Sent to me by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 27/07/17
Format: Hardback, 525pp
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Summed up in a word: Labyrinthine
I finally did it! I made time to commit to a new epic fantasy series! Tom Lloyd’s God Fragments Trilogy caught my eye with its fantastic cover imagery and keep me reading with its huge, bold and exciting plot lines. I wasn’t overly amazed with Stranger of Tempest but it was enough to grab me and pull me into the series. Just as I had hoped, Tom Lloyd upped his game for the second instalment and I had such a great time reading this novel. I rate fantasy by 3 areas, imagery, plot/character development and how immersive the writing is. Tom Lloyd has scored very high for me in Princess of Blood. This can be read as a stand-alone as there is an overview of the previous novel within, but to get a fuller understanding of the characters then I recommend reading SOT first. See my full review below.
There’s a new Card in the Mercenary Deck – one Lynx isn’t sure if he’s happy to see or not. The assassin Toil now wears the Princess of Blood on her jacket and even Lynx would admit she’s a woman cloaked in chaos and bloodshed.
Their new mission is to escort a dignitary to the pious and ancient city of Jarrazir – beneath which lies a fabled labyrinth. Having barely survived their last underground adventure the mercenaries aren’t keen for another, but Toil has other plans.
Under threat of siege and horrors rising from the labyrinth, even the Mercenary Deck may have to accept that Jarrazir’s prohibition laws aren’t their biggest problem.
Princess of Blood follows on a short while after the claustrophobic adventures in Stranger of Tempest (there is a bridge novella called Honour Under Moonlight, if your interested). I was so happy reading this novel because Tom Lloyd has taken everything that was good about Stranger of Tempest and made it great! The imagery is superb, the camaraderie of Anatin’s Mercenary Deck has improved and the tomb raider mission that Lynx and the crew are on is even more daring, deadly and chaotic than their time in Shadows Deep. I still have a few reservations about the series, to do with characters, but I will get into that more later.
The story picks up with Anatin’s Mercenary Deck on their way to the city of Jarrazir on a diplomatic mission. Toil has joined the ranks as Princess of Blood and she has engineered her way onto this mission for reasons she hasn’t made entirely clear to the rest of the mercenaries, but a paycheck is a paycheck. Their mission becomes clear upon arrival to the city though, an ancient labyrinth has been opened and Toil wants the riches that are hidden within. But so do her greatest enemies and the armies of the Knights-Charnel who are capable of levelling cities to get what they desire.
The team of mages that opened the labyrinth were wiped out by the horrors hidden within, all apart from one young mage. Ice mage Lastani is on the run, scared that she is the last person who has an intimate knowledge of the Duegar scripture, knowledge that people need to harness to gain access to the treasure within the maze. It is possible there are fragments of the gods themselves hidden within, and with them the power to harness the elements. Toil needs the young mage on her side, so the crew set out to find her and gain her trust. They find so much more than they bargained for and now have to face the unknown in the purest of dark. Others who also seek the prize are ahead of Lynx and Toil but the labyrinth holds secrets that were created before the birth of the gods so it is a truly level battlefield.
I loved this plot idea as it is brilliantly suited to Lynx and Toil! What is not to love about a test of wits and strength in a prehistoric labyrinth that could (and does) kill you if you take even the slightest wrong step. The plot is more cohesive and bold this time around. There is a clear objective and the mission draws on all the strengths and abilities of the whole mercenary crew. After the cat-and-mouse chase of the last novel, it was brilliant to have a head-to-head competition between tomb raiders. I do love maze adventures because the unpredictability factor is high and it makes for an intensely exciting read. Lloyd does continue to facilitate a fantasy feel though by adding plenty of magical imagery and technicality into the mix which brings the whole novel together.
Lloyd’s fantasy writing has a breadth and solidarity that should be celebrated. I love where he has taken this series and how he has developed the magic/elemental/power areas of his writing. Lloyd doesn’t give it all up straight away, he deftly reveals the truth and abilities of the gods, mages and monsters over the natural course of events which I really appreciate. It ups the mystery and anticipation of the story arc which keeps it interesting and unpredictable. I can’t really say if I like the format that much, it is hard to tell. It feels a tad -topsy-turvy’ and it did break the flow of my reading more than I wanted. I would have probably preferred to have one long undisturbed narrative that compliments the immersive qualities that fantasy is appreciated for. The only great thing about the format was that Lloyd was able to pick and choose which events to share with the reader and he used it to full effect. Bringing the reader into events with an explosiveness that you can’t deny wasn’t brilliant.
This is where the review gets a bit challenging. Characters. I think Lynx is a brilliant character that holds this story together nicely. I am enjoying Toil and her hard headed and daring nature. I really like the potential that Sitain is showing for the series with her powerful night mage abilities. I especially loved the villain this time around. Bade has real history with Toil and Lloyd pulls the reader in with their venomous back-story. It is a vast improvement on the SOT adversary who was mainly following orders.
Lloyd’s character development is quite environmental. He loves to drag his characters of their comfort zones and dramatically change them as individuals which works really well with a story like this. My main issue with the characters comes down to Lloyd’s use of them. Stranger of Tempest was pretty much Lynx’s novel. Princess of Blood is Toil’s turn in the spot light. But I was surprised by lack of other character development/involvement in key parts of the novel. Though the camaraderie is excellent and the Mercenary Deck is coming together nicely, I was just disappointed that Lloyd just continued adding in lots of new characters instead of developing more of the existing ones. Complaint over!
Overall I highly recommend this series to all Fantasy/Action/Adventure fans! Tom Lloyd is one to watch in the future of fantasy epics and I am now on edge waiting for the conclusion to this series. Tom Lloyd is an exciting author who is all about huge, bold and fearsome stories populated with magic, horror and chaos. Princess of Blood took the successes of SOT and took them to another level. Though if Lloyd takes us on another subterranean adventure in book three then I am going to be a tad disappointed. Take your time to invest in this series, you won’t regret it.
About Tom Lloyd
Tom Lloyd was born in 1979 in Berkshire. After a degree in International Relations he went straight into publishing where he still works. He never received the memo about suitable jobs for writers and consequently has never been a kitchen-hand, hospital porter, pigeon hunter, or secret agent. He lives in Oxford, isn’t one of those authors who gives a damn about the history of the font used in his books and only believes in forms of exercise that allow him to hit something. Visit him online at www.tomlloyd.co.uk