I really enjoyed Jon Sprunk’s Shadow Saga (reviewed here, here, and here), so I was thrilled recently to learn he had a new book coming out. That book is Blood and Iron, and while it’s set in the same universe as the Shadow Saga, it’s on a different continent and doesn’t have anything to do with the previous books.
It’s also quite good. Blood and Iron is the first volume of The Book of the Black Earth. As well done as the Shadow Saga was, The Book of the Black Earth promises to be even better.
The central viewpoint character is Horace Delrosa, a grieving shipbuilder who joins a crusade, only to be washed up on the beach and taken captive by the very people he came to fight. He’s also a latent sorcerer, one of the most powerful in centuries, although he doesn’t yet have the ability to control his power.
I had some minor quibbles about some things that were mostly a matter of taste. The one major concern I have for later in the series is how powerful Horace will become. He’s untrained, so that works to his disadvantage at times here. But as he masters his abilities, he’s going to become unstoppable. All other sorcerers in the book experience stigmata of some sort when they work their magic. Horace doesn’t, and there’s a duel with another sorcerer near the end of the book where he uses that to his advantage. But I have to wonder if he’s going to have any true weaknesses.
Sprunk has proven himself to be a good enough writer that I’m sure he’s got something up his sleeve. I’m willing to trust him that Horace won’t become Superman.
Other viewpoint characters include a soldier-turned-enslaved-gladiator Jirom and a royal handmaiden Alyra who is secretly a spy. These three want to overthrow the Akeshian Empire. Alyra’s mistress is queen of one of the city states in the empire. She’s another viewpoint character.
The relationship between Alyra and Horace is interesting, and I applaud Sprunk for not taking the easy way out and have them jump in the sack once they both acknowledge their feelings for each other. Rather they’re both reserved and cautious, and not without some reason. This approach made their relationship much more interesting.
It’s Queen Byleth is by far the most complex character in the book. She’s ruthless, but Sprunk manages to make her sympathetic at the same time. There are some very good reasons for her ruthlessness. And while I wouldn’t characterize her as good, she’s not pure evil, either.
There was a great deal of intrigue and action in this one. That’s a good thing. The setting is interesting, the politics are convoluted, and note everyone is who they appear to be. And the Epilogue, well, it left me wanting more.
If you like good sword and sorcery with a dark strain, then pick this one up. Sprunk is maturing as a writer, and this is his darkest, most compelling work yet.