Tyrant's Blood by Fiona McIntosh
This review has been written for The David Gemmell Legend Awards for Fantasy site (http://gemmellaward.com/). Go vote!
In Royal Exile Loethar had conquered the Denova Set by force and imposed himself as Emperor. Prince Leonel, now King after his father death, went into exile with his friend and protector, Gavriel de Vis, to find the bandit Kilt Faris.
Ten years have passed, and the Emperor has discarded his barbarian ways to become a just ruler. The Set has begun to forget the bloodshed and fear. King Leonel has grown as well, and although he has not given up on taking his throne back, he has to admit that Loethar is doing a fine job himself.
Royal Exile was about running and saving oneself. Every character did it, they all tried very hard to stay alive, either by running to protection or by allying (or pretending to) with the invaders. Tyrant's Blood is much deeper than that. It shows the time of peace, and what people are willing to do to maintain it, while trying to make things go their way.
This is a book that is hard to review without giving anything away. The plot twists and untwists, and the characters move from place to place, running from and encountering friends and foes. This is a dark story, disturbingly so at times. You will love characters, hate them the next chapter and later forgive them for all the wrongdoings. You'll find yourself in a world that appears to have finally settled, only to discover that there is a greater darkness at work.
There are lots of things that I loved about Tyrant's Blood. I loved the Prologue. I believe it stands as a story on it own. It will confuse the reader at first, making it wonder if they have the right book in their hands, as it is so different from Royal Exile. Yet, it will fit so perfectly.
I loved that the characters evolved when we weren't looking. Not only in the ten years that have passed, but throughout the book. I also love that there is not black and white, they are all shades of grey, and sometimes the darker tones are found where least expected.
And I loved the fact that this is truly adult fantasy, with no need of dragons and giant balls of magic being hurled around to be able to fit the genre.
An excellent read, although not for the squeamish.