Blood Song is the debut novel of Australian author Rhiannon Hart and the first installment in the Lharmell trilogy. Blood Song is quite an impressive debut, and one that should appeal to a wide range of readers despite being aimed primarily at the young adult market.
The story is narrated in the first person by Zeraphina, the second daughter of the Queen of Amentia, a small and rather impoverished kingdom in Brivora. While her mother and sister are auburn-haired and green-eyed, a childhood illness left Zeraphina with pale eyes and black hair. She also has a number of traits that may not be considered proper in a princess or even entirely natural in a human being. She has an affinity with animals, an inexplicable craving to travel North, and a strange obsession with blood. When her older sister is promised in marriage to a prince from a rich northern nation, it appears that Zeraphina will finally get a chance to find the answers she seeks. A strange and hostile country known as Lharmell may well hold the key, but is Zeraphina really prepared for what she might find there?
More than meets the eye
Were you to visit your local bookstore and take a cursory glance at the blurb of Blood Song, you might be tempted to dismiss it as yet another paranormal teen romance involving forbidden love and using vampirism as a metaphor for raging adolescent hormones. However, this would be selling the book decidedly short in a number of ways. I must admit that when I first received my review copy of Blood Song, I was a little worried that I knew exactly where this story was going (you’ll have to forgive me my cynicism this once). Nevertheless, after flipping through a few pages I didn’t notice anything particularly off-putting, and the book seemed to be quite well written. Intrigued by what I saw, I decided to sit down and read it through. Much to my delight, not only did Blood Song refrain from descending into cliché, it also incorporated an interesting story, some fascinating world building, believable characters, and some legitimately creepy monsters!
An interesting, driven plot and a deft touch for setting
One aspect of Blood Song I found quite refreshing was that the plot gets straight to the point. This is a relatively short book; as a result, Hart cannot afford to spend pages and pages setting the scene or waste time on unnecessary exposition. We learn of Zeraphina’s strange idiosyncrasies and her family’s inopportune situation within the first chapter, and from then on, the plot progresses in a definitive direction. One gets the impression that Hart knows exactly where she wants her characters to go and how she wants the plot to develop. We learn vital information about Hart’s world not through long descriptions or large information drops, but via smaller hints that form pieces of a larger puzzle which is pieced together as the story goes along.
As might be expected in the first book of a trilogy, not every plot-line is tied up neatly, nor event fully explained by the end of the novel. In fact, the novel raises more questions than it provides answers to, right up until the last quarter. Here, the action really picks up and we are finally introduced to the strange and hostile landscape of Lharmell itself. This alien and otherworldly setting is fascinating and provides what is undeniably the most interesting world building.
Believable characters and a proactive heroine
Hart’s characterization is one of the strongest points in this novel, as she succeeds in creating flawed, believable, and often selfish characters that still manage to be likable and easy to relate to. Unlike many other teenage heroines I’ve come across, Zeraphina is proactive and doesn’t waste time whining about her problems or lamenting the fact that she is different. Instead, she takes it upon herself to find an answer to her questions and attempts to solve her own problems. Although her actions are not always wise, at least she actually does something. Furthermore, romance, though hinted at, is not the driving force behind the plot. Thus, Zeraphina does not spend her days obsessing over the male lead, Rodden, or wishing he would pay attention to her. Instead she finds him an annoying hindrance to her plans and often wishes he would just leave her alone. I found this much more compliant with her single-minded and independent character. I also quite enjoyed the presence of Zeraphina’s animal companions, as they add a softer side to her character and had distinctive personalities and roles in their own rights.
Although the secondary characters in the novel are quite well developed and reveal multiple layers to their personalities as the plot progresses, they are few and far between. Apart from Zeraphina and Rodden, there are only a few other individuals who really contribute to the plot in any significant way. Although this didn’t overly detract from my enjoyment of the novel, I felt like this would help the world seem a little more fleshed out. Some of the minor characters that were briefly introduced throughout the novel have some potential and I would like to see them take on larger roles in the sequels.
Why should you read this book?
Overall, I consider this to be an interesting and unique book in what promises to be a worthwhile new series. The author is definitely talented and Rhiannon Hart is a name to watch in the future. I’d recommend Blood Song to young adult readers who want something with a little more substance than they might find in the majority of teen fantasy offerings. It would also suit adult readers who like their fantasy reasonably light and with a dash of romance, humor and legitimately creepy monsters. Personally, I can’t wait to return to the creepy and dangerous land of Lharmell with its desolate landscape, deadly inhabitants and acid rains.