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Reviewed by Caitlin Lyle Farley for Readers' Favorite
Runa returns late one night to the home she shares with her brother and sister-in-law. Strange sounds greet her at the entrance: slurping, lip smacking, tearing. Nobody answers her call, but the dim light of the hearth reveals her brother gorging himself on the remains of his wife. Ranvir has gone mad. There is nothing in his gaze but hunger; he says nothing except the word ‘Stjarfi’. Only very few of the Thursar know this name, only they understand the madness gripping Ranvir and the evil it portents. The law says murder must be punished with death. Hunfirth and many other Thursar are eager to deliver this justice, but the leader of their clan insists on waiting for the wise elder, Wisaric, to return so he may provide counsel on this strange crime and its cause.
Blood and Bile tells a compelling story of ancient magic and undying curses. The magic system is complex, but well defined. The giant-like Thursar have a rigidly patriarchal society. As offensive and outdated as this stereotypical cultural structure is, authors JC Boyd and Joshua Robertson successfully use this to frame the psychology of their characters and layer their conflicts and motives. Although Runa's and Hunfirth’s individual desires set them against each other early on, they both remain relatable. There’s merit in both characters' logic, and evil in both their actions, making it impossible to label either as villain or as hero. There are vivid depictions of cannibalism in Blood and Bile, but gore is to be expected in dark fantasy. A tense, character driven plot propels the tale down ever more winding roads until the shocking conclusion.