The King's Blood review

Consider a book which is a medieval fantasy the same way Neverwhere and A Canticle for Leibowitz are medieval fantasies, which is to say it is both very much so and not at all. If you took those two books and added some generous dollops of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and Christopher Moore before turning on the blender, you'd get a mixture close to The King's Blood.

The plot: a few free kingdoms stand independently against an ever-expanding Empire. In one of these, our hero, Ciara, works as a maid in the Royal castle. Her mother manages the cleaning staff; her father is one of the few competent members of the security force. The castle is invaded by soldiers of the Empire, and Ciara's father tasks her with bringing the now-assassinated king's youngest son, Aldrin, to a town a short distance away, where the royal armies can regroup and push back the Empire's forces.

Needless to say, things don't go very smoothly.

The story takes place a very long time after the current day, in an unspecified part of the world which, I suspect, was once called the United States of America. In this neo-medieval society, bits and pieces of culture from our current era survive, albeit in a usually symbolic and almost certainly distorted form. Some of these are just quirks, but more often than not they're used satirically.

"Na's, we aint's got no's Floras or Faunas. Just lots of sharp things for slicing balls off." Brander and Gelder giggled together because what's the point of life if you can't find humour in your job?
"Very well, sirs," mister Guard continued. "I'll ask you to kindly step over here and remove your shoes."
Ciara sighed from her vantage point behind a set of mulberry bushes, still clinging stubbornly to their leaves in the face of winter. She watched this idiot do the identical song and dance with every farmer, peddler, and the set of kids chasing after their ball. Ask the same inane questions, pull them aside, make them remove their shoes and coats, and then wave a stick for awhile before letting them pass through.

The conflicts in the story are perfectly qualified to increase the tension and the danger the two main characters face. It was interesting from a thematic point of view how many of them are caused by prejudice. Ciara is a young black woman living in a society where black people are so rare, people often assume on sight she is a supernatural being. She's inherited her looks from her foreign-born father. Once men get past her features, she still has to convince them of her capabilities. The world she lives in does not expect a sixteen-year-old female to either own or be able to wield a dagger.

He chuckled again, a voice that echoed across the emptying ramparts, "You do ask much, don't you? If you ever met God, you'd ask him why he gave the peacocks such lovely feathers, yes?"

"If I ever met them, I'd probably ask the gods if I got the other bastard just as good," she grumbled, the cold winds buffeting her skirt and threatening to toss her body off the wall.

Aldrin, on the other hand, starts off as a quiet, studious, easily-frightened boy thrown into intrigue and danger, forced to trust his life to a servant he hardly noticed before. In a way his character arc is the more satisfying of the two. It felt like the story allowed Ciara to spread wings she already had, whereas Aldrin has to grow his before he can soar.

Their journey to rejoin the royal army and thwart the Empire's invasion is filled with well-rounded secondary characters, from monkish scholars to medically-adept witches. Despite the large cast, the secondary characters were easy to keep track of and greatly enriched the reader's understanding of the story world.

I have one major nit to pick with The King's Blood, which is that it really needed at least one more round of proofreading. It is far from the worst case I've seen, but there are a certain number of incorrectly used homonyms (boarder for border, eek for eke, role for roll, dolled for doled). There weren't so many as to make my disbelief come crashing down to ground, but enough that its suspension got a little shaky in parts.

Overall, if you like some fun and satiric commentary with your adventure, The King's Blood is well worth a read.

About the Author:

S.E. Zbasnik has published three fantasy books. Tin Hero and TerraFae follow a female heroine on a classic fantasy quest to mess with some elves and crack jokes along the way. Her most recent book is The King’s Blood. It’s got some magic, it’s got some witches, it’s got a black heroine in a medieval setting, and it has more puns per cubic meter than a clown car. Zbasnik has a Bachelors in Animal Science with a focus upon genetics, putting her one step closer to finishing that monktopi army. Learn more about her on her blog and at her Amazon Author Central page.


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