BOOK REVIEW: A Time of Blood by John Gwynne

Defy the darkness. Defend the light.

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of book two in Gwynne’s Of Blood and Bone series after having just finished the first. As a result, I was able to jump right back into the world with no break. As the title suggests, this is a time of blood, a book of blood and it is full to the brim with it.

Gwynne plunges straight in with chapters from Drem and Riv, picking up from the climactic ending of the first book with their respective escapes from dread circumstances. There’s no long exposition or description, just an explosion of action from the start, from the perspectives of the hunted. This is a genius beginning which immediately holds you in a vice-like grip of dramatic tension, setting up the rest of the book beautifully. The third chapter is from a new perspective, an acolyte of the Kadoshim (I won’t disclose who for the sake of no spoilers), and this adds further depth to the varying factions of this world. You get an inside look at the motivations of that side, building on the feeling from book one that the lines between good and evil are blurred. It’s a testament to Gwynne’s skill that you find yourself empathising with the ‘enemy’ as it were, whenever you’re reading that perspective.

Now where book one was all about growing tension and the feeling of impending doom, this book is totally action-focussed. Monsters, battles, skirmishes and blood make up the majority of the narratives from each character and Gwynne excels, especially in his battle imagery. You feel every cut, clash and charge in your bones as you read, sprinting through desperate fights on every page. The tempo is incredibly fast-paced and doesn’t really slow at any point through the book so you’ll find yourself finishing it in record time, and enjoying every second. The only downside I felt was that with so much fighting, that left very little room for the character development and intrigue that I loved about the first book. I was struck that the formula was somewhat similar to RPG games such as the Witcher series; you’re following a main mission, but every so often you have an ‘encounter’ with either a central enemy or a lesser one. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it did mean that some of the insidiousness that I liked was lost.

Another aspect that I’ve found particularly engaging in these books is Gwynne’s use of the animal kingdom/mythical creatures. Spoiler – there are talking crows. I found myself looking forward to the encounters as they offer short and humorous interjections at various points in an incredibly endearing manner. They each have distinct personalities which Gwynne skilfully captures through only 2 or 3 lines of speech, enriching the story in a delightful way. On the other side, in this book we see more of the Kadoshim’s Revenants. Somewhat vampiric in appearance and nature, these creations and their spawn are an excellent foe that wreak havoc in various battles. They are reminiscent of Justin Cronin’s virals in The Passage series and work in a similar way, spreading their ‘infection’ and creating more of their kind whilst also being incredibly hard to kill. They’re everything you want in a good, unstoppable enemy to really add to the drama.

I think A Time of Blood does exactly what it says on the tin, packed full of fast-paced and blood-soaked action that grips you from start to finish, and ending with traditionally epic cliff-hanger. Bring on book three!

A Time Of Blood is published by Pan Macmillan and is available here.

John Gwynne

John Gwynne studied and lectured at Brighton University. He’s been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing the double bass, travelled the USA and lived in Canada for a time. He is married with four children and lives in Eastbourne running a small family business rejuvenating vintage furniture. He is the author of the epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen including Malice, Valour, Ruin and Wrath.

Reviewed by Amber Mears-Brown

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