John C Adams Reviews 'Tyrant's Blood'
Tyrant’s Blood by Fiona McIntosh
(Harper Voyager, 2010)
A number of things jumped out at me when I first came across this book in one of our local secondhand bookshops. The cover was almost entirely white, which immediately drew my attention because that’s unusual for fantasy. On the other hand, the blurb promised a narrative that has been placed squarely (very squarely) within the genre in terms of setting, plot and worldbuilding.
Fiona McIntosh grew up in Ghana and England before moving to Australia. Professionally, her life has been equally eclectic. Yet, writing-wise, she remains firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Tyrant’s Blood is the middle book in the Valisar Trilogy, the first being Royal Exile, and it is set a decade later than the series opener.
Leo, son of the late King Brennus, has spent the intervening years being raised in secret by a group of outlaws reminiscent of Robin Hood and his band, even down to giving away their spoils to the poor. His father’s usurper Loethar is emperor, although siring an heir has proved elusive for the barbarian king. Leo’s adopted brother Piven, an idiot who was mute, also escaped the carnage that killed both their parents. He’s been hiding in the woods with an old man, Greven; both of them live under assumed names, and Greven masquerades as a herbalist. Gavriel was badly wounded and lost his memory; he’s spent the past decade unaware of his exalted status as childhood friend and adviser to Leo, the true Valisar heir.
A static decade has passed, enabling everyone to regroup separately and in secret from the trauma of seeing Loethar capture the throne and murder the king and queen. Things change after the outlaws are fired at, and one of them takes an arrow wound. Loethar sends his trusted adviser Freath to find out who was injured; however, Freath is a wily double agent playing the long game in his mission to have Leo declared king. After the upheaval of Royal Exile, the sequel was all about staging: the main characters were transported from their current locations after a decade of stability, and, via a number of plot devices, ended up in the places required for the final book’s action to commence. That is not to say that Tyrant’s Blood lacked interest. However, the plot had a gentle feel to it that never quite rose to being fascinating; I felt that the real story was likely to begin with the concluding book in the trilogy.
I struggled with McIntosh’s tendency to use very similar names for characters. Kirin Felt and Kilt Faris were often confused in my mind, aided by the fact that both love the same woman. It was also the same with Leo and Loethar, contenders for the same throne. Even though the pairing of characters was very different in both these instances, the similarity in their names left me mixing up the characters in my mind.
The book very well-written and full of fantasy staples such as the dispossessed heir and the evil half-brother plotting for the throne (repeated twice!). However, for me, it felt quite derivative. It is a good thing to combine expected content and themes from the genre in order to meet reader expectations, and authors neglect this at their peril. However, this was employed with such frequency that there was very little that felt unique or original. This might have been a purely personal response on my part, because the series has been very popular. I liked the characters, and it was that which kept me going right up to the end and made it a satisfying read. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next for all of them in the final book in the trilogy.
The comments section is open! I'll see you next Wednesday. In the meantime, many thanks to veeterzy, Patrick Baum and Alexandre Boucey for providing the images for this blog via Unsplash.