The Bloodlet Sun
2,000 years after a planet-wide disaster now only known as the Great Fire, humans have unlocked the potential of an ancient substance known as the Drops of the Bloodlet Sun and have taken to the stars. Soon they discover that the Drops are an ubiquitous if somewhat rare substance that forms the core of all advanced technology and humans are a late arrival to a crowded affair. Most habitable worlds are already under control of other species and the vast Thorian Empire covers one third of all known territory.
Propelled by its role in the Last Gasp War, the first war in recent memory that the Thorians have lost, Earth plays a prominent role in the formation of the Outer Rim Confederacy, the newest player in a political game that has for millennia centered around keeping the Thorians at bay. In its newest bid to not be the small fish in a big pond, the ORC dispatches the starship Forseti on a clandestine mission to a wormhole on the far side of the Thorian Empire in the hopes of unlocking the secret to faster interstellar travel.
Meanwhile, various factions position themselves to benefit from the chink in the armor of the Thorians, while the Thorians seek to send a clear message that the sun had not begun to set on their Empire.
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Disclaimer: this in-depth review is part of a review swap.
It is no exaggeration to say that though The Bloodlet Sun is one of the newest titles to appear on Royal Road, with it the author has instantaneously catapulted himself into the top echelon of writers on this platform. This becomes apparent no sooner than the first chapter, which alone is sufficient to apprise us of the author’s extensive vocabulary and formidable command over language. His polished, literary prose is consistently well balanced and he is capable of passages of rare, evocative beauty:
The black expanse towered over her like an endless possibility, and as her eyes adjusted to the light, the stars, without their familiar twinkle, revealed themselves around her. Below her, the greenish pearl of her moon hung like a tear drop off the solemn grey cheek of the gas giant. Kviye reached out and touched the cold glass of the viewscreen. The stars, just beyond her fingertips, appeared close enough to reach, no longer a dream, but a material thing she could touch, as long as she pointed her ship the right direction and kept going.
In writing, as in other creative mediums, there is a predictability that is the product of banality, such as when we hear a lyric on the radio and easily supply the trite, upcoming rhyme in the couplet. But there is also a predictability that elates us, such as when, despite listening to a piece of music for the first time, we just know what the next note will be, and we exult when the composer’s intention and our expectations converge. This serendipitous effect the author unerringly replicates by means of smooth, orderly paragraphs seamlessly connecting dialogue and action.
Here we have a writer who has been assiduously plying his craft and by dint of effort is assuredly nearing the height of his powers; no transition is jarring, no line of dialogue seems out of place in a character’s mouth: though this is a weekly serial, the story has clearly been germinating in the writer’s mind for a considerable span of time, and this is reflected in the quality of the finished product.
This mastery equally applies to the world-building. It is rare for an author to avoid the pitfall of providing an excess of original places, names, and terms, or alternatively a paucity of them, yet this he does with aplomb, always sustaining our interest without overwhelming us. The names of the alien races, names, planets, and the like are consistently well found, and what’s more, actually pronounceable by the human tongue.
Nevertheless, we anticipate that some readers will have a complaint: the writing is slow-paced. Though this remark is subjectively comprehensible, it is ultimately ill-founded as an objective criticism. A slow-paced story suffers from an artificially congested narrative; bloated with filler, it limps to the finish line with difficulty. Thus far in the The Bloodlet Sun, however, we find no filler: rather, there is a deliberate, steady paced unfolding of an impressively detailed universe, one which naturally demands methodical treatment by its sheer scope. It is evident that the story is not going to end anytime soon, and we caution the reader to adjust his expectations accordingly, or simply turn to a less literary story if he knows where his preferences lie.
The author’s grammar is impeccable, and even expanding this short section to include orthological and other minor faults gives us very little to nitpick at. This reviewer is hard-pressed to identify anything other than a rogue typo every few thousand words, or insignificant quibbles like encountering “tear drop” instead of “teardrop” (as seen in the example above), and this is a major testament to the writer’s skill.
As a soft sci-fi space opera, The Bloodlet Sun offers a grand, galactic scale narrative, featuring multiple alien races and warring factions, one of which is the human race, a late comer to the spacefaring game. The author wastes no time in introducing these factions and providing their motivations, and it is remarkable how quickly he succeeds in acclimatizing us to his universe. While the first chapter is admittedly a little tentative and exposition heavy, and we might have hoped for a stronger opening hook (a threat on a character’s life to inject some early tension in the narrative, perhaps), the author soon finds his stride, confidently progressing the narrative and introducing us to the story’s lead characters, of which there were three at the time of writing.
We expect many readers to quickly identify with Kviye, the human lead character. No sooner do we follow her than we encounter that classic, old-timey (in the best sense of the term) Star Wars feel—a young adolescent pilot chafing under the limitations imposed by their backward homeworld seeks emancipation in the stars, before being swept up in events greater than they could have ever imagined. In a story that already promises to be fraught with political intrigue, Kviye’s perspective adds a welcome note of adventure and wonder to the narrative. We expect her to serve as a window into the world of The Bloodlet Sun, and are eager to discover it with her.
The other two characters introduced are Mikarik and Kalirit, members of the Thorian race. Thorians are primarily characterized by a telepathic link binding the members of the species, who feel and are influenced by the moods and impressions of their fellow Thorians; however, our Thorians are severed from this link, for as of yet unexplained reasons. This leads to an interesting dynamic as our alien lead characters feel estranged from their own race to varying degrees. These two characters possess much more political acumen than Kviye, allowing the author to realistically delve into the nitty-gritty of the various factions’ machinations. So long as the author does not get bogged down in political sub-plots, these characters will offer welcome and necessary perspectives.
Our one reservation with the story thus far lies in the simplistic juxtaposition between the mentalities of the elder and younger generations of Thorians. The former are presented as ideological fossils; old, fuddy-duddy supremacists suspicious or contemptuous of other aliens, in natural opposition with the bright-eyed, increasingly forward-facing youth. Admittedly, we receive this perception through our younger Thorian lead characters, and it is entirely possible their perspectives are not wholly reliable; we certainly hope this is the case, lest we end up with a morally simplistic, black and white conflict without nuance. For now we grant a full score owing to the setting’s promise, but are prepared to revise this review later on to account for subsequent developments.
Though the story is still in its very early stages, the author has already introduced us to several characters and demonstrated a satisfactory range in terms of characterization and dialogue. We receive regular insight into the motivations of our protagonists, side characters are appropriately fleshed out, and (of utmost importance, in a space opera) political discussions are credible and sufficiently engaging. As for the story arcs of our protagonists, early returns are promising. Though the young pilot Kviye has yet to begin her journey in earnest, a clear foundation for a character arc has been laid, and we also look forward to seeing where the author will take the Thorians Mikarik and Kalirit.
This rating is somewhat provisionary in that some characters have had less opportunity to shine than others, but even Mikarik, the protagonist we have followed the least, has already been developed to an impressive degree. To give one example, while speaking with a member of another race he has the following thought: Even the Mraboran’s use of “I” was grating to Mikarik’s ears.
The female alien in question is referred to as the ‘Mraboran’ or as ‘she’ throughout the entirety of the chapter: though Mikarik may be progressive as far as elitist Thorians go, even he makes no attempt to learn the woman’s name. This subtle bit of depersonalization reveals the author’s intimate understanding of the mentalities of his creations, and bodes well for future characterization. We can only encourage him to continue to implicitly define his characters in this manner.
Still on the subject of the Thorians, the author’s imaginative power obliges us to make mention of their linguistic idiosyncrasies. Other writers have attempted to devise original grammatical structures for fictional races on Royal Road, but none succeeded for the simple reason that theirs existed only as creative exercises—in other words, while the writer put his imagination on display and indulged it, this did not necessarily benefit the narrative. Not so here. Thorian grammar, if ultimately (and intentionally) flawed, raises a host of interesting considerations and does much to explicate Thorian society and mentalities, considerations which even provide commentary on our own societies.
Interestingly, there are even some commonalities between Thorian grammar and Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics and notions of hierarchy—while this is quite possibly unintentional, it is a clear indication that a considerable amount of thought has been put into constructing a plausible alien culture if its linguistic and philosophical outlook overlaps, even if only in part, with real world intellectual systems. Of course, not every reader will be inclined to delve as deeply into the story’s lore, and for that reason the author has wisely provided the intricacies of Thorian grammar in a separate post on his website, which is nonetheless well worth a perusal.
Overall verdict: 5/5
A space opera capable of meeting and surpassing the expectations of even the most sharp-eyed of critics. Works of this caliber do not come along often, and cannot be recommended heartily enough. Its greatest drawback? The weekly release schedule!