Blood Sworn by Scott Reintgen
The Races are over. War has begun.
Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.
Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.
Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED FEBRUARY 16TH, 2021
The Races are over, but the war is only just unfolding.
At the end of Ashlords, Imelda Beru upended the Races by escaping the course and allying herself with the rebels, while Adrian Ford and the Ashlord Races darling Pippa went their separate ways following Pippa’s victory. Now, with Blood Sworn, the war is in full swing, Ashlords versus Longhands versus Dividians, all vying for the chance to reshape and rule the world they burn through.
But there are other forces in play, forces with their own stake in controlling the outcome of the war, and it will require everyone’s strengths to change the tides of war, to even survive.
“No one ever really wins these wars we fight. Except the gods.”
This is the thing that kept me attached to Ashlords: the gods were a threat during the Races, an ominous, almost omniscient sort of power, and you could sense they were up to no good. But now, in Blood Sworn, they’re an active enemy, sometimes a reluctant ally, and they’re one of the most towering obstacles the main characters face. And who am I, really, to turn my nose up at a book about knocking the gods down a few pegs? I’ll admit it: mortals triumphing over supposed immortals is a particular favorite trope of mine because it just drips with satisfaction when done right!
Plus, in this case, it allows our protagonists to showcase their individual skills. Pippa’s ability to plan three steps ahead shines (especially thanks to her unusual second person POV, which sets up a brilliant plot device), while Adrian excels in his budding leadership skills. And Imelda, my favorite, finds her stride with ancient alchemy and a hint of magic, proving herself perhaps the smartest of them all. It’s a great way to bring former enemies together onto the same side, and it came with some deeply satisfying character victories.
Pacing, though, suffers during the war.
Not patience, mind you. Pacing. It’s the major fault of Blood Sworn, and the reason I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Ashlords. The Races were fast. They were angry and twisty, and the outcome was uncertain until the very last second. And even more than that, they defied all expectations, never letting the reader grow too comfortable in their assumptions. The breakneck pace suited the story, and made for a roaring ride.
Without the Races, though, speed suffers. The plot takes far too long to set up, or even to wind down. Sure, I think most of the scenes feel pretty critical to the plot, and cutting them would make a mess, but I can’t help but wonder if there might have been ways to tighten it all up. Ages spent watching Pippa fake her way through the treacherous Ashlord leadership weren’t especially interesting, not when I wanted to know what she was actually planning. Or it’s another battle for Adrian Ford, one that doesn’t really bring us closer to a resolution just yet, even though it teaches him a valuable lesson.
The ending was a particular sort of strain because of this. As fascinated as I was to see a book actually tackle the topic of reparations for long-standing systems of violence, it dragged. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to see what happened to these characters who finally stood together when it mattered at last. What I didn’t want was a slow motion walkthrough of the changes unfurling.
And perhaps of less weighty significance, though irritating to me, was the amount of time it took Imelda and Bastian to fall in love. I get that the book happens over quite some time, but Imelda seems to me like the kind of girl whose affection absolutely must be earned, and Bastian…just wasn’t around a lot to earn it? Cool, he’s a rebel leader and he’s at least a little suave. But to say on page she’s in love with him already? Wow, okay, maybe cool your jets a little. Or a lot.
Some people will love how this story ends, and some people are going to walk away disappointed.
That’s true of every book, but it always feels the most true about books I give a middling rating to. Blood Sworn isn’t bad. In fact, it’s an awesome concept with cool characters, neat tropes, and even some plot approaches that pleasantly surprised me. But it also suffering from atrocious, frustrating pacing that I couldn’t overlook, especially in the wake of Ashlords.
If it’s on your TBR and there to stay, though, good news! It’s out tomorrow, February 16th, so you don’t have to wait long to find out how Imelda, Adrian, and Pippa square off with the powers that be! And yes, there are still some pretty cool phoenix horses, including some new variants any fan of Ashlords will be thrilled to see. 🐎🔥
CW: violence, suicide, loss of a loved one, nudity, body horror, slavery, gore