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Shadowhawk reviews the second Ulrika the Vampire novel, a spin-off series inspired by and featuring a character from the popular and on-going Gotrek & Felix series.
“The first was a vampire thriller novel. The second is a vampire action novel that is going to draw you in so tight you are not going to want to get out.” ~ The Founding Fields
I read Bloodforged right after Bloodborn because now that I was hooked into Ulrika’s new world and her new life, I certainly didn’t want to stop too long along the road. I was also getting to grips with some of the aspects of the Warhammer Fantasy setting through a completely different viewpoint. First it was a band of renegades-turned-spies of the Empire. Then it was the adventurous duo of Gotrek, a Trollslayer, and Felix, a warrior-poet. And now it was a young, often petulant, Vampire.
I have fortunately been able to really enjoy all three viewpoints and since Bloodforged was close to hand, I dived into it with gusto, expecting a novel that would at least be as great as Bloodborn, if not better.
Two days I realized that it was better than its prequel in almost every way. The key word there would be almost – there are some things that Nathan definitely handled far better than he did in the first novel, yet I think slight mistakes were made. Nothing damning, mind you, but they broke the immersive experience at times. For most novels and for most authors in fact, that would be when the reader would put the book down because the reader is too put off with that experience being broken. One of the marks of a good author in my opinion however is how the author handles that and keeps you interested and makes you come back.
And Nathan certainly did that. With Blackhearts, I was already a fan of his work, and now with the two Ulrika novels, he is definitely up there in my esteem as Graham McNeill, Jim Swallow, Nick Kyme and others.
In Bloodforged, Ulrika is quickly getting extremely frustrated with the actions and scheming of her mistress, Countess Gabriella, and decides to do something drastic about it. She escapes and sets out to make a living for herself. In the very first couple of chapters Nathan establishes the continuity of the new novel with that of the first by referencing the events that have already happened, explaining and showing their ramifications and also continuing the solid characterization of the major characters that we have already seen.
Ulrika is still caught up in her struggle as Ulrika the Kislevite versus Ulrika the Lahmian. Gabriella is still caught up in her politicking and scheming with her counterpart, Hermione who is also unchanged for the most part. Thankfully, we don’t see more of her incessant, but somewhat likeable I guess, suspicions and all. And that is because I was so very close to running her through a silver sword. Few characters in fiction can do that. And then Famke is still her innocent, sweet self as only a Vampire can be, and is still that counterpoint to Hermione.
So it is no wonder that Ulrika decides to leave and strike out for herself. Her destination is her own natural homeland, Nuln. Leaving the life of Lahmians and Nuln behind, she decides to become a Vampire vigilante who helps the people in need and punishes those who wrong others. In this alone, she demonstrates admirably why she is just a child to the others, who have been Vampires for longer than she has and who have had a chance to come to terms with their new nature.
That our heroine refuses to do so is why she just doesn’t fit with her Lahmian sisters. And never will because of that inner struggle and her compassion for humanity, something that at least one new character in Bloodforged comments to her about and even reprimands her for being so.
And so Nathan sets the stage for a plot that links back strongly to Bloodborn but is also unique on its own. The murder mystery quality of Bloodborn is mixed in with an incredible amount of action scenes that make Bloodforged a proper action novel packed in with a healthy dose of the aforementioned thriller elements.
This is also where Nathan’s style of avoiding too much description and keeping his narrative and prose short and to the point really comes to the fore. The action flows well from scene to scene and even when the action isn’t physical, Ulrika’s interactions with her unlikely companion and with yet more Lahmians keep that action going. That is what I love in a good action novel. A good action novel is where the plot doesn’t dip too far down into the mundane and where it keeps moving at a good pace. The plot for Bloodforged definitely has both those qualities because there are no “down” scenes. Whenever the prose looks like it is about to become slow and just plod along, Nathan throws in a remarkable twist that has your attention equally and well-divided between reading further and trying to guess what is going to happen next.
As part of all that, the cliffhangers from chapter to chapter are executed well and Nathan avoids leaving the plot-threads hanging on their own for too long. Everything ties into each other from start to finish. Its nice to see that Nathan builds upon all the strong points of Bloodborn in Bloodforged, which makes this novel just as good as the first one, if not better.
Overall, the plot still has a good, heavy dose of mystery thrown in because this time Ulrika is tracking a Chaos cult which plans to deliver the city right into the hands of a Chaos army that is waiting somewhere out there in the North. As mentioned before, Ulrika now has a rather unlikely companion who helps her and guides her towards the rather explosive climax of the novel, which immediately links back to Bloodborn, making it quite apparent that a larger story is being told her than just what is in the meat of the novel. It makes for a rather rewarding experience, knowing that while the novels are sequential they aren’t one-offs either.
And that is just one of the reasons why I eagerly await Bloodsworn. In the first novel, we see Ulrika going through the “growth pangs” of being a newborn Vampire, hence the title – Bloodborn. In the second novel, we see Ulrika maturing and becoming more experienced, although it is still a topsy-turvy journey for her, hence the title – Bloodforged. And now, given the events that happen in the middle novel, I can make a fair few educated guesses at what Bloodsworn will be about. Blood does call to blood after all, for good or for for ill.
I mentioned earlier that the immersive experience was broken in Bloodforged, an element that was missing in Bloodborn. That single element would be just how naive and petulant Ulrika really is, even though she is making efforts to the contrary. Compared to Bloodborn, her inner struggles are even more profound than before and at times she often shows a reluctance to learn from her mistakes. It did get a little tiresome after a while. I was forced to think at least twice in the course of the novel if Ulrika could really be that stubborn. In drawing strong parallels with her characterization from Bloodborn, I believe that Nathan fell into the trap of mirroring it too much and fell into the trap of making Bloodforged formulaic in its execution.
However, that is not a damning charge to be laid at his feet because, Nathan being Nathan and Ulrika being Ulrika, there is a strong reason for all of this. Our young, inexperienced Vampire is back in her homeland, in Kislev. She was born here, raised here, fought in its defense, fell in love here and with all that, she still has strong connections to the city. That she is so humanly honest with her feelings is what causes that struggle with her new, unwanted life.
So should we condemn her for this? I would say. She doesn’t deserve scorn for being so naive and so human. She deserves some respect and some compassion. Her whole world has been turned upside down and sometimes just letting go and giving into her baser nature is rather cathartic for both her and us since it means that her learning isn’t a straight road but has enough twists and turns to keep us reading on.
On account of all that, I heartily recommend this novel to everyone because Nathan delivers a learning experience not just for his heroine but also for the reader. Almost without meaning to, it is a very thoughtful novel and you won’t realize it until you reach the end and put it down. That’s a big plus isn’t it? I’d say damn well yes it is.
And therefore, this novel deserves a 9/10 just like its predecessor.
In closing, all I’d like to say is that I feel very fortunate that I am getting to enjoy 2 years and counting of some really solid Black Library fiction. As you can see from my reviews here and from my own blog, the last three months or so have been really, really good and I have read some fantastic BL novels. So cheers!
I give this novel a 9/10 as well.