Ladies of Grimdark: Chains of Blood by ML Spencer

by Justine Bergman

My Rating: 5

SERIES: The Chaos Cycle
PUBLISHED: November 5, 2019 (Self-published)
PAGES: 478
GENRE: Grimdark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy




He thought he was born Rylan Marshall…

…until he found out he wasn’t.

Instead, he was born the son of a demon.

Would that mean he was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps?

Rylan was attacked, his young son murdered, his baby daughter taken. But his assailant left him with two gifts: the gift of magic…and an oath to darkness. Rylan blamed himself, even though he knew it wasn’t his fault.

The life he knew was over.

And war is coming.

A new enemy, stronger and more fearsome than any other, appears out of the night.

Will Rylan use his newfound power to make a stand? Will he learn its use in time to make a difference? Or will his oath to darkness guide him to the enemy?

And when he finds out they’ve taken his daughter…how far will he go to get her back?



All he had left was a boundless guilt and a terrible power he didn’t understand. He was a prisoner of both, and there was no escaping either.

Chains of Blood is the first installment in ML Spencer’s newest dark epic The Chaos Cycle, and is a tale of cunning demons, broken heroes, and the brutal and catastrophic realities of war. This book also marks my first descent into the war-torn lands of the Rhen and beyond, a battered world that swiftly sunk its claws in and refuses to let go. This story is an account of love, loss, and sacrifice, and the lengths one is willing to go in order to protect what they truly cherish, while haunted by a regretful past, desperately hoping to salvage the future. Within its blood-soaked pages we witness a grisly enslavement of mind, body, and soul under the guise of unity as a foreign force threatens absolute domination. The fight for continued freedom is uncertain, but one that must prevail.

Desperate men do desperate things.

This story is a beautifully harrowing and emotional journey that really boils down to the deepest of love and respect. It begins with tragedy as a father returns from the war front only to have his children violently torn from him by a mysterious and dangerous foe. The resulting dreadful anguish and ceaseless perseverance in the face of heartbreaking loss is palpable and utterly poignant. While his legacy cultivates both fear and reverence, the promise of aid from those around him continues to drive him forward. However, manipulation and betrayal continue to forge his path, leading to a pilgrimage wrought by nothing but lies and agony, and also the dawn of another war where the flame of hope seems all but extingushed.

As we venture for answers, there is such a profound sense of wonder in the environments Spencer constructs around us. Continents showing signs of European, Middle Eastern, and Asian-inspired cultures, each place we’re delivered to is incredibly unique and awe-inspiring. The sprawling farmlands of the Kingdoms, the soaring verdigris-domed towers of Karikesh, the deafeningly silent avenues of Suheylu Ra – the entirety of the world hides dangerous secrets just waiting to be discovered. The effects of potent and fascinating magic siphoned directly from the heart of the land are evident in settings marred by devastation, but most compelling is the unknown that unravels as you continue to read.

We alone are in command of our own fate, and no other. Not any man. Not any god. We sit in the seat of our own judgment and mete out the consequences of our decisions upon ourselves.

Another aspect I thoroughly appreciated throughout was the introduction and development of a diverse cast that refuses to adhere to the many stereotypes of those typically portrayed in this genre. Willing and sympathetic mages, patient and remorseful rulers, reluctant and uncertain soldiers – there are plenty of instances that challenge beliefs and limitations, always pushing them to adapt to the dire situations at hand. Observing events unfold through the eyes of two seemingly different characters through alternating chapters, it’s apparent everyone has their own agendas. However, as the story advances, each greatly transforms, keeping readers fully invested as priorities shift and new information comes to light. This evolution is so wonderfully executed, and my personal favorite aspect of the entire story.

Chains of Blood is a perfectly paced, gorgeously conveyed, and unforgiving tale filled with relentless action, mystifying magic, and driven characters resistant to surrender their hold on the frayed strings of hope. While this is set in the same world as Spencer’s best-selling series The Rhenwars Saga, no prior knowledge is needed to fully enjoy this remarkable onset of her new narrative The Chaos Cycle. Completely surpassing my expectations, this book has quickly become one of my favorite reads of the year, and I can’t wait to see where we’re taken next. I highly recommend.

NOTE: A huge thank you to ML for a complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Spotlight

ML Spencer lives in Southern California with her three children and two cats. She has been obsessed with fantasy ever since the days of childhood bedtime stories. She grew up reading and writing fantasy fiction, playing MMORPG games, and living, as mom put it, “in her own worlds.” ML now spends each day working to bring those worlds into reality. She loves to read and write grimdark fantasy because it probes the deep, dark questions of human nature and moral ethics.


Thanks so much for joining us, ML. Since we already have your official bio, care to tell us about yourself in ten words or less?

ML Spencer loves all things furry, RPGs, and people watching.

What is “Grimdark”?

I’ve heard a lot of people say that Grimdark is hard to define. For me, it’s not. Grimdark is all about subverting the romanticism inherent in the fantasy genre. This can cut a couple of different ways. First, you get a subversion of a lot of the typical fantasy tropes: good and evil are no longer black and white. The hero isn’t always righteous, and he won’t always save the day. The fair maiden won’t always fall for the hero. Hell, she may not even be saved. Perhaps she’ll cut Prince Charming’s heart out. I could go on, but you probably get the picture.

What about the Grimdark and Dark Fantasy genres appeal to you most?

I like them because they are a better reflection of our own world. I find grimdark a playground for exploring human nature. I love pushing my characters to the limits of their emotions and morals. It’s more than that, though. I love pushing my readers to the limits of their emotions and morals. I like to get people thinking. I get a lot of readers who say I make them question their own morals. That makes me happy to hear—because that is my goal. Everything really does come down to a shift in perspective, and I like to provide that shift.

What’s a day of writing like in the shoes of ML? Do you have any quirks, routines, or rituals?

I get up at 4am everyday to write. A lot of people are shocked when I tell them that, but it works for me. I’m at my most productive early in the morning. I’m usually too tired and braindead after work. Another routine: I go through an entire book and outline ever chapter and write all the dialogue before I go back through and lay down narrative. I think this helps me iron out the kinks without having to do huge rewrites.

Give us an idea of how Chains of Blood came to fruition.

I was working on another project—one not set in the same world as my previous series—when I started to get a lot of people writing me telling me they wanted to hear what happened in the future. Eventually I decided to just throw a poll out to my reader group and it was overwhelming—people wanted me to write again in the Rhenwars world. So that’s what I did. Chains of Blood takes place in the future, with new characters, and a new threat. But it’s the same world, so returning readers will feel right at home.

Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?

I think the cool thing about Chains of Blood are the chains. Well, there’s metaphorical chains, too, but I’m talking about the physical chains. The invading armies link their mages together with chains that are magical artefacts that function to combine and amplify their power. It’s pretty cool. Also, the enemy society is a collective consciousness, kind of like the Borg from Star Trek. Only with magic.

Was there anything specific you drew inspiration from while writing this book?

In the book there are several different cultures all in conflict with one another. My inspiration, grim as it is, was the current crisis in the Middle East, specifically within Syria and the Levant. The entire battle for the city was inspired by the battle of Aleppo.

What do you hope your readers take away from Chains of Blood?

I hope my readers will come to the understanding that, in war, there is no such thing as a right side and a wrong side. The only difference is which side of an imaginary line you happened to be born on.

What comes first, the plot or the characters?

Whichever serves the story. In this case, the plot came first. In my previous series it was the characters.

What do you think makes a good story?

Great characters make a great story. Everything else is just icing.

Writing can be a stressful pursuit. Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Writing is an incredibly physically taxing job. Who would have known? Use your first real paycheck to go out and buy an ergonomic chair and other accessories. Your body will thank you later.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, ML. Do you have anything coming up in the future that you’d like the world to know about?

There’ll be another couple of books in this series—at least two more, unless things evolve, which is totally possible. Then I’ll be onto another project I’m excited about.

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1 comment

Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2019 | Whispers & Wonder December 5, 2019 - 9:09 am

[…] Chains of Blood by ML SpencerChains of Blood is a perfectly paced, gorgeously conveyed, and unforgiving tale of the brutal and catastrophic realities of war, filled with relentless action, mystifying magic, and driven characters resistant to surrender their hold on the frayed strings of hope. This book is amazing.SEE FULL REVIEW […]

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