The Book of the Black Earth #1: Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, shares his thoughts on Jon Sprunk’s first novel since his debut series, The Shadow Saga, a sword and sorcery fantasy novel entitled Blood and Iron, that is the first in The Book of the Black Earth series, and is published by Pyr Books in the USA. 

“A fun sword and sorcery romp with an excellently developed world, Blood and Iron is a good read that fans of the genre will enjoy, with some excellent character development that will keep readers entertained even when this book might not be the most original on the market today.”  ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

Set in a richly-imagined world, this action-heavy fantasy epic and series opener is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus.

It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand.

Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.

Jon Sprunk is a writer whose work I’ve been wanting to read for a while now so that when I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of his first new novel since concluding his debut trilogy, I dove straight into it and ended up really enjoying the book. Sure, it may be problematic in places and has plenty of flaws, but at its core, it is an entertaining, action packed and fun read that reads a lot quicker than most fantasy novels on shelves at the moment, and will leave you eagerly looking forward to future instalments in the Book of the Black Earth series.

Blood-And-IronIf you read a sword and sorcery novel you’ll begin to notice that the genre shares a few things in common. However, despite the fact that Blood and Iron may not be the most original thing ever, like Paul S. Kemp’s Egil & Nix series for Angry Robot Books, it still manages to be lots of fun and incredibly entertaining – with the benefit of a richly detailed world that doesn’t come at a cost to the pace.

Meet Horace – a soldier from the west. He’s fighting in the Great Crusade against the people of Akeshia. However, something goes wrong and he ends up being pressed into service as a slave – before his latent sorcerer talents are uncovered and he becomes a member of the Queen’s Court. He’s also the main primary character of Blood and Iron – but not the only one. The third person narrative is split between Jirom, an ex mercenary now a Gladiator – and Alyra, a spy in the Court who uses the fact that she’s a slave for cover. Horace’s main struggle is against the empire, determined to free slaves from its iron grip.

Despite a relatively slow start, the book will pick up and move along at a quick pace once you get stuck into the narrative. I found myself flicking through pages desperately wanting to find out what happened next by the end, but despite this it took me a while to really connect to the characters. However, as well as the fun element that comes with the sword and sorcery genre – the book also benefits from a rich, fleshed out world that is one of the book’s highlights – you can see why it’s one of the first things that’s mentioned on the blurb. The comparisons to Spartacus are also justified as well, and it’s quite easy to spot the connection if you imagine what it had been like with a sword and sorcery twist.

Sprunk utilises a masterful narrative skill to keep readers engrossed in the series – people tired of all the characters in fantasy being white males will be relieved to see that there are several POC characters in this book as well – with narrative Points of View. Sprunk adds the diversity to a book successfully and gains bonus points in that regard.

The narrative is split between four main characters, two of each gender. Their meetings, interactions and development are very interesting to watch unfold – and Horace and company are very well developed. All four have a lot of attention put into their character growth and the end result is a success.

The book itself may be a little too predictable when it comes to the romance angle. It’s one of the problems in the book that should have really been improved on given the quality of the plot – and never feels as interesting as the main bulk of the narrative. This and the fact that there are multiple clichés inside also drag down the novel’s narrative in places – but despite this – Blood and Iron is still an engaging read.

Has it made me want to pick up the sequel? Sure, why not – I’ll certainly give it a try. However it doesn’t quite deserve to be at that top level of fantasy just yet, and it’ll be interesting to see how Sprunk’s work improves in future instalments.

RATING: 7/10

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Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer