Writing the second book in a fantasy trilogy isn't easy. There are many factors to consider, especially if the first book was a hit (A Crucible of Souls was). There are reader expectations to now manage and exceed, and a story that not only needs to develop but also be improved upon from the first book. Unfortunately, many authors fall short in this endeavour, leading to the rise of the term 'middle book syndrome'.
Fortunately, Hogan is not one of those authors.
Blood of Innocents not only exceeded my expectations, it smashed through them and swept past cackling and lobbing magical lightning at all in its path.
Beginning where A Crucible of Souls finished, Caldan finds himself on the run with a ragtag group of companions. Events are spiralling out of control around him, as he struggles to help the woman he cares for in a world filled with former allies, and new and powerful enemies. The Empire is under threat, and legends of pasts evils may not turn out to be legends after all.
I loved so many different things about this book, from it's Tolkienesque world building through to its many sword and sorcery moments, that I could literally write for days. But I have to keep it as concise as possible. So here goes.
Blood of Innocents is not constrained by tropes, and therein lies its brilliance. Hogan has shown where a writer can take a fantasy story and still please fans of a more traditional vein with this book. The construction and expansion of the world is well thought out, and the magical systems in place rival Sanderson in their design and originality (warlocks, coercive and destructive sorcery... hell yes). There is admittedly a lot of description to work through, but Hogan's universe needed to grow in this book in order to set things up for the final volume of the trilogy.
The story itself unfolds at an enthralling and rapid pace, with many moments where I felt as though as I was an actual companion on the road with Caldan, fleeing those who were hunting us. It is hard to achieve that level of intimacy with a story, but Hogan does it with ease whilst also incorporating spades of moral ambiguity and grit into the plot. The lines between good and evil become very blurry the further in you get.
The action itself is incredibly intense and brilliantly choreographed, and the sorcery battles have to be read to be believed (I've read some great magical battles, and Hogan is right up there with the best). Climaxing wonderfully, the ending leaves you wanting the next book straight away so you can continue the adventure.
Blood of Innocents is what I want from a fantasy book in every way, shape, and form. Entertaining, enthralling, and moving, it has been my favourite read of the year so far.
A wonderful follow-up that fuses Tolkien, Salvatore, and Moorcock, Blood of Innocents is truly magnificent. I cannot wait for the final book in the trilogy!
5 out of 5 stars.