TL;DR Review – A brilliant, complex, engaging story that had me reading compulsively from start to finish. A familiar yet fresh fantasy epic. 5 stars.
His name is not worthy.
A traitor is executed, his name ripped away from history. Now the kingdom stands on the brink of a succession war that could bring the country to its knees. Forces stalk the darkness, moving pawns into place in a deadly game.
Gehrin and his brothers were not meant to witness the execution, but now they find themselves trapped in the center of a political quagmire. When Gehrin faces the loss of everything he knows, will he also lose himself?
To the south, tribal warlords clash in an endless cycle of violence. Syndri, the daughter of a chieftain, kills for the honor of her people. An alliance with a foreign queen offers the power to unite the tribes, but at what cost?
Someday, history will remember them as legends.
I went into The Blood Stones with ZERO idea of what to expect; all I knew was that from the opening scene, I was in for a bloody good time.
The book’s tone is set right off the bat with a public execution that serves two purposes: to set up two of the main characters (Gehrin and Xario) while also cleverly introducing us to a great deal of the world’s culture and customs.
Instantly, I was intrigued by what felt like a blend of Chinese and Japanese cultures, but with a whole lot that made them feel unique and original, unlike anything I’ve read before.
And as the book went on, it continued to push into fresh territory while still being a familiar story.
The Blood Stones revolves around four primary characters:
Gehrin, who is ripped from his home and subjected to a terrible, harsh regimen of abuse, training, deprivation, and conditioning to turn him into a Bruhai, an elite warrior.
His story was replete with all the grim training montages that make “warrior school/warrior-in-training” stories so enjoyable. Best of all, just when you think it can’t get any darker, it always does. Gehrin’s story proved the most surprising—and heartbreaking—of all the POVs. Through his POV, you see his determination to become a Bruhai but without losing what makes him human. His story is true testament to the strength of spirit and character that forges a weak young boy into a hardened elite.
Xario, Gehrin’s older brother, whose POV comes in later in the book (years after Gehrin’s “death”). His is the classic tale of politics, looking at the scheming between the nobles and wealthy of the Kingdom. He wants nothing to do with it—he wants only to be a soldier—but his father is determined to see him seated on the throne. You feel just how much he hates being played and used, yet you can’t help but admire him for being the dutiful oldest son.
Master Lohi, the “mentor figure” who is creating the Bruhai in secret. Though he begins as nothing more than “kindly scholar” a la Uncle Iroh, over the course of the book, you get to see what a terrible toll his desire to protect his King and Kingdom take on him—and what he is willing to do.
Syndri, whose story is the only one that takes place outside the Kingdom. She comes from a very Mongol-style people, who want nothing more than to ride their horses and wield their blades in battle against their ancient enemies. Her is also the saddest story in the end—she suffers the greatest hardships, loses the most, and goes down a darker path–but there is promise of something great to come. I would not be surprised if she was ultimately elevated to a sort of Genghis Khan-style character riding at the head of a vast army to serve as antagonists to the Kingdom-based characters.
Through these four POVs, we’re introduced to a grand, sprawling, epic world filled with colorful cultures, customs, beliefs, and religions. I was absolutely blown away with the worldbuilding that went into creating this story. It had such a huge “lived-in” feel that I wanted nothing more than to burn through a history book of all the warring kingdoms and peoples, to take in all the great battles and arcane lore.
I read through this entire book nearly in one sitting, and I was spellbound from start to finish. Time and time again, I was shocked by the dark twists and surprises, which appealed to the sadistic grimdark reader in me.
The Blood Stones will go down as one of the Top 20 books I’ve read in 2023, and firmly establishes Tori Tecken in my mind as an author to watch. I can’t wait to find out what happens next in this spectacular, epic fantasy series!