‘Flawless’ Bershad is an exiled noble, banished for a heinous act: the massacre of Almiran rebels and their families. He is forced to become a dragon slayer and to wander the realm, facing these terrible and beautiful creatures in single combat until eventually one of them wins and he dies.
Unfortunately, Bershad has proved far too successful at his work and during his years of exile, has racked up more than sixty kills. He is summoned back by the King and offered his old life back in exchange for the completion of an impossible mission. Failure means death and refusal means death, so it’s an opportunity he cannot turn down.
Blood of An Exile is the first book in Brian Naslund’s Dragons of Terra trilogy. The genre of gritty epic fantasy is a crowded one, with many writers vying for the reader’s attention. Naslund appears to be aware of this as Blood of An Exile starts fast, with a dramatic duel between Bershad and a dragon, before shifting to a second narrative and recounting the journey of a mysterious traveller, Garret, as he arrives in the kingdom of Almira.
Naslund’s story is filled with the tropes of the genre, with a mixture of assassins, thieves, battles, heroes, dragons and different forms of magic. There is an ecological theme to the writing as well, which is gradually revealed as being part of the plot. As with all things, there are certain simplifications made by Naslund and his characters as he outlines the way in which the people of his fantasy world need to make difficult decisions and occasionally oppose innovation and industry to preserve their environment. The real-world parallel is quite clear, although it is also somewhat ironic, given the way in which the same themes were explored when J. R. R. Tolkien described the idyllic countryside of The Shire and set a template for writing traditional fantasy throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Naslund’s take is not preachy, but his view, outlined through the proxy of his characters, is fairly clear and this is likely to be a theme that is developed further in the rest of the trilogy.
Blood of An Exile doesn’t stray far from the main themes of the genre and Naslund handles these with solid and competent writing. The tendency towards modern dialogue without embellishment is something he embraces, which can be an issue for some readers. Most of his characters are well thought-out and established carefully, but they do not rise above those in other fantasy epics; although his four principal perspective cast are all interesting in their own way. The name ‘Garret’ used for an assassin does raise immediate comparisons to a popular video game franchise.
Events are drawn together for the story’s resolution. For the most part, this is handled well, although there is one character who manages to travel a very long way very quickly in time to make a decisive contribution to the final battle of the book. The conclusion leaves enough loose ends for us to look forward to the next instalment in the trilogy.
Blood of An Exile is a fast-moving page-turner, full of the elements that genre fans like. Contained within the story we have a quest involving a disparate band of individuals who, over time, become loyal to one another; we have a siege; we have political games, betrayal, assassinations, and more. In many ways, for traditional fantasy readers, this book is like an old friend you have never met.
Blood of An Exile is published by Tor and is available in hardback for £16.99.