The Dark Blood (The Long War) by AJ Smith

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The Dark Blood (The Long War) by AJ Smith

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Book 2 of The Chronicles of the Long War is even better than the first for we multiple-pov lovers. The stronger characters take over the tale of a world ruled by evil sorceresses making it bloody, swearful and utterly compelling.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Head of Zeus
ISBN: 978-1781852262

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The lands of Ro are slowly being subjugated by the evil sorceresses known as The Seven Sisters. Their only hope is to kill them and only one man is up to the task: the Dark Blood assassin, Rham Jas. He chooses master forger and fixer Kale as his assistant but, as this will reduce Kale's life expectancy markedly, Kale's not keen. Meanwhile Utha, albino Black Order cleric, his squire Randall, axe maiden Halla Summer Wolf, Timon the Butcher et al are dragged into a bloody conflict during which they have to fight for more than just their own survival.

This review contains spoilers for the first novel, so please read that first… Warning ends…

This is the second of British author and secondary educator AJ Smith's Chronicles of the Long War. The first, The Black Guard, had been in the making for 12 years and in some places it showed as a lifetime of planning and influences had been combined into a cast of thousands. (Well, nearly a hundred anyway!) Here in The Dark Blood he's refined his approach and the result is something wonderfully throat-grabbing.

The format is the same in that it's two books in one cover with individually viewed chapters across ten characters. There are some among the number of we fantasy fiction groupies who don't like reading across that many povs. For me it depends on the characters that are pov-ing.

I'm sure it's nothing I said, but AJ has successfully side-lined the people I couldn't get on with last time. For instance the outcast royal twins Brom and Bron are relegated to comparatively supporting roles (including a wonderfully gigglish bedroom scene for Bron). This leaves compelling characters centre stage, fleshed out and raring to go.

Ram and Kale are turning into the Butch and Sundance of murder. Their relationship is on shifting sands but Ro depends on Ram and, whether either conspirator likes it or not, Ram depends on Kale. Meanwhile, Algenon Teardrop (prime contender for the most unlikely named literary hero) is no longer with us but he has a son. Alahan is different from his father, and not just because he has a more heroic name; according to everyone else he's not as good as Dad. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before he does something to fix that perception!

Back at the Dokkalfar (the non-human, non-undead tree people), the wonderful Nanon eagerly adopts human customs but hasn't quite got the knack yet. He also needs to develop a bit of tact and diplomacy.

I'm running out of word limit and still have so much to rave about so, in précis: Dry-humoured Utha and Randall leave equal levels of blood and entertainment in their wake. Dalian the Thief Taker is after Ram but not in the way you'd think. Saara, one seventh of the Sisters and Mistress of Pain, continues to be gloriously nasty. Oh yes, prepare to devour, chew nails and smirk with gusto. Smirk? Yup:

Can you use that axe?
I used it to chop down a tree once…
Was it an aggressive tree?

The gore is in context, the swearing is as well-timed as it is frequent (sorry Mum Smith – I've been won over!), the religious warring has real-world parallels. It seems like the limits of my enthusiasm are only dictated by your boredom threshold so perhaps I should just sum it all up in a sentence...

If you only read one H P Lovecraft/Tolkien/Middle Ages/Spanish Inquisition/Borgia-esque/Viking inspired fantasy series this year, AJ Smith is definitely your go-to guy.

(Thank you so much to the good people at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals and you've already read the first book first (if you know what I mean), we also definitely recommend Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford or, if you prefer your bloody fantasy with an oriental flavour, the equally superlative Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.

A J Smith's The Long War Novels in Chronological Order

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Buy The Dark Blood (The Long War) by AJ Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Dark Blood (The Long War) by AJ Smith at


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