Daughter of Blood by Helen Lowe

A review by Nalini Haynes

Daughter of Blood is book 3 in Lowe’s Wall of Night quartet, an award-winning epic fantasy science fiction series set on an alien world. Heir of Night is book 1 and The Gathering of the Lost is book 2.

The stakes are high: the Derai people fled from the Swarm, a malevolent intergalactic storm with a monster army whose minions herald imminent devastation. Now there are signs of the Swarm infiltrating Haarth, the Derai’s new home, intent on destroying both the native inhabitants and the Derai who hold the Wall against the Swarm.

Malian, the Heir of the House of Night, and her childhood friend Kalan of the House of Blood, fled the Derai Wall in book 1 after an attempt on their lives. They’re on an epic quest — mostly separately — in the hopes of defeating the Swarm.

Faro is a street urchin in a port town far from the Wall struggling to survive after his mother’s death. He meets Nirn and Aranraith, heralds of the Swarm, who undermine the Derai while carelessly toying with locals’ lives.

The Daughter of Blood, Maya, nicknamed Lady Mouse by her subordinates, has been selected to represent the House of Blood in a marriage cementing an alliance with the House of Night. However, her own brothers and sisters despise her and seek to undermine her at every step.

Like A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones series of books by George R R Martin), Wall of Night begins focused in one locale, the House of Night on the Wall with Malian and Kalan. From there the story expands in scope and cast to encompass individuals and politics on all three sides of the impending climactic conflict. However, Wall of Night surpasses A Song of Ice and Fire for several reasons.

Firstly, although there is some sex (mostly inferred), the series is not bogged down in boobs and butt. There’s too much actual plot to digress into the bedroom or focus on the dishes laid at every feast.

Secondly, Wall of Night has been planned in advance. For example, Nirn and Aranraith did not just ‘appear’ in book 3 in preparation for the finale. Nirn is mentioned by characters in book 1 and appears in book 2. Both Nirn and Aranraith are points of discussion by others in book 2 and both appear in book 3. This intricate interweaving of characters shows attention to detail that Lowe likewise takes with her plot.

Thirdly, Wall of Night is kick-ass feminist fantasy speculative fiction. Women can be Heirs of great Houses. Women are soldiers, sergeants, grooms, cooks, guards, ladies, mothers, you name it. Women have diverse personalities and character traits just like men. There are same-sex relationships and diverse races. With the House of Rose’s black hair, I imagine an African or Asian house. Nalin is a woman sergeant; ‘Nalin’ is the masculine version of ‘Nalini’ in Indian and Tamil, meaning ‘lotus’ and implying strength while symbolising enlightenment where the feminine ‘Nalini’ means ‘fair as a lily’. Every time I saw Nalin on the page, I visualised a kick-ass Indian woman solder. I don’t know if she’s supposed to be Indian but that’s how I read her.

Finally, Wall of Night is not a never-ending series meandering into soapytown while the author wanders off to work on other projects. Lowe has planned it thoroughly and she is hard at work. It’s almost done.

Having said all of that, I have a couple of criticisms. This is a series where I really need to read them all at once then read through a second time to make all the connections. While getting more out of a second read is a huge plus (like a TV series with a strong story arc), it makes the first read through more challenging, especially when I haven’t re-read any of the books. I’m reading each installment years apart. However, accessing the books electronically and searching on previous mentions of characters (like I did for Nirn and Aranraith) can be a great way to connect the dots for a subsequent read through.

My other criticism is Lowe’s use of the albino type. Nirn is a ‘bone-white sorcerer’ whose colouring is repeatedly emphasised and, needless to say, he’s evil. Aranriath has red eyes, a trait associated albinism. He’s not white but the allusion sticks. Aranraith has snakes for hair so he’s a Medusa-type who does not turn people to stone with his gaze. His hair bites though, as does the evil albino stereotype. Vilify my tribe with stereotyping and I will comment.

Romance, high stakes and an intricately woven story crafted by a master poet cement the Wall of Night’s place in contemporary fantasy and science fiction. The Wall of Night series is worthy of re-reading to absorb details, foreshadowing and to truly appreciate the scope of the story. There have been times, most memorably during my reading of Gathering of the Lost, that I paused to re-read simply because I loved the poetic prose. Daughter of Blood and the entire Wall of Night series is part Game of Thrones, part Wild Hunt (European mythology) and part epic science fiction with hints of Anne McCaffrey, Banks’s Culture and Reynolds’s Terminal World. Crafted by a poet and aficionado of science fiction and fantasy, Daughter of Blood, Wall of Night book 3, appeals to SFF readers of diverse tastes.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
ISBN paperback: 9780356500058
ISBN ebook: 9780748123261
Format: paper, ebook
Publisher: Hachette

Daughter of Blood