Dylan lives in bubble of relative safety. In the tower, sequestered with his fellow magicians, he can practice his craft freely and know the warmth of a caring mentor and close friends. Outside the tower, magicians are seen as dangerous weapons whose power must be harnessed and controlled by military authorities. It’s forced servitude, but for Dylan the tower has grown small and smothering. Even if it means leashing his magic, he wants to see the world and be of use to the war effort.
War isn’t what Dylan imagined and soon he finds himself struggling to survive after his entire troop is killed. Worse yet, the enemy is gaining ground. Alone save for an odd collection of survivors, Dylan must come to consider the path he has chosen. If he tries to save the kingdom, he will be a virtual prisoner, his magic muted and his will corrupted. But if he runs, how many innocents will die as a result?
In Pain and Blood was…challenging. On the surface it’s everything I love — a long fantasy novel with an epic quest and an intense romance to round it all out. Unfortunately, there’s something to be said for all things being in moderation. This book was WAY too long and as a result, it rambled and meandered its way to a less than thrilling conclusion.
There are five main characters in the book, but only two are defined beyond their basic constructions: Dylan and his eventual lover, Tracker. Neither are particularly noble characters, but nor are they wicked. In that way, they seem to balance out the reality of mankind — good and bad all in the same package. But it’s Dylan’s naïveté and stubborn stupidity that often left me frustrated with him. He isn’t a character that matures or grows as he should, especially given the experiences he has. Tracker is a little more enigmatic by intent and often comes off as flippant and flirtatious. This works some of the time, but often goes too far and, as a result, Tracker looks like a lecher rather than a meaningful member of the traveling party. There are women who join Dylan and Tracker and all of them are flat and lifeless. They serve no real purpose to the story and more than once I wondered what they were supposed to be adding to the wider picture.
In Pain and Blood should be half it’s length. It’s far too long and there are whole chapters where nothing happens save sexual encounters, pages of pillow talk, and the mundane business of weapons training. A little of this great, but it’s chapter after chapter after chapter of just nothing. The story fails to go anywhere meaningful and because it takes so long to reach the conclusion, by the time I got there, I had ceased caring about any of it. Also Tracker’s habit of using the word “dear” to preface every one (my dear warrior, my dear hunter, my dear spellster, etc) is maddening. It came to grate on my nerves in a huge way. As a side note, there is on page m/f sex as well as a smallish orgy, which is a phrase I always wanted to use.
In Pain and Blood had a lot of good ideas that were snuffed out by excessive and unnecessary writing. Whole chunks of the book could be cut and never missed. I wanted to like In Pain and Blood and if you adore full-length fantasies, you might find something to enjoy. But this one just didn’t do it for me.