THE MARTYR’S BLOOD is the epic third volume in Joel Manners’s THE CHRONICLES OF THE MARTYR, and while it can reasonably be read alone without missing too much information, it would be a shame to miss out on the rest of the story. This is a brilliantly-designed fantasy world, with a solid political history and context, as well as a magical system with a logic and a shape to it that makes sense and works well and consistently within the story. Characters are well-drawn, fully human and full of life and personality, and whether hero, villain, or somewhere in between, their motivations and goals are believable and make rational sense given their positions and viewpoints. This is a complex and thoroughly vivid world with substance to it, with the sense of a weighty past, substantial history, and complicated present-day situation, revealed to readers in bits and pieces as the story goes on so that they can see clearly what is going on without the action being bogged down in tedious backstory.
The love story at the heart of the book, between the aristocratic but down-to-Earth Lady Danielle and her fierce, lively rogue lover Wyn, is tender and passionate in turns, and their devotion to each other is vivid and heartwarming. (And it is refreshing to see an author treat a lesbian relationship as unashamedly sexual and sensual as well as tender and cozy.) Readers see the characters and their story from different perspectives as the epic tale goes on, getting a sense of what motivates and drives each group- Temple priests and Guild artificers, those loyal to Queen Gabrielle and those who scorn her as a foreign upstart usurper, the peasants and poor folk fleeing the Shadow and the soldiers who sometimes threaten and sometimes protect – and of the internal politics and conflicts within each group. Sometimes readers even get the perspective of the Queen’s messenger raven Bran, giving Manners a chance to exercise his substantial gift for descriptive language from a bird’s viewpoint – “Bran watched the river of steel people pass beneath his perch, his black gaze darting after every glint and sparkle that stabbed through the cloud of dust their boots stirred.” The book is a long one, over six hundred pages, but the action and energy of the plot never lags, and the unwary reader may find themselves too engrossed in the story to put it down before the final page. There’s enough resolution here for an ending, but also enough plot possibilities hanging for a sequel, if the author so chooses (and this reader hopes he does).
Joel Manners has created an immersive and beautiful fantasy world in THE MARTYR’S BLOOD, a grand and epic story involving three-dimensional characters, well-developed magical and political systems, vivid descriptions, and lively, action-filled plots.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader