What is Blood of a Novice About?
Cam Folde will shake the very fabric of creation… or see all his hopes turn to ash.
The son of the town drunk, Cam never figured on letting his family name hold him down. He always strove to dream bigger, to fight for something better, to achieve more than what everyone else expected of him.
But, as they say, ‘once a Folde, always a Folde’, and when a decision to rescue a friend leads to disaster, fortune’s favor is lost. Cam spirals away from his dreams and ambitions; his fall finally ending at the bottom of a bottle.
But all hope is not lost. Cam rises, supported by family and friends. And when a powerful Master of Ephemera offers him a chance to walk the Way into Divinity and achieve redemption, Cam seizes the opportunity. All he has to do is survive the Ephemeral Academy, the very school where the next generation of Masters are trained. There, Cam just might achieve the greatness he’s always sought, and with friends at his side, including an irrepressible Awakened panda, it even seems possible.
But Cam will soon discover that the Way into Divinity is as steep as it is arduous, and there are more fearsome things than humans who brave its perilous climb…
While I have not been hugely into the cultivation fantasy scene, I have read some, mostly from authors like Tao Wong and Harmon Cooper, which I did enjoy. I know there is a much wider world of cultivation fantasy out there, but it hasn’t been a focus for me. However, when I heard that Davis Ashura, whose Castes and Casteless series I enjoyed, had written a cultivation novel, I volunteered to review it for Before We Go Blog, which Beth Tabler, the head reviewer wrangler over there, happily provided me. So now that I’ve covered the background, let’s answer the all important question of, is it any good?
The answer to that question is yes. As far as plot, it is a take on the coming of age story, with young Cam Folde starting as a young teen looking to overcome his troubled family history in their small village, who takes a chance at power that will allow his to better his lot and life, but has it all go disastrously wrong, with consequences that will affect him for the rest of his life, or until he gains enough power to basically become a demigod and offset it, which seems like the impossible quest. Tragedy seems to follow Cam, and its intriguing how the author sets it up so the reader is never sure if he will be able to overcome it. This is not some OP superman type that is never in danger. Cam has to earn his way through every situation, and fight hard for it, which leads to failures and successes throughout the story for Cam and his friends, leading to the climactic battle at the end of the story, with possible world altering consequences if things go sideways for Cam and Co.
The world building is very solid. Seeming like a typical fantasy world, the inclusion of ephemera changes everything. Ephemera is energy that can be absorbed and channeled for a variety of effects, everything from making crops grow better to increasing physical abilities to superhuman levels, as well as effects such as throwing elemental magic and even healing from near death. The cities are run by Sage-Dukes, who are basically demigod levels of power, having cultivated their ephemeral power over hundreds of years to unbelievable levels, and deal with challenges to their authority harshly. Outside of the cities are smaller villages that have much less powerful people, living a fairly typical medieval existence, with a few advantages due to ephemeral magic. The big threat to this existence is the Rhaksashas, Humans and Awakened beasts (anthropomorphized intelligent animals) that have chosen what amounts to the dark side way of accumulating ephemera, stealing it from others, which kills them. It is faster and easier, like a certain other Dark side. It’s the difference in how power is accumulated, either slower cultivation or theft and death, that drives the conflict between the two sides. It’s very much a classic battle.
The characters are really well done. Cam Folde is the main protagonist, and he is such a complicated character. He is driven to succeed beyond what his family has ever achieved. Considering they are unemployed drunks, he certainly isn’t expected to succeed. When the aforementioned try at power ends up with Cam advanced in Ephemeral level but in a way that leaves him weak and powerless, he ends up falling into the same bottle his family is in. It is an interesting story how he overcomes the addiction that will plague him for the rest of the story and beyond, starting on an epic journey in a most inauspicious way, being run out of town, and ending up through a fortuitous series of events at the Ephemeral Academy, to hopefully be able to learn to progress his abilities. Along the way he learns a lot about himself, and comes into his own as an ephemeral user and as a person, and his failures and triumphs lead him on a path he could never have expected.
The supporting cast is a real strength. It has such a wide diversity of characters, who are fully fleshed out with interesting personalities and backstories. There’s Pan, an Awakened panda who is Cam’s best friend, and has his own destiny to discover, with a mysterious prophecy hovering over that destiny. There’s Jade, who is looking to redeem the prestige of her fallen House. Avia, an Awakened orca in human form, is the heir to one of the Sage-Dukes, and has to accumulate enough power to replace her stepfather. And then there is Weld, a braggart and Cam’s main rival, who goes though his own journey of self discovery. This is the team that Cam will learn to grow and discover with, and face the biggest threat of his life. The remaining cast of mentors and teachers is also well written, and really add another layer to the story.
I have to admit this story really hooked me more than I expected it would. The mix of excellent characters and world building was expected, and the plotting is rock solid. I can see this story having appeal for a wide range of fans, new and old. While it has a lot of the cultivation elements, I think fans of more traditional fantasy will find lots to enjoy as well. I would definitely recommend this book, and I am intrigued to see where he takes the story from here.