Dark Blood – John Meaney (Review)

Dark Blood Dark Blood is the second book in the Tristopolis series, the sequel to Bone Song. I read the first book recently, and wrote about it here. Almost everything – positive and negative – that I said about Bone Song applies to Dark Blood too. The books have the same setting, and the same strength – the elaborate Gothic setting, the bleak, mysterious tone.

Dark Blood has a new plot, and an updated cast, but the fundamentals are the same – it’s still mostly about a weary detective a city built on the bones of the dead and staffed by zombies and wraiths. Sometimes, a series will jar between books, and you’ll end up with two very different things under the same label. That is not the case here.

As a result, I’m not going to write a huge amount in this post – there’s no point in restating identical points, giving the same overview of main ideas. Instead, I’m going to do two things – write less than normal, and focus on the differences between the two books.

Dark Blood is set almost immediately after the events of the first book, as detective Riordan adjusts to his change in living circumstances. A background detail from Bone Song jumps into prominence – there is rising tension between the free undead and those who feel that mortal, unaltered humans should have primacy. The book takes places as new legislation is about to be passed, legislation that will disenfranchised, disinherit, and dispossess the dead. Tensions rise in the streets between these two factions, while Riordan tries to track down the conspirators from the previous book.

The primary difference between the two books is one of genre – Bone Song is a Noir crime novel, with all of the archetypes and plotting that go with that. Dark Blood is a political thriller more than anything else, a snapshot of a city in the grip of partisanship, corruption and distrust. Meaney paints a picture of a panicked population, with a bigoted police force tightening restrictions on an underclass.

There is still crime and conspiracy – the main events in the narrative are about uncovering the cause of the sudden tension in the streets and trying to bring down the crooked politicians. But the book really shines in the sections showing the ordinary lives of the dead in the cities – scared groups of zombies trying to leave before they aren’t able anymore, breathless families being rounded up into dark vans.

In tone, Dark Blood is a little bleaker, a little more fatalistic than its predecessor – quite an achievement for a book based on torturing bones. There’s a sense of inevitability to much of the narrative; Riordan spends his time mostly playing catch-up to more prepared and more powerful forces. Still, he’s a character with strong agency: even though he’s on the back-foot most of the time, he still makes waves, still solves problems *almost* before it’s too late.

It’s nice to read a sequel that manages both to cleave to what made the first book good, and to find its own ground to cover. Dark Blood is an escalation, an evolution of Bone Song, not a break, or a rehashing of the same ground. The situation changes, but the setting remains the same. Old characters die off, and their place is filled either by new characters, or by development of old, minor ones.

If you read and liked Bone Song, read and like this one too.  Dark Blood does set up a hook for a third book, but I couldn’t find any information about it, and the first two don’t seem to have that much attention now. You can buy it here, for an incredibly low price – they aren’t the most in-demand books.

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