Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: "Bloodrush" by Ben Galley

If it’s accomplished nothing else, Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off has certainly gone a long way toward changing the way that I view self-published books. I used to have a strong rule against accepting them, along with a snarky comment in my submission guidelines (Trust me, it was for good reason). But as I make my way through the finalists of the competition, I’m finding some truly deserving books. The latest being Ben Galley’s “Bloodrush,” which finished second with an overall 7.75 out of 10.

I truly think that the Old West milieu is underused in fantasy. I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned, hard-nosed gunslinger protagonist – Stephen King’s Roland Deschain, David Gemmell’s Jon Shannow. There just aren’t enough of them.

So, the setting and cowboy cover of “Bloodrush” alone were enough to get me interested, but Galley delivers so much more.

The book tells the story of Tonmerion Hark, a young English lord in an 1860s world that’s not all that different from our own – at least at first blush. Merion, as his friends and family call him, is much what you’d expect from a pampered lordling, until tragedy strikes and his father is murdered. The 13-year-old Merion expects to inherit his father’s estate and lead the search for his killer. Instead, the will stipulates that he travel to America to live with an aunt that he doesn’t know until his 18th birthday, when he’ll receive his inheritance.

The aunt, Lilain, serves as the undertaker in the small railroad town of Fell Falls, Wyoming. It’s a rough and dangerous place on the fringe of civilization, and Merion, with the help of his aunt, his faerie friend Rhin, and a strange prospector nicknamed Lurker, will have to learn a lot about himself in a hurry to survive.

Galley’s world definitely has its parallels with our own at the time. Certainly there were greedy rail barons who wanted to push their railroads through the wilderness at any cost. The Shohari, a strange people trying to protect the land they’ve always called home, are cut from much the same cloth as historical Native Americans. But it’s the differences that make his Old West setting stand out.

I was immediately fascinated by the railwraiths, which attack the crews in the desert – violent spirits who rip up the tracks as they’re laid down and use them to form monstrous bodies. I’d love to learn more about these creatures and hope that we do in future volumes.

Then there’s the magic system, which offers so many possibilities. I don’t want to say too much about it here because that would ruin a bit of the revelation in the book, but it had my mind reeling with the implications and possibilities. There’s also the bonus of an absolutely fantastic magical battle late in the story that put me on the edge of the seat and pushed the whole book over into “wow” territory for me.

Of course, none of that works quite so well without the characters, and Galley has those, too. At the beginning, we feel for Merion because of the death of his father, but he’s not very likeable. Even at the end, to be honest, there are moments when you’d like to smack him in the head, but despite that, he’s grown into a formidable protagonist. Secrets are revealed about all of Merion’s companions during the course of the story, some fairly shocking, and could the mysterious Lurker turn out to be that Jon Shannow-type character that I’m looking for? Or for that matter, could Merion? I can’t wait to see.

“Bloodrush” delivers one of those tantalizing beginnings that leaves you speculating about what’s to come and how the characters may develop. It’s a great book in its own right, but after finishing it, it somehow seems that we’ve only just scratched the surface of Tonmerion’s story.

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