Review | Conqueror’s Blood – Zamil Akhtar

About the Book

The Kingdom of Alanya is home to mystic warriors and mischievous djinn, vulgar poets and vain philosophers, soaring simurghs and scheming shahs.

Little do the people know that a power struggle between an ancient sorceress and an upstart sultana threatens to bathe the sands in bile and bones. A bloody cauldron boils, and primeval gods laugh whilst they stir it.

As warhorses charge, arrows shower, and cannon shots brighten the night, all must choose a side.

550 pages (ebook)
Published on June 20, 2021
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This book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

I really loved Gunmetal Gods. Akhtar’s world and the characters that populated it gripped me, and I was anxious to read more. When the author contacted me to see if I’d be interested in reading the second book in his series, I jumped on the offer. While I expected Conqueror’s Blood to perhaps pick up where Gunmetal Gods left off, it was really its own thing. Set in the same world, this was truly a unique story, and I loved it for that. 

Where Gunmetal Gods gave the reader dueling first-person narratives from opposing sides of a conflict that was reminiscent of the Crusades, Conqueror’s Blood tells the story of two women who are friends, set in the midst of a mystery. Yet it keeps all the fantastic elements of the world that was established in the first book of the series, and even expands upon them. 

There are some crafty things Akhtar does in regards of narrative. There are inherent limitations to not only his world, but to the perspectives of the two women telling their sides of the story and Akhtar does a great job circumnavigating these limitations in the most natural way, cutting through the distance (both emotionally and physically) and bringing the reader directly into the center of the conflict. This makes the book feel a bit more personal than Gunmetal Gods did, and a bit more immediate, while keeping some emotional nuance and depth that I, quite frankly, did not expect. 

The book itself builds upon all of the things I loved in Gunmetal Gods. Here we get this gorgeously wrought Middle Eastern setting with sand palaces and bazaars, food that is described so beautifully it made me seriously hungry. There are also djinn and spirits, gods that manipulate events through human counterparts, and sprawling landscapes steeped in magic, and full of mystery. In fact, I would say Akhtar’s care with how he constructed his secondary world is one of my favorite elements of this book as a whole. I was constantly swept away by the majesty and detail of the world he’s created. Nothing was overlooked, and due to that care, this secondary world was one of the most real I’ve come across, exotic, and yet fully grounded. 

Conqueror’s Blood is a bit of a mystery and told from the perspectives of two women, friends, who are more than they know. These perspectives allows the reader to get a bit of a nuanced view of the tale being told, but also gives this particular mystery a bit of depth and layers that it otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s not all comfortable, either. There are some parts of this book that are distinctly uncomfortable, but I think sometimes being uncomfortable while you read is not just okay, but important.

Zedra and Cyra are the two women at the core of this book. Friends, and yet they fill very different roles and have distinct personalities. As one would expect in an epic fantasy story, the fate of themselves, and those they love hang in the balance, and both characters are pushed past what they thought they were capable of in the course of this book. With their connection to the throne, the book is both a mystery and full of politics as well. There’s a lot here that is both fantastic, and much like the world the author has created, steeped in reality as well. I did occasionally wonder if Akhtar drew upon real-world historical influences to write this book, because I felt like I could sense some bits of history speckled throughout the narrative.

The characters are raw and real, and I truly felt for them. Wherein most books I find myself preferring one character over the other, I felt like these two were equally balanced, and I liked them both. They each brought something to the story that was truly unique to them and made the book work as well as it did, and they each had limitations that needed to be worked with. Their personalities and voices remained individual, and their arcs were surprising, and incredibly gripping. They did not stay stagnate, as characters, they evolved along with the story.

Conqueror’s Blood is one of those books that will demand your full attention. You can’t read this while your attention wanders. There’s a lot that happens in this book, and a lot of it is below the surface. You have to pay attention, or you’ll probably end up re-reading passages to pick up things you missed. This isn’t to say it’s a difficult book to read, because it’s not. It’s beautifully written, but there is a lot that happens here, and the plot moves so quick, if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss details you needed to feel the full impact of the story. 

The mystery at the core of the book isn’t unraveled fully until the final pages of this story, and while I expected the ending, at least in some form, I was still surprised enough by so many other aspects of the book, I didn’t mind that small nugget of predictability. In fact, it allowed me to really enjoy how the author drew together all these narrative threads. 

Conqueror’s Blood was one of those books I was overjoyed to have read. It’s a furious story full of tragic lows and emotional highs, where people are pushed past their breaking points in a world that was so finely wrought and exotic, it fairly leapt off the pages. 

Zamil Akhtar is one of those authors who is a credit to the genre. He writes the kind of epic fantasy I love. Its raw and real, full of layers and depth, absolutely gorgeous prose, and characters that leap off the page and breathe right along with me. Conqueror’s Blood is an amazing addition to this series, and a must-read. 

5/5 stars