I'm rarely surprised by fantasy fiction lately. After twenty five years of reading it I've noticed a lot of the books are the same. Male protagonists (usually), medieval European settings, and an ancient and powerful evil that will need destroying. Throw in a wise old wizard or two and you get my drift. So when I read something different I'm usually very surprised and delighted. And when that something draws you into a world so immersive and wonderful then it becomes an experience for the ages.
The Blood of Whisperers is, to put it simply, one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Madson has managed to combine the wonder and depth of epic fantasy with the grit and emotional power of modern day grimdark, and in doing so forged a book that is, in my opinion, the complete package. Following three main protagonists, The Blood of Whisperers depicts a bloody and chaotic world where the Empire is on it's knees following a coup and the subsequent societal upheaval that usually follows such an event. Navigating the deadly politics of the new regime, the protagonists must each try and survive long enough in order to gain revenge.
I loved everything about this book. For starters the world building is sublime. Madson wields an efficient, yet beautiful voice, when she describes things and crafts her universe page after page. As a reader you can really tell just how much thought and love she has put into designing the world of the Crimson Throne. Drawing heavily from places like Feudal Japan, Madson carefully peels back layer after layer as you read, and you are slowly drawn into an intricate web of cultures, magical systems, politics and socio-economic groups. And it works! It works so well that you find yourself thinking about it for weeks afterwards. It was also incredibly refreshing to read a book not set in a world based on Medieval Europe.
Another wonderful feature of this book is it's characters. Characters are the beating heart of every good story, and this rings especially true for The Blood of Whisperers. Madson has created a cast of enthralling and deeply layered characters whose words and actions have power and meaning on every single page. And when bad things happen to those characters, you feel real and sincere emotional loss. Sometimes you even cry (yes... I shed a tear or two whilst reading this book). She has also taken it further with individuals like Endymion, who ability as an Empath allows him to 'feel' other peoples emotions and know their deepest and darkest secrets. I adored the psi-like powers of Endymion (and others), as they gave me a unique and incredibly deep insight into the minds of those around him. Madson's characterisation is so formidable that there are also so many other memorable characters in this story. Hana Otako is a favourite with her strong will and complex nature, as is Darius Laroth, the right hand man to Emperor Kin.
The action and pacing of The Blood of Whisperers is also superb. Madson finds that balance between action and reaction and drives the story forward at a formidable pace. The Blood of Whisperers is primarily about vengeance, and there is plenty of that occurring as the world fractures and everyone is caught up in the political machinations of players both seen and unseen. And when battles do occur they are choreographed nicely and have far reaching consequences that a reader will not always notice. This sort of thing takes real skill, after reading this book I know Madson has that in spades. In fact, I don't really have anything critical to say about The Blood of Whisperers. I loved everything about it that much.
The Blood of Whisperers is a superb read filled with emotional power, riveting characters, and mesmerising storytelling. If you have any interest in speculative fiction you'll find something to love in this book. Madson is, in my opinion, a star on the rise.
5 out of 5 stars.