Recommended for: nostalgic fantasy fans everywhere.
DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary e-copy from Storytellers on Tour, in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
There are two very specific things that will most likely capture your attention: 1.) the ridiculously talented and sought after talent of cover artists Felix Ortiz and Shawn T. King, and 2.) the premise of two brothers caught in the precarious trappings of a Chosen One, end of the world prophecy.
I rarely emphasize cover art, because judging books on a superficial basis is something I try not to do. I’m not saying I don’t. The truth is, I judge books by the cover more often than I should, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Aesthetically pleasing covers sell books. That’s not a secret. But there’s a reason that the talents of Ortiz and King are coveted by so many authors. The sheer quality of product consistently churned out by the duo never ceases to astonish me. I’m very thankful that Mark Timmony was able to acquire their talents for his debut novel, as it might not have gained the traction it has in a relatively short amount of time. It’s also a delight to gaze at.
The ebook, however, doesn’t do it justice. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the cover art until I saw Petrik Leo’s passionate reaction to the book’s majestic appearance, via his cover reveal video, which you can check out HERE:
I really wish I had a physical copy.
Regarding the synopsis, I don’t recall if I was initially skeptical of whether or not the author could execute such an admittedly used trope – a trope written about so frequently that it’s practically a cliche. Nevertheless, I’m thankful to have taken a chance with The Blood of the Spear because Mark’s a fine writer. In my opinion, he painstakingly lavished said trope with creativity and attention to detail consistently throughout its six hundred pages. He clearly put a lot of thought behind his characters and the extensive history of Athmay, which is best described as a “broken continent,” lovingly enriched with lore and myth. Timmony also enhanced the daemons themselves, thus giving his demonic creatures various appearances and mentalities, depending on the specific species encountered.
In other words, it felt very nostalgic, and I think if you’re relatively new to fantasy and you’re looking for a jumping off point, The Blood of the Spear might be the way to go. Likewise, if you’re an experienced fantasy reader who’s looking for a promising new series with likeable characters, very high stakes, and a story clearly influenced by the likes of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or numerous other high fantasy novels from the last sixty years. Unfortunately, I haven’t read enough of the genre to definitively determine if Timmony brought anything new to the proverbial table, but I’m also not implying that his book is a rehashing of his influences, either. Earnestly, I don’t think that’s reality. Rather, I think of The Blood of the Spear as the author’s homage, or love letter, to said books and the genre specifically. I think there’s enough creativity and clever elements to make his debut stand on its own.
The granite rock face rose twenty feet before them, casting the cave at its base in shadow despite the morning sunlight shifting through the conifers, firs and the white-barked, silver-leafed moonleaf trees of the Borderland Wilds.
As to be expected from fantasy, Timmony brought with it plenty of fast-paced action, adventure and intrigue. To his credit, it never felt underwhelming or overwhelming. On display was a firm sense of balance and narrative control. I thought those elements were executed well, and having the ability to tautly control any given scene were qualities fully and consistently on display here. Those aren’t skill sets that every author possesses.
But it’s not always about progression. Sometimes, a writer needs to pull back and let the characters breathe and vent. Some internal rumination isn’t just refreshing, it’s downright necessary. It was those brief slices of life scenes that particularly stood out for me. They were, in fact, some of my favorite parts of the whole novel, which is saying a lot, given just how good the rest of the book is. There was something deeply affecting about several scenes that took place, for instance, between Darien and Kaiel; Meghara and Sevaani; and amongst others, Captain Jaric Daynar and Simeon Ravenson. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if Timmony had included more of them, yet I realize that part of what made them so special was their sparseness.
The immediate entrance of the cave was black as pitch, but less than fifteen feet ahead dusty light shone down on old mining cart tracks. Clumps of cave weed grew where the wall met the floor, their white, grass-like stems ended in bulbs that glowed with a soft blue light.
The hiss of steel was the only warning Kaiel had as Rolen drew his sword.
Following a group of motley men and women (each with their own ambitions, values and morals,) it would be disingenuous to say that the characters were fully realized or that their personalities were distinctive from one another. Some of them stood out a lot. Characters like Sim and Iana the Shaluay, for example, shared the distinction of standing out as being instantly recognizable. Captain Daynar and Lihon, the legendary blademaster, stood out as well.
By contrast, the others felt too similar (though they weren’t without their own virtues and flaws,) to the point that I still found myself having to stop and think: how were they described again? Which one was the scholar and who’s the fighter? I think that, by the end of a book (especially one as long as this,) the reader should have a very clear understanding of the core set of characters. And maybe the fault there is entirely my own, as I struggle on a regular basis to concentrate. I cannot say for sure. Maybe it’s a combination of the two, in addition to its large cast. At the least, though, incorporating one very distinctive personality trait per character would have stood out significantly.
The worldbuilding was particularly impressive. In fact, it’s Timmony’s strongest element. It was completely immersive, fascinating and a little strange. Contrary to a lot of world development, he mostly relied on character dialogue to inform the reader, which is how it should be. It’s worldbuilding done right, a testament to his life-long pursuit of fantasy novels. You won’t find any info dumping here. It all came across as natural and seamless. There was just enough description to render it mysterious and vivid, without spelling everything out for the reader. That’s a quality that I respect the hell out of, and which not enough writers are implementing. In genre’s where it tends to either be descriptive overkill or entirely too vague, Timmony rides the perfect balance.
Aside from the aforementioned character distinction, the only other constructive criticisms I have concern grammatical errors. They were very minor, but things like comma splices and using semicolons instead of a comma were there, and they were just enough to temporarily pull me out of the story. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mention it, but they were sporadic factors through most of the book.
They started walking the horses down the road. Darien looked up, through the blurring canopy of swiftly moving trees, to eye the sun as it raced across the sky. It would be night before they knew it, but then he supposed that wouldn’t last particularly long either. He couldn’t comprehend the artistry of the Sahrin, to be able to craft such a thing as this White Road. Invisible to the eye, and untouched by the forest around it, moving through time like an arrow. Even if the Ciralys only held a fraction of the power that the Sahrin had wielded, he had to join them. He had to. If this thing in his head stayed quiet, and if the Ciralys of the Fifth Circle didn’t sense it within him maybe he’d be able to find a way to get rid of it himself.
He released a shuddering breath, his stomach a knot of anxiety.
That ending, though, was COLOSSAL and everything I wanted out of an already impressive novel. It wasn’t just satisfying or even extremely satisfying. Timmony took all my expectations and superseded the overall direction of the plot and subplots, while also taking some of the character arcs in places wholly unexpected. Some of them were downright shocking, though not in an inorganic or forced manner. The risks he took were genuinely admirable. I cannot stress enough how much I respect his decision not to play it safe; to essentially give the characters free rein and let the elements land where they may. As a result, I felt pulled in six different directions and I’m left wandering around Athmay, aimless and forlorn; anxiety-riddled and enthusiastic. I need Book II as soon as possible.
With such praises, it’s no wonder the author’s book was a semifinalist in the seventh annual SPFBO competition (2021.)
Meg climbed out behind Sevaani, shielding her eyes with her palm. The sun was higher in the sky, and she judged that it was no more than an hour from noon.
Behind the wagon, the street stretched east, lined with old trees set before richly appointed shopfronts, and beside it stretched a tall wall of gleaming white everstone. The great blocks used to construct it merged seamlessly; neither age nor weather had marked them, and as clean as if they had just been laid. Meg stared. She had never seen so much everstone statues in one place.
Thank you again to the author and Storytellers on Tour. Your kindness, generosity and understanding are appreciated more than I can express.