Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

The Blood of Whisperers is Aussie author Devin Madson's début novel. I have to admit I was ever so slightly hesitant going into a book by a new author and a new publishing house, but  I need not have been concerned. The Blood of Whisperers absolutely lives up to the quality I have come to appreciate from the Australian speculative fiction scene. (And I have since learnt that it's production was funded by a Pozible campaign, which is a risk for a début, but it has obviously paid off.)
They call him the Usurper.

A man of common blood sits on the throne. At his command the last emperor was executed, but now the empire is on the brink of war.
Vengeance is coming.

Endymion is an Empath. He was born with the ability to feel another’s emotions and reach inside their hearts for their deepest secrets. Often despised, he lives a nomadic existence, but when he finds himself imprisoned for sorcery and facing death, it is his past that will condemn him. Born Prince Takehiko Otako, the only surviving son of the True Emperor, Endymion is already caught in the brewing storm. Fast losing control of his Empathy, he seeks revenge against the man who betrayed him, but for Endymion the truth will come too late.

The fight for the Crimson Throne has begun.
In case you missed it from the blurb, this is a Japanese-flavoured/inspired fantasy world. (But not actually historical Japan.)

There are three point of view characters in The Blood of Whisperers and all three's perspectives are told in first person. It was only confusing for the first paragraph of chapter two, when the first perspective shift happened. Then I realised that the symbols at the start of each chapter indicated which character it was about. Mind you, I didn't memorise the symbols until well into the book; the voices were distinct enough to generally make it obvious who was telling the story.

Endymion is the first character we meet and possibly my least favourite of the three. I didn't actively dislike him, and he wasn't a bad character, but I did feel least invested in his plight. I suspect he will become more pivotal in later books, especially given the ending. Endymion has feared magic powers and was raised by a priest who never told him his true identity (which I now realise is revealed in the blurb). For the most part it is his magical ability that gets him into trouble and sets him on the paths he follows. Up until the ending, he didn't have an awful lot of control over his destiny, which I suspect is partly to blame for my lukewarm reaction to him.

The other two characters were much more interesting. Hana is the daughter of a previous Emperor and in many ways has the most legitimate claim to the throne. We first meet her masquerading as a male captain in the rebel army, fighting alongside her cousin, Monarch, who wants to take the throne for himself. One of Hana's defining characteristics is hating her femaleness, which quickly became understandable, given the way women were treated in the society. (That is, poorly. Shock, horror.) She was definitely my favourite character, although I did wish that there were more female characters around to offset her hate of femininity. The only other two named female characters are on the page briefly and I fear that one might not appear in the sequel (just guessing).

Finally there's Darius Laroth, the Emperor's right-hand man. Feared by most because of how well he's learnt to school his face, we quickly find out that Darius has many secrets, including from the Emperor. I think I enjoyed reading about Darius the most (although I was more invested in Hana). Some of his secrets take the longest to come to the forefront and for a lot the book he is balancing on a knife-edge. His close relationship with Emperor Kin is also the primary way we get to know the Emperor. He's also the only character that doesn't want to usurp Kin, which makes a nice change.

The Blood of Whisperers is primarily a story about vengeance. Almost everyone wants revenge, and will stop at nothing to get it. At the back of the book, Madson says that the inspiration for the book came from two sayings, one Confucian and one a Chinese proverb:
‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’
‘When two tigers fight one walks away terribly wounded, the other is dead.’
And it's clear to me as a reader, that the way the story is going, vengeance isn't going to go particularly well for anyone. I'm looking forward to finding out just how everything falls apart in the subsequent books and whether anything can be salvaged.

The Blood of Whisperers was an enjoyable read. It took me a little while to become truly invested in the characters, but once I did it became difficult to put down. I would recommend it to fans of Japanese/Asian-flavoured fantasy or anyone who enjoys stories about rebels and political machinations (although I wouldn't say it's heavy on political intrigue per se). I am looking forward to reading the next book which is apparently due out in December, so not a long wait at all (yay).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2013, Cloudburst Publishing  
Series: Yes. The Vengeance Trilogy book 1 of (duh) 3.
Format read: E-review copy (paperback available here, ebooks here)
Source: Publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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