Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Blood of Requiem (Requiem Fire I) by Daniel Arenson

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When I like an author, I read books by that author. Sound like a simple statement? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have a review blog to run. There are many books out there, by many different talented (and some not-so talented) writers, and you want to believe that, as a reader, they each deserve equal time under your eyes.

Well, the truth is, I have my favorite authors, but sometimes I feel the need to push aside the books these fine scribes send me in order to give everyone a fair shake. Yet there are also instances when doing so is a detriment to the book I choose to read, because from the moment of that decision onward, that book will be compared – perhaps unfairly – to the one I postponed.

This is why when Daniel Arenson, one of those aforementioned “favorite authors”, asked me to beta read his new book, Blood of Requiem, I gladly set everything else down and picked it up. He needed it finished by a certain date, you see, which took the decision of what to read next completely out of my hands.

I’m SO glad I did.

Blood of Requiem is the sad tale of the Vir Requis, a race of humans with the magical ability to become dragons. Sounds interesting already, right? And it is. At the very start of the book, we’re introduced to the fact that the Vir Requis are on their last legs. They’ve been hunted to virtual extinction, and they make one final stand against an army that far outnumbers them. The Requis are killed off, one-by-one, leaving seemingly only one survivor – Benedictus, the king of his people. Their home, the land of Requiem, is left in ashes.

From there, the story jumps into the future, where Dies Irae, the leader of the army of griffin-riders who destroyed the dragons, continues his reign of terror. It seems that there is another survivor of the Vir Requis genocide – a boy named Kyrie, now a teenager, who was rescued from the battlefield, injured and dying, by Mirum, a kind woman whose family was slaughtered by Irae and their land taken. Kyrie has grown up living in fear while locked away in a tower, hidden from sight. On only rare occasions does he brave the world and spread his wings, but it is because of one of these voyages outside that his reality – and safety – is shattered.

Dies Irae discovers him and seeks him out, and Kyrie is forced to flee. He traipses across the land in search of Benedictus, who most have written off as dead.

Kyrie eventually finds Benedictus, finds out that the old king’s wife and daughter are still alive, and together the four of them flee the searching Griffin hoard. There is great tension here, including a kidnapping and a search for the “true dragons” embarked upon by Kyrie and Benedictus’s daughter, Agnus Dei. The imagery is fantastic, the world the author built is wonderful and full of strange, dark forces, and the Salvanae, the “true dragons”, are a wondrous sight to behold. It all adds up to become a magnificently subtle world, with shades of Martin’s bleakness and Pratchett’s ingenuity.

But once more, with Arenson’s work (and the work of the other authors I admire), it is the premise that quivers just beneath the surface of the tale that brings it to life, battle scenes and melodrama be damned, and it all centers around the principal villain of the story, one Dies Irae.

You see, it turns out that Irae was born into Vir Requis royalty. He was Benedictus’s older brother, the rightful heir of their father the king’s throne. Yet the unfortunate Irae was born at a disadvantage – the magics that allowed the Vir Requis to take wing and fly were absent in him. He was abandoned by his father, left to live his life as a joke passed down upon their family. Stripped of his birthright and constantly told how worthless he was, of course Irae grew up to be a damaged person. Even the only one who loved him – Benedictus, his younger brother – treats him with a certain amount of pity rather than true love, as if he’s a charity case, not blood. He sees everything his brother has been handed, from the throne to his future wife, and despises the “Poor guy” attitude his admittedly supercilious brother displays.

Taking this into account, is it any wonder that Irae turned out to be such an asshole?

In other words, even though this novel does have a hero, in a twist that I appreciated greatly, there are really no true heroes to be found. All are tainted, either by pain or anger or despair. The great enemy that Kyrie, Benedictus, Lacrimosa (Ben’s wife), and Agnus Dei are fleeing from is a monster of their own creation, or at least the creation of their people. This is a pertinent aspect of storytelling for today’s world, especially those in the States, what with virtually every enemy the U.S. now faces being individuals who we nurtured and helped bring to power. Now, I’m not saying the author is making any judgments on this particular facet, just saying that he recognizes it exists. And that makes what the story brings to the table that much more important.

But even greater than this is the theme of hate spread through lies and fear. It’s everywhere in the book – the people of the land hate the Vir Requis because of the lies they’ve been told, just as Gloriae (the daughter of Benedictus, kidnapped by Dies Irae as a young child and raised as his own) is. This is such a heartbreaking development, and one that Arenson milks for all it’s worth from all angles, from the parents to the kidnapper to the child, herself, who has grown up with this hate imprinted on her soul and wears it like a badge of honor. And then there is Dies Irae, who honestly believes that his quest is justified and good because he’s convinced himself, through his own lies and deceit, that it is so. I’d go on about how much this line of thinking means in modern society, but I don’t think you have to look too far to see examples sprout up all around us. They’re everywhere, from the Middle East to fundamentalist churches to backwater towns and so many other places. It’s frightening, it’s disheartening, and it’s real, which gives the book that much more potency.

Blood of Requiem is an outstanding first book in a series, and by the end, when both the heroes and villains have been put through the absolute ringer, we see how much farther this story has to go to reach its conclusion. Sure, there is a major victory won, but that victory does not come without a dire price.

In all, this is a fantastic book that I couldn’t put down, and I can’t wait for the second volume to be released, because with all the loose threads, both emotional and dealing with the plot, that Arenson has left hanging, I know the intensity of the tale will only heighten. This is a special book with an original premise and a dark and gritty storyline, a book that will excite you and make you feel something.

And that, folks, is what it’s all about.

(Note to say that as a beta reader, I find it unfair to post my usual rating breakdown, so I’m simply going to give Blood of Requiem 4.5 stars. And it deserves it.)

Purchase Blood of Requiem in ebook format:

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