The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend. It was his leadership that overthrew empires and his sacrifice that saved the Unified Realm from destruction. Now he lives a quiet life, his days of warfare behind him.

Yet whispers have spread across the sea of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who thinks himself a god. When Vaelin learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, he travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings – a strange land ruled by honour and intrigue. And as the drums of war echo across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns that there are some battles even he cannot hope to win.

I have to admit that I was hesitant when it came to reading this book. I was a huge fan of Blood Song, which I still think holds up as one of the best epic fantasy novels out there, but I was… not a fan of the sequels, to put it mildly.

I’m very much aware that I’m not the only one to have disliked Tower Lord and Queen of Fire. The Blood Song sequels have a bit of an unfortunate reputation, and as a result, I’ve noticed that the wait for The Wolf’s Call comes with a tinge of wariness in some quarters.

But having now read it, I can say that it is pretty damned good.

The Wolf’s Call takes Vaelin back to his roots. We obviously don’t get to relive the combat school experience of the Order, since Vaelin is a lot older now, but he’s back to being the sole POV character (with the exception of a few interludes). It’s fascinating to see how Vaelin calls on the experience earned in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy to inform his decisions in this one. He might not be the magical force of nature that he once was, but he’s still Vaelin Al Sorna.

The question is, will that be enough?

When Vaelin hears that Sherin (who readers of Blood Song might remember) might be in danger from a rising army known as the Steel Horde, he travels to the lands to the West to save her. It’s not quite a damsel-in-distress tale, as Sherin has plans of her own and is more than capable of handling herself. But heroes gonna hero. Even if they aren’t asked to.

The hero of the Steel Horde, Kehlbrand, believes himself to be a god. He takes on the name of “Darkblade”, and when he learns that Vaelin had been attributed that same name many years previous, he is furious. Kehlbrand’s sister, Luralyn, is the point-of-view character for the interludes, and her chapters are some of the best in the book. They really build Kehlbrand up to be this terrifying, seemingly unstoppable villain, and lend him an aura and presence that makes your hairs stand on end whenever he’s in a scene.

The scenes with Kehlbrand, and the dynamic that he has with Vaelin, was by far my favourite part of the book. There’s almost a big-fight feel whenever the two interact, and I’ve never wanted to see two characters beat the hell out of each other so much since Logen Ninefingers and Fenris the Feared, or perhaps the Mountain and the Hound.

The Western world is quite different from the setting of the original trilogy, though we don’t really explore it too much. This land is ruled by the Merchant Kings, and Vaelin has no standing with them beyond his reputation. The only thing he has in common with them is an enemy.

A few new characters are introduced, including some children of characters from the original trilogy, and residents of the land of the Merchant Kings. While I didn’t find these side-characters to be as colourful as Vaelin’s brothers in the Order, they were enjoyable to read about, and were given just enough page time to be interesting, but not enough to take over Vaelin’s story.

In terms of pacing, this book starts off a little slow, gradually building steam before hitting its stride in the second half. I have to admit that it took me a while to immerse myself in the story, but once I did, I flew through until the end.

The Wolf’s Call is a return to form for the world of Vaelin Al Sorna. If you’re a fan of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy, then you’ll be thrilled with the quality of this book. If, like me, you were a fan of Blood Song, but not the sequels… I’d encourage you to give this a try. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Orbit Books for the review copy!

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