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  • Deep world-building & strong character development

    'Bloodsworn' by Scott Reintgen is book two in the Ashlords duology, a story about the war between three cultures and their rise against the gods themselves. Struggling for control of the Empire, the two strongest factions.. the Ashlords and the Longhands strike each other's strongholds in a life or death game of chess, while the Dividian rebels are just trying to survive the collisions. Three leaders, Adrian.. Pippa.. and Imelda, emerged from the Races with changed perspectives and a lot of questions. As they unearth the truth of their origins, it becomes apparent that the hatred which drives them to war.. begins with the gods. Though the details of the rise and fall of their people are secreted away, one dissatisfied god shows a willingness to share the history of their roots. With every sign leading back to the underworld.. how far must they go to learn what the gods don't want them to know? I don't know why I wasn't moved to pick up 'Ashlords' last year when it was released. Looking back and glancing over the synopsis again, I can only say that the synopsis leaned heavily into the phoenix horses.. without really giving me a reason to care about the Races themselves.. and the comparisons given were books I wasn't familiar with. Books I still haven't read, if I'm being honest. Though.. if they're anything like this.. that's going to need to change. Since I hadn't read book one when I began this title, the early pages for me were spent getting my bearings in their world. Immediately the story felt immense to me. I don't mean to say it felt long or particularly dense. It's that there was a weightiness to what was being delivered that made this story feel uniquely important. Told through a constantly shifting multiple POV narrative, the result is a story that feels almost as if it's being told in concentric circles.. starting from the outermost ring and rippling ever inward. Of course, in reality.. it's the tale of three fated paths set on a trajectory toward one final explosive point of battle. Initially, I started out kind of coolly distant from the characters, but I quickly became devoted to each groups' story. The three leaders only seem to want good things for their people, with most under the impression the others are deserving of distrust and hatred. But the truth is never as simple as we think it is and that's certainly not the case here. There are a lot of pieces on the proverbial board in this fast-moving, page-turning story of what could be redemption for someone.. only if everything falls into place. I found myself deeply attached to members of each group of soldiers, which left me in a perpetual state of worry for their safety. Reintgen's world-building is top notch. Where many might struggle to flesh out a detailed fantasy setting so clear the reader can see it in the mind's eye.. this author flexed on us by doing it twice in the same book. Each world and likewise, each character he focuses on within those places, distinctive enough we could pick them out with just a few words. The phoenix horses themselves, sound so much simpler than they really are.. and it's this magic especially that I loved as I came to understand how they work. Just as with the world and character development, the magic system is richly layered. Between the source of the power and the way it's used, creating magical sub-structures, I feel like he accomplished in (for me.. one book).. what might take a less skilled writer.. a several book series. Do yourself a favor and read these books. If you don't, like me.. you'll be kicking yourself later. (I received this title as an ARC. All opinions are mine and freely given.)

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