There are some definite advantages to working in a public library, especially for a geek like me. One of my favorites is being able to see all the new arrivals, often novels and authors I have not heard of before. It seems almost daily I have to stop and look over the new fantasy/sci-fi books, grabbing whatever looks even remotely interesting.
That is how I ended up reading the first book of the Ballad of Kirin Widowmaker, Blood Magic. In this case, however, I was interested in the book not because it sounded good, but because it sounded so… familiar. The back cover talked of monsters from underneath, mages calling lightning from the sky, and a dark woman with blood magic able to call forth abominations from corpses to fight for her. For those of you not familiar with the game, this all seemed straight out of the MMORPG Guild Wars.
Once you get into the novel the parallels to Guild Wars aren’t hinted at but shouted. There are holy priests able to heal with faith, (Monks) Aeromancers, Pyromancers, Hydromancers, and Geomancers held in high honor, (Elementalists) archers acting as scouts and guides, (Rangers) and of course Kirin’s blood magic (Necromancer) mirror all the main classes of the game. (Excepting of course the ubiquitous warrior, those you can find in just about any fantasy) If that had been the only similarities to Guild Wars I might have been willing to accept it as coincidence, but there is also the form of Kirin’s “Sweetlings.” These undead servants are skinless hunched things of great power but little finesse, armed with boney protrusions for stabbing, yet decay and lose power over time. You can’t help but visualize the Necromancer’s standard bone minions from Guild Wars. Sadly, this still isn’t the last thing seemingly stolen from Guild Wars. In the most recent addition to Guild Wars, the Eye of the North expansion, the main enemy is a faceless horror from the deeps, multi-limbed lava infused monsters with hard black shells and fiery weapons. The Mor from the book are -you guessed it- lava like creatures with six limbs, an incredibly hard shell, and fiery weapons, not to mention that they are featureless subterranean creatures.
Despite all of that, I can’t quite bring myself to hate the series. (Believe me, I tried) The first novel is told in alternating chapters, dealing with the present struggle of Kirin to survive as an archer/scout for the imperial army, aided by a young aeromancer girl named Lia and a bigoted priest she encounters after her entire unit is slaughtered, including the father of her unborn child. The other half deals with her back story, a far cry from her current situation. It is actually a very compelling origin for the protagonist. Without giving too much away I’ll say that it was actually her twin who was named Kirin, a twin who married their backwater town’s resident charmer, the protagonist marrying his best friend. Finding married life not what she expected the protagonist (whose original name is never mentioned) begins study with the local healer woman, who teaches her the ways of herbs, and forbidden magic of the blood. When her sister is murdered the protagonist does unspeakable things in revenge, culminating in an utterly life changing event, the smallest part of which is taking her twin’s name.
So why am I so ambivalent about this series? The character is interesting, the world mostly unique. In a word, pain. The author Matthew Cook goes out of his way to bash it into the reader’s head that everyone (protagonist included) thinks that necromancy and blood magic are abominations, an evil that taints whoever uses it, no matter for what purpose or intent. Conflicted protagonists and anti-heroes can make for compelling stories (such as my favorite, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, which I highly recommend) but this is just a little too much, a little too depressing, especially in the second novel. Nights of Sin is in fact so melodramatic, so depressing that I was in a funk for nearly a week after finishing it, and I liked it even less than the first.
Speaking of the second novel, there is one thing that happens at the beginning that totally threw me out of the narrative, seeming completely out of character not only for Kirin, but for Lia as well.
Out of the blue they become lovers. No matter what your position on the whole debate about homosexuality, the fact that they just suddenly become lesbians or bisexual is totally unbelievable, especially since there is no hint of it anywhere in the first book, with little time passing between books.
Such an action, so completely out of both their characters feels like something you would expect out of anime “fan service” there merely to titillate the reader and drive sales.
Would I recommend this series to readers? I guess that depends. If you love fantasy and want to try some melodrama with an anti-heroine, give it a try. You might like it more than I did, and who knows, maybe the Guild Wars similarities were simply coincidence. If you are only a casual fan of the genre, I’d recommend you try something else. Oh, also, it does contain moderately graphic material, so this is one definitely not for teens and kids.
[tags]Matthew Cook, The Ballad of Kirin Widowmaker, Blood Magic, Fantasy[/tags]