Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation.
Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising—but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?
Set in a fictional quasi-Medieval Mediterranean region with a strong cast of male and female characters, the series “presents a striking world with civilizations similar to those of the Vikings and the nomadic cultures of the Middle East, and with the Mediterranean sensibilities of the ancient Greeks. Her characters are passionate and memorable, lending a personal touch to a complex tale of clashing cultures and philosophies. Fans of Sharon Shinn, Elspeth Cooper, and Gail Z. Martin should enjoy Manieri’s approach to culture and drama.
Thoughts: Blood’s Pride is the story of a culture clash between the Viking-like Norlanders and Shadari fisherfolk, thus forced into servitude to their conquerors. Intertwined is the story of the Mongrel, a mysterious mercenary figure with an axe to grind and a history that gets slowly revealed, peace by interesting piece, as the story unfolds.
The story unfolds alternately quickly and then painfully slowly. There’s no adjustment period; you’re thrown into the story with information coming at you hard and fast, and heaven help you if you can’t catch up and hold it straight in your head. There’s no hand-holding, but unfortunately the way it was done left me feeling like I was coming in during the middle of a story rather than at the beginning, or that this was set in a world the author assumed I already knew from other books. This gave me a sense of disconnect with nearly every character, and I felt like I was watching from afar instead of being right there in the thick of things. With some characters going without much development, I was also often left wondering why I should care.
The large cast of characters with often similar voices didn’t help this matter. And as I said, things were either fast and fascinating, or else you’re stuck for pages with characters who are lying in their beds and discussing the day’s happenings. Good for character-building, but not always the best reading.
The cultures are nicely distinct, each with their own beliefs and practices and appearance, and it’s nice to see it done the way Manieri did. Many fantasy novels will have human cultures be offshoots of a main group, or else worship the same gods under different names, or a dozen other similar ways to try to define the groups. Others will write very distinct cultures as non-human or barbaric, or both, and use that to enforce the sense of Otherness that each side feels for the other. Manieri doesn’t take either of these routes, and instead gives us sympathetic characters on both sides, both valid in their own ways but still very separate from each other. It was refreshing to see, and I’ll give points for that.
I feel that this book was trying too hard to be something amazing and falling short, instead of trying to be something merely great and potentially succeeding. There were many stories all being told at the same time, twining around each other and getting a little convoluted sometimes, but I won’t deny that most of the plot arcs were really interesting and I would have loved greater focus on them instead of a POV switch to other less important characters in another place. There was a lot of potential in here that mostly failed to ripen, and I think there was only one plot arc that really left me feeling satisfied with its conclusion.
If there is a sequel, or if the author writes anything else, I’ll probably look into it because she does have a strong creative spark and a knack for writing interesting cultures, and that alone can catch my attention. But as for Blood’s Pride itself, it’s one that’s good to read but not necessarily to reread, and it could have been so much more than it was.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)