The Blood King – Keith Ward

*I received a free ARC of this book.  The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: He’s 278 years old.

And just getting started.

Lord Fathim, ruler of Walkland, has used the magic of Proxies to live a long time. But he wants more — more life, more power, more slaves. He’s ruled his country for centuries, and his plot to take over the rest of the world is ripening.35530363

He has one small problem, though: he’s going insane. The Proxy system which has lengthened his life is also breaking his mind.

There is a cure. He knows one person — Mavel, a powerful and famous Span Seer — who can help restore his sanity. Her dark magic can do that. When his mind is restored, he can put his plan in motion.

Mavel knows it, too. She also knows something Lord Fathim doesn’t — a secret that could end his reign forever.

But only if she can find the courage to risk it all.

You see, she has failures in her past. Innocents once died while Mavel hid, and her cowardice gnaws at her like an animal digging into a fresh kill.

This ancient Span Seer holds the key to Lord Fathim’s future, and thus the future of all. Will her own fears block her? Can she stop the Blood King’s reign of death?

Oh my word this book is clever!

There is no likeable character on which the reader can pin their empathy or even understanding, yet we are drawn in anyway, inexorably, by the desire to see the unlikeable characters stumble and fall.  In the opposite of my usual preference of cheering a hero to victory, I found myself breathlessly willing the villains to failure!

And their failure seems unlikely in such a bleak, horrific set up.  The villain has all the power, there is no clear opposition, and what there is is weak and ineffective.  Everything seems hopeless, to the point that I was reading in existential dread for the people of this world.

Ther is particular horror here in almost every aspect of the ‘Blood King’ characterisation:  the slow, creeping insanity; the blood (oh, the blood!); the theft of innocence; the greedy slurping of that which belongs to others, purely to selfishly add to the power, opulence and longevity of oneself.  The character is abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities at all.  Be prepared to be disturbed by the morality presented as ‘the norm’ here, as well as disgusted by the extremes to which the most venal character pushes that morality.

There is a subversion here though, masterfully constructed, that presents this as a fully ‘grimdark’ story, but then shows that people, and authors, can suddenly surprise us when we least expect it.

This book can easily stand alone as a single tale, as the immediate arc is resolved within the narrative, but having read it, I will certainly be seeking out more in this world, searching for the tiny flashes of light that may signal hope for the future of Walkland.  Plus, the Soul Span / Proxy set up has so much potential for so many different and fascinating tales, as do the dragons:  I am excited to see where the author goes with it all!

Everything was ready for the Transfer when Mavel arrived.  She performed it in the poor family’s house, with no complications.  The critically ill mother began to recover quickly, a sign of the baby’s strength.  And the poor family that had sacrificed a baby was no longer destitute.  Everybody was happier.

– Keith Ward, The Blood King

Find more from Keith Ward at his website here or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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