It took me five sittings to read this book. Hint: that is four too many. That’s how good this book is, friends.
I saw this book sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Noble one day and immediately went to read the back. The cover was just so intriguing to me. And it seemed interesting, yet I couldn’t bite the bullet and purchase it, as the price was a bit out of my price range (but, to be honest, all prices are out of my price range; living paycheck-to-paycheck has its drawbacks). So I put it back. And then I kept seeing it, everywhere. Sometimes it’d be on display, so it would be impossible to miss. Other times, I’d just be perusing the spines, innocently dreaming of the day when endless paychecks resulted in an endless supply of all the books I want, and then BAM! there it would be, Blood and Iron, mocking me because I could just tell it was a good book yet I couldn’t afford to buy it.
And that was probably, what, over a year ago? Yeah, a long time to pine over a book you want to read. So, cue moving back in with my parents this past semester (remember that paycheck-to-paycheck living comment I made…yeah) and thus, having a library account. For some odd reason, I never use any libraries other than the library I have always used as kid. I don’t know why. It’s as if, when I’m not staying at home for an extended period of time, other libraries don’t exist (even though I work in an academic one). My mind is a weird place.
Anyway, back to reviewing the experience that was reading Blood and Iron.
So, I start getting back into the groove of maxing out the family library card, when suddenly, I remember that cover that has haunted me for so long; three souls locked together by chains, just begging for their story to be read. I rush to put Blood and Iron on hold, which I got roughly two weeks ago. I start reading it, fly through the first 100 pages and then continue to read it in longer spurts throughout the next two weeks, until eventually, I put off walking my dog for an hour and a half, as the chapter I read eating a bowl of cereal just wasn’t enough and I had to finish the damn thing (sorry, Shadow).
All in all, I wasn’t disappointed.
Blood and Iron follows the lives of three slaves: Horace, a shipwright shipwrecked on enemy territory and taken in custody; Jirom, a gladiator traded into the life of trying to survive as he continues to switch hands and alliances; and Alyra, a slave who chose that fate in order to better live out her true identity as a spy. All of them struggle to survive within the realm of Queen Byleth, a woman who simply wants power, yet is constantly threatened by the religious sect that undermines to dethrone her, through forced marriage. Also, don’t forget to include awesome and terrifying storms, political intrigue and just a flair of romance.
Yeah. Bomb stuff, people.
Any time I stopped reading, Blood and Iron always called me back. Similar to how I always found it at the bookstore, even when I wasn’t looking for it, when Real Life would force its way into my reading time, I would close the book and, for a couple minutes afterwords, still be living in the world I had just left. Instead of getting ready for work, I would be thinking back to the heat of the desert and imagining how sweaty and painful that experience must be, marching all day with barely any bread or water given to you. Instead of walking my dog, I would be thinking about all the abrupt changes Horace was going through and wondering how on Earth he was going to master his magical powers and manage to keep himself alive. I just wanted to go back, instead of dealing with whatever interruption life had suddenly thrown my way.
Looking at some other reviews, some complaints are possible: the pace at the beginning is a bit slow; the character with latent magical powers saves the day trope is overused; Horace, as the main character, has no agency; the romance was underplayed. Personally, I could see how other readers might give sway to these complaints, yet I didn’t think about any of these things whilst I was reading. I was too lost within the story.
So does the plotline incorporate a trope? Yeah, sure. Does the ending scene, which had a chance for a great romantic confession, come up a little bit short? Yep. Could Horace have had a bit more agency? Potentially, but I personally feel that having life throw thing after thing at you and you having no control over it is more realistic than getting to have a say in everything you do. Plus, he is a slave in a foreign country that his people are at war with. So it isn’t surprising that he doesn’t have a lot of agency in the first half of the book, so I much prefer his “choicelessness” in the matter.
Basically, could or does this book have faults? Yes, it potentially could or maybe does. I dunno. Because I’m not reading books or reviewing them to find all the faults within them. I don’t go looking for books that are absent of all tropes and do everything completely new. I read to escape reality, to fall in love with characters and to enjoy myself for a couple of hours as my own problems and stresses slip away. Blood and Iron allowed me to do just that. I enjoyed the writing style, I became loyal to the characters, I cared about them and I grew fascinated by the world that Sprunk created.
As a reader, can I really ask for more than that?