Unlike the first book in this series, Battle Mage, I came into Blood Mage by Stephen Aryan with a few expectations. The war that took place in Battle Mage was wrapped up with a smoldering black bow, a world ravaged left in its smoking ruins, and while it was the combined efforts and sacrifice of the land’s battle mages that ended the war, the people now fear magic and all its implications. This makes life difficult for a magic user like Fray. Before the war, he could openly practice his art without much derision, but now he must hide in the shadowy cracks for fear of persecution. He barely earns enough in trade goods to survive, so when his father’s old partner, Byrne, arrives to ask for Fray’s assistance in catching a strange, magic-wielding serial murderer, Fray knows he can’t refuse. Despite is stubborn refusal to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Guardian of the Peace, his father’s death left Fray feeling detached, and perhaps the similarities between the case Byrne needs his help with and the case that took his father’s life will bring the young man some closure.
For me, that was the core plot of the book. The story of the “Flesh Mage” serial killer. However, much like Battle Mage, the story was separated by character perspectives exploring several aspects of life in the city, including a crime syndicate preparing to collapse in upon itself on account of the “Flesh Mage’s” careful ministrations. Aryan also returned to the underground spy network, combining the overall plot with an assassination attempt on the queens of two nations. The politics tend to overshadow the actual magic in these books, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for me I wanted far more magic and fantasy than I got with this book. A little balance and more emphasis on the actual magic would have been nice. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in Thedas over the years, and my expectations of blood magic is way too specific; I don’t know.
This is not to say it isn’t well-written. Stephen Aryan develops his characters really well. He takes a lot of time to get inside their heads and hearts, and works hard to make them believable people–something a lot of other authors skimp on, regrettably–but at times the characters feel like they overshadow the story itself. After the time spent developing the magic of the world in Battle Mage, I expected a little more about the actual “Flesh Mage,” perhaps more time in his head might have provided the balance I was personally looking for. There was mention of an end goal, motivation for these “Flesh Mages,” but it wasn’t explored as deeply as I would have liked. Instead the story kept returning to the crime families and the assassination plot, so the actual magic didn’t feel like it was done nearly as much justice as it was in the first book.
Which leaves me torn about whether or not I want to finish out the series in October when Chaos Mage releases. As I said above, Aryan is a decent writer. One of my favorite things about his work so far is the attention to character building he pays. This is only his second book, and on that account it is very well done, I’m just not sure the series is meeting my personal fantasy and magic needs at this time. I think I’m going to sit with it for a couple of months and make my decision about finishing out the series closer to release date for the final book.
I give Blood Mage three out of five stars, and recommend it to fantasy readers who find themselves slightly more intrigued by politics and intrigue than magic when it comes to their fantasy.