Blade And Bone (Book Of The Black Earth Part Three) by Jon Sprunk (book review).

I’ve probably said it before, but it’s worth repeating, Pyr is one of my favourite publishers of speculative fiction. What I love about their books is that they’re always a little different. Fantasy and Science Fiction can be so very same-same and I don’t mind that. There’s a certain comfort to be derived from sinking into a familiar set-up, whether it’s a quasi-medieval fantasy world or a sprawling space opera spawned by a dying Earth. There are countless themes writers love to examine and explore and I’m there for most of them.

blade and bone
Blade and Bone (Book of the Black Earth Part Three) by Jon Sprunk (book review)

The trend toward the different has been evident for a while now, however, and Pyr often feels ahead of the curve on this one, particularly when it comes to the series ‘Book Of The Black Earth’ by Jon Sprunk. I selected the first book for review, ‘Blood And Iron,’ based on the first line of the book description: It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea.

There is probably a trope to describe this beginning, but I call it the mid-life crisis. When a character’s life is turned upside down at the beginning of the story and we get to learn about them and their new situation at the same time as they do. It’s a journey of discovery for the hero and it’s as familiar to fantasy readers as swords and sorcery. From that inauspicious beginning, this story follows the shipwrecked Horace as he transitions from soldier to slave to sorcerer—in a world that transcends expectation.

The third book in this series, ‘Blade And Bone,’ is dark. Here, Horace will hit his lowest point and his greatest trial. In that respect, it’s a difficult read, but only because this character has become dear to me and watching him flail and fail is hard!

So, too, this book is a trial of Jirom’s resolve. The former gladiator has to take a lot on faith here, all while hoping his companions continue to trust him. There are many instances where his relationship with Emanon is stretched to breaking point and yet their partnership continues to be a source of strength not only for Jirom but for their ever-weakening rebellion. Yeah, that and things were going so well!

One of the reasons I was so eager to read ‘Blade And Bone,’ was that the second book, ‘Storm And Steel’, in the series ends with both triumph and questions. ‘Blade And Bone’ doesn’t answer many. What it does do is throw an entirely new wrinkle into the plot by way of a plague of walking dead. This is the difference I was talking about at the beginning of my review. Sprunk’s world has been called reminiscent of ancient Egypt and Babylon, where kings and queens serve as instruments of the gods. Mortals are little more than flotsam, collecting in eddies stirred by plots much larger than they are. Mortals will drown beneath this new tide of death and, while I should have been mourning their loss, I could only marvel at the author’s imagination with regards to whom this plague was spread. It’s gruesome and it’s brilliant and it’s what’s up next on our heroes’ list of challenges.

What the plague also does is reveal two new players. Three Moons (you’ll know who this is if you’ve read the previous book) gets a lot of page time here, becoming a much more integral character. I expect to see more of him and his crew in the next book as they will have a very interesting role to play.

Even more interesting is Pumash, a tool of the Manalish. Here again, we have that difference I love. You’re not going to like Pumash very much at the beginning of this book, but he’ll grow on you because he’s not very good at doing what he’s told.

The only character who is let down by ‘Blade And Bone’ is Alyra. She doesn’t get as much page time as I’d have liked. There was a lot else going on, but she felt forgotten until toward the end when all the big stuff happens. Alyra’s journey here does serve a purpose and Horace needs that push, but…okay, you’re just going to have to read this one and decide for yourself.

Overall, I did really enjoy this book. I looked forward to diving back into Jon Sprunk’s world and reconnecting with his characters. The plot direction came as a pleasant surprise and I look forward to seeing how things roll next time around. Recommended for fans of sword and sorcery in a unique setting with a truly diverse cast.

Kelly Jensen

February 2018

(pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 299 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-269-0)

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Kelly Jensen

Writer of love stories. Bibliophile. Gamer. Cat herder.

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