Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon

April 19, 2018

In the great kingdom of Quandis, everyone is a slave. Some are slaves to the gods. Most are slaves to everyone else.

Blessed by the gods with lives of comfort and splendor, the royal elite routinely perform their duties, yet some chafe at their role. A young woman of stunning ambition, Princess Phela refuses to allow a few obstacles—including her mother the queen and her brother, the heir apparent—stand in the way of claiming ultimate power and glory for herself.

Far below the royals are the Bajuman. Poor and oppressed, members of this wretched caste have but two paths out of servitude: the priesthood . . . or death.

Because magic has been kept at bay in Quandis, royals and Bajuman have lived together in an uneasy peace for centuries. But Princess Phela’s desire for power will disrupt the realm’s order, setting into motion a series of events that will end with her becoming a goddess in her own right . . . or ultimately destroying Quandis and all its inhabitants.

The kingdom of Quandis is built on tradition. A single religion, worshipping a group of deities known as the Four, is all that is tolerated. Atheists are viewed with suspicion and other religions are considered out and out blasphemy.  The other tradition in Quandis is slavery. The Bajuman are all but invisible. They are treated like beasts of burden and expected to blindly obey every command. There is change in the air however. While the royal family squabble over the crown, slaves dream of freedom, and seeds of revolution are sown.

Initially, Princess Phela appears quite a positive force. She is inquisitive and keen to learn. Since birth, she has been constantly reminded that the blood of the Four runs in her veins and this mantra has left a mark. As her character evolves, it becomes evident that she is being consumed by the lure of power, both political and magical. Her reasoning is that if she is of the Four, then she has the inalienable right to rule; the right of succession is just a technicality. Nothing else matters to Phela but the crown and her quest to unlock the secrets of magic.

Elsewhere, Blane is a lowly Bajuman. Though he is now training to be a priest, he is still looked down upon by many. Blane’s strangely coloured eyes, a Bajuman trait, and his slave brand single him out. He will always be ostracised based on an accident of birth. Blane appears to wholeheartedly embrace his faith, but deep inside he has different ideas. The Four are an anathema to him. They symbolise everything that is wrong with society. How can they be a divine force, but allow slavery to continue? Like Phela, he is driven by purpose, but he yearns for freedom for his people rather than control of a kingdom.

There is a duality between these two main characters, their experiences almost mirror one another. I like how Phela and Blane can be viewed as differing sides of the same coin.  They are both possessed by that sheer force of will that pushes them ever onwards. Both characters have a goal and are entirely focussed upon it. A meeting between the two is inevitable.

Religion, politics and familial relationships blend together to create an adventure that manages to be both huge in scope but also intimate in nature. Blane’s journey from slave to novice and onwards is particularly personal. It’s another perfectly executed counterpoint in the narrative1. Events aren’t just shaping a nation, they are reshaping individual’s lives. Blane experiences these changes at a most fundamental level. The fact we get to witness both levels of this story set it far above traditional fantasy fare.

I’m a fan of both Christopher Golden (Ararat and Snowblind are both excellent) and Tim Lebbon (Check out The Silence, Relics and Coldbrook are all brilliant). Whenever I read a collaboration between two authors I find myself insanely curious about the process. How does it work? How long does it take? What happens if there are arguments?2 Two authors using a single voice to tell a story sounds like a tricky task, but Golden and Lebbon make it look easy. The kingdom of Quandis is well realised, the characters are engaging, and the plot contains more than enough unexpected moments to keep any reader entertained. So, what do you get when you bring two skilled authors together and they write a book? The answer is simple, something rather wonderful.

As an aside, there are so many mammoth ongoing fantasy series out there, a standalone novel feels quite refreshing.

My soundtrack recommendation for Blood of the Four is an album called Endless Legend by FlyByNo. It has a suitably fantastical vibe that works well with the text. I’m firmly of the opinion that if you’re reading epic fantasy you need epic music to accompany it.

Blood of the Four is published by Harper Voyager and is available now.

1 It’s almost as if two people have written this.

2 Is it settled by a duel? That would be awesome. Not to the death though, that would be terrible.

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