The Blood War Trilogy is a grimdark epic fantasy series by Tim Marquitz (Demon Squad, Dirge), which follows the events of a multi-faction war which is sparked by the sudden acquistion of numerous powerful magical weapons by hostile belligerent nations. It follows numerous heroes, cynical and idealistic, as they struggle to deal with the massive events going on around them.
I loved the original Dawn of War (reviewed here) and was very impressed with its depiction of nobles, commoners, healers, soldiers, killers, and monsters spread across several fantasy nations. I, especially, liked the Grol who were a thoroughly despicable antagonist. While they might have been werewolf-orcs, they were werewolf-orcs and that is inherently awesome. I also enjoyed lead character Arrin's emotional arc and his discovery that, no, true love doesn't always prevail. So, I was eager to read the follow-up novels.
The premise of this novel opens with the refugees from the destroyed nation of Lathah journeying to their allies in the Pathrah. As long as the Grol possess the O’hra magical devices, it's only a matter of time before they exterminate all of humanity. Their only hope is to journey to the land of the Sha'Ree and gain their own weapons to be able to fight on even terms.
This is complicated by the fact Prince Olenn has decided to make a secret peace with the Grol as well as visiting the Sha'Ree's lands requires crossing a monster-filled desert. We also get further insight into the non-Grol threats which are becoming ever more dangerous. This is a very complex, well-written novel which has numerous subplots weaving in and out of the main plot as the story progresses.
As before, I find the story of Arrin the exiled Captain of Lathah to be the most interesting character in the story. I like how he struggles with the fact that he spent fifteen years pining for his lost love, Malya, only to discover she'd moved on to marry and have two children with another man. The intensity of his feelings makes him bitter and resentful when he knows, intellectually, these are irrational and stupid emotions. He also has become violently obsessed with the child he thinks died in Lathah, despite never having met them. It leads him down a dark road, one where he believes he must kill every last single Grol in the world--perhaps to the point of putting himself as well as his people in danger.
A fascinating character arc.
There are other storylines that intrigued me as well, such as the troubled story of Uthul the Sha'Ree who realizes his people have to change in order to survive as well as Braelyn the Sea-Captain who turns out to be a Queen. One story I loved was that of Domor who, in the face of witnessing the torture of a companion, breaks and informs the enemy of everything he knows. An action whose consequences resonate throughout the rest of the volume.
All of the stories are interesting in their own way and my only real complaint is the book could have taken more time explaining who everyone was from the previous book. That and I think some readers will find the destruction of the Grol a worthy goal when I find genocide to always be wrong, even against werewolf-orcs.
The book has an amazingly fun set of action scenes, excellent world-building, strong characters, and vividly realized environments. Tim Marquitz avoids bogging the narrative down with exposition but you can tell he has an entire world's worth of history rattling around his head for this setting. This is the kind of setting which is extremely gameable and I regret there's not a Tabletop RPG or sourcebook for it.
In conclusion, this is a great book and one I heartily recommend. If you like epic fantasy, grimdark, or even regular fantasy then you're bound to like it. It's also absurdly cheap at less than five dollars.
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