Drawn by the shards of his obsidian heart, Khraen follows the path south. The islands, largely ignored by the Wizard’s Guild, have become a refuge for the unwanted of the world. Necromancers and sorcerers rule warring tribes haunted by the ghosts of savage and primal gods.
With each fragment Khraen discovers more of the man he was.
There was an Empire.
There was a god.
She Dreams in Blood is the direct sequel to Black Stone Heart and is in every way a successor to the grim world of magic, demons, butchery, and necromancers that the first so lovingly introduced us to. This one features even more necromancy, introspective indulgence, and dead things than the first – and that’s by a country mile. It scratched the ‘itch’ for my kind of fantasy, a book I didn’t know I’d been waiting for, with the coolest scenes of magical destruction and the unveiling of a cleverly plotted mystery. If you love fantasy that goes-big-or-goes-home, this is one for you to pick up.
The plot, in short, sees Khraen, Benwick and Henka on the ship headed for PalTaq, or to wherever the pull of the next shard will take them. Until destruction in the form of a Wizard’s Guild white galley strikes and they are shipwrecked on an island. The good thing: there’s an obsidian shard nearby. The bad thing: they’re surrounded by the dead. Now, I can’t go too much more detail of the plot, because I feel there’s something a bit hateful about spoiling surprises, but it certainly ramps up the necromancy in this book. And also, I feel like there’s less and less of a focus on the plot this time around … I mean, they are both character driven fantasies, but even more so in this one. So, the plot is certainly not what moves us through.
Khraen immediately has grown from the end of the last book, he’s changed and determined to never become the Emperor that Henka wants him to be. However, the disparity between what he was and what he is now begins to shrink; the lie that the Demon Emperor was entirely evil, or even entirely powerful unfolds and we get to delve a little more into that vulnerability I thought we were seeing in the first. Although, at times it is unclear as to whether this is a Red Herring. For the most part, Khraen thinks he’s in control, that he has the power to change what he will be become but there’s the nagging that he’s being steered by Henka. Which is cleverly done. And certainly, right up until a point, this looks to be his motivation. Or lack of. Though this is flipped on its head and makes for some truly quite intriguing reveals. He does start to overindulge in his own thoughts here; he keeps saying that he wants to steer away from the Demon Emperor but spends pages marvelling at the wonders he can do. And he keeps mentioning it – the elements he could summon, the blades and armour he could forge – Khraen is a marvel unto himself. Over and over, it becomes a little psychopathic and reminded me of the few chapters I read of American Psycho once upon a time. Now, this is either very clever writing or repetition for the sake of not trusting the reader to remember. On completing it, I believe it’s the former.
The world is ever-expanding, and we get a glimpse at lots more of what’s out there: Deredi giants (which are very, very grim and disgusting. I can understand why Khraen wanted shot of them in the past), of demon-bound weapons and magical fights, of great cities of bound demons and jungles full of the dead. It really is a veritable nightmare of dark fantasy tropes. All mushed together in something that holds its own.
I cannot really say anything, evaluate or even hint at what happens in the end that has put this book in my top reads of 2021 already, but let me tell you that Fletcher’s got a mighty surprise waiting and some of the coolest lines in fantasy books (purely because of all the setting up he did beforehand. But it certainly pays off). The slow build up and introspection made way for excitement, deaths and … sadness.
Benwick gets a special mention because he’s such a lovable character; he joins the duo – which then becomes an inseparable trio – after their boat wrecks and he instantly warms a place in your heart with his nuanced tales of seafaring and … his taste in women. We get these interludes where he tells a story which goes a long way to help a plot point. He quickly becomes Khraen’s friend and confident, a trusty ally and someone he can always rely on in a pinch. He’s utterly devoted to Khraen – something the guy seems to inspire in people, and certainly balances out the dead necromancer and brooding Demon Emperor characters with a bit of cheer.
If you’ve read Black Stone Heart, then you’ll be reading She Dreams in Blood whether you read this review or not. If you’ve not read either, what are you doing here?
I certainly am chomping at the bit for the third.