Author : Brian Naslund
Published by Tor
A splendid tale that combines a traditional heroic quest with political manoeuverings, characters you’ll love and moments to make you sit up in bed. I absolutely loved that the author settles dragons into the ecosystem of the world, and the knock on effect of humans interfering with the natural balance. You’ll love this if you enjoy: entertaining characters, dragons, nature & the environment, political moves for power, traditional quests, a protagonist who fights dirty, less magic as a constant, grimdark elements but a general positive vibe. See my full, in depth review below.
Sentenced to die. Impossible to kill.
Bershad was supposed to die. When he was caught attempting to assassinate a fellow noble, he was given the harshest sentence: a command to slay dragons, so his death might serve the kingdom. Yet for some reason he never lost a fight and is now the most successful dragon-slayer in history. However, as a doomed man Bershad is still shunned by his peers and his countrymen. But that could all change.
The king who sentenced Bershad has just given him a way out: kill a foreign monarch and walk free forever. His problem is that Bershad couldn’t care less about the fates of kingdoms – until the dragon-slayer discovers he could save an innocent child in the process.
His mission might also save every creature in Terra.
Wow! Where do I start? I loved this book.
One of the main things I loved was the fact the author considered how dragons fit into a living, breathing ecosystem and the knock-on effects of removing apex predators from the organic structure. As someone passionate about nature myself, if was nice to see this variation on the theme of dragons being beasts deserving of slaughter.
Of course it’s not the first time this has been done but the dragons in this book aren’t the all knowing, god-like beings sometimes depicted (in this first book at least) or the good and evil characters in their own right; dragons are just part of the natural hierarchy of creatures.
This respect of the natural order is something that permeates through the book, with our titular character Silas Bershad feeling a particular reverence towards dragons, the talismanic Jaguars of his ancestral home and his beloved donkey, Alfonso.
He is of course The Dragonslayer, “The Flawless Bershad” but it is not a role taken by choice, it is a punishment. The tattooing of blue bands on the face and subsequent exile usually amounts to a death sentence to anyone pronounced dragonslayer, and the pronouncement is treated as such. Most will be lucky to survive three encounters. Bershad however has killed scores of dragons and the reason for this survivability and the events leading up to his exile are underlying themes throughout the book. He’s basically a celebrity, known throughout the lands, travelling the lands to slay troublesome dragons with his companions, Rowan and Alfonso.
Alfonso is his beloved donkey, Rowan his faithful comrade, bound to his fate by law; should the dragonslayer fall, his companion will also be put to death. Rowan is just one of the colourful and easy to love characters in this book, which is full of entertaining, scary, thought provoking and heroic characters.
Sometimes even when I love a story, I have to look back at the book to double check even the main characters’ names or how they’re spelt. Maybe I simply find many characters I read hard to warm to!
All the characters in this however I felt that strongly for and they felt so familiar that for a change I didn’t need to remind myself what their names were! It’s hard to choose a favourite in fact as they all being something different to the table.
Ashlyn, the heir to Almira stands out as an immediate contender. Thrust into the game of thrones, she is forced to make difficult decisions, moving chess pieces of war with one hand and conducting research with another. It is her passion for dragons and how she intends to save them that drives a big part of the narrative.
One thing in particular I like about Bershad is that although he’s got a good heart, he isn’t the infallible hero and he will often choose to fight dirty – and get dirty while he’s at it. He doesn’t see himself as above all but the most noble of choices so long as he can finish his goals. He makes quite a mess of some of his opponents!
The Balarian Empreror, portrayed as The Big Bad, is no moustache twirling villain and as in any good story, the villain sees themselves as the one doing right by the world. We are of course still inclined to side with our protagonists but it’s always nice to see the ‘bad guys’ have realistic motives. There are some other great antagonists but I won’t spoil things by revealing too much; one of them is a lot closer to the evil spectrum. Well, they’re actually sat firmly within the malevolent bracket; their motives are their own twisted and sadistic desires and it’s a character you’ll love to hate almost immediately. Chapter 27 might just break you, so be warned.
Being fantasy, there’s magic – it both does and it doesn’t play a big role. The world in general is very much non-magical and most of the fantasy aspects we see through Ashlyn and Bershad. Again not wanting to give any spoilers, the more fantasy and magical elements come from organic sources and is not common knowledge within the world of Terra. It therefore plays a big part in progressing the story but doesn’t play a big part in the make up of the world.
Your average character living in the world would see anything out of the ordinary as witchcraft or the work of demons. This made me enjoy the story all the more as I more often that not prefer a world in which magic is supplementary rather than an everyday normality.
The plot has all the exciting stuff. Political betrayals and manoeuverings. Adventure. Loss. Love. Strong women. Discovery. Vengeance. Magic. Swords. DRAGONS.
It’s also so much more than that, and if you want to look closer there is depth, nuance and a thoughtful intelligence to the storytelling. Themes of conservation and environmentalism. The distrust between differing cultures. Sacrifice. Processing guilt. Empowerment. The ‘greater good’ and the morals behind the choices we make.
There was a lot to appreciate and a lot to think about. Equally though, to look beneath the surface is the choice of the reader; Blood of an Exile works perfectly well as an action-packed swords and magic fantasy tale that you don’t have to think hard about if you don’t want to. There is a decent pace and there’s something to get your pulse racing every few pages. The prose also just flows nicely, and is really professionally written which always helps build the immersion.
I’m really excited to carry on the series with Sorcery of a Queen. Brian Naslund has created a fantastic story with characters you’re invested in and a world you fall in love with. I couldn’t put it down!