Tuesday, 22 November 2016

BOOK REVIEWS: Bloodrush by Ben Galley / TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow

Been a while since I got some book reviews out, something to do with life proving quite busy at the moment and my own inherent inability to do tasks without pressing deadlines. Still, better late than never eh?

Covered today are the first three books of Alex Scarrow's TimeRiders series (via Goodreads) and Ben Galley's excellent Bloodrush (also on Goodreads but duplicated here too).

Bloodrush (Scarlet Star Trilogy #1) by Ben Galley

Verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5 (slightly annoying as Goodreads doesn’t give you this option!)

I’m going to get this out of the way early. There are a number of elements of Ben Galley’s Bloodrush that resemble Brandon Sanderson’s work; mainly the Wild West setting which reminds you very strongly of the Wax/Wayne series and the magic system which bears striking resemblance to the Allomancy of Mistborn. But this in itself is not a bad thing, I’m a huge fan of Sanderson’s work and anything along a similar theme is bound to attract my attention.

What Galley adds though is bite. Right from the opening pages you get the feeling that our hero, the magnificently named Tonmerion (Merion for short) Hark is having a pretty crap time of it. And it is not getting any better any time soon.

Barely days after his father’s grisly murder on the steps of their London mansion, Merion is shipped off across the sea to a long-lost distant relative and a world which is a million miles away from the one he knows. Very soon he realises that, despite the heat and sand, this uncharted backwater is full of the same kinds of ruthless people and potential for death as home.

He must quickly master abilities he doesn’t yet know he has, whilst trying to unravel the mystery of exactly who the hell is responsible for his father’s murder. Oh, and his fairy (yup, we’ve got fairies) is being chased by a ruthless band of cutthroat fairy mercenaries who aren’t fussy about which order they remove his limbs in!

This. Is. Really good.

I found the style effortless to read, the sparse nature of the Wild West landscape perfectly mimicked in the minimalist approach to detail. If something doesn’t advance the narrative, environment or character development it doesn’t go in. Whilst the story takes a good while to really establish itself and get going, the world building is skilful and full of clever little touches which distinguish Galley’s sandbox as being similar to our Earth but different enough to make it his own.

I’ve already touched on the magick (with a K) system above but it warrants a bit more explanation. “Rushers” can temporarily absorb characteristics and traits from various types of animal by consuming their blood, but it is not so common to have the ability to “rush” more than one or two types.

It quickly becomes apparent that (a) Merion might have the ability to rush many types, (b) his father did too and (c) his Aunt (the long-lost relative mentioned above) might just be the most prolific acquirer of blood samples in the West. You know this ability is going to come in really useful, but at what cost and what other secrets will it reveal? Merion’s powers will only begin to grow and he will undoubtedly be drawn into something bigger and more complex than he can imagine.

The magic system is pretty well thought out and obviously the result of plenty of attention from Galley. Using this magic has consequences and there is no “silver bullet” here which can get the protagonists out of any trouble (hello “Balefire”). Not all bloods are useful and, guess what, the magic has the ability to corrupt and destroy if used injudiciously. Like most magic systems, buying into it does take a little leap-of-faith as there are always a few inconsistencies and foibles. First time I read Mistborn I remember thinking, “hang on, isn’t your body full of metal?!”, before accepting that I read fantasy precisely because you can get away with stretching the “rules” bit further. This is similar, the minor gripes I had with it are generally not sufficient to ruin my enjoyment.

There is actually quite a small cast of main protagonists here; Tonmerion, his Aunt, the mysterious Lurker and the assortment of (generally murderous) fairies, including Merion’s friend Rhin, who seem to occupy a parallel, almost completely distinct, story arc. The characters are well-rounded and definitely have some depth to them, though a number of stereotypes are at play here such as the enigmatic drifter, the tough independent daughter of noble blood and the spoilt aristocrat coming to terms with his world turning upside down.

Plot-wise this is essentially the first part of a coming-of-age story coupled with the little diversion concerning Rhin and the above mentioned murderous fairy band. I’ll be honest and say that the only criticisms I have of the book are minor plot ones. The “rail-wraiths” seem an afterthought and unrelated to other events whilst I couldn’t see how the shenanigans involving Rhin were particularly relevant.  

What I will say in defence though is that (a) this is unavoidably the first book of a series and the full picture is yet to be revealed and (b) it is not up to Galley to explain every detail of every element at the first opportunity. I am the first to criticise info-dumps and deus ex machina elements so the fact that everything ISN’T explained in minute detail a second after it happened shouldn’t really register as too valid a complaint!

Throughout, answers dance just out of sight, inevitably with more questions for company. Who/what are the mysterious (and aforementioned) “rail-wraiths” who are disrupting the path of the railway as it expands East? What part will the Native American-like Shohani play? And who is the real villain here?

Overall this is a really good read. Flowing prose, an intriguing magic system and interesting characters pull along a story arc that is slow to begin with but begins to take shape as the pace increases. I can’t wait to get into the next one and see where Galley is going with this.

Till next time,