Sunday, June 15, 2008

Queen Of Blood

WARNING: For anyone who has not read House of Blood, the following review of Queen of Blood will give away most of the ending. If you are planning to read HoB (and you should), you should skip this.

One of the things you look for in a writer, at least during his early career, is how his technique grows and develops over his first few books. Few writers spring fully-formed from the brow of their muse. This sort of growth was something I was curious about when I began Queen of Blood. House of Blood, Bryan Smith’s first published novel, was so good, I wasn’t sure he could improve that much. I’m happy to report that Smith does seem to have improved, and Queen of Blood, his fourth novel, is even better than the excellent House of Blood.

The story takes up a few months after the events in HoB. The Master is dead, his kingdom destroyed. The few survivors of his reign of terror are trying, in various ways, to put their lives back together. Ms. Wickman, The Master’s sadistic apprentice, escaped the destruction, and is using what she learned to construct a new kingdom. One of her goals is to track down and punish those involved in the overthrow of The Master. Dream Weaver, Chad, Giselle and “Lazarus” will all be drawn back into the fight. A major new organization will also emerge, the mysterious Order of the Dragon. Once again, sacrifices will be made, and lives will be destroyed, in the struggle against evil. As with the first book, it is a non-stop thrill ride.

One of the things I most appreciated about Smith’s approach to this book is how each of the returning characters has been changed by the events they have endured, some of them for the worst. This seems very realistic, as traumatic experiences do tend to have lasting psychological effect, although many authors ignore this. Smith also refuses to play favorites among his characters. It is a cliché of horror that you can tell who will live and who will die from a cast of characters at the beginning of the story, but in Bryan Smith’s world, no one is safe, as any character, no matter how well-liked, can meet their doom at any moment. Or, even more surprisingly, can be induced to switch sides.

As for as stylistic changes, they are all for the better. I thought Smith showed a more confident hand in dealing with the story, and did a better job of focusing the plotlines toward a common end in this than in the first volume (although I didn’t think HoB had any major problems). It is always difficult to extract sales numbers from publishers, but the scuttlebutt is Queen of Blood is flying off the shelves. Bryan Smith seems poised for a major career explosion, and if you want to be trendy, read him now, before he becomes a household name.

Incidentally, although Queen of Blood has a definite conclusion, there is plenty of room for a third volume in the same series. You can count me as someone who is eager to read it.

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