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Stories are our business ™


BLOOD STEW, the third installment of Todd Sullivan’s fantasy series THE WINDSHINE CHRONICLES involves far more characters and situations than the first two books combined. This, of course, requires more finesse from the author to weave all the different storylines together into one satisfying whole.

The book starts with a new character, one Kim Nam-Gi, a crippled teenager who wants to do right by his family and their business, but gets nothing but harsh words and harsher treatment from his father. Despite his handicap and the patriarchal resentment he faces, Nam-Gi dreams of transcending his physical deficits by going on a quest and becoming a hero, one of the loftiest goals held out to the children of South Hanguk to aspire to. To this end he has been sneaking off to the nearby city to study magic with Daesh, one of only two dark elves in all of the province.

Nam-Gi’s story takes up the bulk of the first fourth of BLOOD STEW and is an enjoyable vignette in its own right. We are shown to the extreme sacrifice Nam-Gi must go through simply to make the trip to see his elven master and the anguish it causes him physically and mentally, not to mention his cares and responsibilities back home.

Interjected into but separate from Nam-Gi’s narrative, we are introduced to the cloud elf Tsierus and his seemingly invincible assistant, a giant disembodied eye. Tsierus gets it in his head that he must come down from his higher dimension to the world of South Hanguk and its surrounding environs to eradicate what to him is the irredeemable evil who are the dark elves, twenty four of which inhabit this particular country. So, Tsierus starts on his quest to kill all the dark elves therein, and just when he’s about to get his ass handed to him the all-seeing and all-knowing impervious eye materializes from out of the ether and saves the day. It’s really not fair and makes the action sequences involving Tsierus battling this or that dark elf less compelling than they would have been had Tsierus been fighting them on his own.

  The scene with Nam-Gi’s father and the money lender, on the other hand, is quite compelling, showing as it does the bind the restaurateur is in in regards to keeping his business open so that he can keep food on the table for his family, gives the reader some idea the strain he is under and renders him more sympathetic than the one dimensional ogre toward Nam-Gi he initially appeared. Nam-Gi’s subsequent attempt to conjure the illusion that eel is the delicacy octopus to impress the important government officials dining at his father’s restaurant one evening becomes all the more heartbreaking when the ruse is ferreted out at the last second and Nam-Gi taken away to jail while his family falls into bankruptcy and disgrace.

This sequence of events surrounding Nam-Gi and his family is, imo, the strongest section of the novel. Another notable strong point is Mr. Sullivan’s monster, the man-devouring winged giant, the Orsieg, with heavy vibes of Beowulf's Grendel. This scourge of the high seas is given quite a lot of pages, which is understandable since his favorite dish is the gory mash of flesh and blood it’s fond of partaking of in a clay bowl which it calls Blood Stew, which, you’ll note, is the title of the book. After years of feasting on seafarers he snatches from ships it has to leave its island crag since the ships have learned to avoid that part of the ocean and sets out on a quest of its own to find the life sustaining meat. This section is also well done and has some depth to it. The diminished Orsieg’s ill-conceived rescue at sea by some unfortunate fishermen is a nice way to get the monster back to the mainland so it can start to get back into fighting trim by consuming mass quantities of the cursed villagers of Majeon. Once it revives at the sea guard station and makes its way into the forest and begins to start feeding again the monster, which had receded to the size of a human, albeit with wings, soon reaches epic stature so that his head reaches higher than the trees.

Enter Ha-Jun, the giant slayer and all around hero’s hero from WINDSHINE CHRONICLES’ past. I mean, this kid is the province’s go to guy whenever there is a dragon or a giant that needs slaying. It’s a bit unbelievable that he’s still chasing after the title of HERO even after the inevitable battle with the Orsieg and its slaying is done. He’s cleared out the country’s baddies so many times and all before he’s out of his teens. The product of another abusive father, like Nam-Gi, makes one ponder if Sullivan is hinting that an overly stern father figure is necessary for a son to acquire greatness. Which is an interesting proposition and if it is in fact then falls into the category of “Sad but true.”  The battle itself is pretty cool. Ha-Jun’s glyph sword’s elvish magic surely comes in handy and is a bit like Tsierus all-seeing eye in that it gives its  user an almost impervious dominant position. But hey, that’s the sword and sorcery genre for you.

Sullivan introduces all these characters one by one, another one is an old sea dog called Han Jae who’s become somewhat soft in the comforts of his land-based position as Kwan Captain of the Majeon sea guards. Of course, his family wants him to aspire to greatness. One can sympathize with his wishing he could just chill and be happy with his current position. What’s the advantage of aspiring to a position that’s well above your ability to comfortably maintain? Haven’t these people ever heard of the Peter Principle?

So, of course, eventually these character are thrown together at the book’s closing battle and all play their parts upon the stage. The crippled Nam-Gi and the child god Ha-Jun combine to save the day, but only after the Orsieg has devastated Majeon to the tune many bowls of his special blood stew, to the point Majeon is no longer able to function as a city. Sullivan integrated the stories in a satisfying manner. I was a little bit confused at one point about which quest group was which and that there was even more than just one to begin with, but that was cleared up for me retroactively. The cloud elf Tsierus part in the story is the shakiest, or maybe flakiest. His motivation to slaughter dark elves is simply because they’re evil, but he doesn’t go into depth as to why he says that’s so. Unlike Nam-Gi, Kwan Captain and even Ha-Jun, there is very little insight into the depths of his character.

BLOOD STEW is strikingly ambitious, with a plotline that gradually brings together several separate threads that, minus Tsierus, are woven together into a strong and satisfying yarn.