Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book as part of the Harper Voyager Super Reader program.
“Who was he to wield so much power? And would it really be his, or would he be chained to the emperor with no choice but to obey or be killed? Caldan felt he knew the difference between right and wrong, and he should use his skills only to help people. But he might not end up with any choice in the matter.”
After being forced to leave the monastery where he was raised, Caldan thought he had found a new place among the Protectors of Anasoma, where his skills for sorcery and swordsmanship would be put to good use. But Anasoma has been invaded by the Indryallans, the Protectors are dead, and Miranda’s mind has been damaged by coercive sorcery in the escape from the city. Accompanied by the shopkeeper, Amerdan, and Elpidia, the healer, Caldan sets out for the nearest city, Riversedge, where he hopes to warn the remaining Protectors and get a message to the Emperor about what has befallen Anasoma. Blood of Innocents was self-published by Mitchell Hogan in 2014, and has been edited and re-released by Harper Voyager.
Many fantasy novels centre on a band of friends who set out on, or are forced into, an adventure. Often there are tensions within the group, but they remain largely amicable. However, Hogan has chosen to upend that trope, casting Caldan’s lot in with an ever-shifting group of uneasy allies, none of whom can quite trust one another. Bells remains a wily and powerful enemy sorcerer despite her confinement, Amerdan is still harbouring dark secrets, and Elpidia’s ulterior motives are all too evident. Miranda could theoretically be trusted, but she is still incapacitated by the coercive sorcery that damaged her mind, perhaps irrevocably. The result keeps the reader constantly on edge, even when the hero is supposedly among friends.
Miranda was one of the characters I was intrigued to learn more about after A Crucible of Souls, but unfortunately she isn’t really a character in Blood of Innocents. She has been entirely deprived of her personality in order to motivate Caldan, who is willing to do anything, even break the rules about studying coercive sorcery, in order to save her. This means that Miranda is essentially a plot device rather than person in this book. We do get to continue to learn more about some of the secondary characters, however. Vasile, the magistrate who can detect lies, has been brought together with Aidan and his band of hunters, and joined up in an uneasy alliance with Gazija, the mysterious First Deliverer. Meanwhile, Lady Felice remains trapped inside Anasoma, where she attempts to mount a resistance against Indryalla, and its God-Emperor, Kelhak. Hogan continues to alternate between chapters following these players, and chapters about Caldan and his fellows. Whereas the secondary perspectives were quite disconnected from Caldan in A Crucible of Souls, the threads are finally beginning to converge in this volume.
If A Crucible of Souls was about setting up the magic system, Blood of Innocents is about expanding and bending it. Although Caldan has come a long way since leaving the monastery, his new view of the world forces him to begin realizing how little he knows, and perhaps how much is being deliberately kept secret. Rules of magic that he has always taken for granted come into question as he encounters foreign practitioners, and sorcerers from the highest levels of the Mahruse Empire. Each new encounter strips away more of his naïveté and innocence, but often not until after he has gotten into significant trouble as a result of his trusting nature. But Caldan has finally glimpsed the magnitude of the two powers he is caught between, and the stage is set for a face-off in which he will be hard-pressed not to be crushed between giants.
You might also like:
Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill