Two brothers. One prophecy. A world in peril.
When Kaiel loses his chance to become part of the legendary Daemon Hunters, joining the Bronze Guard mercenaries seems like the logical alternative. It is an opportunity to put his training to use and, more importantly, as the company is currently in the employ of Prince Alesandr, it will allow him to keep an eye on his younger brother, Darien, who's determined to follow his dream of becoming a Ciralys magic-user.
But the broken continent of Athmay still bears the scars of the war between the Summoners some three-thousand years ago, and an unexpected battle with a daemon—a remnant of that ancient war—reveals the brothers' connection to a forbidden bloodline. Soon they find themselves on the run from the prince, daemonic hordes, and a prophecy that could break the world anew.
The Blood of the Spear follows two brothers, Kaiel and Darien Toranth, and several of their companions as they journey across a vast continent trying to escape death at the hands of... well, you name it. A deceitful prince, vicious daemons with chaotic magic, wild animals—if they run into it, it's probably trying to kill them!
The plot is largely structured as a travelogue with the characters continually finding themselves in a bind and having to solve a problem in order to escape with their heads still affixed to their necks. The solutions generally involve some magical skills Darien discovers he possesses, a new friend they meet on their quest, or the blades of Kaiel and Jaric, another warrior in the group. Having the plot progress as a series of encounters could easily have gotten stale, but Timmony did a fine job making sure each new danger lurking around the corner was interesting enough to hold my attention.
As the story progresses, the party reaches the destination for which they set out, and at this stage politics begins to take a more central role. Introducing these political elements in the third act struck me as an unusual structural choice for the book, as though these they were included to lay the foundation for later books in the series. And while I'm sure we'll revisit them in the future, that certainly wasn't their only purpose. They ended up providing good character development for a party member whose backstory had been largely mysterious until this point. They also led to an encounter with the antagonist, who appears in a rather unexpected way, fully utilizing the magic system Timmony devised.
In terms of the story's pacing, this is definitely a book that takes its time—no surprise, given it's nearly 600 pages! Where it slows down, much of the writing is focused on describing the setting and providing additional worldbuilding. It wasn't always to my taste, but if you're someone who likes their fantasy worlds heavily detailed, this one may be right up your alley.
For a while, I was wondering where the book was heading and how it would come to a satisfying conclusion, given the characters had reached their destination and these sorts of politics weren't something I was expecting after the promises made in the first act. Ultimately, the sudden appearance of the antagonist drives us toward an action-filled climax that I do think fulfilled those promises. The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger (a couple, actually), but not before ensuring the characters have complete standalone arcs.
The story is told from the POV of four characters in the main party with some other one-off POVs scattered throughout.
- Kaiel is a warrior who fails his test to become a Daemon Hunter and doesn't know what to do afterward. He's very protective of Darien—choosing to follow his brother is what kicks off his journey.
- Darien is the assistant to a Ciralys (mage) who wants to join their ranks in the far-off city-state of Isoliere.
- Meg is the apprentice to the local healer who, after seeing Darien leave, vows to become a powerful mage herself.
- Sim is Kaiel's wisecracking friend who wants to discover the truth about his family's history.
The early chapters that introduced the two brothers did an excellent job of making me like Kaiel and Darien right away. Kaiel's chapter in particular felt like a very believable moral dilemma, which both seeded his emotional arc and also established a relationship with another character who plays a big role. However, too often it felt like Kaiel was just along for the ride in this story. He shines at the end and, especially, toward the beginning. In the middle of the story, while he always has something to do—the daemons don't offer much reprieve—his character didn't feel dynamic enough.
Darien's story, on the other hand, I loved from beginning to end. Early on, he undergoes a magical awakening that occurs in a dangerous, uncontrolled way, which sets up much of Darien's internal conflict. Throughout the story, his abilities grow in power, and he must learn to control them before he becomes a threat to all of humanity. Chapters where he struggled to overcome his internal darkness were sone of the best in the book. So, though both Darien and Kaiel are central to the story, Darien shined as the star of this book. While the other characters had complete arcs, none of them felt quite as satisfying as his.
With the exception, perhaps, of Meg. She continually demonstrates her competence as a healer—her talents are often needed throughout the party's grueling quest—and she earns her rightful place among mages where even Darien couldn't succeed. I liked Meg from the moment she was introduced; my only complaint is that she sometimes took a backseat while Kaiel or Darien solved the problem of the moment. I sympathize with the author—it's hard to balance every character's page time when you have an ensemble cast like this. Her emotional journey was just as satisfying as Darien's though, so I still loved reading all of her chapters.
Sim, to me, was someone I just didn't connect with. Most of what makes him likeable is his roguish sense of humor, but for some reason the jokes weren't landing for me. Unfortunately, the humor was a big part of his character, so because those weren't working, I found it hard to like him. It's a shame, because I think the ending of his arc was really cool and I'm curious to see where it leads.
There are also plenty of wonderful side characters, one of whom, Kaiel's rival, is the most perfectly deplorable minor antagonist I've read in quite some time! He didn't show up on the page often but when he did, I was rooting for Kaiel to knock him down a peg every single time. While I found some characters confusing initially, now that I've finished the book and better understand the relationships of the different factions, their motivations and actions are much clearer. If you fall in love with the story, this is one that will benefit from an additional readthrough.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this book was the world itself. It's sprawling, it's filled with intrigue, it's absolutely brimming with history. It's crystal clear how deeply the author understands the world he's created—no easy feat considering just how much detail is included. One of the coolest settings was a city built four thousand years ago with unnatural buildings constructed by powerful, ancient sorcerers. The streets felt crowded and vibrant and alive as skyships flew overhead. That's one example, but virtually every place we visited was rendered in exquisite detail.
My favorite aspect of the setting is how wild and dangerous it feels, which is thematically appropriate for the broken continent we're dropped into and the forgotten history of humankind in this place. It was also absolutely necessary for the story. Rather than repetitive encounters on the party's travels, there were high-stakes scenarios that revealed more about the world's history, or how its magic works, or some political tensions. Early on, there's a creeping wind that elicited a sense of dread, as though the air itself was a harbinger of the dark magic the protagonists would soon face.
Occasionally, I had to stop and highlight a passage, noting it for just how badass it was. One character wore leather armor plated with the bleached bones of daemons she had killed. A prominent source of magic is a distant nebula that not only can everyone see in the night sky, but magic wielders can see in the mind's eye. To summon a daemon, someone sacrifices themselves in fire to transform their body into a portal from the Void. This book was far from grimdark, but it times it was quite brutal!
The only thing I'll critique about the worldbuilding is how it's delivered on occasion. There were times when I felt it wasn't truly needed at this moment and it pulled me out of the story just a tad, usually when delivered by a character in some expositional dialogue. But that's an easy thing to forgive when the world is so damn cool.
The Blood of the Spear is a remarkably solid debut for the author. While I didn't like one of the main characters, and I felt another could have undergone more growth, those downsides are outweighed by two point-of-view characters whose stories were well-executed with satisfying arcs. The world is impressively huge and detailed, and while this book is firmly an epic fantasy, there are some themes and worldbuilding elements that appealed to me as a sci-fi lover.
Some things that will be taste-dependent are the story's slower pacing and a somewhat steep learning curve with a prologue that drops a lot of names on you right at the start. Additionally, the person I thought was going to be the main antagonist didn't end up being the main antagonist—or perhaps they'll be a bigger, series-level antagonist? Not sure, but it was slightly jarring.
The prose is consistently competent throughout the book, with one minor complaint being that one sentence structure is used too often for my liking; however, it wasn't as prevalent after about the first one hundred pages. That's totally subjective, though. Many readers won't notice or care about that. Also, there were some typos scattered throughout the book, which made me think another proofreading pass would have been beneficial, but they never pulled me out of the story.
Nitpicking aside, there's a lot to love about this book, and if Mark Timmony's debut is this good, I'm confident the series has a bright future as he continues to grow as an author. That's very exciting because as the first book in The Eye of Eternity, it sets the stage for a story of truly epic proportions.
There are a few more things I want to say without a spoiler filter.
First, I wanted to praise the way Prince Neskari was written. The first time I read the prologue I totally missed his name being dropped by the villain whose POV we're in. Only after Kaiel and Darien run into him in the Hanore tavern did I piece together that he's the prince referred to in the blurb! After that, I realized how subtly woven into the story Alesandr's true motivations were, even though the boys had no earthly clue that he was set to betray them. That was really well handled. Well done, Mark!
I thought he was going to be the antagonist of the book and return somehow in the climax, so I was surprised that after the ~200-page mark he didn't really show up again (until the pirates tell Kaiel he burned their cove down). Not necessarily a negative, per se, but because I was so focused on him as the antagonist, I think I missed the setup for who it really turned out to be.
Finally, I want to applaud the chapter titled The Master of the Swamp. In it, Kaiel and Darien are each given dream sequences that show them potential futures they have in store. This was my favorite chapter because the future-brothers were so different from who they currently are. That made me excited to see them go through such big changes and character development in the future, although what actually comes to pass remains to be seen. This would be such a fun chapter to revisit after the series is completed—I love when authors include stuff like this!
Q&A with the Author
Josh: You mentioned in the book's acknowledgements that you began writing many years ago. Did you have other projects before this one that you used to whet your blade, or did you jump right into The Blood of the Spear?
Mark: I dove right into The Blood of the Spear. That wasn't its title when I began, the only title that has remained over the years is the series title 'The Eye of Eternity'. Don't ask what the other titles were, most of them I don't recall and the ones I do are just cringe worthy.
It's common practice/advice that an author should never publish their first project, mostly because this is what many of us use to learn who to write, to craft scenes, and all the other things that go into putting a story together. But this was it for me. This is what I wanted to write... Having come out the other end of it, I'm not sure I still feel the same way - not that I regret publishing The Blood of the Spear, but that maybe I should have tried something else. I don't know. I am happy, and proud of it, though. And I am really excited to jump into new territory with the story as I've been working on the events of BotS for a long time.
J: Oftentimes, a story begins to form when one scene crystallizes in the author's head as if sent by the Greek Muses. Was there any scene in particular where this story began for you? And from where did you draw inspiration from while writing it?
M: Yes, this did happen for me. I had the basis of my world, the setting, notes for the back story, but I didn't have a story as such.
One of the things I like doing is to browse fantasy art by favourite artists and new ones. Artwork often gets my imagination pumping and I get a lot of ideas from artists. One day I was working my way through the online gallery of Larry Elmore and I came across a scene he'd done of a knight and a shaman battling it out in the snow. The image intrigued me and I started to wonder why these two men were fighting? Who were they? What had brought them to this point. And that led to the formation (in my mind) of two main characters in the story. These musings became their story, and that story fit into the world I'd been building. Suddenly The Blood of the Spear started to take shape away from just being a worldbuilding project.
J: I love when a fantasy book includes a heavy dose of science fiction. In The Blood of the Spear, it seems to me you were clearly going for that with humanity's origin story and the source of Asai being a distant nebula, the Eye of Eternity. Without getting too into spoilers, were there some hints that you'll be learning even more into science fiction toward the end of The Blood of the Spear, or am I misinterpreting that?
M: So, you are correct regarding the sci-fi elements, though it has less to do with Asai and more to do with the power that the Shaluay Starbinders use. In the Eye of Eternity universe humanity is not native to the world of Sobia, and there is a big backstory in regards to that! Asai, however, is a mystical force/energy, and that takes centre stage in this story. The power of the Shaluay will be explored somewhat, as will humanity's origins, as one character in particular learns more about them, but the focus of the series is the return of the Summoners and the threat of the Daemon Queen and her daemonic hordes from the Void.
J: Apart from the monumental task of completing a book in the first place, were there any particular challenges you're proud to have overcome while writing this story? On the flip side, with the benefit of hindsight is there anything you would have done differently that new authors can learn from?
M: I think the things I've learnt while working with edits and beta-readers has helped me the most. There was a point when I first finished the novel that I didn't really know what I needed to do next, or how to improve it or even what to look for to improve it. At one stage I was just shuffling words around calling it my 'second draft' while not really doing anything to better the manuscript. Learning from having manuscript assessments done, and 'development' edits was a big thing - it showed me things I should be looking out for in constructing a narrative, in scene composition, in POV and what needs to be on the page and what doesn't. These things have gone a long way to making my second drafts a lot better. It often only takes a re-read of what I have just written to know exactly what I need to change, or highlight, or redo now, whereas before I could re-read the whole thing and not think anything needed changing. It's also gone a long way in improving the first draft as it's being written. I think that 'leveling up' is something I am most proud of.
J: You did a great job making the continent of Athmay feel dangerous and threatening to your protagonists. Whether it was the perils of ancient magic, daemons hunting them, political factions with their own agendas, or even just wildlife they encountered, it rarely felt like our party was safe. I'm curious how much worldbuilding was done for the story ahead of time. Was it more like you had a bestiary you could draw from when you needed a new threat, or were you worldbuilding as you went according to the story's needs?
M: I did a lot of worldbuilding. I spent years 'working on it' - on and off. I had a detailed map, and most of the cities and towns have strong histories (in my head if nowhere else) I had rough outlines of historical timelines, and I had the roots of what went before. Once I had that I'd riff off ideas.
I do have a spreadsheet of the different types of daemons, their power levels and how many humans (and at what level of training) would it take to bring one down - but I add to this as I go as well. Each level of Void, and each of the Nine Desmaadrians has different species of daemons under their rule. I have a spreadsheet full of notes and words and definitions of High Asairic (the old tongue), as well as one for the breakdown of each of the realms, the titles of their monarchs and nobility, the types of power structures each has, etc. - these are living documents that change and grow as I write. The rest I make-up and codify on the go.
For instance, when I first started writing this final draft, the Sahrin (Summoners) were not a thing. There was another group that came before and were directly influencing the events of the story. But then I got to thinking about structure, and things that really had me invested and intrigued in my favorite series, and it came to me that I needed to make things more immediate, the threat more connected to humans and human history on this world. And so the Summoners came to be.
J: What are your plans for the future of this series?
M: Well next up is an Eye of Eternity novella, Starbinder. It's an indirect prequel to the series - the back story of one of the side characters (you might be able to work out who, given the title). This is going to be a giveaway to my newsletter subscribers (you can sign up here).
After that, I get back to writing book 2. We pick up right where The Blood of the Spear left off so I can't say too much as there would be spoilers. The Eye of Eternity series is plotted for 7 volumes, so I have a lot to keep me occupied. I also have an idea for a standalone novel that's a sequel to the novella so... we will see where the muse takes me I guess. And how much interest there is 😀
Thanks for having me, Josh. And thanks for reading The Blood of the Spear!