*Note: While I try to avoid giving specific spoilers I also wouldn’t necessarily call this spoiler free, especially as different people have different feelings about what constitutes a spoiler. In particular, the last paragraph talks about the feeling and general nature of the ending of The Bloodprint. Proceed with caution (or not at all) if you’d rather avoid such things
One of my favorite words is synchronicity, the idea of “meaningful coincidences”, and I couldn’t think of it as being anything other than a moment of synchronicity when today I both read an article on Tor.com about magical weapons and finished reading Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Bloodprint.
If you haven’t read The Bloodprint it would be understandable for you to assume this must be because the book has some very cool and epic magic weaponry of it’s own, but it doesn’t. No, the meaningful coincidence I saw in this was the juxtaposition of the two. Reading the article brought one of the things I most liked about The Bloodprint into sharp focus for me: the fact that it is control of words and books which hold the potential shape the destiny of this world. Not swords.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good magical sword (or ax, or bow that shoots arrows of lightning!) as much as the next fantasy fan. And oh boy do we fantasy fans love them! A quick search for articles similar to the one above will find a bare minimum of dozens. We named an entire branch of the fantasy field Sword & Sorcery and when Charles Saunders grew an African-centered branch from that it was called Sword & Soul, not Soul & Sorcery. But reading something where words, books, history, and culture will win or lose the day was a very welcome change of pace.
I don’t want to mislead you, so let me be clear: there are people wielding weapons in this book. Just about all of our main characters are proficient in at least one weapon. There are armies, and battles, and a lot of blood is spilled thanks to an honed edge (a lot of blood is spilled in general. Most of this world is under the thumb of very evil men and there is a lot of cruelty). But it is all in service to a war over words (as opposed to a modern day war of words) and it is words that have power, not blades.
The Bloodprint itself, which our heroes seek to find, is a near mythical document: the oldest known recording of The Claim, which is the holy scripture of the land and, in the hands (or, more accurately, mouths) of those fluent in it, powerful magic.
Everywhere across the land battles are fought to control words, and the words of The Claim in particular. Enemies seek to destroy it, and literacy in general, altogether, or corrupt and deliberately misinterpret the holy words to bolster their own positions. Clues and hope can be found in single verses adorning ancient towers, or hidden pages. Certain books may well be worth dying for.
Unsurprisingly, it is largely men who most want to corrupt and destroy The Claim (just as they want to control and abuse the women around them) and largely women who oppose them. I think to portray corrupt fundamentalists to be anything other than examples of tyrannical patriarchy would be to fly in the face of too many important truths about our real world.
Along with all this are many of the things readers of epic fantasy want to see in a story: there are the fights and romance, and magic and high stakes, mystery and ancient ruins, secret machinations and divided loyalties.
Oh, and it’s got a cliff-hanger ending. Oh my does it have a cliff-hanger ending. You know how you felt at the end of a great cliff-hanger ending? Like The Empire Strikes Back or The Fellowship of the Ring (to name two very famous examples *most* people would be familiar with)? Dial that feeling up to 11.