Bloodraven by P L Nunn – review

Title: Bloodraven
Authors: P L Nunn
Genre: High Fantasy
URL: (print)
Author’s site:
Price:US $21.00 (print) / $8.99 (ebook)
Other Information/warnings: rape, violence, slavery, explicit m/m, interspecies sex and rape
A son of a forest dwelling people, Yhalen knows little of the world outside the ancestral forest, until he is captured by a band of ogres on a slave-taking mission. Only grim tales of the barbaric giants had reached the forest, but Yhalen soon learns that even the darkest fireside story only hinted at the brutality of these Northern warriors. He discovers the meaning of true fear at their hands, and only the awakening of ancient magic saves him from destruction. Surviving ogre viciousness, he finds himself given to Bloodraven, the half ogre, half human war leader as a slave. Yhalen, refusing to bend, soon pays the price for offending prickly ogre pride. But Bloodraven is no mindless, violent ogrish beast. Bloodraven has an agenda and Yhalen finds himself drawn in the wake into human and ogre politics, into bloodshed and cruelty and into the forbidden magic that is damnation in the eyes of his own people, but which might mean the difference between death and salvation.

My review:

What to say about this massive epic story that’s eaten my brain for several years now, ever since I discovered Ms Nunn’s fantastic fan and original fiction and devoured everything from her site that I could find. Bloodraven is…an utterly overwhelming experience. Take that list of warnings seriously, folks, because this is not for the squeamish (and in fact, if you can get through the first chapter, you will probably not be too horrified by the rest of it, but it’s by no means the most brutal or bloody scene in this very long novel.) But if you can stomach this story, it’s a rich and powerful tale that works on every level. It’s rape/slave fantasy that is the most enjoyable of guilty pleasures. It’s a complex, wonderfully plotted and paced story of political intrigue and machinations, and of delicate interpersonal negotiations. It’s a story about outsiders trying to find their place when their own society has rejected them. It’s a story about complete opposites coming together in the most unlikely fashion and finding common cause. It’s even, god help us, a story about a man and his dog.

Ms Nunn has created in Bloodraven one of the most fabulous fantasy heroes in any book, slash or not. The half-ogre, half-human is oversized in every sense – huge of stature, stamina, appetite…and vision. For Bloodraven is someone who dreams of a better life not just for himself but for his kin, and will endure anything to get that, any hardship, torture or humiliation. He’s a noble savage, but he’s only superficially primitive. Beneath ochre skin beats a heart brave enough to face that challenge, and wise enough to learn how to change his ways, when needed. And in his skull, is a brain as sharp as any of the humans who seek to use him for his own ends.

Yhalen, the young human who find himself given to Bloodraven as a slave, is less immediately admirable. To be honest, he’s a bit of a spoiled brat, the scion of the foremost family in his tribe, and too young to have seen anything of life. He sharpens up a bit when he’s suddenly faced with cruel and brutal reality, but he does spend a lot of time in the early part of the novel in self-pity and whining about his lot. But he’s no coward, and he discovers resources within himself – as well as a handy line on his ancestral magical powers – which allow him to keep pace with Bloodraven and ultimately win both equality and respect from him. It’s a long and literally torturous journey for him – and the reader.

The plot twists and turns like Yhalen’s braid, only less predictably, and the novel is populated with a host of minor and intriguing characters. The entire thing is rich, lush and vivid, but yet without any romantic clichés despite the frequent and embarrassingly hot sex involving enormous cocks and slender human bottoms (any fan of Ms Nunn’s writing knows she writes erotica with incredible verve, and is one of the most genuinely arousing writers in the business.) Anyone looking for sap will be profoundly disappointed, but there is tenderness and comfort, which always comes in the right time and quantity to offset the many instances of brutality. The story ends with many strands still untied, and without pat solutions. One is left, as it should be, begging for more.

The story and style is not for everyone – Ms Nunn has a distinctive voice and you either like that voice or you don’t. Those familiar with the web version will be pleased to know the pay version has been edited and tidied of the unfortunate grammatical and spelling errors which marred the work in progress. If you like Ms Nunn’s writing, you’ll love this, provided you pay attention to the warnings. I’m a fan, I love it, and I recommend it very heartily indeed. Bloodraven is a true classic.