Two empires…one in decline, the other ascendant and hungry for conquest…
Upon his father’s mysterious assassination, young Haru reluctantly becomes ruler—Tain—of his once-fearsome island nation. Threatened by a world they once dominated, Haru’s people, the Cryori, struggle with the peace the old Tain championed, nostalgic for the violent glories of their past. But across the ocean, an alliance of old enemies has formed, led by a madman bent on righting old wrongs. Enigmatic and fanatical, Reius decries the Cryori and their living gods, determined to erase their influence and beliefs.
Now Haru must get justice for his murdered father and defend his people from the coming scourge over the sea. Promising his ancient, grieving goddess to kill Reius, he reunites his father’s failed circle of protectors—a magical band of avenging misfits known as the Bloody Chorus.
I first discovered John Marco over 20 years ago when I first read The Eyes of God. It blew me away and while I eagerly awaited the sequel I went back to the first series he published and read that one, too. Since, both of those have gone on to be two of my favorite series of all time. After a decade long absence from the publishing world, Marco has returned with his self-publishing debut! As soon as I saw him on Twitter again, I jumped at the opportunity for an ARC!
The Bloody Chorus begins with the assassination of Haru’s father and his early ascension to the throne of the island nation of Nesenor, a role he is completely unprepared for. The Cryori are a seafaring race of people who once ruled the world with an iron fist, controlling a vast empire with the help of their mighty gods and enslaving all of humanity. Their empire was eventually dissolved and their reach contained to the islands of Nesenor, however this hasn’t healed the old wounds caused by generations of brutality and enslavement and a new, fanatical ruler has united the human nations of the continent and has set his eyes on peace by any means. This setup is what drives the story and over the next several hundred pages the pace never lets up, with plotlines diverging, twisting, and then finally all coming together for an epic conclusion.
There two things that really spring to mind when I think of Marco’s work: excellent characterization and deep, layered worldbuilding. Both of those qualities are on full display in The Bloody Chorus! While Haru is undoubtedly our main character, each member of his Chorus are also fully realized, each with their own histories, motivations, and character arcs. Marco excels at writing characters that are believable, with no clear good or bad guy. You want a villain that you will both abhor and almost want to root for? You got it. You want a character that is deeply flawed, but trying to do their best? You got it. There’s a depth of character that is not often achieved here, where the villains might not be what they seem from the outside and the heroes aren’t always as innocent as they maybe should be. Round that out with some clever use of misdirection and changing loyalties and you’ve got a recipe for one hell of a ride. It kept me so invested in the plot because I couldn’t help but analyze every facet of what was happening in an attempt to know what came next, but I was always kept guessing! Even after it was over, I keep thinking back and wondering if the characters made the “right” decisions and/or what the fallout from the decisions will be in the future.
As I mentioned before, it isn’t a John Marco book without an excellent display of worldbuilding and I think The Bloody Chorus really shines when it comes to its depiction of deities. The Cryori worship the old gods, a pantheon of powerful, corporeal beings that can bestow gifts upon a select few of their followers. The Tain’s Chorus itself is made up of such people and the worship and interaction with these gods are integral to Cryori life. Much like the gods of Olympus, the Cryori gods have physical form and meddle in the affairs of men. Across the ocean, the humans have adopted a new god, Taan. A god which may or may not solely live in the deranged mind of their fanatical leader. The mythologies of these gods are interwoven into the very distinct cultures of the humans and Cryori alike and it’s interesting to see how each culture has evolved over time in response to their beliefs. The Cryori rely on the patronage of their deities, which are tied directly to things of nature; a god of beasts, of death, of war, etc. Without those connections to higher beings, the humans have had to advance in technology.
Somehow, despite the enormous shoes it has to fill and the massive weight of all my expectations, The Bloody Chorus managed to exceed them all! It’s everything I love about Marco’s style of writing and more. There honestly couldn’t be a better return for one of my favorite writers. Marco is simply a master when it comes to nailing characterization, worldbuilding, and plot, and The Bloody Chorus is the best proof of that so far. I cannot wait for the next book to come out and I hope that the author gets all of the attention and praise he has always deserved. John Marco is truly one of the greats of genre.