Author’s Spotlight: The Blood of the Lion: The Vorelian Saga #1

Author: C.D. McKenna
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: 4 March 2022
Pages: xx
Available As: Paperback, hardback, and e-book

The Synopsis:
Destiny is Irrefutable.

Syra, Morei, and Cyrus all have something in common: death. The Demon Killer, once responsible for the Diyrặllian Massacre, has been found after being lost for centuries. Millions of lives fell victim to this treacherous relic…and now Syra holds it. Torn from the sanctuary of her home, she must learn to live on the run in search for freedom, hunted by forces known and unknown.

Fate can be cruel, and Morei Geral knows this firsthand. As the king and sole heir to his bloodline, Morei must hide the twisted truth of who he is becoming. But as the king slips further into his curse, war becomes inevitable, and he will have to make a choice that could undo everything he’s worked for.

Meanwhile, as chaos rages and fear grips the heart of all, attention is turned on the first Dragon Rider to rise in nearly eight centuries. Cyrus wants nothing to do with prophecies and war. But he will protect his dragon, Sozar, above all else. His only choice is to cast aside the life he once knew and traverse the mysterious Releuthian Mountains, said to be the home of the God of Darkness himself.

The Review:
The Blood of the Lion is the first book in the Vorelian Saga, the debut epic of C.D. McKenna, easily one of the most enthusiastic and energetic members of the writing community. It is a fantasy piece that deals with mythological creatures, kingdoms, lost magic, and ancient superstitions in a land very much evoking medieval times. McKenna has clearly worked exceedingly hard on crafting this world, the lore, and her characters; my experience with fantasy is limited to a half-hearted attempt to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Tolkien, 1954 to 1955) and enjoying a few sword-and-sorcery films, but McKenna’s writing and approach to the genre was very “user friendly” and she even includes a map of her fantasy land to give the reader a sense of the scale and location of this world.

In the simplest terms, The Blood of the Lion follows three distinct main characters and each chapter rotates between the three of them: the first that we’re introduced to is Morei, the alleged “Demon King” of Geral. A troubled man tormented by a demonic ritual which left him with an unpredictable and ever-growing bloodlust, many in his council see him as a murderous demon who is bringing ruin to their kingdom, while others view him with a mixture of fear and uncertainty. Morei’s struggles are many and varied; he deeply cares for his kingdom and is willing to do anything to protect it, but is constantly at odds with his growing need for violence and destruction. His temper is constantly on a razor’s edge, causing him to lash out in a rage and leave bodies dead or mutilated to send a message to his doubters. Morei is capable of manipulating “energy”, essentially a form of chi that allows the user to manipulate the elements with intense concentration, but this is also seen with a superstitious distrust that does little to improve his reputation. His allies are few and far between; when the alluring Queen Emerald waltzes in proposing an alliance, he rebukes her out of suspicion and distrust of his unpredictable dark side but adds wrestling with his lust for her to his many worries. Ultimately, he’s not your average fantasy king; he’s fair and caring when he needs to be, but cannot abide liars and grows increasingly frustrated with the accusing glares and whispers and the rules that he’s forced to abide by, which go against his desire to simply take direct action without apologies.

The second main character is Syra, the only female of the three characters, who finds herself on the run and with a high bounty on her head because she’s in possession of the legendary “Demon Killer” blade. Syra travels alongside two “Guardians of Death”, Kar and Dryl, who have sworn to protect her and the blade from reprisals and lead her to safety. Hounded at every turn and unable to stay in one place long enough to catch her breath, Syra is a woman torn away from everything she once knew and thrust into the life of an outlaw and faced with a destiny that she’s in no way prepared for. Along the way, she learns more of this destiny and, through her, the author explores the concepts of death, destiny, and the way of the Gods in this world. All three of the characters struggle with their faith because of the lack of evidence and the sheer amount of strife sweeping across the land, which is said to be the work of the God of Darkness, Sekar, but only Syra’s destiny is directly tied to this vile entity as he seems to be targeting her directly. Syra’s travels reveal a greater depth to the different societies and the complexities of the author’s fantasy world, a place where people barter with coins at the market, groups of feared assassins dwell under the shroud of infamy, and where the Afterlife is a very real place that only certain people are capable of journeying to and from outside of death. For Syra, a lot of this is above and beyond her; all she knows is that she is determined to keep the Demon Killer out of the wrong hands, despite the very real danger it brings her way. Though she finds solace with her trusted companions and in the promise of reaching safety, betrayal and bloodshed are never too far behind and constantly push her further and further into desperation.

Finally, there’s Cyrus, the first Dragon Rider in almost eight centuries, and his faithful dragon, Sozar. Like Syra, Cyrus is a fugitive on the run since his very being inspires either fear, hatred, or selfishness as others seek to take advantage of his rare gift. Cursed with silver eyes and driven out of society, Cyrus flees to the feared Releuthian Mountains, a dark place where Sekar is said to rule. There, he finds a peace that he has long been denied amongst his fellow man and, after being injured in a storm, that his true origins have been kept a mystery from him. Cyrus’s constant companion is a huge fire-breathing dragon whom he rides over the tumultuous lands and can communicate with through a psychic link so powerful that they can “hear” each other’s thoughts and feel their emotions across vast distances. Despite his size and ferocious appearance and abilities, Sozar is quite the sombre and stoic companion; he admonishes Cyrus’s recklessness and is a dragon of few words, but the two have a deep-rooted understanding and respect for each other that leads to them going out of their way to keep the other safe. Similar to Syra, Cyrus is pretty useless with a blade but, like Morei, he has some ability to manipulate energy, though he’s nowhere near as formidable or practised as the Demon King. Cyrus enforces a self-imposed exile on himself to shield Sozar from reprisals and has absolutely no desire to be part of the drama and rising conflict of the world, but his journey provides him with clues to his past and sparks his curiosity to seek out new lands and answers to what happened to the Dragon Riders in an effort to give his life a greater purpose.

I think more than any other genre, fantasy works can often get bogged down by an excess of world-building; while The Blood of the Lion is certainly a dense text with more than its fair share of lore to establish, the author does a wonderful job of introducing terms and concepts to the reader through one of her three characters and then exploring how each of them feels about these aspects. There’s a feeling here that, to paraphrase Stephen King, the world has “moved on” and that old concepts such as energy manipulation have died out and become akin to witchcraft, forever tarnishing those who are naturally able to draw upon such energies. Similarly, religion is very much at the centre of the story and the author crafts a very intriguing commentary about the various Gods who are said to exist in this world; the people of Geral constantly pray to the Gods for good fortune and blessings, and all mention of Sekar is forbidden to avoid evoking his wrath. Each of the three main characters has a tumultuous relationship with the Gods; none of them are especially devout, having experienced some of the worst that mankind is capable of, but equally they remain cautious about completely denying or cursing the Gods just on the off chance that they actually do exist. This exists in a world where the Guardians are revered and well-known people; Syra, especially, is privy to stories of the Afterlife and the destiny of passed souls thanks to her relationship with Kar and Dryl, but it very much seems as though death and the Gods are very separate topics in this world rather than being connected like in most fantasy tales and religions. The overall theme in The Blood of the Lion is that people must take responsibility for themselves and their fates rather than blaming it on, or relying on, unseen and effectively powerless deities.

None embody this more than Morei; no amount of praying or beseeching can help his people or ease his turmoil, and he eventually turns further and further away from old religions and towards the power afforded to him to defend his land, even if it means destroying his reputation. Similarly, Cyrus cannot rely on the understanding of men or the intervention of the Gods and he and Sozar can only depend on each other to survive out in the wilds, even if they don’t always get along. C.D. McKenna keeps the story focused on three characters in, essentially, three very well-realised locations; however, other kingdoms and lands are referred to and described, as are the people and creatures that populate her world, to really give a sense of scope and lore to The Blood of the Lion. It’s clear to me that this book is only just scratching the surface of what McKenna has in store for the remainder of the Vorelian Saga and there’s definitely loads of concepts and characters to be built upon in further books and stories; each of the three characters ends the book in a very different place from where they started it, with some unexpected twists and turns along the way, to culminate in a truly enticing cliff-hanger ending that will doubtless have McKenna’s very vocal fanbase salivating for more. For me, there was a lot to enjoy about The Blood of the Lion; McKenna excels in character interactions and easing the readers into her fantasy world, and best of all she doesn’t shy away from some horrific violence and disturbing scenes that really helped punctuate the story and the drama. This was a joy to read through, even though my experience of fantasy epics is quite limited, and I was captivated from the start all the way through to the end by her words, her characters, and the unique world she has invited us to be a part of.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

If you’re interested in checking out The Blood of the Lion: The Vorelian Saga #1, and to learn more about C.D. McKenna and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.

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