Series: The Book of the Black Earth #1
Published: 2014 by Pyr
Source: the publisher
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Blood and Iron is an epic fantasy novel about three enslaved protagonists who overcome hardship only to be entangled in politics and war. The main protagonist, Horace, is shipwrecked and forced into slavery. A chaos storm strikes the caravan, and he discovers his own affinity for lightning. Jirom is an ex-mercenary who was forced to become a gladiator. Inspired by seeing Horace stand up to their oppressive masters, he becomes involved in an underground resistance among conscripted soldiers. And finally, Alyria chose to be sold into slavery to give her the opportunity to spy on Queen Byleth, but the more she learns, the more she begins to doubt in her mission.
Blood and Iron had a slow start. We didn’t even meet Alyria until 1/4 of the way through the book, and she’s pretty important to the story. That said, the book’s pacing did pick up around the time she was introduced, and after that it was a pretty quick read.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the characterization of the three protagonists. Horace was too much of a special snowflake—not only does he magically have magical powers, but he has a very rare kind of power that doesn’t occur very often and that no other living person has. That’s too much of a coincidence, and makes him less believable. Jirom doesn’t seem terribly complex, although I did enjoy that he’s gay. And Alyria was so incredibly selfless and perfect that she’s just not an interesting character.
Queen Byleth, on the other hand, was fascinating. She’s not a good person at all, as we first see in a rather telling scene in which she orders a 10-year-old (give or take) slave girl to be whipped in order to punish Alyria. And yet at the same time, Byleth is cast as a sympathetic character who is all that’s left standing between her kingdom and a hostile takeover from mad cultists. She has very little political power and is being forced into a marriage that will effectively dethrone her, and she’s doing everything she can to stay in power. Byleth is the lesser of two evils, and our characters slowly come to the realization that despite her flaws, she’s the best hope they have. I love it when fantasy politics mirror those of real life, and where there is no easy solution or perfect answer. And the politics in Blood and Iron really worked for me, because everyone had their own agenda and there wasn’t a clear-cut line between right and wrong.
Overall, there wasn’t anything about Blood and Iron that seemed particularly new or innovative. It was a typical epic fantasy novel with a pulpy vibe, and I found it enjoyable despite its flaws. I’m looking forward to continuing the series, mostly to see what Byleth will do next.