Blood Magic by Matthew Cook first caught my eye as it sat on the megabookstore shelf because of its striking cover art. Yep, without that cover and the fact that the bookstore chose to put the book cover-out I never would have picked it up. A sad state of affairs, really. I picked up the book and noticed that it was the debut for the author. I was wavering at that point, but decided that first-time authors need every break they can get. Plus I’ve read plenty of stories by established writers who have stopped really trying and started phoning it in. It occurred to me that maybe a new author must clear taller hurdles to find himself cover-out at a megabookstore. Finally, I got the feeling that while there would be no life-changing prose inside, it did look like a good read from a pure entertainment perspective. So, next to Cormac McCarthy and Truman Capote in my bag I added Matthew Cook.
Tellingly, with five new books to choose from, the one I went for first was Blood Magic. I like light reading for pure entertainment. In that I was not disappointed. The main character is Kirin (or is it?), a solitary woman making a living as a scout for the army. She’s not too bad at old-fashioned kicking ass, but the cornerstone of her ability is that she can use blood magic – the blood of living creatures (especially people) gives her power, and she is able to bind the souls of the recently dead to her purposes.
Most of society thinks these abilities are evil — especially organized religion — but Kirin is constantly doing altruistic things. She is certainly not evil, but, well, there’s a not-so-nice side to her as well. She is a satisfyingly complicated character. In the world, there are very few things that are distinctly good or evil. You’ve got monsters killing lots of people, but they don’t come across as evil so much as dangerous. We don’t have any insight into their motivation, so it’s hard to judge them. The closest to evil we find is blind intolerance among some of the people — but even those people have their good sides.
A couple of nit-picks: the author overuses a couple of phrases (one of those phrases was one that I had to purge in several places in The Monster Within, so I might be over-sensitive to it), and there were some paragraphs that just didn’t read well, but overall it is clear that the writing group that supported Mr. Cook took the job seriously and helped him a great deal.
Towards the end of the book I was thinking, “There’s no way he’s going to wrap this all up,” and I was dreading the classic fantasy “Book that isn’t really a book but just the first pages of a larger volume.” I’m happy to report that while there is plenty of stuff unresolved at the end, there is a satisfying ending to this episode. Characters have changed and learned. There has been little progress in solving the larger problems, but it’s the people who make this story interesting, and that’s where the change occurs.
If you’re looking for an enjoyble read from an new author, consider Blood Magic. As I set up the link to Amazon, I discovered that the full name of the book is Blood Magic: Book One Of The Ballad Of Kirin Widowmaker. Luckily, the cover doesn’t have all that Ballad/Widowmaker junk or I probably wouldn’t have bought it.
Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.