Blood’s Pride: Reads like an early draft of a first novel

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsBlood’s Pride by Evie ManieriBlood’s Pride by Evie Manieri

Blood’s Pride is a debut fantasy from Eve Manieri that unfortunately reads not so much like a first novel, with all the usual attendant issues of a first novel, but more like an early draft of a first novel. There’s the very strong opening scene that one could see perhaps sparking the whole idea, a few intriguing “what if one character did this to another character” plot points to create both internal and external conflicts at the outset, and several neat background ideas concepts with regard to mythology or world-building. But the execution just isn’t fully there — sometimes failing due to a lack (say, of clear, precise settings) and sometimes failing due to an excess (too many of those complicating plot points).

The novel opens with a bang, as we watch an entire people, the Shadari, nearly destroyed by group of raiders from the sea, known to themselves as Norlanders but called “the Dead Ones” by the Shadari for their pale, luminescent skin and vampire-like aversion to sunlight. We watch through the eyes of a Shadari fisherman as the Norlanders slaughter his people: killing indiscriminately, splashing the town with red blood… as they moved in perfect tandem like a school of flesh-eating fish.”  The invasion, however, is neither the most intense nor the most captivating segment in the brief opening; that comes when the Shadari priests/mages known as “ashas” come down from their temple atop the sea-cliff.

The story proper begins roughly a generation or so later, with the surviving Shadari having been enslaved by the northerners, either as personal slaved or to work and die in the mines excavating a special ore the Norlanders craft magical personalized swords from (the semi-rare “Imperial” sword) to ship back to their empire. The only ones not so enslaved are the elderly, the young, and the crippled. Meanwhile, the Norlanders themselves are a pretty miserable bunch, forced to live far from their homeland in a place where the sun can kill or disfigure them (its touch burns them), riven by personal and class rivalries, and led by a family whose father (the governor) is dying, whose mother died under mysterious circumstances, and whose children are almost literally at each other’s throats. A third race, the Nomas, are desert dwellers, spurned by both sides for the neutrality and focus on trade.Shattered Kingdoms (3 book series) Kindle Edition

This world is ready to boil over at the start. The Shadari are planning a rebellion and have hired a famous mercenary — the Mongrel — to lead them, using the King of the Nomas, Jachad, as intermediary. But the Shadari are far from monolithic, with disagreements over goals and tactics, splits between slaves and non-slaves, and constant back and forth as secrets are kept and/or revealed, including one huge one that strikes at all they believe about themselves and their past. The Norlanders are also splintered, with family secrets and betrayals, political factions, religious disagreements, differing views on how the Shadari should be treated and so forth.

On the one hand, all the secrets and deceptions, the betrayals and faux betrayals, false pasts, the rewritten past come to light, etc. allow for a lot of plot twists and complicated character interactions. On the other hand, there can be too much of a good thing and this is where another strong revision, perhaps with some editorial guidance, would have helped to strengthen the novel by culling a few of these complications. About midway through the novel begins to sink under the weight of all these secrets and interconnections and also starts to feel overly melodramatic. It doesn’t help that the novel is further complicated by not one but two oracular visions of the future, which creates extra-yet-to-happen relationships but also robs the story a bit of some of the tension inherent in a free-will universe. Between the constant overturning of motivations/relationships due to secrets being revealed and the frequent refrain (borne out by actions) that the story is set in stone via the oracles, one might question why a reader would invest in the characters/story.

All this “story” means it is difficult to connect to many of the characters because we have to rush so quickly through the novel that several of the characters are given short shrift when it comes to development or Manieri is relegated to telling us aspects of characters we’d rather see less directly. The love stories, for instance, were hard for me to buy; I was told the characters loved each other but never felt it in my gut. Again, a bit of judicious cutting would have allowed some characters to flower more fully and let us connect more firmly to them and their travails.

Finally, there were just too many craftsmanship issues for me. While the prose is solid and smooth throughout, other aspects fared less well. The setting is frustratingly vague — people move to and from place to place or within places (such as the temple) with little sense of space or distance or spatial relationship. Transitions can be rough. There are problems with gaps in logics or plausibility. And too often information is arbitrarily withheld from the readers or from characters, revealing all too clearly the heavy hand of the author.

As a first novel, Blood’s Pride, could have done with some sharper editorial guidance and more time cutting some aspects and bringing out others. It’s possible Manieri will improve on her execution in the promised sequel, but I can’t say Blood’s Pride serves as the welcoming invitation any first book in a series needs to be.

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?

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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