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Covenant of Blood begins with the quote “This one is for the boys. It’s a little for the girls too, a little bit, but mostly it’s for the boys”. That’s an excellent overall summary of the book. It is an epic adventure of battles and politics, heavily weighted toward the battles. Note, however, boys means adolescent boys, not children. I would not suggest this for an 8-year who is enchanted by King Arthur stories. Saying this another way, if this was a movie, it would have an R-rating. Disclaimer: I received a free digital ARC for this novel. However, both the decision to post a review and the contents of the review are voluntary and my own alone. The book cycles between the viewpoints of four major characters. Goraric, Lord Riva, Bene, and Rosairus. Goraric is a Sarisinian soldier (but with Ahren ancestry) who can see the power of the witches. The story opens as he meets (and is ensorcelled by) the witch Malyred. On the way home from this encounter, he meets a group of soldiers who have burned his home, killed his clan and taken several young girls for light entertainment” – before they are killed of course. This will set the course of his actions for the remainder of the book. Lord Riva is Sarasinian and the second-in-command to Virgilio, the “Old Lion”, and his job is to expand the northern frontier using the best armies in the world. For a change of pace, Bene is an academic on field study in eastern Renderos, seeking witches and their powerful artifacts. Finally, Rosarius is a cadet (or something like a cadet anyway) at the elite military school, the Bastion, in Sarasinia. Overall, the story revolves around the relationship between these individuals and the powerful witch Malyred. For things I liked? The author is unusually adept at writing battle scenes. They just come alive, with a vividness and authenticity that is unusual for fantasy. While I had actually never thought about this until I read this book, most fantasy stories are quite sterile about their descriptions of battles. Yes, heads are chopped off, and the like – but there is a certain remoteness. Not this one. You can smell the excrement, taste the blood, and hear the screams of the dying. Think of the movie “Blackhawk Down” (or perhaps the first two minutes of “Saving Private Ryan”) but with unusually good descriptions of taste and smell, and you’re getting the idea. It is uncommon for a book to come across more vividly than a movie for battle scenes, but this one succeeds. The author manages to sneak in some parody here and there. Probably the best example is chapter 15, with the parody of a management training class. The author has set up a scene where two disreputable sycophants (Dannis and Tavaris) have acquired the job of teaching a management training class at the military school “The Bastion”. While the idea of parodying a management class by placing it in the context of a class given to barbarian soldiers is not something that would have occurred to me, it turns out to be hysterically funny. The author gets some good jabs at various “management training school” concepts, ranging from “mission statements” to “safe spaces”. While the author didn’t go so far as to have the military cadets build chains out of paper (or similar team-building exercises common to management training classes) there was enough fabulous parody to keep any survivor of a management training class chuckling. The plot has a unique “undead” component. Quite frankly, for the last few years, there have been a surfeit of books about the undead (vampires and so on). However (avoiding spoilers on this!) this book takes a unique and interesting approach to this generally well-traveled road, and readers are likely to appreciate a new perspective on this old topic. For things that I felt were less successful The plot is slow-moving and difficult to follow. Now some of this is excusable, as the author’s vivid writing style is distracting, and it is easy to lose the plot amidst all the details of the battle scenes. However, this is one of those books that, when you reach the end, it is challenging to summarize the high-level plot in a few sentences. The language is coarse. Quite a bit of this coarseness is valid and in context, as the author is describing barbarian soldiers in a harsh and unforgiving world, who would appropriately use coarse language. That being said, my sense was that the coarse language was over-emphasized. In particular, the sections with Bene were not noticeably more refined than the sections with the soldiers, and that seemed out-of-context with academic “research project” nature of that part of the story.

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