The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick

January 29, 2015

Please note The Boy Who Wept Blood is a sequel to The Boy With The Porcelain Blade and it is highly likely that if you haven’t read that first book then this review will contain something akin to spoilers. Be warned!   

Ten years have passed since the disappearance of Lucien and his protégé, the young swordsman Dino, is struggling to live up to Lucien’s legacy. Sworn to protect the silent queen Anea as she struggles to bring a new democracy to Demesne, Dino finds himself drawn into a deadly game of political intrigue as the aristocratic families of Landfall conspire to protect their privilege. Always ready to prove himself as a swordsman Dino is anguished to discover that in order to fulfil his vow he must become both spy and assassin.

And all the while the dark secret at the heart of Demesne is growing towards fulfilment.

The King is dead, long live the Queen! Ten years have passed since the events in The Boy With The Porcelain Blade, and Demense is now ruled by Anea. She has promised to replace the old regime with a fairer society, hoping to ultimately create a republic where there is less of a gap between the classes. Everything should be happy endings and golden sunsets, but sadly that is not the case. There is still something rotten in the state of Landfall, and it has fallen to Dino to uncover the depth of this conspiracy.

I think I’ve warmed to Dino far more than I ever did with Lucien. The internal conflict that plagues Dino makes him feel that much more fleshed out and better realised as a character. Heroes are all well and good, but a flawed hero, one beset with doubts and inner turmoil is the literary equivalent of crack for me. Though a decade has passed, Dino is still just a young man. He is still trying to understand where he fits in the world, at times his feelings of uncertainty feel palpable. The plot allows for time to explore this part of his journey and I think it makes for a better story because of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Boy With The Porcelain Blade a great deal, but The Boy Who Wept Blood is better. When I’m reading a book I want to get caught up in the story, I want to see characters grow within the confines of the narrative. The relationships between Dino, his friends and also his enemies are so well executed. The reactions that characters have to events is a perfect example of this. Capturing the delicate subtleties of genuine emotion in fiction seems to me to be the trickiest of tasks but damn him, Den Patrick makes it looks easy. There is a standout moment where a terrible event occurs, and tonally it’s bang on the money. The character interplay and emotional fallout from this one scene are pitched perfectly. I think I may have even gasped out loud. Take it from me, it’s impressive stuff whenever a writer manages to make me exclaim aloud.

Elsewhere, I found the evolution of the relationship between Dino and Anea particularly interesting. They have grown up together, but circumstance and duty have forced them down two entirely different roads. Watching how their attitudes and interactions with one another develop and change makes for riveting reading, made all the more impressive by the fact that Anea never utters a word.

Though Patrick gives the reader plenty to ponder when it comes to his characters, their motivations and their various schemes; don’t be fooled. This isn’t an entirely cerebral affair. There are plenty of action scenes and more sword fights than you could shake a sharp pointy stick at. I envisaged this book, and its predecessor, to have an air of the Musketeers about it. More fantastical in nature, but with lots of swashbuckling action to enjoy and plenty of political machinations to go along with them.

The old axiom power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely couldn’t be more appropriate when it comes to Landfall. The lords and ladies are a pretty corrupt bunch and they continue to try and out flank one another to gain political favour at every turn. Loathsome as they may be they are fascinating to watch. Like a never ending game of chess there is move and counter move, feint and counter feint. Some characters fall to the lure of power and it’s trapping while others make good their escape. Finally the shadowy power that has been working behind the scenes makes their presence known.  In the midst of this all this skulduggery and backstabbing, Dino must try not only to survive but also to retain his humanity.

There is something wonderfully evocative about Landfall and more specifically Demense. Using his descriptive mojo Patrick paints an opulent tapestry to describe the lush surroundings. Grand rooms and exotic fashions help to bring the locations and characters to life.  It also deftly highlights the social injustices that exist within this corrupted society. Those who are born into one of the ruling families are blessed with a lavish lifestyle while the common folk have to work hard for everything they own. The discrepancies between the two are noticeable the further into the tale you read. I always enjoy when an author takes an opportunity like this to consider every facet of a world they have built.

The book ends on a bittersweet note that sets things up for what I expect to be a truly memorable finale in book three. With this novel, Patrick firmly establishes his well-deserved place as part of new breed of UK based fantasy authors. If he keeps on producing output like this it won’t be long before reviewers will be using terms like ‘unmissable’ and ‘classic’ to describe his work.

The Boy Who Wept Blood is published by Gollancz and is available from 29th January. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.  I’m already looking forward to the next book series with great enthusiasm.

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