First published back in April of 2018, ‘Blood Of The Four’ is a standalone fantasy epic from highly-revered authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon.

DLS Synopsis:
The great island kingdom of Quandis holds many secrets.  The greatest of which lies with magic.  Many still believe.  The island’s inhabitants continue to bow to the presence of four long-dead gods.  Although magic remained elusive, a handful of High Order priests had managed to capture mere whispers of the magic that remained entombed in the island’s great history.  It was enough to make them both powerful and feared by many.

Princess Phela knew her life and future would always be regulated and dictated by the fact that she had been born into Quandis’ royalty.  Yet from an early age, Phela chafed at the ideas of strictness and instead committed her time to finding and forging her own path.  In recent years the young Princess had taken to hiding within the many secret hideaways and passageways in the castle she lived within with the Queen Lysandra.  Often spying upon her mother and siblings, along with their many servants and slaves of the realm.

Which is how Phela came to hear of the Queen’s drug induced confessions to her lover.  Whisperings of Lysandra’s thirst for forbidden magic.  Of her exploration to the depths of the castle, seeking out the remaining powerful influence of the age old gods.  The magic of the Four.  Though the royal bloodline was the bloodline of the Four, the Queen knew their magic was not meant for any mortal soul other than select priests of the High Order who had spent many years preparing themselves.  Even then, they only inhaled the dregs of that ancient magic.

There were many unbelievers who thought magic to be a myth, tales left over from older, less enlightened times.  Anyone other than those of the High Order who dared pursue magic were executed.  On the main island of Quandis, throughout the islands of the Ring, and even in the Outer Territories, the pursuit of magic and the worship of the Pent Angel remained the only crimes still punishable by death.  As such, the implications of their Queen dabbling in such were beyond comprehension.

Meanwhile, Blane, one of Quandis’ many Bajuman slaves, had been seeking for a way for his race to forge a new life away from slavery.  Even though the Bajuman spent their lives serving worshippers of the Four, the Bajuman had their own legends – the prophecy of the Kij’tal chief among them.  The Kij’tal was said to be a saviour imbued with godlike power, who would rise from within their own ranks to free the Bajuman from slavery and build a new Bajuman nation.  However, if the Kij’tal was never to come, then Blane knew someone among his own people must rise instead.  Blane believed if he could advance within the Faith and become High Order, and through that, access their arcane magic, then he could use it to free the Bajuman.  The Kij’tal might be a myth, but if magic existed, Blane might be able to wield it to force the bigots to truly see his people for the first time.

A monumental and potentially devastating change is in the wind of Quandis and its surrounding islands.  Power is shifting and a latticework of conspiracies are working to undermine those who have wielded such power.  These are truly dangerous times.  The question is, what and who will be left standing at the end of it all…

DLS Review:
Both Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon are more than a little familiar with penning some honest-to-god dark fantasy with a touch of grisly horror nestled in its bones.  Indeed, both authors are relatively seasoned in such genres, between them having more than enough experience in writing intricately plotted and deeply imaginative dark speculative fiction.

What we have with ‘Blood Of The Four’ is a standalone fantasy tale that reaches to epic proportions.  Of course, the epic nature of the tale has been condensed down into just one single volume, rather than dragging the story out for a trilogy or longer series, as is so often the way with this particular genre.

What Golden and Lebbon have created is a world brimming over with complex and intricately interlaced storyline threads, forming a rich and impressively intriguing history to build the foundations of the story from.  Of course, being hit by a wall of elaborately contrived history as you commence a tale is never the most engaging.  Golden and Lebbon clearly know this, and instead have adopted a drip-feed approach to delivering the full latticework of the tale’s backstory.

In essence what we have is four distinctly separate storylines, with the perspective roving between them as they gradually converge for the epic finale.  The first of these is what I’d call the ‘royalty’ storyline, whereby we witness the gradual descent and self-destruction of Quandis’ royal heritage.  This mostly follows Princess Phela’s power-hungry ascent and corruption following her mother’s dramatic self-destruction.  Alongside this you have the ‘Bajuman’ storyline.  This involves the almost methodical ascent of the slave Blane, from the very lowest of lows in society, to becoming something earth-shatteringly powerful.

There’s also the story of Daria.  She’s Blane’s brother and therefore was also born a Bajuman slave. However, after being thrown off a clifftop into the sea below by the one she’d served, Daria lost the outward signs of her heritage (icy blue eyes and a serpentine-like brand upon the left arm) and through such, was able to commence a new life away from slavery.  We join Daria’s life now as a powerful naval admiral, commanding a fleet all of who would willing to die for their admiral.

Finally you have the story of Demos Kallistrate, the son of the Baron of Clan Kallistrate - Linos Kallistrate – and Demos’ horrific loss of their heritage and power.  It’s a storyline so drenched in loss and all-consuming woe that it seeps through the pages like a tsunami of gut-wrenching pain.

This leads me quite tidily to the overall themes within the tale.  As I stated earlier, this is an epic fantasy, with a complex array of storylines woven into its fabric.  Nevertheless, amongst these you notice a number of similar themes, recurring throughout the length of the tale.  Change and the rise of new powers, almost akin to a flock of phoenix’s from the flames, play heavily on the overarching plot.  Then there’s loss.  Holy mother and all that’s holy is there a sense of loss in this novel.  It rips at your innards time and again, seemingly battering you from all conceivable angles.  The desire for love and family unionship are knocked out to the sidelines against the unrelenting surge of oppression that swarms through the tale.

Characterisation also plays a strong role in the novel.  However, somewhat surprisingly this aspect is relatively hit and miss.  Characters such as Princess Phela and Demos Kallistrate are fleshed out with such rich backstories that they feel real, living, breathing people.  But outside of these, many other principal players in the cast feel more sketchy and far less defined.  Take the Bajuman slave Blane or indeed his hardboiled sister Daria.  Both have incredibly important parts to play in the unfolding tale, yet their true personalities, the stuff that makes them who they are, has been left to the reader to fill in rather than the authors applying this critical undercoat themselves.

I admit I’m no fantasy reader.  In fact, this is one of the only such novels I’ve read of this genre thus far.  So it’s easy for me to draw comparisons to the likes of ‘Game Of Thrones’.  There are numerous.  The power struggles.  The use of magic.  The complexities of the society created by the two authors.  It’s all rich with imagination and more than enough to pull you into this fantastical world where the dangers of life are magnified for a far more dramatic effect.

It’s far from a perfect read, but it’s still damn entertaining.  The roving perspective used keeps the pacing relatively urgent and always with a fresh energy behind it.  The suffering and heart-ache felt throughout the length of the novel is almost palpable.  And when it finally reaches its monumental finale, expect nothing short of an explosive, jaw-dropping ending that brings it all crashing to a truly awe-inspiring conclusion.

In a nutshell what you have here is an intricately woven and gut-wrenchingly evocative dark fantasy that will send your emotion on a veritable rollercoaster.

The novel runs for a total of 461 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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