The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan, published by Harper Collins, is part of a new wave of fantasy novel. In the past fantasy has been primarily based on a Eurocentric vision of the world with authors drawing upon myths and fables primarily from Europe. While there have been a few exceptions over the years, it’s has only been in the past decade or so there have been significant changes to cultural representation in this genre.
The Bloodprint is the first in Khan’s four part series “The Khorasan Archives”. In it we are introduced to the world the events take place in and those who seem to be the series’ main characters. It’s a world at war. A war which has echoes of familiarity to ones occurring in our world.
The Talisman, headed by the mysterious figure only known as The One-Eyed Preacher, have been expanding their influence through sword and fire throughout the region. Burning books and any semblance of the written word and enslaving any women they find outside the home the parallels to the Talibans of our world go far beyond the similarity of their names.
While they are proving murderously capable of taking over the region small pockets of resistance still hold out against them. Chief among them are an order of warrior/mage women known as the Companions of Hira. Leading the fight is the woman known as The Chief Oralist, Arian. She and her companion, Sinnia, have been raiding Talisman slave trains in order to free as many women as possible.
However, they aren’t simply skilled fighters, they, and Arian especially, command The Claim. A magical power rooted in ancient sacred texts it offers the user a measure of control over opponents. Depending on the depth of one’s own personal power it can enable you to either immobilize or even kill somebody. As Chief Oralist Arian’s abilities with The Claim are of the highest order.
Which is a good thing as the mission she’s tasked with is to try and rescue a lost piece of text known as The Bloodprint. It seems proper recitation of the text will infuse the reader with the power control the lands if they want. If it ends up in the hands of the One Eyed Preacher it will mean the end of resistance to The Talisman.
While Khan has made some obvious connections to circumstances in our world, she has merely used them as the jumping off point in the creation of Khorasan. In particular the system of magic, based on the belief in scripture and the power of the written word, is a brilliant rejoinder to those who seek to debase education, especially the education of women.
She’s also created female characters of various colours, something which is sill sorely lacking in fantasy. Hopefully novels like this one will see the end of the use of words like swarthy and swart to describe evil or villains. Her characters are strong, opinionated women, and men. While some are obvious in their allegiances the motivations of others are often obscure and uncertain. All of which adds extra depths to the story and gives it an extra layer of interest.
Personally I didn’t enjoy the romantic sub-plot involving Arian and the Silver Mage, Daniyar, or some of the other overheated exchanges occurring throughout the book, the story’s strengths were such they never became a distraction. However, their relationship did explain certain things about Arian that were important so in spite of some the purpler prose it inspired it does turn out to be important to the plot.
In terms of character and world development Khan has done a magnificent job in bringing everything to life. From the horrors of the Talisman’s slave traffic in women to the depictions of the various almost feudal fiefdoms controlled by different war lords we are given a clear picture of not only the world Arian and her companions inhabit, but a very clear idea of the almost insurmountable obstacles they face in trying to hold onto their precious freedoms.
The Bloodprint, book one in “The Khorasan Archives”, by Ausma Zehanat Khan is a fine epic fantasy adventure set in a world with distressing parallels to our own. If its any indication as to the quality of the whole series it bodes well for the rest of the books.