The front cover for The Judas Blossom by Stephen Ayran. The cover is blue with decorative detail around the edge.

The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan

The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan from @angryrobotbooks #BookReview #Fantasy #History

The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan

Angry Robot Books, pb, £9.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

The front cover for The Judas Blossom by Stephen Ayran. The cover is blue with decorative detail around the edge.

Hulagu Khan, the grandson of the great Genghis Khan, has one purpose: to continue his grandfather’s dream of building a single Mongolian empire covering the whole world. And he will do so using violence, so legendary cities surrender, hoping to escape it. Temujin, Hulagu’s youngest son, cannot reconcile himself to the man his father wants him to be. Temujin is a man of books, not a sword. But through his studies, he will find power so great it could save the world or destroy it. Dare he disobey his father with his merciless attitude and casual relationship with violence, or does Temujin betray himself to finally win Hulagu’s approval?

The Judas Blossom is one of the best books I have read. Not just this year or the last twelve months, but ever. Period.

We start the story with Hulagu destroying the Order of Assassins, which is so clever because it’s a setting where we expect ruthless violence. After all, Hulagu is destroying the assassins. He is there with a favourite of his many wives, one whom he treats with love and respect, and he learns his brother is dead. Our sympathies are with Hulagu. Then, we switch to the other characters; Temujin, Hulagu’s youngest son and greatest disappointment; Kokochin, his newest wife and the last of her tribe after the Khans destroyed them all; and Kaivon, a Persian General, stinging with defeat at the hands of the Mongolian army. Through these other points of view, we see Hulagu for who he really is and understand the danger of his mentality.

Temujin is my favourite, as I found his character arc is the most compelling. From an overweight coward to the man he becomes at the end (no spoilers), his transformation is the most heartbreaking. Temujin moves so far away from who he was at the beginning he is almost unrecognisable, but it is realistic, done step by step within the rules of the world he lives in. The Judas Blossom is clever, character-driven story-telling at its best.

The story moves at a fair pace. Even though years pass in the book, Aryan only focuses on what’s relevant to moving the action forward. Other books might show Temujin marching as a lowly soldier with Hulagu’s army, taking up valuable page space, but Aryan tells us it has happened and gives us the consequences instead. So we see Temujin’s clothes falling from him as he changes and hear the banter from the other soldiers, letting us know Temujin has earned his place among them.

The Judas Blossom is also incredibly well-written. There is no unnecessary conversation or overly wordy description. Every word on the page has earned its place to create a clean, easy-to-follow story that grips your heart and drags you with it. No paragraph is overly long, making it hard to follow, and the dialogue is well-paced. It’s impossible to put down, and when I reached the end, I screamed, terrifying my family, because Ayran shouldn’t have been allowed to leave us with that ending. It’s not fair!

I also loved the historical element. At the start of the book, we have an explanation that The Judas Blossom is based on true events. Some liberties have been taken because history tells us little about the characters, like Kokochin’s, but that’s OK because those liberties are realistic within the story setting. It excited my imagination and kept me engaged as the story-telling and world-building combined to create a magical blockbuster of a story. As a result, I want to know more about this time period and the people involved.

The Judas Blossom is a powerful story of power, love and betrayal in a vivid setting. Books like this make reviewing so much fun because it is everything I could have wanted and more. A definite 5 stars.

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