Sebastien Castell's Reviews > A Time of Blood

A Time of Blood by John Gwynne
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy

A Time of Blood is the second book in John Gwynne's new fantasy epic of warring angelic beings, their demonic nemeses, and, most of all, the people caught in the middle. It's a tale of good versus evil, but not the kind I was expecting, which is why this book is so damned good.

The very idea of good versus evil strikes me as one of the most pernicious notions ever devised by human beings. It lets us burn a brand into the very soul of those we dislike and gives us the moral freedom to use whatever means, no matter how vile, to vanquish them. It turns our enemies into Tolkien's orcs – the infinitely abusable physical personifications of all we revile. Many fantasy authors nowadays, well aware of the clichéd baggage that comes along with "good versus evil" try to posit instead a kind of moral equivalency. It's a tactically useful device for modern fantasy, but one that's often unsatisfying because it removes any kind of real moral tension from the reader's experience. We're all bad. We're all good. So who cares? Just tell me who the enemy is and let’s go kill him.

Gwynne takes a different approach with A Time of Dread and especially the sequel, A Time of Blood. There's no real moral equivalency between the angelic Ben-Elim and the demonic Kadoshim. One views humanity as something to be protected, the other as something to be used or destroyed. But the Ben-Elim are . . . how shall I put this? Arseholes. They're so convinced of their inherent goodness and superiority that their notion of protecting humanity amounts to controlling everything about our lives even while they break their own laws in secret and force others to pay the price for those actions. It's through the gradual reveal of those actions that we see that the Ben-Elim have brought much of this unfolding war down on their own heads – as well as those of the human beings they claim to protect. Watching the human characters in the novel deal with those repercussions is what makes A Time of Blood so compelling.

Above all else, though, what you get from A Time of Blood is the sense of heart that runs throughout the book. No one escapes the consequences of their emotions, their loves and hates, their losses. There are moments of tremendous hope and scenes of terrible heartache. A Time of Blood is dark and wrenching and yet always promises there must be an answer somewhere – so long as the characters keep searching for something beyond the false morality of either of the two great forces bringing their world to war.

For all the angelic Ben-Elim and giants, the bat-winged Kadoshim and feral creatures, the magic and wondrous animals, A Time of Blood is a profoundly human story, told by an author who seems determined to make the reader reach for something deep inside themselves that is brave and virtuous, and above all, decent. John Gwynne writes fantasy with the heart of a hero and the inventiveness of a master mage.
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Reading Progress

December 17, 2018 – Started Reading
December 26, 2018 – Shelved
December 26, 2018 – Shelved as: fantasy
December 26, 2018 – Finished Reading

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