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Nathan’s review of The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish

The Bladed Faith is a bloody, action-packed book about the horrors and violence of the project of empire. It will absolutely enthrall readers who seek constant battles and fights in their book, but might turn off readers who are looking for a slighly deeper, more nuanced examination of the social, political, and historical processes that the characters endure and resist. For me, this book shows a lot of promise as a series starter, but it just barely held my attention for its 500ish page length. Ultimately, it did enough to tease me and convince me to keep reading, but I cannot say it was anywhere near one of the best books I have ever read.

The Bladed Faith tells the story of a young man, Cyrus, who is the heir to throne of his island nation. That is, until the Everlorn Empire invades, killing Cyrus’ royal parents and the gods of the island, and enslaving him as a political symbol to deter resistance. Cyrus is rescued by a man and his two daughters (one of which knows her way around fighting axes and the other who can take on the power of gods) who have been trying to help conquered nations overthroew the Empire. They train Cyrus to become The Vagrant, a powerful political symbol that will hopefully destroy the Empire once and for all.

As you can see from my blurb, and even if you go read the official blurb from the publisher, this is pretty standard fantasy fare. Teenage protagonist? Check. Gods with cool powers? Check. Evil empire to overthrow? Check. Court politics? Check.

A lot of the uevenness with the book emerges because on one hand it is clear that Dalglish wants this book to feel like epic fantasy. The pace is fast, the characters fall into their archetypes, and the plot is something that isn’t new to the genre. However, on the other hand, the book attempts to tackle some really big issues without leaving the space for those larger themes to fully emerge.

This is a tad disapointing because “colonilaism fantasy” is having a bit of a heyday right now. There are many books that are searing critiques of the colonial project, and its long-term impacts.. Whether it is the work of RF Kuang, James Dulin, Saara El-Arifi, Tade Thompson, Joe Lee, Kacen Callender, Ken Liu, there have been searing and emotional examinations of colonialism, imperalism, and empire. Dalglish is wading into these same waters, but he doesn’t fully commit to his themes. This leaves the book feeling more shallow than it should, and I turned the last page wondering how much The Bladed Faith had actually accomplished.

This relates to the kind of odd relationship in the book between its action scenes and the development of the character arcs. As I mentioned before, this book is BLOODY. People are decapitated, stabbed through the cut, and maimed, executed, and butchered in (what feels like) every chapter. Dalglish doesn’t run away from the very important fact that the process of resistance doesn’t come cheaply nor cleanly. The protagonists in this book are pushed to the limit and must do some pretty heinous stuff to win back their island and take down the political embodiment of evil. Gods are brutally slain, and brutally slay. The action scenes come so frequently and take up so much of the page count that the book becomes one bloody fight after another. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but I didn’t find that the author spent enough time ruminating on the ramifications of the fighting. Cyrus talks about how he has to step up and be willing to butcher, and one of the other characters discusses how she has come to love the bloodshed, but ultimately this wasn’t enough. Violence in a book has to have a purpose, and Dalglish does just enough to keep in on the right side of that line. But where are the characters who are breaking down a bit? Where are the ethical discussions of who gets to do what when? The other authors I mentioned above (and many, many more besides them) have entire treatises about this issue.

If you are going to write about colonialism, especially as (from what I can surmise from the author) a White perspective, you have to do more than just use colonialism and empire as window dressing for cool action scenes.

But enough with that. I will commend the book on its action scenes, which are cinematic and exciting (and, honestly, if they are not your thing you can skim past many of them). I also think that Dalglish started to introduce some interesting wrinkles in the plot, whether it was some cool twists on Cyrus’ backstory or the political infighting within the empire itself. It all amounted to a book that makes me want to check out the rest of the series, even with all of the problems that I wrote about here. As much as I critiqued the book, it is an exciting entry in the epic fantasy genre, and action/battle fans will definitely want to check it out. I am just hoping that the next book pulls back just slightly on the action and starts to immerse itself a bit more into the character arcs and themes that Dalglish has set into motion here.

Concluding Thoughts: The Bladed Faith is an uneven book, and your mileage with it will very much depend on how much patience you have for kick-ass battle scenes. The blood and violence makes for an action-packed thrill of a novel, but it comes at the expense of some more nuanced character and thematic work. Dalglish has created a world of powerful gods, evil empires, and a ragtag resistance group, but he ultimately doesn’t find clear ways to make this book standout. Other authors have done “traditional” epic fantasy and colonialism fantasy better. However, there are just enough elements in this book to peak my interest and keep me moving into the sequel.

Thank you for reading my review of The Bladed Faith!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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