The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham
I enjoyed The Dragon’s Path, but it didn’t exactly blow me away. Despite a few weaknesses, it had a lot of strengths with the main being strong characterisation and snappy pacing. Thankfully, with The King’s Blood, Abraham begins to address some of the weaknesses whilst building on the strengths.
The five main characters from The Dragon’s Path return, picking up where we left off. In Porte Olivia Cithrin is chafing under the controls imposed on her by the Medean Bank, so sets plans in place to raise her status which sees her travelling further than she ever has before. Marcus Wester, in Porte Olivia to protect Cithrin, finds himself without a role. Master Kit, revealed at the conclusion of the previous book to be an apostate from a religious cult, comes to Marcus to request his help in killing a God. Up in Antea Geder Palliako’s power continues to wax; named as Regent of Antea he launches a war of vengeance upon Asterilhold after their failed assassination attempt on Prince Aster. Dawson Kalliam is named as Lord Marshal of the war effort, but becomes suspicious of the strange foreign priests Geder surrounds himself with. Finally, Clara Kalliam plays the diplomatic games her husband is too blunt to play.
Looking back on The King’s Blood, I can’t believe just how much happened. The Dragon’s Path was pace-y, but The King’s Blood doubles down on Abraham’s decision to trim the fat and get to the good stuff. Early on a character sets out on a journey by sea and I settled in for a chapter or two of travelling, perhaps with a conversation with the ship’s quartermaster about the stores of salted beef, but no, lo and behold, next chapter they’re there! The plot continues! The King’s Blood is a tenser and more exciting book than The Dragon’s Path, particularly the Antean storyline which I hadn’t enjoyed as much in the first book. The one let down is the Marcus Wester storyline, which takes a while to get going, but elsewhere Abraham shows some meticulous plotting.
The worldbuilding is improved, with a clearer picture provided of the differences between the Thirteen Races of Humanity. Nonetheless, it still isn’t a strength. This could become more of an issue as the series moves on; the first two books are mostly dealing with human conflict with the looming magical threat being left in the background. The problem is that at the moment I just don’t feel like I’ve had enough yet to particularly care and this is something I hope Abraham addresses in future books.
The characterisation is even better than in The Dragon’s Path. Geder Palliako’s journey from bumbling loser to the most powerful man in Antea is fascinating and terrifying. Abraham does a great job at bringing the reader along with the thought processes of his characters; Geder does some terrible things, but his self delusion is convincing enough that, in his chapters, he’s difficult not to root for. Then you get to a chapter from another character’s perspective and realise the ramifications of his decisions. All the core characters are strong, with Clara Kalliam in particular emerging as a fascinating and engaging character in her own right.
The King’s Blood is a genuinely great book in a way that The Dragon’s Path wasn’t. The plotting is rock solid, but it’s the nuanced characterisation which sets this apart. I can’t wait to read the next book; I’m now all in, no reservations.