Books, Reviews

My review of BLOODBOUND, by F. Wesley Schneider


The blurb: 

Larsa is a dhampir-half vampire, half human. In the gritty streets and haunted moors of gothic Ustalav, she’s an agent for the royal spymaster, keeping peace between the capital’s secret vampire population and its huddled human masses. Yet when a noblewoman’s entire house is massacred by vampiric invaders, Larsa is drawn into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that will reveal far more about her own heritage than she ever wanted to know.

From Pathfinder co-creator and noted game designer F. Wesley Schneider comes Bloodbound, a dark fantasy adventure of murder, intrigue, and secrets best left buried, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Role Playing Game.

My review:

I won a copy of ‘Bloodbound’ in an online sweepstakes, and it’s possible that I would have never given this book a chance otherwise. While I am an old-school (read: old) role-playing gamer and fantasy-lover, reading a book based on a role-playing game wouldn’t regularly be my first choice. However, in this case, I would have missed out, because ‘Bloodbound’ is a terrific and very entertaining fantasy and adventure story with strong shades of gothic horror. There are vampires aplenty, and one of the main characters – the gutsy and gloriously ornery Larsa – is the offspring of a human and a vampire: alive, but endowed with some vampire powers.

The other main character is the young priestess Jadain who serves Pharasma. Pharasma is the goddess of death and rebirth, and pretty much the nemesis of any and all undead, including vampires, making the initial meeting between Larsa and Jadain somewhat tense.

‘Bloodbound’ starts out a little slow as it introduces the reader to Jadain and Larsa (each chapter in the book switches between their points of view, a storytelling device that works well here), but once the two are thrown together, the tale really catches fire. The story then follows the unlikely friendship that forms between them as they set out on a long journey and difficult quest together, facing several dark and perilous adventures.

I loved the way Larsa and Jadain’s friendship grows slowly but surely throughout the tale. Schneider never forces or overplays the growing connection and trust between the two, and the relationship has an entertaining odd-couple-on-the-road feel to it. There’s the cynical and damaged Larsa who has seen more than enough of the world’s seedy vampire-ruled underbelly, playing off the younger and more inexperienced Jadain who is initially somewhat unsure of herself, but who also has an inner strength and stubbornness that end up serving her well.

It also turns out that they do have one thing in common: when it comes down to the wire, they both kick some serious butt – Larsa with her blade, and Jadain with her own weapon-wielding skills, and the magic of the goddess. And they do need to kick ass, repeatedly, what with the fanatical priests waylaying them, the vampire minions attacking them, and various kinds of magical attacks putting them in peril along the way.

The story is well-written and fast-paced with several fantastical and gore-horror-fabulous fight scenes: there were some towards the end that had me turning the pages frantically to find out how Jadain and Larsa would save their skins (and souls).

Throughout ‘Bloodbound’, Schneider allows these two characters to be the energy that powers the story, with no forced romances, and no ridiculous damsel in distress moments (though there is plenty of trouble for Jadain and Larsa along the way) to mar the tale. Other great characters make appearances as well: the devious and devilishly charming vampire Considine, the aging adventurer Ailson Kindler, and the sinister vampire Rivascis, to mention a few. But for me the heart of the story is the sometimes awkward, sometimes fraught, but ever-present bond between Jadain and Larsa that deepens and strengthens as they both come to appreciate and rely on each other. Along the way they end up finding out more than they might have bargained for about themselves: Jadain about her faith, her powers, and the goddess she serves; and Larsa about her own dark past and the secrets it holds.

‘Bloodbound’ is a rollicking dark fantasy tale lit up by two strong female characters whose friendship is allowed to shine through the story from start to finish. All together an excellent adventure.

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