Reviewed by: E and Marlene
E: Last year I read and reviewed The Bloodbound the first installment in Lindsey’s epic fantasy series with Marlene and absolutely loved it. So when Marlene noticed the second installment was coming out I eagerly agreed to join her in another review. While I enjoyed The Bloodforged it wasn’t to the same level and I am afraid this might have fallen astray of the dreaded second book syndrome. Characters were behaving out of character, problems were created, and while Lindsey did provide a reason for some of situations I sadly felt like it was a bit contrived.
Marlene: When E and I reviewed The Bloodbound last year, I was very pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the book a lot, and thought the author and the series showed great promise. But I found The Bloodforged to be a disappointment. It has a dreadful case of “middle-book syndrome” and while there was a lot of moving back and forth, not a lot happened.
For those unfamiliar with middle-book syndrome, let me explain. In a story, there is a narrative arc. Things go up in the first third, down in the middle third, and rise again to a hopefully happy, or at least complete, conclusion in the final third. When the story is a trilogy, that means the first story ends on a high note, the second one ends where things are as dark as can be, and then events get more exciting until the conclusion in the third book. With a trilogy, the second book is all dark and getting darker. For examples that everyone knows, think of Sam in Mordor at the end of The Two Towers, believing that Frodo is dead and that he will be forced to carry the ring alone. In the Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back ends with Han Solo frozen in carbon and Luke getting his hand replaced while the Empire has the Rebel Alliance on the run.
But there was still progress towards the end goal made in both of those middle stories. This did not feel true in The Bloodforged, where all they do is run around and lose ground.
E: The Bloodforged starts off with Alden in a difficult situation that quickly turns dismal. The remnants of their forces are trying to survive a winter and start the rebuilding process while they buy time for their allies to join them in the Spring. Then they discover “things” have been happening which will delay when their allies provide any support so young King Erik takes desperate action. He decided to head off with his bodyguard Alix (also his half-brother’s wife) through enemy lines and unfriendly territory to attempt to gain help from their nearest neighbors The Kingdom of Harram. At the same time he sent his half-brother, Prince Liam, on a mission to find out the cause of the delay in the delivery of warships and warriors from The Republic of Onnan. I was really worried for a while about Liam and Alix’s relationship because Liam traveled with a young single noblewoman, also a Knight like Alix but thankfully it never seemed as if Liam was tempted to stray even as he admired her political acumen. As each journeyed, Liam picked up some diplomacy and did his best but ran into complicated politics, divided loyalties, and I think the results of some enemy agents. Erik on the other hand seemed to lose all of his political sense, willpower, and strength of purpose. I still really liked Alix and how she did her absolute best despite the odds. I do wonder when she will face the impact of some potentially regrettable decisions. In addition, I once again found myself intrigued by her older brother.
Marlene: As I said above, there is a lot of running around in The Bloodforged, but except for Alix’ brother Rig, everything everyone does turns out to be much ado about nothing. Their situations just keep getting worse and worse. One of the things that got very weird is the way that Erik and Liam seemed to switch personalities. Liam actually picked up some diplomacy, and Erik seems to be losing his mind and his faculties, without any explanation.
Also, considering that The Bloodbound included a romance triangle between Erik, Alix and Liam, the way that the author teased at flaring that back into life gave me the heebie-jeebies. Dealing with their love triangle the first time was done well, but having it erupt again felt wrong. That Erik still felt that way was not a surprise, but that Alix was beginning to respond felt like it betrayed her character.
E: Lindsey did do a good job of expanding her world. I enjoyed the depiction of the tangled mess in Onnan and also learning more about those in control in the Trionate of Oridia. The glimpse into the hill-tribes between Alden and Harram and their combination of fierce historical pride It was rather unsettling to see just how much Oridia knew about Alden and their plans so I still really want to know who, where, and how many spies they have in and around Alden. I also really want to know who Alix’s key informant, advisor, (even though she doesn’t always listen), and person of many abilities is. As much as I liked the world expansion, I felt like the explanation for some of the character behavioral changes came out of left field. Instead of solving a problem it seemed to make it a much bigger problem. I felt as if the rules of the world were not being followed so this was an attempt to explain why and it left me feeling disconnected and unsettled.
Marlene: While the expansion of the world into Onnan, the hill tribes and the Trionate was interesting, the fact that nothing seems to have been accomplished made the story drag for me. Because this is a middle book, most things unfortunately would trend downward, but this felt hopeless and also like time/page filler. It could pay off later, but right now all that happened was that things got worse.
The explanation for some of the character twists didn’t just come out of left field, they came out of a particular left field named “diabolus ex machina”, otherwise known as the “demon from the machine”. I don’t care for diabolus ex machina solutions any more than I care for deus ex machina solutions. If you need to come from that far out in order to make things make half sense, you’ve written yourself into a corner.
E: I think Lindsey has created an interesting and intriguing story in her Bloodbound series. However, some of the events and logic in The Bloodforged do leave me hoping I will find the resolution of this war and other events to be plausible within the story instead of feeling cheated. While I think I know a few of the things which have to happen, I don’t know how the follow-in impacts will be handled. I am looking forward to seeing how Lindsey and her characters figure things out with a bit of trepidation.
I give The Bloodforged a C
Marlene: I stopped caring about the characters. Alix, who was a terrific warrior woman in The Bloodbound, ends up whiny and ineffective in The Bloodforged. These weren’t issues that could be solved by hitting or shooting them, and her strengths were lost so she ended up showing off her weaknesses. Erik and Liam reversed characters. While it does make sense that Liam is growing into his role, the changes to Erik’s personality are finally revealed to come out of a diabolus ex machina and did not feel organic to the story so far. Also, I’ll admit to being completely creeped out at the end. I’m not sure how I feel about the possibility of future books in this series. I’ll probably wait until a friend reads it first to let me know whether the story has redeemed itself. Or not.
I give The Bloodforged a D+