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Blood of the Four
by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon
Harper Voyager, $24.99, 461pp
Published: March 2018

This is a fantasy that borders on the epic.  In this medieval-type world ruled by a monarchy and the church, the religion is based on the mythic four gods that once ruled the land and left behind their magic for the priests to manage.  The Queen has tasted the power of the magic and demands the priests assist her in garnering more of it.  The priests try to protest; explaining that it takes great discipline and years of patience to absorb even a small bit without going insane.  The Queen is not a patient woman and worse – has a serious drug habit.  Her two loyal and loving daughters, Myrinne and Phela, are distressed to watch her rapid and inevitable decline which presages a crisis in the kingdom as the monarchy is based on the belief that the rulers are divine and can do no wrong.  The Queen, in her demented frame of mind, declares genocide against the lowest class which she blames for the death of her beloved son.  This lower class, the Bajumen, are lower than dirt and nearly as invisible…until now, when everyone’s hand is raised against them.  The Queen finally succumbs to the ravages of both magic and her drug…assisted a bit by her now less-than-loving daughter Phela; who also orchestrated the murder of her own brother, a wastrel.  Phela has been watching the damage wrought by their mother, evaluated the worthlessness of her brother (who would precede her to the throne), and decided that the land and the people deserve a better Queen:  Queen Phela.  She has been watching secretly the process by which her mother was absorbing magic and she is confident that she will not make the same mistakes; and will not allow a drug to cloud her thinking.  In fact, she doesn’t intend to let anything or anyone cloud her judgement of what is right and necessary to restore the land and protect the people. And what she decides is right and necessary is for her to acquire all of the magic from the four gods’ tombs beneath the city.  All of it.  Which means there is no longer a need to have a separate Church; the Queen will be everything to everyone.

This is a story of people who do the wrong thing for the right reasons.  Terrorists always believe they are in the right.

Other players include Princess Myrinne’s betrothed, Demos, whose family is condemned as traitors just before the old Queen died.  Demos was enslaved to the leader of the Church, an ambitious woman who also wielded magic.  During his enslavement, the former noble learned much about what it is like to be a Bajumen, the lowest of the low.  Another player is Admiral Daria, a woman with a dark secret of her own, who holds the keys to the kingdom in her army and fleet:  will she uphold the genocide begun by the old Queen or cast her lot with the new Queen?  Or, maybe she’ll decide the land and people are more important than tradition. Her long-lost brother, Blane, is a novice priest who has also been dabbling in the secrets of acquiring magic and he might be the only one strong enough to counter the new Queen. And, behind all of them is the growing determination of the Bajumen to have their revenge for generations of abuse and they now have leaders with power.

There’s a lot going on in this plot; Queen Plela really begins with the determination to do better by her people; Admiral Daria prides herself on professionalism and loyalty to the throne; Blane is sure his destiny is to be his people’s savior; and Demos and Myrinne just want to run away to be together.  None of them gets what they expect and before it’s all done, the kingdom may not continue to exist.

I liked Phela and I was caught up in her delusion and eventual decline.  I really liked Daria and her determination to leave her base beginnings behind and be a stronger person; it was just hard to know what that should be.  And I wondered if Blane might be the one who could actually control the magic and do well. 

It is interesting to me to see how our genre has changed as our society has changed; the main protagonists are women.  They are both villain and hero.  And their sex plays little into the plot, they are simply who they are in the story.  As the story is written by two men, I do wonder if the younger male generations can read this with the same acceptance they would give to any fantasy story; regardless of who wrote it or the sex of the main characters.  I think diversity is finally having an impact on this genre.

Overall, I enjoyed the story.  The plot developed well and went in directions I didn’t expect.  The characters were all they needed to be to serve the plot.  We didn’t wallow in their deepest thoughts and motivations which can often derail a good story.  Nice job, guys.~~  Catherine Book

For other titles by Christopher Golden click here

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