Review | Of Blood and Fire – Ryan Cahill

About the Book

Born in fire. Tempered in blood. 

Epheria is a land divided by war and mistrust. The High Lords of the south squabble and fight, only kept in check by the Dragonguard, traitors of a time long past, who serve the empire of the North.

In the remote villages of southern Epheria, still reeling from the tragic loss of his brother, Calen Bryer prepares for The Proving—a test of courage and skill that not all survive.

But when three strangers arrive in the village of Milltown, with a secret they are willing to die for, Calen’s world is ripped from under him and he is thrust headfirst into a war that has been raging for centuries.

There is no prophecy. His coming was not foretold.

He bleeds like any man, and bleed he will.

541 pages (kindle)
Published on March 20, 2021
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I ran into Ryan Cahill a while ago. He asked if I’d edit his novella, and I said yes. He was a lot of fun to work with and I kind of assumed that would be it, because I knew he had an ongoing series in the works. Then, he asked if I’d edit the second book in his series, and I knew to edit the second book, I’d have to read the first so I hunted it down and read it. 

Now, to be clear, I did this so I’d be able to edit book two with the attention to detail and nuance that the book deserves, however, it took about ten pages for me to forget I was doing this to be able to do my job. The book sucked me in, and I very quickly forgot myself, my job as an editor, and the world around me. I was so immersed in the story being told, real life fell away and I became the story.

That’s what good books should do. 

There’s this constant discussion of tropes going around in the fantasy genre community. I very rarely engage in them, but I do tend to watch them as they unfold. The thing is, everything has already been done before, so it’s not really a matter of not using tropes in your writing, but owning the tropes you do use and making them yours. Tropes are what made me fall in love with fantasy. The very first fantasy books I read featured the “chosen one” and that storyline touched me profoundly. My favorite books deal with the fate of the world, or an empire collapsing under the weight of treachery and outside forces. Of magic and upheaval. None of this is new. 

And yet, occasionally I run across a book that uses all these elements and somehow manages to do so in a way that both calls upon the old me that first discovered books featuring these tropes and fell in love with them, and the current me who is constantly looking for authors who breathe new life into their fantasy. There’s an interesting marriage here, in Cahill’s Of Blood and Fire. In so many ways, I could feel past me high-fiving current me. This is the kind of book that cemented my love of fantasy. And yet, current me loved it because it is completely Cahill’s own. The tropes are there, but he’s wrapped his hands around them, and mastered them. 

Here, you’ll find familiar elements that harken unto Tolkien’s worldbuilding, the royalty and politics often found in traditional fantasy, and the “chosen one” storyline. In so many ways, Of Blood and Fire felt a lot like a love letter to traditional fantasy. And yet, Cahill’s unique voice kept the story feeling fresh and new, moving a long into territory that married the familiar and the unfamiliar nearly seamlessly. Here, we have the fate of the world and empires falling. And yet, here we also have intimate stories about characters who, throughout the course of the book, become so real they felt a part of me. 

The worldbuilding was magnificent, and Cahill’s knack for description brought it to blazing life. I could smell the food cooking and see the landscape unfolding around me. Quiet moments of introspection made characters feel like blazing stars in the middle of a dark sky. What I’m saying is, Cahill has a way with making everything count, from the quiet moments to the loud ones. The world never really felt secondary to me, rather it felt as real as my own, and I wanted to explore more of it. This intoxicating blend of elements kept the book interesting, pulling me along as the characters, story, and world developed.

The plot moves at a quick pace, and it has all the things you’d expect in traditional fantasy. It hit all my nostalgic notes and created an unforgettable song that accompanied the unfolding saga. I will admit, I love reading books written by authors who are passionate about the stories they are telling. There’s something about their passion that just infuses the book, and somehow, the reader feels it as well. It’s addicting, and I felt that here. Cahill’s passion infused every word. 

Of Blood and Fire starts off a new epic fantasy series. This is a stunning debut and will delight readers of traditional fantasy.

5/5 stars