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Grievar’s Blood

GRIEVAR’S BLOOD by Alexander Darwin

Orbit Books, pb, £9.99

Reviewed by Christine Downie

Grievar’s Blood is the second novel of a trilogy by Alexander Darwin. I reviewed his debut novel, Combat Codes, for the BFS in Autumn 2023 and was keen to read the second instalment.

We return to the story of Cego, who continues his training to be a Grievar Knight on a planet deeply divided by social hierarchy. As before, the set-up for the story tells of a time when wars almost destroyed the planet, and it was decided that all disputes would be decided by single unarmed combatants in a gladiatorial manner.

Cego is now in his second year of training at the Lyceum, the college of the Grievar Knights, and things are gradually unravelling for him. He appears to have powers he cannot control, and this results in the death of another student. Placed on trial for murder, his future seems very uncertain.

His mentor, Murray Pearson, has fallen from grace and is living on skid row in the underground community of grunt workers. His best friend, Sol, has abandoned Cego for a quest of her own following the death of her Grievar father. We are introduced to a strong new character, Silas, Cego’s older brother, who is facing his own demons in his journey as a Grievar Knight. The youngest of the three brothers, Sam, seems tantalisingly close, appearing in dream-like visions.

We learn more about the Daimyo ruling class and their brutal governance of the population and control of the Grievar Knights. We are signposted to the increasing unrest felt by the people against the Daimyo and seeds of rebellion beginning to sprout.

The book is heavily influenced by Darwin’s own practice of martial arts, and the fight scenes are very detailed and persuasively authentic. The action is fast-paced, and the dangers that all the protagonists face are well drawn, with increasing tension maintained all the way through the book. There is a lot of violence, which may not appeal to everyone, but I think it is well-handled and key to the story’s development.

This book is very well written, with excellent character development and world-building. If anything, I think it is even better than the first book, Combat Codes, and if you liked that, then you will love this one. I am eager to read what happens in Blacklight Born, the trilogy’s final book, which has been beautifully set up by the astonishing final chapter in Grievar’s Blood. I highly recommend this book and the previous one for a brilliant original storyline with really strong characters that capture the imagination.

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