Bound in blood and fire...

Cahill's epic fantasy series, THE BOUND AND THE BROKEN, is one that has really taken off and gained a good deal of success not just within the indie fiction community, but also in the fantasy genre in general. When a Discord read along came up, I decided to jump at the chance to see what it is all about. 

3/5 This is a story that knows what it wants to be and competently executes on that vision. For those who love classic fantasy stories, this will likely feel like a warm hug from someone familiar. For people with tastes more similar to mine, I think it will likely be more of a mixed bag. 

While there is quite a bit of world building and character interaction to be found in OF BLOOD AND FIRE, I would probably class this as being a plot-driven experience. We get the story of a small town boy who fate chooses to become a hero of the people. It's a story that's been told over and over again and there are some other familiar story beats present like the struggle against an all-powerful evil empire, the presence of classic fantasy races (elves, dwarves, etc.), and the beginnings of a dragon-rider fantasy. It's a story that isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, but does still add some interesting little twists, like having a trio of small town boys who each seem to have their own destiny instead of just sticking to one, even though Calen distinctly stands out as the main character. It was interesting as well that his sister gets a whole subplot to herself that will likely play a bigger part in the main narrative for future books. While I thought the book has a strong sense of identity and executes on what it wants to be with expert precision, it's this type of somewhat predictable storytelling that ultimately drove me away from fantasy literature for a long time before Sanderson rekindled my love for the genre, so I did not feel the same sense of warm nostalgia that others have. I did still enjoy it for what it was. I was mostly just kind of along for the ride rather than feeling the sort of investment or stakes that I would normally like to. I think partly because of this, I found myself consistently drifting off during the action sequences, which is rather abnormal for me. I don't think this had anything to do with the writing or narration and really just boiled down to my level of engagement.

Even though I typically say I am a plot-driven reader, I feel like how I connect with characters will often influence my investment in the plot (so I guess I'm saying I just want it all!). In this case, I think I struggled quite a bit with this cast. On one hand, I don't really have anything bad to say. No one is insufferable or erratic nor were there any characters who were so perfect that they didn't feel relatable. I think everyone is mostly just fine. Each character fulfills their roles well enough and are generally likeable, I think there was just a little something missing for me that I'm not even sure I can articulate. One thing I will say is that there are a ton of characters and many of them didn't really feel distinct to me. The main trio of boys in particular took a while for me to even differentiate between since they all have kind of the same manner of speaking and rowdy sense of humor. Eventually, I was able to understand that one is the bookish one, another is dumb, but enthusiastic, and then Calen is the brave, but brash one. Specific side characters along the way were a mixed bag. One awkward example is how I kept losing track of which girl was Calen's sister and which was his love interest. There are numerous elves, giants and dwarves that play minor roles and some of them blended together for me too as well as a couple stock bully characters that didn't do too much for me. In that same breath, there were some characters who stood out rather magnificently. There is one character from Calen's hometown who turns out to be someone quite different from who we originally think he is, an inquisitor who is delightfully demented, and an absolutely adorable baby dragon. For the characters that didn't stand out as distinctly, I think a lot of this was due to how many characters seem to have a somewhat specific brand of banter that they constantly sling around or a deathly seriousness that obscured their character traits. With all the action that takes place, I think I needed a much stronger emotional connection to more members of the cast in order for the story's events to have the right level of impact on me. 

Even though there isn't any one thing that is wildly original about this fantasy setting, I actually found the way that different familiar things are combined to be quite interesting. This is a world which Cahill has clearly put a lot of thought and effort into crafting. There is deep history and lore which is gradually divulged over the course of the journey and I found these little tidbits to be fascinating. The ways that the different fantasy races differed from their Tolkienian counterparts was also good fun to learn about and I think I might have a bit of a soft spot for what I'll just describe as a fallen kingdom trope. The legacy of the fallen dragon riders and the history behind why magic users are so rare were really cool threads to follow. The landscapes are also lushly detailed and set a great atmosphere for the events that take place within them. I think it's a testament to Cahill's writing that otherwise mundane forest biomes or generic cobblestone towns can feel like truly magical locations filled with wonder. If I decide to continue with the series, I think it will be these aspects that drive me forward. 

The quality of the narration is quite good. These books are definitely on the longer side, so I think it is great that it has such a strong vocal performance available to take them on the go. I also think it was very generous for the prequel novella, THE FALL, to be included as a little bonus at the end. I will review the contents of that separately, but wanted to say that I appreciate it's inclusion here. While not specific to the audio, I also wanted to call out that I really enjoy Cahill's writing style. It has a nice, classical feel to it, while also being modern and crisp. I do wish that the physical descriptions of the characters were as strong as they were for the scenery since that may have helped me somewhat with the characterization issues I had, but there's a lot to admire here when it comes to the prose. 

OF BLOOD AND FIRE is not a book that really wowed me in the way it has others, but it's high quality writing and familiar narrative beats along with interesting little twists on classic fantasy formulas will definitely resonate with many readers. 

(+) Pacing that suited the story being told
(+) Polished prose that has a distinctly classical, yet modernized, feel
(+) Carefully crafted world building and history
(+) An adorable baby dragon among some other standout side characters
(-) My attention drifted often, especially during action scenes, and I didn't find myself reaching for it or thinking about it in between listening sessions
(-) Characters I never really connected with and sometimes got mixed up as well as interactions that felt strange to me
( ) A very familiar type of narrative that I was personally not all that jazzed to retread, but others may love 


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