Bloodstone, by Gillian Philip
Posted November 20, 2013on:
published November 2013
where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Tor!)
Earlier this year the first book in the Rebel Angel series, Firebrand, really hit me hard. No, “hit me hard” isn’t quite right, “destroyed me where I stood” is closer to the mark. Having survived that, I thought I had an idea of what to expect with Bloodstone, I knew to emotionally steel myself.
Seth’s MacGregor’s inner conflicts are tearing him apart, and one day it’s going to rip a hole in him so wide that another person could walk right through. What do you do when your family needs you to be someone you’re not? How do you tell someone a truth that might kill them? How do you run from one, and face the other? Didn’t matter that I thought I was preparing myself. I was still completely floored from the first page to the last.
Seth means to do the right thing. He wants to be as brave and mature as his older brother Conal, whom he idolizes. But Seth just isn’t that person, and he’s never going to be. He’s always going to prefer flirting to politics and fists to compromise. Seth is no one’s hero, and he doesn’t want to be. Doesn’t matter, you’ll still love him.
The Rebel Angels series has everything I look for in a good story – compelling characters who act like real people, dialog that’s got some humor to it (when Jed finds out Seth is a fae, there is no end of Tinkerbell and other fairy jokes), misunderstood promises and prophecies with unintentional and painful consequences. No “chosen ones” here, just people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, people who couldn’t fathom the consequences of their actions. There is a long conversation in here somewhere about free will.
Banished to our world centuries ago, on the search for the prophesied Bloodstone that will let them return to the land of the Sithe for good, the MacGregor brothers often make secret crossings to the homeland that calls to them. On one such misadventure, they come home one person short, which means a Sithe child will never meet her father.
Conal’s neice, Fionuala (is that not the coolest name you’ve ever heard?), is raised in the human world, and she has no idea who or what she is. Her mother forbids anyone from telling her. Mostly ignored at school, Finn thinks it’s her. She has no idea it’s the veil that’s hiding her. She’s just going to have to settle for having the best uncles in the world. Even if everything they’ve ever told her is a lie. Finn might be quiet, but she’s not stupid.
Due to a course of events and wryly brilliant dialog that I won’t spoil for you, Finn, her friend Jed, and Seth’s baby son Rory (long story) end up on the wrong side of the watergate that separates the Sithe world from our world. Finn hasn’t the foggiest idea about blocking her thoughts, so it’s only a matter of hours before Queen Kate is on their trail. And that’s just the beginning.
If it wasn’t for the exquisite characterization, this would just be another fun adventure novel.
But you see, Gillian Philip does something truly marvelous with words. She wraps people up in them, makes a blanket of everything they are, a mantle of histories, passions, fears and secrets. By the time you finish Bloodstone, you will know these people. If you saw them walking down the street, you’d know it was them because you’d feel this inescapable urge to walk up to them and say “I’m so, so sorry”. No veil can hide Seth or Finn from me, I know them too deeply.
And Philip makes it all look so damn effortless.
She gives us Seth, who doesn’t want to be a hero. Seth is the first to admit he’s immature, the first to admit he’d rather flirt and party than deal with the boring politics of the Sithe court. But deep down, he wants to do the right thing. If only he wasn’t so easily distracted.
She gives us Finn, a spitfire of a girl who isn’t afraid of anything, even when a Kelpie tries to kill her. Finn outright demands to be told what is going on, her anger at her family’s lies outweighing any fears she might have. How can Seth possibly not be a hero, when Finn is counting on him, when she needs him?
A unique aspect of this story that I rarely run into is that of family loyalty. So often in fantasy stories like this the main characters are lone wolves, orphans, or maybe estranged from their family. Not so in the Rebel Angel series. The clan bonds are nearly unbreakable, and the bonds between siblings are even stronger, and I liked that message. Seth wants to be a partying kid forever, he always just assumes that Conal will be around to save his ass. It’s a pivotal moment for Seth when he meets another set of brothers, and sees again where the older brother isn’t given a choice but to protect the younger.
That’s what Bloodstone is – one pivotal moment after another after another. A while back I was involved in a Mind Meld over at SFSignal and the topic was World Building. I blabbed for a few hundred words about how I preferred my world building to be done via characterization. Show me the world by having the characters interact with the world and with each other. I could have saved myself a few hundred words if I’d just said “see: Rebel Angel series”.
And of course, the book has a nice little twist at the end. No, that’s not right either. It isn’t a “nice” twist at all, it’s a cruel, “oh shit” of a twist, something that makes perfect sense, but that no one saw coming. When it hits, you’ll feel it. Which means you’ll already be knocked down and defenseless when the second one, the one that hurts even more, hits.
I’m such a nice, cheery person in real life, how can I be such a book masochist? I crave books like this. The ones that make me feel like I’m being ever so gently skinned alive by a loving god, the ones that drag me through the pain that the characters go through. The kind of book that whispers in your ear “this will hurt. but you’ll never feel so alive”. Bloodstone is that kind of book, and I’ll take any opportunity to dive back in.