Review: Bloodbane by TJ Marquis
Bloodbane is a fast-paced paranormal pulp novel with horror action and mild litRPG elements. Featuring a strong and positive father figure, this stand-alone novel is an excellent showing from Hero’s Metal author TJ Marquis.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Bloodbane. I encourage you to check it out!
This review contains minor spoilers.
Bloodbane Publisher Description:
What a horrible night to be invaded by psychos from the 65th Dimension.
Lance Cutfield just wants to get home to his wife and daughter.
But in his way stands a legion of Once-men, blood sorcerers, and countless foul creatures infesting the wilderness.
Lance must use his working man’s strength, and every tool at his disposal, to bring the fight to his foes.
Little do these ‘Baneborn’ know, they’ve chosen a predator for their prey…
Follow TJ Marquis:
Bloodbane brings TJ Marquis’s typical hard-hitting battles and action-driven storyline to a world inspired by Castlevania. The pacing is masterfully done, alternating between punchy confrontations and moments of suspense-filled quiet.
Perhaps it is the hero’s day job as a lumberjack which brings an attitude of “get-it-done” to the assault on evil, with an element of fulfillment in a good day’s work. The result is a cathartic righting of wrong by way of noble rampage.
I enjoyed the gamelit elements. The inspiration from retro games like Castlevania, Resident Evil, and Metroid is clear, and I could picture what it would look like on screen at times. I found the incorporation of the stats and crafting elements gratifying.
I felt that these elements worked towards a tight story here, however, rather than forcing the reader into a world of numbers or the vicarious diversion of Let’s Play.
The tension is maintained by Lance’s full immersion in the world. He is not isekai-ed; the events are not a game to him. He is no rootless hero without stakes in victory or defeat beyond his own life. The pauses in the action reminiscent of “save points” serve to remind the reader of their own experiences: the respite is temporary, and there is likely something even more intense coming next.
The setting is beautifully detailed, and while I could “see” the levels, the descriptions emphasized the feeling of wrongness due to the intrusion of the Baneborn and the need for it to be made right. The strange colors and changes to the landscape served to highlight that the ordinary world has been altered with both increased threat and increased potential rewards.
I am always a fan of an everyman hero. Where How Black the Sky featured “cool people doing cool things,” Bloodbane’s main character is a blue-collar family man who begins the story working on a job site. His steadfast attitude and simple desire to return home to his family (cutting through all obstacles) make him sympathetic and likable. His initial goal is to go home, and he would gladly leave the world-saving to the proper authorities (suspiciously absent). Evil simply got in his way.
Furthermore, in typical pulp style, he does not bring drama with him. The conflict in the story is all related to the intruders. Lance loves his family, and everything we learn about them indicates that they both love and respect him. He keeps a crucifix under his shirt that gives him a measure of comfort, and nothing that he encounters shakes that faith.
When the antagonist is trying to goad him, tempt him, discourage him, Lance isn’t even listening half the time, let alone being swayed.
The thematic message of this tale is perhaps less grandly theological than Hero’s Metal’s wrestling with the sovereignty of God. Its focus is more mundane and closer to home.
The first is the importance of family. As readers, we know that family isn’t always perfect, but Lance’s family is pretty idyllic. Lance loves his family, and they love him. His wife does not undermine him, nor does his daughter treat him with the disdain all too common among teenage characters—a trope I despise.
The result of this portrayal is to tap into the reader’s desire for family to be good. That special place where the character belongs. Lance’s family is cast as a treasure worth committing to, worth risking for, worth saving.
Faith and God’s Sovereignty
The second mundane thing that Marquis manages to bring into focus is faith. Not the literally moving mountains or calling down fire from heaven kind of faith that is typically favored in fiction, but the day-to-day attitudes and behaviors that are built on a foundational worldview.
Lance is a Christian. He carries a crucifix and prays when he can catch a breath. But his faith is steady and unintrusive. It informs the reader about why he might value the things that he does, but there is no plot point turning on it.
And yet, Lance is clearly assured of God’s goodness and sovereignty. It is the enemy’s will that draws him into the Baneborn stronghold, but Lance thinks, “This clash had been destined. God Himself had allowed it.” This perspective leads to “MORALE +2” and a declaration “I’m coming for you, whoever you are” (Chapter 7). Lance believes that God has a purpose, and this purpose is not for Lance’s destruction, so he can enthusiastically commit to cutting through evil as he follows the path the Lord has laid before him.
This understanding deepens as the story progresses, from God “allowing” these events to “ordaining,” when the antagonist reveals that Lance’s arrival is fate (Chapter 14). But his trust is not in a destiny of his own greatness, either, as a cursed cloak might induce him to think. Rather it is in simple truths that God is in control and God is good.
Convinced of these things, Lance moves forward with confidence. His foundational beliefs strengthen his desire to throw off the tether of the unholy invaders and bolsters his resolution to fulfill his responsibilities.
From the importance placed on these two everyday sorts of values, the reader comes away with a picture of heroism. It is less a mantle that one acquires than something accomplished by commitment to small, ordinary good. It is attained in the course of faithful pursuit of those things that are the building blocks of one’s life, specifically in this case faith and family.
This depiction of steadfastness as part of heroism differs slightly from many of the other stories we’ve reviewed (Dawn of the Broken Sword, for example) that emphasize diligence. Whereas the latter incorporates persistent effort to fulfill responsibilities, steadfastness or faithfulness is about an attitude.
Lance carries both his faith and his family with him through the difficult challenges he faces. His behavior is not about fulfilling his role as a father or a Hunter. It is continuing to reach for the fundamental good things that he loves every day of his life.
Check Out Bloodbane!
Bloodbane is exactly the kind of story I’ve come to expect from TJ Marquis: driving action, gripping heroics, and deeper ideas that enrich the tale. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!
Did you enjoy Bloodbane?
Hit the “Recommend this Book” button at the top of the page or Comment below with your own review.
We (and other readers) want to hear your thoughts!