Darkness cloaked the land of Alfara as a chill wind swept through the fields of wheat. Tavar felt an energy shimmer in the air. The threat of change. Of violence.Memories of Blood and Shadow, Chapter 1 opening
Many thanks to the author, Aaron S. Jones, for providing a physical ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Guilt cuts deeper than the deadliest of blades.
Tavar Farwan lives alone past the Undying Sands. During a violent storm, he is attacked by two young warriors claiming a need for vengeance for pain from ages past. Tavar defends himself, killing one of the intruders and leaving the other to bleed on the floor. Weary and filled with regret, Tavar offers to tell the young man his story: a story of how, in a world of Naviqings, Leviathans, and Shadow Warriors; a poor, nomadic orphan rose to inspire a kingdom, and kill a God.From Amazon
Book Content Warnings
Shown on page: reliance on alcohol, slavery, gratuitous violence, suicide, vomiting, gore, beatings, torture, bullying
Alluded to: child harm, child slavery
Author Aaron S. Jones presents an epic tale of raw struggle, growth, and hope in the face of impossible adversity in his upcoming adult fantasy release, Memories of Blood and Shadow. Framed in the tradition of Patrick Rothfuss’ King Killer Chronicles, the story opens with main character Tavar, a hardened, aged warrior of legends, who shares his story with a small audience. From there readers are immersed in a winding adventure of a boy who battles his way to greatness in a harsh and unforgiving world. Riddled with darkness but unexpectedly inspiring, the story of Tavar and his friends is an unfiltered tale of life and hardship in a realistic fantasy world.
He licked his dry, cracked lips and peered up above the hearth at an old friend perched on top of two iron hooks sticking out of the wall. The emerald green handle of the thin blade glinted mischievously in the dancing candlelight as Tavar held its gaze. It would still be sharp. Fatally so, if necessary.Memories of Blood and Shadow, p3
I enjoyed the framing used to ease readers into this book. The reflective storytelling style feels like a natural way to open and settle readers into the story. Once inside Tavar’s memories, the story progresses in three parts based on age and significant events – childhood (“The Eyes of the Young Boy”), soldiering (“The Eyes of the Soldier”), and manhood (“The Eyes of the Man”). The last one is the longest section. Typically I struggle with childhood or coming-of-age stories in fantasy (I don’t have the patience I guess), but Tavar’s tale didn’t linger in the innocence for long. Unfortunately for him – but fortunately for the reader – he’s quickly thrust from the tender, peaceful life he enjoyed into a cruel and difficult future. This leads into one of my favorite parts – training! Without going into too much detail I’ll share that it’s brutal, of course. Most of his life is. Tavar hardens and survives it, however, due much in part to the strength drawn from his friends.
Which brings us to the characters themselves. Memories of Blood and Shadows exclusively follows the perspective of Tavar as the main character, but there are an assortment of friends and allies that join him through various parts of his life. Some of them accompany him for a brief time and others are there for the long haul, much like in the real world. They’re introduced gradually as they enter his life, as opposed to clobbering the reader with a bunch of names up front like you sometimes see in fantasies. Two particular characters I enjoyed were Qassim and Halfor. One has a fantastic personality and the other undergoes tremendous growth in the story, so both have a special place in my heart. Throughout the story there are a few friend groups that crop up around Tavar, which make for sweet friend dynamics and heartwarming ‘found family’ themes. In these crews the author does a good job balancing their personalities so no single character is too dominating. Like in real life many of the friends also bring some lightness to the story, modeling support and compassion in an otherwise dark and unforgiving world.
With innocence and youth comes a huge space for mistakes and regret. You see the best in people. You expect the people you care about to care for you. You want them to follow the same path you are on. It’s only when you grow a little that you realise that things can’t work like that; everyone has their own path to go on, one they decide for themselves. Pain and suffering are, unfortunately, inevitable.Memories of Blood and Shadow, p363
Since the majority of the book is framed as told by current-day Tavar, he is also the focus and sole perspective of the story. As a character Tavar is enjoyable to follow for most of the book. Later on, however, I began to find his decisions predictable with somewhat shallow rationale. Perhaps because of his past trauma, he consistently makes choices that move towards helping friends in trouble while frustratingly ignoring the fact that this undoes their previous efforts to aid him and also puts his current company at risk. There is some discussion in the group about these dangerous missions but the consensus is usually supportive of Tavar’s decision. I think more thorough self-reflection or emotional check-ins would have made the plot direction changes more reasonable. Hearing about how unmanaged scars from his past influence current decisions would have made it feel more smooth instead of a single-minded drive to help others.
The writing style was good after I warmed into it. Descriptions of the characters and setting are just long enough to envision the scene but not overly flowery. Stylistically I feel the writing suits the mood of the text. Perhaps because it was a review copy there were some grammar errors but these weren’t too obtrusive. Pacing was great and I never had an issue dropping off in the middle, but the book itself is very long. There are a few places where I would have preferred to see it broken up and have the separated books deepened. In terms of content the author doesn’t shy away from the distressing realities of war, torture, and other realistic brutalities. Readers get an unfiltered and at times shocking view of the characters’ experiences in the world. These experiences feel especially close given the present tense memory framing discussed earlier.
We grow up with tales and stories that give us the rose scented view of war. War stinks like shit and there’s no escaping that fact. The face of war is not some hero smiling with perfect teeth. It is the starving, homeless farmer. The bloated corpse of a young boy. The terrified gaze of a daughter looking upon the motionless bodies of her parents. You have a soft heart, Tavar Farwan. The days ahead will turn it to stone or it will break. Up to you which one it is.Memories of Blood and Shadow, p307
Finally, I enjoyed the fantasy elements of the story. Much of the setting and characters feel as though they could exist in the real world, but there are other fantasy creatures and species on page as well. I wish more time was spent with these pieces of the story, but it’s possible that would fundamentally change the direction of the story, and it would certainly at least expand it. Instead, I look forward to exploring these fantasy portions of the world in a future book!
Although lengthy, this realistic epic fantasy is a journey worth embarking on. If you’re looking for a journey and don’t mind it getting dark, Tavar and his friends have a story to share with you.
About Aaron S. Jones
Born in the area of Birmingham that helped inspire Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Aaron S. Jones is the author of The Broken Gods trilogy. He is Head of English at a school in Kent, UK and when he is not tearing his hair out at students struggling with their, they’re, and there, he is tearing his hair out as he dies for the thousandth time on Demon’s Souls. You can find him on Twitter @HereticASjones where he is most likely procrastinating for hours at a time instead of focusing on his Orc murder mystery.