- Series: Raven's Shadow (Book 3)
- Hardcover: 656 pages
- Publisher: Ace (July 7, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0425265641
- ISBN-13: 978-0425265642
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 624 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Queen of Fire (Raven's Shadow) Hardcover – July 7, 2015
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Praise for the Raven’s Shadow novels
“Anthony Ryan is David Gemmell’s natural successor and epic fantasy’s best British talent.”—Fantasy Book Critic
“[Blood Song] certainly has it all: great coming-of-age tale, compelling character and a fast-paced plot. If [Ryan’s] first book is any indication of things to come, then all fantasy readers should rejoice.”—Michael J. Sullivan, author of the Riyria Revelations series
“Ryan hits all the high notes of epic fantasy—a gritty setting, ancient magics, ruthless intrigue, divided loyalties and bloody action.”—Publishers Weekly
“A top contender for the most impressive debut of the year… A thick, meaty novel of substance…A powerful epic.”—SFF World
“Fans of broadscale epic fantasy along the lines of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels should find this debut much to their liking.”—Library Journal
About the Author
Anthony Ryan is the author of the Raven’s Shadow novels, including Blood Song, Tower Lord, and Queen of Fire. He lives in London, where he is at work on his next book.
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I would rate QOF 2.5 stars if possible, but on the strength of my man-crush for Vaelin, I'm bumping it up to three. If I had to guess, most of the "real" reviews will be giving it two stars. And by "real", I mean the reviews with detailed criticisms, and not the upcoming massive flood of one-liners that will be rating it five stars. Let's be clear: This is not a five star novel, but it isn't a one star novel either. I would say mostly twos and threes. Which of course is a PROFOUND disappointment! Like many of you, I fell in love with Blood Song. It still remains the best novel I've ever read. It is the standard to which I compare other fantasy novels and almost all of them fall short.
Anyway, I loathe spoilers so I'll try to stay away from anything major. In fact, I'm not going to go into many plot specifics at all. This is simply an honest opinion from someone who knows nothing about what it takes to write a novel or write a thorough review.
One of the major problems from Tower Lord resurfaces here in Queen of Fire, and that's the complete and utter lack of character development. It's essentially non-existent, which is a great shame because that's one of the things AR did so well in Blood Song. After 100 pages in Blood Song, who would have thought that pompous jerk Nortah would have turned into the man he eventually became? But we watched it unfold through Vaelin's eyes and it was 100% believable (I picked Nortah because he's an easy example, but anyone will do). There's none of that in Tower Lord, and it's even worse in Queen of Fire.
And it's this lack of character development that ultimately led me to the sad realization that I simply didn't care about most of the newer characters. There are so many side characters that I have a hard time remembering them all. Unless your name is Vaelin, Frentis, or a few others, I just didn't care what happened to you.
It's almost as if I was in the middle of a cruel joke: I had to read page after page of our POV characters interacting with all these indistinguishable side characters who speak with the same voice and have no traits to set themselves apart from one another, while the ones I do care about (Nortah, Caenis, the Aspects, etc), receive little to no screen time. And when they do, their personalities are a shell of what they once were! Especially Sollis. The Sollis I read about in TL/QOF felt like a completely different Sollis than the one in Blood Song, and that's such a shame. And Reva! Ugh, how I hated reading her chapters. Everything about her is contrived and unbelievable, and I found myself skimming every time I saw her name. The "development" we saw from her was an insult to the work put into crafting the characters in Blood Song. At least there was less of her in QOF compared to TL.
I have other criticisms, but to write about them would be to reveal major plot spoilers, which I don't want to do. Suffice it to say that I find it very annoying that characters with unique "gifts" can be created straight from deux ex machina land simply to advance the plot.
I'm being pretty brutal. Look, there were definitely some things I liked. AR is a very skilled writer, and even with all these criticisms, I still enjoyed reading QOF. He's just beginning his writing career and he has so much room for growth. I've read many fantasy novels and his writing is above average compared to others. I truly am excited about reading his future novels. And what he DIDN'T do in QOF is just as important as what he did do. There aren't any shocking character deaths. Yes a few characters die, but he didn't pull a GRRM on us. And we do get a sense of resolution after the climax. There aren't too many unfinished plot threads. Sure there's a setup for a future installment which will annoy some readers, but I didn't find it a big deal.
Another bright spot for me was Verniers. I LOVED reading his POV. Why? Well, say what you want about the guy, but when you're reading his POV, you know it's his POV. Blood Song was so strong because each character had a distinct "feel". But as I discussed previously, that "feel" all but vanished in TL/QOF. Verniers was one of the few exceptions, and that's why I enjoyed his character so much. The dude had personality. The new mental connection between Frentis and his former master was enjoyable to read as well.
Also, I'm sure many will disagree, but I enjoyed reading about the Ally and his origins (you will learn everything you want to know). Without going into spoilers, I thought it was entertaining how Vaelin got the Ally to reveal himself. And I enjoyed the role a certain ageless character had to play in all of it. But unfortunately with that praise, comes another criticism. I found the Ally and his motives very….weak? We spent all this time reading about the buildup and then…this is why you're causing death and destruction? That's it? Come on man!
Wow, I am rambling. Let's sum this up:
TL:DR - If you didn't enjoy Tower Lord, you probably won't enjoy Queen of Fire, as many of the same issues that plagued the second novel still exist in the third. And while TL/QOF don't even come close to Blood Song, the finale was…ok. It could have been worse and it's better than a lot of what's out there.
On the strength of Blood Song alone, I will gobble up anything Anthony Ryan releases in the future in the hopes of seeing him return to his former glory.
Note: some spoilers for Blood Song and Tower Lord may appear later in this review. It is hard to talk about what I didn’t care for in this book without making reference to certain previous events. I’ll try to be as vague as possible. Also, I’ll take this opportunity to suggest not reading this book without having read the other two first. There is just too much that won’t make sense. (On the other hand, if you do read books 1 and 2 first, you shouldn’t have much trouble following along here.)
Once again, we have 4 (maybe 5) viewpoint characters: Queen Lyrna, Reva of Cumbrael (a noble who has inherited the governance of this land), Frentis (who still considers himself a brother of the Sixth Order, which is a military arm of a religious group), and Vaelin, who hands over command of Lyrna’s army so that he can go on a separate mission. (I say maybe 5 because we also have some scenes from historian Vernier.)
This is the story of Lyrna’s invasion of the Volarian Empire. In previous books, the Volarians had invaded Lyrna’s Unified Realm, killed and enslaved many people, and committed many other atrocities. She wants to take the fight to them so they cannot threaten her people again. I was never quite comfortable with this goal of hers. I think maybe that was the point, though. At one point, she has to stop herself from going after even more territory. She has to remind herself of her goal in the military campaign. Not all of the allies she’s recruited stay with her, either. And she suffers some pretty devastating losses, not once but several times. You want her to win because her side doesn’t keep slaves, torture and murder people, do things to unnaturally extend the lives of the nobles, etc. But I never really *liked* her.
Frentis ends up leading a slave revolt in the Volarian Empire. His story is pretty much a repeated series of episodes involving: defeating some overseers, freeing their slaves, watching the slaves torture and mutilate the overseers, training the freed slaves to fight, and moving on to the next town. He keeps having dreams involving the Volarian Empress and I found these really irritating. (So did he, apparently, as he keept taking a sleeping potion to push the dreams away…) His chapters in this book were a lot like his chapters in the second half of book 2.
Reva goes on Lyrna’s invasion trip and gets captured. She’s made to fight in an arena. Of course she always wins. (I think the viewpoint characters are meant to be telling their stories to Verniers later, so we assume they live through the war to tell their stories in the first place.) Her main issue is that she feels guilty for lying to her people, telling them she heard the voice of their god commanding them to join the invasion. But this never really comes back to get her.
Vaelin heads into tribal lands looking for a person he met in book 1. I won’t reveal too much of his quest because it involves a plan to defeat the Ally (the super villain controlling the Volarians). He learns some about the Ally’s background. He spends a lot of time recruiting tribespeople to fight the Volarians also.
Anyway, we alternate chapters and I just kept feeling like I was reading the same things over and over again. This was less true for Vaelin than the others.
Other things that kind of irritated me: Frentis and Verniers both are arrested and imprisoned (in separate incidents). Then they get to leave under similar circumstances.
Resources are never an issue. There’s lots of gold and there are willing suppliers of food, ships, etc., for payment. Even after devastating battles, there seem to be tens of thousands of soldiers still available for our good guys to call on.
At one point, the Volarians create a new type of soldier. They wear red (so we, as readers, can immediately identify them) and they delight in killing. They are, of course, super-talented fighters. I swear, we have to go through nearly every group of characters fighting all kinds of these people. Where no one could defeat them before, our protagonists always save the day (with losses, of course).
The Volarians and the Ally are just too evil. Too much bloodlust, too much hate, no redeeming qualities. I like my bad guys to be more complex. These guys are pretty one-dimensional. On top of that, the Volarian Empress is basically crazy. Crazy antagonists are irritating to me because there’s no strategy involved, it’s more of an excuse for them to do whatever they want.
As for character development, the protagonists basically didn’t develop in this book, just like they didn’t in the last book. (Gone was the great development from book 1.) I also had trouble remembering a lot of the side characters by their names alone. There were so many units and commanders that I just couldn’t keep them all straight. (A lot of them had similar names, usually just referred to by a first name or possibly a last name, so I would have trouble with, say, characters all having names starting with “I” or “A.” It was rather like all the minor characters in the Wheel of Time books; I had trouble keeping many of them straight as well.)
A few comments on the series title. This is called the “Raven’s Shadow” trilogy but that concept doesn’t even come up in much detail until near the middle of this, the third book. It seems an insignificant detail to give the whole series its name. (Maybe I am just biased against prophecy-driven stories, though.)
There were a few things I liked. The prose was pretty good. The pace was pretty good. I didn’t mind the cliffhangers at the ends of a lot of chapters, because it made me interested enough to keep reading so I could find out what happened. Although I wasn’t fond of the execution of the part involving Vaelin and the Ally at the end, I think the concept and strategy were interesting. There were some deaths but not viewpoint character deaths (for reasons discussed above). Many of these deaths *were* sad. And no one left the battle unscarred in any way – some scars were emotional and some physical. But I would not say this book had a happy ending. (Actually, the ending was a bit anti-climactic because it seemed short and easy after all the hardships encountered on the way to the Volarian capital.)
I think this could have been a much better book with some editing. I didn’t hate it (read it rather quickly, actually). But it didn’t live up to my expectations, which were set after Blood Song.
I won’t go into the issues. There has been enough said on the multiple POV structure and loss of character development which has been the most annoying part of books 2 & 3.
I will save my critique for Ryan and the publisher.
If it was indeed Penguin that moved Ryan off his winning style from the first book I can see the following scene after a few years of complete obscurity for Ryan.
Ryan talking to a guy in a trench coat and fedora in the back of a Cadillac.
“Whyja make me do it Pen, it was my day, I coulda had class…… I coulda bin a contenda……I coulda been sumbody……………instead of a bum”
Pen’s response “It’s all about the money Anthony…it’s always all about the money”