The Bleeding Stone (The Spellslingers and the Gunslingers #1), by Joseph John Lee
The island nation of Ferranda is the jewel of the Acrarian Kingdom, and its Founder, Aritz a Mata, is revered as a god amongst men. But twenty-five years ago, Aritz was merely a man, a colonizer, an Invader seeking glory and fame in the name of his King and Queen, and Ferranda was a nameless union of indigenous Tribes, reverent of the heightened powers and aptitudes granted to them by their Animal Deities, but sundered by the foreigners claiming their lands to the south.
In the unconquered north, the Stone Tribe has for fifteen years offered a safe haven for the southern Tribes displaced by Aritz's Invaders, whose occupying march north has been ostensibly halted by a dense forest barrier dividing north and south. Among the Stone people lives Sen, an outcast for the circumstances of her birth, preserved in society only by her status as daughter of her Tribe's Chief. Forever relegated to the fringes of society, she is forced to watch as countless of her kin, including her sister and brother, complete their rites of passage into adulthood and accordingly earn their aptitudes by the Deity to whom they share an affinity - the Bear, the Wolf, or the Owl.
Despite this, Sen finds comfort in her life of forced solitude with her close inner circle, but hers is a comfort in days of waning tenuous peace. When Aritz's technologically-advanced forces push north, Sen is thrust into a singular quest to rescue one of her precious few captured in the ensuing struggle. While her goal is earnest - save someone dear to her and prove her worth to her Tribe - her people's goal is far more dire: survival in the face of uncertainty.
My Review (4.5 out of 5 )
"Kindly, they showed us to open land where we may settle for our needs, which is where we are all standing now. As our needs grew, we expanded, as is the price of progress. But they understood, and they, too, felt the price of progress for themselves and expanded elsewhere"
She continued to stand, unblinking, unconvinced. "Progress. Expansion. Sounds like subjugation and elimination to my ears."
The Bleeding Stone is the debut novel from Joseph John Lee, and such an ambitious story that explores themes that are usually unused in fantasy, such as can be the perspective of how history is written and the prize of progress, one of my favourite aspects of this book. Due to using those in a secondary world, classifying this book has been a difficult task, as I wasn't sure to which genre I could ascribe it (in the end, the line in this book between being historical fantasy and epic fantasy is really thin).
We are going to be following the conquest of the nation-land of Ferranda by the invaders, but following on a different perspective; usually, colonialism is told from the invading side, but this novel is focused on the indigenous point of view, showing how they are being displaced and even enslaved by the conquerors lead by Aritz a Mata. While the timeline used is going to be split, the central story will be following Sen, one of the members of the Stone Tribe, but who has been treated as an outcast and considered cursed by her own mates; only being able to be barely accepted due to her condition as chief's daughter.
"You know, eventually," Koelhe said, "she's going to find out. She's not born under a Sign. She will not be welcomed when she comes of age."
"As long as I am Chief, she will be welcomed," Fannalhen said sternly. "She is my daughter, my love, my light. Whatever happens from here on, it will not change that. Do I have your word, all of you?"
Due to Aritz's forces pushing the tribe, and committing deplorable acts that include taking people from Stone Tribe as slaves, Sen starts a quest in the company of Nara in order to make them free; pushing her to the limits just trying to do what she thinks is better for her people.
Sen is an excellent character, and perfect for depicting multiple aspects that are an integral part of the novel. As a person born during an eclipse, she's considered cursed, mostly due to ancient superstitions; Sen is barely accepted, and mostly because she's the chief's daughter, having to deal with that stigma all the time. Many times we see her struggling with expectations and self-confidence. Her helping hand during the quest, Nara, is an excellent support, complementing those parts where Sen is lacking more.
Worldbuilding is probably one of the aspects that drew more to this world, as it has been inspired by post-colonial America, one of my favourite historical periods; but in this case Lee gives a new twist on it, adding his own tribes and characters, giving some details of each one of these tribes (and I hope it gets expanded in subsequent novels). Invaders are also an accurate depiction of how they operated in that period, considering the natives as not much more than flesh to enslave, mere objects that they can dominate because they are technologically superior.
The Bleeding Stone is a book excellently written, and which is really ambitious in its craft: despite the main timeline following Sen is situated in the year 1556, there is constant flashforward and backward to add more context and lore, adding an extra layer of flavour to the world.
In summary, we have an excellent debut that sets the basis for an epic trilogy focused on themes that are not usual in fantasy. I absolutely loved Lee's approach to them, and I totally recommend it to people that love alternate history (even if this is written in a secondary world), or just for people that want to read an epic fantasy story that is not afraid to touch themes such as slavery and conquest. Can't wait to get more of The Spellbinders and The Gunslingers!
Joseph John Lee
I am an author of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and whatever other strokes of creative genius (“genius” is a relative term, I guess) come to me at the time.
I was born November 14, 1991 in Attleboro, Massachusetts and have never set foot in that town since. I’ve lived most of my life in or near Boston (as I do currently with my fiance, our imaginary dog, and our robot vacuum who we named Crumb), except for the years when I didn’t. I’ve also lived in Scotland, a fact I use as party tricks that don’t particularly go anywhere. I’m great at socializing.
I’m something of a lapsed academic. I originally pursued a career in academia, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and two Master of Science degrees from the University of Edinburgh - one in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies; and the other in Religious Studies - before I realized that the life of an academic scholar was not for me. (Burnouts will do that to a guy.)
That being said, I enjoy integrating historical study into my own fictional writing that still creates a tapestry of my historical interests - just with more fireballs and less syphilis.
My literary influences include Brandon Sanderson, John Gwynne, Joe Abercrombie, Yoko Taro, Tetsuya Takahashi, and others. I’m as much drawn to huge, epic fantasy as I am to more grounded, grimdark settings.
Outside of my own writing, I am an avid reader (duh) and gamer, a certified Simpsons quote machine, a bad hiker, and either a happy or miserable Red Sox fan, varying from season to season. I spend too much time looking at dog accounts on Instagram.
If anyone’s looking to start a Wikipedia page for me, this should be enough to get you started.