Recently the Self-Published Fantasy Month Team posted a list of some self-published fantasy recs for those who have not read much self-published fantasy and don’t know where to start with finding a good book to read. Our hope was to offer up a few suggestions each while admitting the list would leave out a bunch of great books and authors. I hate leaving out great stories so I decided to re-post the reviews of all the self-published fantasy books I’ve really enjoyed over the last few years. Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be re-posting them here in the lead up to Self-Published Fantasy Month. My hope is you might find one that catches your interest for September!
You know that feeling you get when you’ve read a book you thought you were going to like but it ended up being SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU EVER EXPECTED? Yeah…that’s the feeling I had when I finished Blood of Heirs. Truth be told that’s the feeling I had while I was reading Blood of Heirs. If you don’t want to read the rest of this review and instead want a short take-away about the book know this; Blood of Heirs is a dark, page turning, coming of age, character driven novel packed with emotion, heart, and pain that never loses sight of hope. If you want to know more then read on…
“Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.
Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.
Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan .and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?” – Goodreads blurb.
Wow. So where to begin? Well, I picked up Blood of Heirs because it’s a current Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO) finalist. Because of that I expected it to be good. I’d also seen some fellow bloggers I trust give it high praise. But I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. It’s the kind of read that I really adore, one that still catches you by surprise even when you already expected good things.
Blood of Heirs is very much a character driven story with its power and punch centered in them. There are two protagonists Lidan (Liddy), the daughter of the Daari of Hummel (think chieftain) and Ran, the son of the Duke of Usmein. Both are teens trying to find their place in a world where suddenly nothing is the way it was before. I found myself rooting and caring for these characters very early in the narrative. I was only a few chapters in and was invested in them, especially with Liddy. I wanted her to be a bad ass ranger queen and didn’t want anyone stopping her. Ran took a little longer to have that same emotional pull for me but not too long.
The story is told from the alternating points of view of both Liddy and Ran. You’ll spend a few chapters with each before shifting focus to the to the other. This style and pacing works well as the characters get their hooks into you as you grow more and more attached to them, and you find yourself wanting to return to their narrative to see what happens next. I’ll admit I grew more attached to Liddy than Ran but there were times when Ran’s arc was more interesting and exciting. One reason for the latter was some of the secondary characters in Ran’s arc, such as Sasha, a healer he meets along his journey and a particular ghost girl who attaches to him. That ghost girl is creepy AF and mysterious to boot. I wanted the ghost girl to show up every time there was a shift back to Ran. And strangely enough I was emotionally attached to her as well.
Wanstall-Burke’s writing was so very readable. I know that sounds kinda silly but what I mean is she writes a page turner. And not because it’s packed full of action (there IS action and it’s written very well, but it’s not an action book per se), but because her prose fits so well with the story being told and the characters she’s created that you don’t want to set the book down. I kept thinking to myself, “I can read just one more chapter before bed” and then three or four chapters later had to stop so I wouldn’t sleep through the alarm in the morning. I posted to Twitter about half-way through saying I was 52% done with the book and not done for the night and just wanted to scream “YES!!!” because…you know…I needed to scream YES!!! and to proclaim how much I wanted all the good things for Liddy. About three quarters of the way through I had to log on to state how anxious I was. And when I finished I yelled READ THIS BOOK and proclaimed Wantsall-Burke was now on my auto-buy list. Good writing makes for good reading.
Interestingly enough the world building wasn’t super intricate on a grand scale. Instead it was more localized, focusing on the two regions where Liddy and Ran live. But within that framework the world becomes really intriguing. Liddy hails from a land where iron age weapons are outside the norm. In fact her father employs the only blacksmith among their people. They are more clannish living in villages rather than towns or cities and must fight off raids from neighboring peoples. Ran on the other hand comes from a region that fits more of the typical medieval setting. His land is one of towns and cities and castles and their struggle is with the mighty empire next door and large scale armies. The contrast between the two settings matches the contrast between the two characters well.
Magic in this world is not something people look fondly upon. It surfaces within you when you are exposed to it. In Ran’s homeland if a child shows an affinity for magic they are sent away before it comes to the fore. If it appears once they are older they are executed (which becomes a problem for Ran). While the same extreme isn’t necessarily true for Liddy’s home, magic is still looked on askance and feared. In this volume the characters are really just figuring out their abilities and how it changes their lives.
Blood of Heirs hits upon a handful of noteworthy themes and tropes and I’ll mention a few here. The first is that of a teen figuring out who they are and finding their way in a world with certain expectations. Especially those placed on them by their family. In this respect it’s a coming of age tale. Both Liddy and Ran struggle with this given their unique circumstances. Liddy hopes to be her father’s heir which isn’t something that ever happens for a female child, and Ran who was the presumptive heir has that long held future assumption yanked out from under him. As one character puts it to Liddy while talking about her mother’s expectations, “follow her, follow your father, or cut your own way.” That word “cut” covers some ground there too btw. I wouldn’t classify this as a YA novel even though this theme is typically YA. But it is central to the book and its characters.
Something I really liked was how Wanstall-Burke handled the role of women in a traditional society. This is explored most fully in Liddy who wants desperately to be her father’s heir and be a ranger as well. But societal expectations and her mother’s controlling ways stand in the way of that. As she tries to prove herself she’s given a piece of advice that I absolutely loved which was, “show them you aren’t a toy or some pretty thing to be looked at and fought over.” As she tries to live into that advice big things happen.
Something else that I thought was well done, though it may give some readers pause, was the effects of abuse. Again I turn to Liddy for the best example. Liddy’s character suffers from emotional and even physical abuse at the hands of her mother. And like many abuse victims Liddy finds herself trying to explain it away and justify it. Abuse isn’t praised or held up high in this book, indeed it is portrayed for what it is and for what it does to people. It may also be a little triggering for some readers. But I think it is handled well and it becomes a major aspect of character arc and development.
There’s much more I haven’t covered in this review but I’m going long. For instance there’s monsters…scary, freaky, mutated monsters who are super hard to kill and figure prominently in the story. But in the interest of page space and time I’ll close out.
Blood of Heirs is simply fantastic! It’s dark, and scary, and kept me on edge. It’s fresh, and exciting, and full of the feels. Again and again I’m finding great self-published fantasy that holds up to what you get from the big publishers and this one is no exception. I hope you love it as much as I did. I’ve already bought the next installment, Legacy of Ghosts and I can’t wait to read it.
5 of 5 Stars
Author: Alicia Wanstall-Burke
Series: The Coraidic Sagas 1
Publication Date: October 27, 2018