Ken bought me this book as a gift when we went to the Grim Gathering event in Bath; I was there to see Joe Abercrombie, I’d read Prince of Thorns in preparation and so was excited to see Mark Lawrence, and I was curious about this Anna Stephens whose debut everyone was talking about. It’s hard to believe that was all the way back in September, and it’s taken me half a year to finally get around to reading Godblind.
I absolutely should have picked this book up sooner.
A brief overview: Goblind is a grimdark (very grim and dark) fantasy, with a multiple point-of-view narrative. It’s a warring nations kind of fantasy, with gods pulling the strings from behind the scenes; lots of back stabbing, betrayals, prophecies, priestesses.
Oh yes but this time it’s done so well.
It’s a plot-driven kind of book, fast paced and plenty of action, twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, moments that I actually gasped aloud at. Trigger warning, within the first character’s narrative there is an attempted rape; there is gory fighting, and extremely violent scenes. So as far as grimdark goes, Stephens sells it hard. She really hammers it home. The next time someone pipes up with the misguided opinion that “women can’t write grimdark”, I’ll relish reading them a particular excerpt as a bedtime story.
And I can hear your eyes rolling; yet another gratuitous rape scene in a grimdark. But I would not accuse Stephens of being gratuitous; rather, it serves as a brutal introduction to what will become a major theme throughout the book, that of gender inequality. It’s not a point she drives home, I never felt that Stephens was trying to teach me any lessons per say; but it’s certainly something she attacks with sensitivity and aplomb that really struck me. Particularly one character’s story arc, her coming to terms with her experiences and her difficulty in learning to trust again. Absolutely fantastic character portrayal and growth, utterly believable and compelling.
“free women can accept drinks from free men without it requiring payment of any sort”
There are a lot of characters; if you’re not a fan of multiple POV then you may dislike just how many characters we experience the narrative through. Stephens flickers through these characters, never resting on one for too long; and yet she packs so much into these brief glimpses. It gives you a sense that you’re godlike, that you have an omnipresence over this world in which you flit in and out of perspectives, regardless of rhyme or reason or sides. You don’t quite get a chance to know the characters well enough; it’s harder to trust them and get a sense of who they are, making it harder to second guess them. Their actions are then all the more surprising because you don’t see it coming. It’s an absolutely fantastic use of multiple POV; I’m biased, I’m rather a fan of it on a good day, but to see it done so well with such affect is wonderful.
Now on top of these intricate character relationships and interactions, there’s the actual plot. Sometimes in fantasy you get either or; either great characters but not much happens, or loads happens but the characters lack depth. Stephens somehow manages to skip blithely over this pitfall with complicated characters and a driving, intricate plot balanced perfectly in her clearly capable hands. It’s astounding that this is a debut. The numerous battle scenes are well planned, exciting, quickly paced and flowing and yet you get the sense that you’re there with the characters. It’s visceral and real and you’re equally knackered by the end.
I didn’t want to put this book down. There were moments where I had to put it down because, wait, did that just actually happen? And oh god I’m so scared of what I suspect will happen next… So you pick it back up again and your heart wrenches all over again. Stephens manipulates your expectations; she tells her story expertly and guides you through so many emotions. Whilst at the same time delivering one of the most brutal, gritty books I’ve ever read and after three days I am still not ok.
I really hope they’re ok.
Darksoul can’t come soon enough.
You can also read an excellent interview with Anna Stephens on The Fantasy Hive’s Author Spotlight.
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