Blood and Iron
The Books of the Black Earth, Part One
By Jon Sprunk
I’ve noticed that sometimes to read you have to be in the right mood for it. I will admit, I haven’t been in the mood to read a lot lately. I was in a rut where I felt that I didn’t have anything that I wanted to read … … anything that wasn’t fanfiction… … But Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk is such a good book that it put me back in the mood! I would just keep picking it up and reading it. Every moment spent reading it was absolutely worth it because Blood and Iron kept my interest the entire way through. Kudos to you Jon Sprunk! *virtual high five*
(I literally went up to my nearest family member, held up the book with my Thor bookmark keeping my place and said, “Look! I’m reading!”)
*dramatic voice-over voice* In a worl- *cough* *cough* Sorry. *clears voice* *normal non-dramatic voice* Set in what is most like a Crusades era, shipbuilder turned crusader Horace Delrosa washes up on the shores of the enemy Akeshian Empire after a violent storm at sea. From what he has heard back in his homeland of Arnossi, the Akeshian Empire is a massive land populated by a ruthless people that believe in dark magic and ancient pagan gods. Alone in Erugash, the kingdom of the Akeshian Empire in which Horace washes ashore, with no clear way home and surrounded by the very people his country is at war with, Horace is captured and enslaved. But when, during another similar storm, it is revealed that Horace has magical abilities, called ‘zoana’ by the Akeshian people and held in high regard, Horace is thrust into the tumultuous world of politics, intrigue, and murder of the Erugash and Akeshian Hierarchy. In Horace’s struggle to understand his newfound gifts, and to simply stay alive, he will make few friends and countless enemies.
OoooOOoooh. *shiver* As cool as I think I am, I know I didn’t the book justice with that little blurb, because seriously, what I just told you isnt even half of how cool and awesome it is.
Blood and Iron follows the lives of four focus characters. There is Horace Delrosa, of course, our protagonist, who has been shipwrecked on the shores of the Akeshian Empire and is trying to survive whilst discovering and learning how to control his zoana. Jirom, one of the few friends Horace makes, an enslaved mercenary/gladiator who is inspired by Horace to fight for his freedom. Alyra, another of Horace’s few friends, a handmaiden and slave of the Erugash queen who uses her position to spy for the rebellion. And finally, Queen Byleth, the power hungry Queen of Erugash who struggles to maintain her thrown, fighting to keep it out of the hands of the powerful Cult of Amur, the Temple of the Sun and most powerful cult in the Empire.
As described by Jon Sprunk himself, when I got a chance to meet and talk with him during Dragon Con, the story (and I’m paraphrasing here) is “kind of like Game of Thrones with more magic and less incest.” Now, I’ve never read or watched Game of Thrones so I can’t reliably confirm Sprunk’s description, but while reading Blood and Iron I got the vibe of two other shows, the STARZ Original ‘Spartacus’ and Showtime’s ‘The Borgias’ (both very good shows, you should watch both, warning: not for children). You get the gladiatorial violence from Jirom and Horace, the slave rebellion from Jirom, Horace, and Alyra (both Spartacus themes, I know, give it a sec), and the political intrigue from Alyra, and from the struggle between the Queen and the Sun Temple (and there’s the Borgias theme). In talking with Sprunk, who is a pretty cool guy and who seems really excited and passionate about his work, I did get a confirmation that ‘The Book of the Black Earth’ series, of which Blood and Iron is only the first, does have a Spartacus-esque-ness to it. Another pretty cool thing is that Erugash and the Akeshian Empire have an ancient Egypt/ Persian Empire feel about them, which I haven’t really seen before. Usually when a book has a magical element, it is set in a world similar to Medieval Europe. But having this story in a more Middle Eastern-like setting just makes Blood and Iron all the more interesting. Sprunk doesn’t only take the aesthetics of these two time periods as inspiration. He goes beyond that by creating a complete and intricate Akeshian culture and language that Horace, and subsequently the reader, must discover and learn as the story moves along (No “Everyone Speaks My Language a.k.a. English” or “I Suddenly and Magically Understand Everything About These People” here). And, I do also find it pretty cool as a reader to get that contrast between Horace’s western world and the eastern world of the Akeshian Empire.
Seriously, reading Blood and Iron was an absolute blast. I loved exploring the world, the action, the magic, the alliances, and the betrayals. I loved how none of Sprunk’s characters are absolutely good or evil, and how they are so much more than one dimensional. You never know who to root for completely, and that just makes me want to read more, just to find out what happens. Is this plan going to work? Are they going to remain true or are they going to stab this person in the back? Its great! The only thing I didn’t like was that, like any good first book of a series, it leaves you with foreshadowing of more epic things to come and then leaves you waiting on the edge of your seat for the next book to come out. Well, I guess the break between books could’ve been worse. Blood and Iron leaves you with what I like to call a soft cliffhanger, where a story arc feels like it has been completed even though it is only one part of the larger story arc, landing the reader in a place which is also a good starting point for the next arc. This is in comparison to what I call a hard cliffhanger, where the story arc is not completed, bringing the reader to the climax and then stopping short, leaving the reader with nowhere else to go but straight down and to wait for the next book. (Hard Cliffhangers are mean and kinda painful for readers when they really get into the story, so dont do them!) So, I do appreciate the soft cliffhanger of Blood and Iron, and I can’t wait for the next installment of ‘The Book of the Black Earth’.
Blood and Iron does not disappoint and I hope you enjoy it as I have.
P.S. I just saw the cover art for Storm and Steel, the next book in the ‘The Book of the Black Earth’ series and it looks AMAZING!
Jon Sprunk’s webpage and blog: www.jonsprunk.com