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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Steven Montano attended college at University of Colerado wherein he graduated with distinction with a degree in creative writing. He however currently works as a certified public accountant. He lives with his wife and children in Washington. Blood Skies is his first novel.
OFFICIAL BLURB: In the time after The Black, human survivors of the Southern Claw Alliance clash with vampire legions of the Ebon Cities in a constant war for survival. Earth as we know it has been forever damaged by an arcane storm that fused our world with distant realms of madness and terror. Things that once existed only in our nightmares stalk the earth.
Now, humanity is threatened by one of its own. Eric Cross, an enlisted warlock in the Southern Claw military, is part of an elite team of soldiers and mages in pursuit of a woman known as Red -- a witch whose stolen knowledge threatens the future of the human race. The members of Viper Squad will traverse haunted forests and blighted tundra in their search for the traitor, a journey that ultimately leads them to the necropolis of Koth.
There, in that haven of renegade undead, Cross will discover the dark origins of magic, and the true meaning of sacrifice...
CLASSIFICATION: Steven Montano’s Blood Skies series can be thought of as Glen Cook’s Black Company meets Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampire Chronicles meets Kate Elliott.
FORMAT/INFO: Blood Skies is 265 pages long divided over twenty-four numbered and titled chapters with a prologue and epilogue. Narration is in third-person by Eric Cross. Blood Skies is the first book of the Blood Skies series and has quite a few threads, that are left hanging.
June 4, 2011 marked the e-book and Paperback publication of Blood Skies and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is provided by Syd Gill.
ANALYSIS: Nowadays with so much being written in fantasy and its multitude of sub-genres, readers can often get perplexed as to what sub-genre a book fits into or how many genres it flirts with. Steven Montano’s Blood Skies is one such title that I came across in Goodreads and its blurb immediately struck a chord with me. The book’s details make it out to be a fantasy but also is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth.
The book details an Earth wherein an event called “The Black” has wiped out most of humanity. What it also did was blur the dimensions thereby populating the Earth with many creatures that were thought of as figments of lurid imagination. The tale which is set on the remains of the North American continent features the cities of the Southern Claw and the tale is set about 20 years after the occurrence of the Black. Eric Cross is the main protagonist of the story who is introduced as a warlock in lieu with the Southern Claw military; he is part of the viper squad that battles the vampires of the ebon cities. The Southern claw alliance is a group of human cities that have banded together under the titleage of the White Mother who acted as a shepherd immediately after the apocalyptic events of the Black. No one knows much about the White Mother except that she acts only through her emissaries and without her support humanity wouldn’t have existed.
The story begins when Eric recently begins his mission which is to track down a renegade witch called Red who has betrayed the human alliance by stealing some important information and now is heading towards the vampire holds. The magic contained by warlocks and witches is by the presence of a spirit that is of the opposite gender which powers them. Eric and his sister Snow are two such powerful magic wielding siblings who have figured out that life is forever changed and now they will have to do their best to survive. The opening chapters of the book are set three years and twenty years after the Black and finally begin again twenty three years later when Eric is a two year veteran of the southern Claw alliance but still hasn’t figured out his exact role. He feels more akin to a tool than an actual human warrior, his relationship with his sister is strained due to the age gap between them as well as his military life. Suddenly spruced and faced with problems due to the chase of the witch Red, Eric will have to figure out his life soon and at the same time figure what lead one of humanity’s strongest defenders to turn traitor.
The book is set in a very dystopian world wherein the presence of magic has affected history, geography, society and almost everything on Earth. The author has very effusively described the settings and the way the characters see the land around them. Consider this as an example:
“The fields of snow and rivers of ice are reflective white and blue, like steel and bone, a mirror a thousand miles long. In the middle of this nowhere stands a massive mountain as black as coal, it pierces the sky and penetrates the heavens.”
The above lines along with many more in the book are the hallmark of the author’s work, a strong sense of description perhaps approaching Robert Jordan in his heyday. However as in the above example the author is also guilty of repetition. The sense of the world being in its twilight phase is never lost on the reader and as the tale is a quest. The author vividly sets about describing the landscape wherein the characters travel about and each new place even more scary and stranger than the previous one. Since the only POV is provided by Eric Cross the readers don’t get much of a look into the other characters and Eric who is a young man but also a solo narrator is often not the best one. The other characters that are present don’t get much time to make their presence felt as the author deals with a gruesome hand. Many of the characters are often introduced and meet their demise by the end of the chapter, this uncertainty about the character life certainly made the read bit more interesting.
The negative points about the book are that the readers will often a sense of vertigo as the author slowly doles out information while describing certain events, places and characters thus making the read a bit uneven. The description-heavy prose is also good but at certain points just seems a tad hyperbolic. The author could have definitely eased up on that aspect. The biggest draw of the story is the quest aspect to it and while the author does make the story as fast paced as possible, at certain points however the story takes quite some weird turns which do not add up totally. The biggest drawback though is perhaps the author doesn’t reveal much of the world and while this is a perfectly reasonable act on the author’s part, I as a reader would have loved to dwell a bit deeper into the psyche of the common man of this world perhaps also seen a part of the current human cities. Again this is a very subjective thing and many readers would be fine with the way the book is set up. Also since this is the first book, I’m jumping the gun a bit and the author definitely could have revelations planned for later books.
CONCLUSION: Steven Montano tracks a different path and showcases a different sort of world, the setting as well prose is what sets it apart from many in the post apocalyptic genre, riffing a bit on the black company books, the author crafts an interesting debut which if it overcomes its shortcomings will be a series I can look forward to.