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Masters of Blood and Bone was a difficult read to get into. It developed into a perfectly fine and engaging story about a rather mysterious man named Holland and a story involving Gods and demons and sorcerers. While I found large parts of the story fairly inexplicable or arbitrary, sometimes that’s the kind of disbelief you need to suspend, rather than the more traditional forms. Shaky start redeemed by the strong middle section where things finally start to make sense. Probably not for everybody, but with enough things to recommend it to give it a look if it sounds interesting.

Holland’s a man who’s good with death. Good at death.

When his daughter goes missing, he finds himself pitted in a deadly game against the Gods themselves. Powerful enemies surround him—a changeling, a mage, and a god who wants to destroy the world.

With silver bullets in his gun and death on his mind, Holland aims to set things right…or die trying.

For the captors of Holland’s daughter, death is not only on it’s way, it’s in their very possession as Holland’s daughter isn’t just a girl…in fact, she’s barely mortal at all…

She’s Ankou, Death’s daughter, and she’s not an easy mark.

The battleground has been set, the world’s at stake, and all Hell is about the break loose.

Masters of Blood and Bone is an epic clash between good and evil, life versus death, Gods against mortals, a timeless story of power and corruption and one man’s pursuit to protect what he loves at any cost.

Never let it be said that I’m somebody who is afraid to be tossed into the deep end of a novel. In Medias Res is my favourite kind of res. I heartily recommend series like The Malazan Book of the Fallen entirely because of this technique of just getting on with the story and leaving the reader to catch up or not. But this felt less like being tossed into the deep end of a pool, and more like, having been tossed, expecting a pool, landing in a big vat of chocolate pudding. The opening was great. Holland is an excellent character and Saunders writes him elegantly, the same elegance Holland demonstrates which is at odds with his figure and bearing. Characters who are more than they seem are some of my favourite kinds of characters, so I was on board and ready to go. And then we come to The Book, note the capitals. It took nearly a third of the book for The Book to become anything other than entirely opaque to me. I had to re-read multiple sentences and paragraphs to make sure I was parsing them properly, which still didn’t really help me figure out what the crap was going on. Some inscrutability isn’t the end of the world, but I could see many readers just putting the book down slightly confused.

That said, once it settles down and we’ve moved enough past The Book and onto the plot which is the consequences of all that ineffable…whatever, Masters of Blood and Bone turned out to be pretty solid. Holland and Ank are a great pair, and I really enjoyed their dynamic. Jane was handled excellently throughout, and as should be expected from actions taken by Gods, the actions taken by the Gods are as arbitrary and inevitable as they should be. Saunders takes care to keep each of his characters real, and their motivations, even if we don’t necessarily comprehend them, are eminently understandable. It’s hard to really identify with much of anybody here, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the story at all. Holland especially, with his nearly preternatural thought processes, always churning away, always sifting for conclusions, was a pleasure to read. He felt like a mix of the Robert Downey Jr-played Sherlock Holmes from Sherlock and Liam Neeson’s Taken.

One refreshing thing about this novel is that it appears, at least right now, to be a stand-alone story. Not that there aren’t other directions these same characters and world could take, but this felt like a complete and contained story. From an author who has already published enough pieces to be seen as a likely reliable source of material, it seems almost impossible that this isn’t book one of a trilogy, but I don’t see any signs of it. I’m hoping that is an indicator that Craig Saunders feels like he has enough ideas to keep it fresh. That’s something we need to see more of. When you tell a good story and people like that story, the temptation to try to continue it must be overwhelming. To tell a good story and then stop is surely a sign, one hopes, of more good stories to come.

Altogether, Masters of Blood and Bone was an odd sort of duck. I’m glad I persevered through the obtuse and confusing opening to get into the delicious gooey centre of a pretty solid book, but I also don’t think that if that opening turns you off, you should feel obliged to press on because what awaits you is solid gold. What awaits you is a neat story about a cool guy and his awesome daughter who do some cool stuff. It’s not world-shattering, even if events in the store are, but it is certainly worth at least a first look.

Dan received an Advance review copy of this book from Darkfuse via NetGalley

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