The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Blurb On The Back:

A dark power known as the Talisman has risen in the land.  Born of ignorance and persecution and led by a man known only as the One-eyed Preacher.  It is a superstitious patriarchy, cruel and terrifying, that suppresses knowledge and subjugates women.  And it is growing.

But there are those who fight the Talisman’s spread and they may have discovered a miraculous symbol of hope that can destroy the One-eyed Preacher and his fervid followers: The Bloodprint. 

You can order THE BLOODPRINT by Ausma Zehanat Khan from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Arian is the First Oralist of the Companions of Hira, a quasi-religious/magical order whose members draw power from The Claim (a religious text relating to the One which has been passed won through scraps of text and oral recitation from one generation to the next).  For the last 10 years Arian and her companion, Sinnia, have been hunting down slave gangs transporting women for the Talisman (an extremist religious group that follow the One-eyed Preacher who subverts The Claims to justify an extremist patriarchy that oppresses women and seeks to destroy the written word), seeking to discover where they take the women and who the Preacher is without success.

Despite the efforts of the Companions of Hira and Daniyar (a man known as the Silver Mage who protects a book called the Candour and who has a history with Arian), the Talisman are taking more and more territory so that even the Companions’ Citadel is at risk.  Ilea, the High Companion (leader) has entered into a dangerous alliance with Rukh, the Black Khan who offers the Companion hope: proof of the existence of a legendary document called the Bloodprint, which contains a fragment of the Claim that none have previously seen and which they think can help rally the people against Talisman oppression.

Arian and Sinnia accept a quest to recover the Bloodprint, accompanied by Wafa (a young boy rescued by Arian from the slave gangs) and Daniyar but doing so means heading both into the Talisman heartlands and into the Plague Lands, from where no one returns …

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s fantasy novel (the first in a series) has a lot of potential with its parallels to the rise of Daesh/the Taliban but degenerates into a frustrating and disappointing affair with shallow world building that often lacks explanation and context and although the main characters are female, they are shallowly drawn, hopelessly gullible and prone to being captured purely so that they can be rescued by male characters.

I’d really wanted to like this book because it’s specifically structured around the notion of a patriarchy specifically dedicated to oppressing women with the two main female characters being part of a group that’s trying to resist it and there’s an interesting hint at the tension and power tug going on between Arian and Ilea.  I also liked the religious ideas in play here (especially as there are allusions to Islam and the power of literacy and the written word) and the central Asian/middle eastern setting, which offers some intriguing world building possibilities – especially Khan’s reference to tribes and tribal loyalties.

The main problem is that Arian is such a flat, dull and gullible character that I found it very difficult to empathise with her or her plight.  To begin with, she’s taken 10 years trying to discover where women are being sold to only to come up with nothing (and she ends up being told by a man, which indicates she’s failed to look for people sufficiently high enough in the Talisman to ask, which is pretty basic), she runs headlong into bad situations without thinking through the consequences and is breathtakingly gullible around men.  By the end of the book I had little idea of what being the First Oralist meant, how the Claim works or what the Companions of Hira are set up to do and how they operate and while I don’t need everything spelled out in small words, Khan’s choice here not to be more explicit about certain elements made it difficult for me to fully engage with the world she’s created.

There’s a tedious will-they-won’t-they romance between Arian and Daniyar that I really didn’t care about (in part because Daniyar is also thinly characterised).  I wanted to know more about Daniyar’s role as Silver Mage and what the Candour meant but that doesn’t come and while there are hints at his having trained Arian in fighting techniques it’s not clear why or whether this is normal or not and there definitely isn’t enough there to explain their supposed epic love for each other.  Khan’s melodramatic writing style doesn’t help here with Arian constantly fighting her feelings and the tide of emotion in a way that made me roll my eyes (although that’s very much a personal thing).

The biggest disappointment though comes with Sinnia, Arian’s companion who again has a lot of potential given that she’s the only black character in the book (something that’s commented on frequently) and who has been deliberately placed with Arian by Ilea.  Unfortunately, Sinnia has nothing to do other than stand loyally by Arian for reasons that Khan never goes into and the only conflict that arises between the two is when Sinnia gets jealous of Arian for getting the attention of a man Sinnia fancies (this is one of those books where all the male characters fancy Arian).  This reduces Sinnia to little more than a token black sidekick, which made me uncomfortable – as did Sinnia’s eventual fate in the book, which was a little too on the nose for me.

Ultimately there just wasn’t enough here for me to care about enough to want to read the sequel and I’m in two minds about whether I’d check out Khan’s other work. </lj-cut>

THE BLOODPRINT was released in the United Kingdom on 19th October 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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