Blood of Innocents is the second of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence by Mitchell Hogan. Having escaped the invading sorcerers from fallen Anasoma, Caldan decides to follow Master Simon’s last request: to take his blade to the Protectors, and to warn the Emperor of the invading forces.
Along for the ride are Bells, the enemy sorceress captured in the final chapters of Crucible of Souls; Miranda, whose mind was lost in the battle; Ammerton, a mysterious shopkeeper with many secrets; and Elpidia, the herbalist who’s dependent on Caldan’s blood to treat her wasting sickness. Although the group is quite rag-tag, they manage to make their way to the nearest city to warn of Anasoma’s fall. Along the way, Caldon makes a desperate deal with Bells to try and fix Miranda, though the deal may cost him more than the trust of the Protectors.
The Mahruse Empire
Aside from the central storyline revolving around Caldan, we also get an expanded view of this world and its inhabitants through the minds of the magistrate, Aiden and his band of mercenaries, the Five Oceans Mercantile, Lady Felicienne, and more. At times, it was difficult to place one character’s side story in the larger scheme of the book or the series. Other times, it was incredible to find the revelations from a side character bore incredible ripple-effects out into the lives of the other characters.
For world building, I enjoyed getting a better shot of the cannibalistic Jakari, and trying to figure out what their place was in the world. This series is not one to focus on different species of humanoids. For the most part, there are men, rare instances of Jakari, and possible spirits or evil denizens from before The Shattering. There is an ambiguous quality to this world, as it is referred to only as “the empire” and while neighboring countries and lands may have names, the one we do inhabit never gets alluded to. I wondered why Hogan chose to leave the name ambiguous, and came up with a blank, though it did help with the atmosphere of the unknown that Caldan exhibits at most opportunities.
Caldan so far doesn’t seem to be experiencing much growth, either intellectual or magical. In A Crucible of Souls, his naive outlook on life and gentle approach towards everyone was understandable considering his past loss of his parents, and then the cloistered nature of his upbringing in the monastery. Now however, it’s been months since he left and he’s had the stuffing beaten out of him a few more times than he’d like to admit. Instead of learning from his brushes with evil, with the greed and distrust of mankind, he continues to put himself into positions of weakness, where he leads his friends blindly into danger or destruction.
At times Caldan has redeeming moments as he continues his hodgepodge pursuit of a magical education. It’s clear that he has strength and skill in that arena, and in sword fighting, but Caldan really only uses his magic in small ways. I would love to get a better understanding of the magic in play. I’ve gotten the impression that the Protectors aren’t in the right; they’ve kept true knowledge and understanding of magic out of the hands of the everyday folk for centuries.
One of the best stated themes of Blood of the Innocents was the disparity between good and evil. Ammerton comes off as inherently evil, though he masquerades as good. Yet, deep down, he’s just a hurt little boy who wasn’t able to protect himself or his siblings when he was terrorized and abused as a child. In the same sense, the Protectors seem good, and Caldan seems to completely trust them-or at least wants to earn their trust and respect-yet we really aren’t sure if they are the good guys or the bad guys. Both sides, the emperor and the god-emperor, have done inexcusable things in the name of keeping their people safe, or making their kingdom whole. One side uses destructive magic freely, while the other uses it but only under the cover of secrecy. So who is good? Who is evil? Which side do we really want to win this conflict anyway?
The audiobook was again narrated by the likes of Oliver Wyman, who took great strides forward in character and tone development with Blood of the Innocents. I was particularly impressed with the voices for anyone that seemed evil or old. Men had gravel in their throats, and those who were possessed by greed or hate had sickly honeyed tongues that slimed and slipped over every note. The God-Emperor Kahek in particular was a very powerful voice, as he had some kind of rocky strength that seemed unreal, yet passively calm and cool as a cucumber at the same time. A great blend of characterization from Hogan and tone/voice technique from Wyman on that one!
As with the previous book, Wyman sincerely struggles with creating dynamic female voices that aren’t extremely irritating. They are alright when a female isn’t showing any form of emotion, but as soon as Elpidia or Miranda or Anneleigh got scared, angry, or showed anything other than sagacity, their tones and voices would devolve into shrill whines and sickly mewls that endeared them to nobody. It’s a good thing then, that 90% of the story is told from a male perspective, and I do enjoy Wyman’s take on most characters. I just need to remember to never listen to a book in which he narrates for a female lead…
The Sorcery Ascendant Sequence is a puzzle to me, and so far the most puzzling book of all has been Blood of Innocents. The story meanders through a lot of different ideas, thoughts, and places, but never seems to arrive at its destination. There are a lot of half stories, half-truths, and the details that are still only sketches instead of fully-fledged paintings. Perhaps what I’m missing will be found in the next edition of the story, but it was a good ”filler” story, giving me details that I was looking for in the first book, and advancing our understanding of the world that Mitchell Hogan has written about. Caldan and the gang are incredibly compelling characters despite being ambiguous and vague at times. I’m looking forward to book three, and can only hope that some answers will come for all of my questions!