Bloodsworn is the first book in a new epic fantasy series by British author Tej Turner, and it really does get the series off to a phenomenal start. The narrative follows the adventures of a handful of young friends as they find themselves getting dragged into a magical conspiracy that threatens to destroy everything they hold dear.
The story starts in the village of Jalard, where we are introduced to a fairly hefty cast of characters and given an insight into their daily lives. Most of the main characters are teenagers hoping to be selected as one of the ‘Chosen’, those special few who get taken to the capital city and trained at the Academy. At first, it seems pretty clear that the most likely candidates for this honour will be Kyra, the only female fighter of any note and overly headstrong as a result, and Rivan, her direct rival who is initially portrayed as a bit of an overconfident bully. However, when the representatives instead choose the bookish Jaedin and the less experience fighter Sidry to accompany them back to Shemet the rest of the villagers are more than a little surprised.
After the Chosen and the representatives of the Academy leave along with local scholar Miles and the chief trainer Baird, Kyra and Rivan are given a mission by the village elders to travel to nearby Habella to purchase some supplies. Going with them are Dion, a former trainee who dropped out of running for the Academy to follow in his father’s footsteps as a blacksmith, and Aylen, one of the more accomplished trainees.
On the road, the Academy party are waylaid by what they assume are bandits and taken prisoner, and shortly after this the other group come across their tracks and quickly realise something isn’t right. It isn’t long before Kyla and the others catch up with the bad guys and attempt a rescue, and that’s where things really start to go downhill. I won’t spoil the rest of the story, but what follows is one hell of a roller-coaster ride that really keeps you turning pages.
There’s a lot to commend in this book. The writing style is top class, and the characters are well realised. Each of the main characters, of which there are several, grows and develops noticeably throughout the story, with each of them confronting and, to some degree, overcoming their own flaws along the way. There are also two very different magic systems at play; Psymancy is powered by the wielder’s psyche, while the other system is powered by the wielder’s attunement to divine crystals embedded somewhere in their body. Both systems are given a lot of attention, though at no point does the author try and explain how they work, just that they do.
I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book, and really look forward to the second part. I can imagine a lot of people passing this one by because it’s been put out by a relatively unknown small press, but to my mind it’s the many small presses that are keeping the SFF landscape fresh and exciting right now, taking chances on works like this that might not necessarily find a home with the larger, more cautious imprints. If you want to read something that’s new and interesting, that doesn’t stick to the same old tropes and templates that have seemingly dominated fantasy forever then you could do far worse than to give this wonderful book a try.