined world surrounding it and I can’t wait to explore more of it in further books in the Shattered Kingdoms.
The plot is an interesting mix of rebellion and discovery. The rebellion part should speak for itself; the Shadari rise up against their Norlander conquerors to throw them out of the Shadar. The discovery part is less self-explanatory, as there are several forms of discovery. It’s the Mongrel discovering her heritage and the reason for her abandonment; it’s Eonar, Frea, and Isa discovering the real truths behind their mother’s tragic demise and their posting in the Shadar; it’s Isa discovering her inner strength and wisdom; it’s Daryan finally discovering how to be the leader everyone expects him to be; it’s Harotha’s discovery of the history of their people. And these are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head, there are more I am sure. All of these discoveries are an integral part of the plot and move it forward at a fast clip. Coupled with an incredibly smooth writing style, Blood’s Pride reads like a dream, with pages and pages gone at such a fast rate I kept being surprised by the small amount of time that had actually passed—normally it’s the other way around.
Blood’s Pride is a great debut for Evie Manieri and gives us a great new voice in epic fantasy. I had a fabulous time with this story and I can’t wait to return to it with the second instalment. If epic fantasy is your thing, you really ought to pick up Blood’s Pride and discover the rich world of Manieri’s Shattered Kingdoms. Check back tomorrow for an interview with the author!
This book was provided for review by the publisher.