Justicar Daxton Ellis wants to bring the king’s justice to Lowside. The Chancellor and the First Shield – Dax’s father and brother – are determined to bring Lowside’s crime kingpin, Pious Black, to heel. Once again, Dax is going to have to choose between his family and his loyalty to Alys – but when nobody is telling him the truth, how can he decide?
Civil Blood picks up where Best Left in Shadows left off, and lifts this Echo of the Ascended thread to the next level. Forget everything you think you know – the whole core of Civil Blood is the realisation that nothing and nobody in Lowside (or Highside) is ever what it seems.
The novella gets off to a spectacular start, plunging us back into Lowside with the sort of gritty urban narrative that Best Left in Shadows aspired to but didn’t quite pull off. It’s pacy from the outset, with a handful of grue and regular reminders of just how awesome Alys is.
I particularly enjoyed the scene in which she dragged Dax to see the Cinderman, and then started a
riot brawl to make a point. There’s no doubt in her ability or her confidence, and when we’re told that some people see her as Pious Black’s natural heir, the only question is whether she’s cold enough to casually butcher a man’s family to keep the rest of Lowside in line. After Civil Blood, it’s less easy to say no. Alys may have grown up alongside Elinor, Ferran and Roan, but her morality is ambiguous at best.
New characters Briarthorn, Donner and Marek are excellent additions to the cast, giving us insights into Alys and Dax but having their own depths. Briarthorn in particular is fascinating: Alys by another path, just as capable and even more ambiguous.
The tone is firmly gritty and black-humoured, and the tension between former lovers Dax and Alys propels the action along without ever threatening to spill into slushy angst. The twists and turns are well-paced and gut-punching, casually tossing in hints of what lies in store for Kay (of Faith and Moonlight) without ever quite telling us what happens to her (ARGH) and leaving us in no doubt that the next outing for Alys is going to be devastating for all concerned.
Act 9 is titled Our Choices Define Us – this sums up not just Civil Blood, but increasingly all of the Echoes of the Ascended. It’s gripping stuff, and as Gelineau & King gain confidence and experience, I’m finding it increasingly compelling.
Worth noting that Civil Blood stands alone – you don’t have to have read Best Left in Shadows first – but you’re going to want to pick up the sequel. Fast. GAH.
Civil Blood (Echoes of the Ascended | Alys #2) will be released on April 15th, 2016.
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