BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The titular Daughter of Blood, Myrathis of the House of Blood, comes into her own even as series protagonists Malian and Kalan strive against the rising Swarm threat.
PROS: Wonderful characters, use of language, and themes.
CONS: The deepness and richness of the world makes the glossary and map a necessity rather than a bonus; main characters are offstage perhaps a bit too much.
BOTTOM LINE: A welcome return to the world of Haarth.
Haarth: A complex and lovingly detailed epic fantasy world where questions of loyalty, honor, friendship, and sacrifice are all explored. From the cities of the River and the hot kingdoms even further south, to the main focus of the novel, the mountainous Wall of the north and the extradimensional threat of the Swarm lurking beyond it, the world of Haarth is one of adventure and excitement, populated by memorable characters that leap from the page. Daughter of Blood is the third novel in the Wall of Night series by Helen Lowe.
With the Wall-watching Houses of the Derai fragmented, quarreling and a shadow of their former self, The Swarm is rising, planning to break through the defenses of the Wall and overrun the world of Haarth. Too, the Darksworn, former Houses of the Derai, seek their own return to prominence. Malian, the Heir of the Derai House of Night, and her companion the former priestly novice Kalan face new challenges in countering the growing threat. Derisively called the Mouse, Myrathis, the titular Daughter of Blood, is ill at ease within the very martial Derai House that she is born into. However, her choices and decisions will be crucial to the events in this installment.
The joys of Daughter of Blood, and of the author’s writing, go far beyond the fundamentals of crackerjack plotting. There are things that I’ve come to expect from Helen Lowe’s epic fantasy novels, having now read all three books in the Wall of Night series. I expect questions of honor, loyalty, friendship and duty to be raised, sometimes with no easy answers at hand. Whether it’s the life of a dockside kid or the machinations of a ruling family, these issues are intensely explored by giving characters real dilemmas and conflicted agendas to work through. Daughter of Blood is no exception.
Once again, as it was in The Gathering of the Lost, new characters are introduced into the mix. While the main thrust of the entire series is Malian’s and Kalan’s intertwined stories, there are many new stories to be enjoyed. Daughter of Blood, right from the start, with its titular character, is more than willing to trust readers of the series to follow a brand new protagonist, pushing Malian and Kalan into the background a bit to start with. This is an effective strategy that helps reorient characters to the world. The fact that Myrathis is a strongly defined character with a core archetype makes her an extremely appealing and well-drawn character. I do think, though, that she sometimes overwhelms the series protagonists themselves given how strongly she was drawn. It is clear that three books into the series, the author has improved her craft in introducing new characters and quickly endearing them to the reader with their strengths, flaws and virtues. Myrathis’ characterization benefits from her gained experience.
Action-wise, there is once again a “base siege” set piece in the novel, but to reveal the details of how and why would be extremely spoilery. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Lowe likes the form and structure of protagonists being caught in positions where they are defending against terrible foes with long odds. The author’s skill at poetry has also given her a command of dialogue and description that once again translates quite well into the prose of her novels; the language of the novel has a declaratory feel. One could imagine, in another world, a storyteller enchanting an audience by reading passages from the book. From seaport cities to the frightening siege mentioned above, from the quiet intensity of Myrathis to the otherworldly strivings of Malian, it is the author’s use of language that kept me turning pages.
One disadvantage to reading this book in eBook format is that I was not aware of the rich and extremely useful glossary at the back of the book. Many times I had to reach for recollection for a particular piece of lore or character, only to ultimately have the questions I couldn’t initially figure out be answered at the end. Without such an aid being up front, the rich tapestry of Haarth, which has a long and interesting history, can be a challenge for readers who haven’t recently read the preceding volumes. I wouldn’t mind a Concordance of Lowe’s world someday, once the series is complete. As it stands, Daughter of Blood is a fine, solid entry and I look forward to the fourth and final volume.