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Crown of the Blood by Gav Thorpe

Crown of the Blood

by Gav Thorpe

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I remember a while ago in, I think, the 90s when it looked like the hot new genre was going to be "sandalpunk" - "punk" in the sense of cyber- and steam- but set in an alternate Roman Empire. I was pretty excited at the idea but I never got to see any examples and my interest sort of got filed away in the "coulda been cool" drawer.

Then I got my hands on this book. Or rather, its sequel, which is part of Angry Robot's big bundle of ebooks deal I subscribed to earlier this summer. A compulsive completist who hates coming into the middle of the story, I, well... I had to pick this up first.

Crown of the Blood isn't about Rome per se, but a sort of semi-fantasy version of it. An even more brutal version in which generals leading their legions ride giant man-eating battle lions against barbarian hordes who, in turn, sic what we can only call dinosaurs on them. And a version in which all the pagan pomp we associate with Rome, the temples and shrines and tombs and ancestor-worship, have been pretty much secularized; the Brotherhood that has replaced them teaches that man alone, not the spirits, guide destinies. Oh, and there are things called landships, which are just what they sound like -- big ol' triremes, complete with benches of slaves on the "oars", "rowing" across the countryside.

In other words, it's a version of Rome just made for pulp fans.

But this is far from being a Robert E. Howard ancient/pre-historic fantasy, Conan the Legionnaire -- though I, for one, wouldn't mind if it was, not one bit. What we have instead, though, is still good, though more along the lines of a different schlocky classic from my youth, Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant* with just a few of the Expected Fantasy Tropes thrown in as we follow the trajectory of one Ulsaard. Ulsaard is an outlander, a soldier who has risen to the post of general and whose power in that post involves him in dynastic and other struggles in the Askhorian Empire's capital even before a certain secret is revealed that leads him to wage all-out war all over the empire.

Thorpe is obviously a big fan of ancient history with a fascination for military campaigns, as shows in his detailed, plausible and interesting depictions of military life. One almost wonders why he wrote this as a genre novel at all; dinosaurs and lions aside, the fantastic/magical elements are even more rare here than in, say, George R.R. Martin's quintuple-doorstop Song of Ice and Fire. It's quite interesting enough on its own, for my money -- in the midst of everything Crown of the Blood poses some tough questions about loyalty and duty and trust -- so that at times I caught myself rolling my eyes at the fantastical elements that did crop up, though I see why they were there: in this universe, royal blood really is special.

If you like detailed examinations of military strategy and tactics (admittedly executed over imaginary terrain) or accounts of life in a Roman legion or depictions of a society that really does have a problem of too many wives for too few husbands (Askhorian legions euthanize soldiers who are too wounded to keep marching, so the numbers of eligible men back home must indeed be small; didn't I tell you that this version of Rome is WAY more brutal?), city sacking and battles, this is the book for you. That's not what I look for as a rule, but I'm happy when I find it.

And that's another sequel I have lined up for next year.

*Oh, come on, you read it, too. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
Full review coming. But wanted to remember how horrible this has been. I have fallen asleep after a few paragraphs more in this book than any I own. (And I own and read a lot) This is a sleeper. Characters that do not matter. Fantasy constructs hat do not matter. Every person on stage has to be described with traits as soon as they arrive showing the author has not perfected how to write.

But my first observation, in the morning after rested, in the afternoon, after working, at night when I want to read a few chapters. More often then not, it puts me to sleep. There is no action there. There are a lot of words that do not do anything.

Full Review
This is bad. You have to be an adolescent to appreciate the book.

The Hero is so, well stupid, that you can not believe that he ever has worked his way up to be a general of the legions.

He lives in a world that is consumed by politics.

Yet he does not understand any of it.
His mother does. Get this (SPOILERS)

She was the woman who slept with the astute general, but also the royal, giving the hero a tie to the throne. (Of course. Why not appeal to the fantasy that a fool, who is good at fighting can be king. It is worse then the stereotype that the quaterback of the high school football team is an idiot.)

The hero also shows us his combat skill when in the opening sequence he is parlaying with an enemy that he knows he can defeat, and they know that they will be defeated, without any real help. Remember, hero is a political imbecile. So then, when negotiations fail he single handedly kills a creature as tough as any sandworm from Arakis that Paul Maud'ib would have faced.

For a while I thought that the story would redeem itself, but no. And then it wants to grow into something bigger. But let us not forget more fantasy for these heroes of the empire are given multiple wives. Ah to be young and just having hormones and thinking that happiness was sleeping with a bunch of different wives like my own little harem.

Please, give me my life back from what I had read here. The writing is meant to appeal to children who have no basis in history or social interaction. For those that do, know that such people Darwin proved were eliminated long before the could rise to great power. You can't be a general in a backstabbing society unless you knew how to backstab and defend yourself.

I can never read this again. Give me my heroes and characters with enough intelligence to survive in the world that is being built for them as well. All the rulers of every society can have flaws, but not so many flaws that they are all in imminent danger of being defeated because they also have no positive traits to offset their flaws. ( )
  DWWilkin | Jun 4, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0857660586, Mass Market Paperback)

ULLSAARD HAS CONQUERED THE KNOWN WORLD. All have fallen before his armies.

Now it's time to take the long journey home, back to the revered heart of the great Empire he had helped create for his distant masters. But when he returns to the capital, life there is so very different from what he had believed. Could it be that everything he has fought for, has conquered and killed for, has been a lie?

File Under: Epic Fantasy [ Conquering Armies | A Vast Empire | Temple Of Shadows | Rebellion And War ]

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:12 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Ullsaard had brought his master's Empire to the furthest reaches of the world. All had fallen before him. Now he longs for home. But home isn't what it was. Could it be that everything he's fought for all those years has been a lie?

» see all 2 descriptions

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Angry Robot

3 editions of this book were published by Angry Robot.

Editions: 0857660586, 0857660578, 0857660594

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