Anna Stephens
Godblind Cover



*I received a free ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*


Wow, this was good! I'm discovering that I have a real liking for dark fantasy as some of my most recent reads attest. Godblind took a while to get going for me but when it did I really took to it and by the end of the novel I was itching for more and this is a mid-year front runner for my favourite book of the year.

The novel is set in 'generic fantasy land with a map and everything' but one of the first things to say about the location is that the region the book is set in is relatively small in focus. There are no great continents taking months to traverse, the setting is quite self contained. I like this, it's quite easy to place all the action and it makes the later events of the book seem more threatening because everything is 'close'.

So, in this book we've got a barbarian / Viking type race that long ago were banished to the icy mountains where it is cold and snows all the time. These are the Mireces. They are led by King Liris and worship the evil 'Red Gods' known as the Dark Lady and her brother Gospar - the Blood God. They live in longhouses, drink, fight and fuck, keep slaves etc. On the green rolling valleys of abundant farmland we have the land of Rilpor - who have towns and cities, standing armies and a degree of sophistication. They follow the 'Gods of Light' - the Dancer and her son the Fox God.

The Mireces have had enough of being cold and decide to invade Rilpor. End of review, well, sort of...

Although that is the story in a nutshell there is absolutely loads going on in this book. The first chapter is sufficiently bonkers to set the stall for the rest of the book. We have human sacrifice, attempted rape and regicide in the first couple of pages and that sets the tone for the rest of the book. One should note that there could be plenty of triggers in this book for readers - rape, and the threat of rape as a weapon occurs regularly in the book. That said, although the book is violent it isn't gore throughout and whilst this isn't YA it's perhaps not as strong as others may have led you to believe (although there is one scene in particular that is quite eye watering in it's depiction.)

'That' scene is effective because it's a really important part of the plot, it is exquisitely written and is so completely barbaric compared to the rest of the novel it is exceptionally effective! It's a tough one to get through and I loved it!

There is a third group in the novel. They are Rilporians but they live on the border near Mireces lands. They are known as the Watchers or the Wolves. They are considered a little uncivilised by most Rilporians but are the vanguard against Mireces invasion. The Watchers have their own unique culture and are the most interesting group in the novel. This is where Stephens' novel excels in its treatment. The Watchers are a relatively egalitarian people. Men and women fight and are treated as equals, men do the housework and cook as much as women. It's such a simple thing to put in a novel and it's a crying shame that even in 2017 this seems an interesting point in a book rather than the norm.

The Watchers are much more open about sexuality also, we have openly gay characters (despite homosexuality being illegal in Rilpor proper) and the treatment of one romance is wonderful, it surprised me because it wasn't the obvious pairing I saw coming.

I have seen reviews criticising the book in regard to the treatment of women and how men do things for them. Whilst there is an element of this in the book I think there are many strong powerful women in the book. It is true that Rillirin starts off as a bed-slave and needs a lot of help early on but she becomes a strong, powerful woman in her own right and is recovering from significant trauma. We've got the elderly bad ass spiritual leader of the Watchers Gilda - her scenes with Lanta the Red God priestess are awesome. Gilda is strong and has agency. Let's not forget Lanta - although she is an 'evil' character she shows strength, and at times vulnerability which gives her depth past a villain. In a male dominated society where violence determines who is in charge she holds her own to push her agenda. Then there is Tara, a soldier who works her way through the ranks in Rilpor - it is true that the Rilpor army is full of sexist men and Tara is unique in that she is a woman but again, she rises above military sexism.

Another element of the book I really enjoyed where the battle scenes of which there are quite a few. Stephens has a gift in writing a good fight! The action is vivid, fast paced and you can feel the frenzied terror of the combatants in an up close and personal blood bath. It isn't sugar coated, the close quarters combat is brilliant! It's ugly and bloody - but effectively describes what these pre-gunpowder battles must have been like!

The treatment of the Gods is interesting in that they are real in the world and not just a plot device. One of the Watchers is a seer type figure who can commune with the Gods. I quite liked the notion of the Fox God - inherently good but a god of luck and tricks. The Dark Lady is much more interesting though - she is like a Succubus - erotic and dangerous and a temptress.

The structure of the book is in small chapters each from the point of view of a different character. I'm not normally a fan of short chapters but here it works. It's not quite a cast of thousands but there are plenty of characters to follow. Again, normally one finds themselves looking back at an index or checking back to see who is who but in this case the book is really easy to follow. The format works really well.

The book has a wide enough scope to cover political intrigue, religious and nations at war, sweeping armies and the fate of nations being decided. At the same time it is a personal novel, the characters matter and their individual growth, their hopes and dreams, as well as their sadness and horror all have space.

What is rather frustrating is at the end of the novel there is a sense of unfinished business. I'm aware there is a sequel planned which I know I absolutely have to read. So many characters have their life in balance at the end. It is an exciting ending but I wish I had the second book in my hand...