Ladies of Grimdark: Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

by Justine Bergman
Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

SERIES: The Coraidic Sagas (#1)
PUBLISHED: October 27, 2018 (Self-published)
PAGES: 335
GENRE: Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy




Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?



‘We all have ghosts who walk in our shadows, Ran. Just happens some are louder than others.’

Blood of Heirs is Alicia Wanstall-Burke’s stunning Dark Epic Fantasy debut brimming with warring nations and abhorrent horrors lurking beneath the dense forest canopy. At its heart, it’s a tale of the everlasting battle between duty and forging your own path, set in a rich world where tradition and obligation take precedence. Following the lives of two young protagonists, readers are swept away on a journey drenched in destructive magic, dangerous mysteries, and lots and lots of grisly bloodshed. I went into this book with high expectations, all of which were not only met, but exceeded. There’s something special in the making here, and I’m excited to witness it unfurl.

This is the epitome of a character-driven tale, which transforms this sprawling epic into a highly personal coming-of-age story. We’re introduced to Lidan Tolak, the eldest daughter and heir of the Daari of the Tolak clan, and Ranoth Olseta, son and heir of Duke Ronart, through the use of alternating points of view. Where many stories risk falling flat using this technique, Blood of Heirs excels, presenting three to five chapter chunks dedicated to each at one time, allowing for better understanding and deeper connection to these finely crafted characters. Motivations and desires are clearly introduced, then carefully built upon as the story progresses, allowing readers to witness their evolution as their surroundings affect them. With how dark of a tale this is, it’s too easy to feel the strain of the hardships placed upon their young shoulders, things no child should ever be forced to endure.

‘People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t control.’

Readers are transported into a world of unrest, with enigmatic foes breaching borders and superstitions that define the very fabric of society. The two threads of this story are not apparently connected, but there’s always a feeling that there’s an underlying something that will cause them to converge. This book is an exquisite introduction into the universe the author has created, portraying different nations and the specific issues they face, giving readers a glimpse of what’s to come, and leaving the curious craving more. We’re not overwhelmed with an abundance of details, but instead presented with bits and pieces of a rich history along with the young leads. I thoroughly appreciated this, as I always find the learning curve of a new series a bit daunting, wallowing in my ignorance. This pilgrimage for the truth alongside Lidan and Ran was among my favorite aspects of this story.

Let’s talk about the writing itself for a moment. I’m still finding it difficult to believe this is a debut novel. Polished prose and well-thought plotting make this story a treat to read. I will admit I had a tough time initially getting into the narrative, waiting for the over-arching plot to reveal itself, but when it happens…it happens with a bang. Dripping with delicious tension–war, horrors, family dynamics, uncertainty, self-doubt–the pages kept swiftly turning just so I could see what would happen next. I was so engulfed in this superbly penned story that I read this book in two sittings. Palpable, visceral action scenes, and highly emotional moments of utter despair bring this dark tale to life in ways one would expect to witness from seasoned authors. If this is just the beginning, I’m very much looking forward to what the future holds for Wanstall-Burke.

Blood of Heirs has been on my radar for quite some time, and I’m thrilled I’ve finally gotten a chance to give it a read. A devastatingly beautiful debut, Wanstall-Burke is chiseling her way into the literary world with a story that’s unafraid to venture into the darkest corners of fantasy. It comes to a satisfying end, leaving readers teetering on the precipice of something extraordinary, and I cannot wait to discover what that something is. I highly recommend.

My Rating: 4

Note: A complementary copy of this title was provided to be reviewed for the SPFBO 2019 finals.

The Spotlight

Alicia Wanstall-Burke

Living in Central Queensland, Australia, surrounded by snakes, marsupials and a wide blue sky, Alicia is a writer, a mum and a cat-herder. There are rumours she may in fact be a quokka in disguise, but these are not to be believed.

She began writing in her teens and never grew out of the phase, working in her spare time until the birth of her son allowed her to focus on writing full time.

She has also dabbled in editing and blogging while completing a Bachelor of Education and studying a Post Graduate Certificate in Ancient History.


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

I’m a mess-making anxiety nerd most days of the week!

What is “Grimdark”?

It’s tall, dark and handsome. Or short, fast and sharp. Really depends on the day of the week. For me it’s stories that don’t shy away from the stark realities of war or human nature, of what we are capable of doing to each other, while not falling over the edge into misery porn or gratuitous violence, or depression-inducing slogs through a hopeless wasteland. I need some sort of victory at the end, even if it isn’t the one I thought I wanted.

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

The characters and the unpredictability. I like villains, I like characters with dark edges and shadows, I like seeing how they wrestle with what is expected, what is right, and what they want. That’s human nature, and in Grimdark we get to see it laid bare, without apology for what it is. I’m not into reading about the Lawful Good. I mean really, where’s the adventure in that?!

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

I’m known for wearing pyjama pants when I write. Any pants (or ‘trousers’ for you non-Aussies) that would be suitable to wear outside are too uncomfortable to write in, so they get rejected. Thanks to nerve damage in my hip, I’ve got a gaming chair for my broken arse to sit in, but it kind of looks like I’m commanding a space ship which is pretty cool. Lots of coffee is drunk but I forget to eat, or clean, or move much once I’m in the zone. If I don’t answer the door, it’s because I can’t hear you over the film soundtracks blaring in my ears.

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

I’d wanted to write a fantasy novel with a setting inspired by Central Queensland, and on the advice of an editor at a publishing house, I started this new project with nothing much more than that, an empty space on the map of my world, and a girl’s name: Lidan. 

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

There are a few choice characters who don’t get mentioned who made writing the book so much more enjoyable for all the unexpected conflicts and challenges they threw at me. I never thought a bitchy ghost and a snarky old woman who smells funny would end up being among my favourite characters but there you go. They are worth keeping an eye out for.

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

There are places in the book that are real, that exist in our world—you can go see them, even touch them. They are landmarks in my life that I measure a journey by, knowing just how far I am from home by their position on the horizon. And there are years of obsession over ancient history and prehistoric archaeology that have informed the cultures of the book. It gave me the perfect excuse to devour endless hours of documentaries. I really wanted to tell a story about a society that is on the verge of technological change, and explore what that might have been like. I also wanted to use the Australian landscape as a character, to use it to frighten and unsettle characters and readers. The bush is scary as fuck, but it’s even worse when you realise that not all the tales of monsters in the shadows are fiction. 

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

That life will refuse to give you what you want, no matter how perfectly you plan, or how hard you work. The choice you have is to go to war to claw back what you thought you wanted, or to allow the current to take you where you need to go. This doesn’t mean surrendering your agency and allowing others to chart your path for you, but it does mean writing your own story. 

Congratulations on Blood of Heirs being named a SPFBO finalist! How has your experience with the competition been so far?

Thank you! Anxiety Alicia has had several breakdowns! I didn’t expect to get this far, and every review sends me spinning. The day it was announced that I was a finalist I was in an Air BnB visiting my son, preparing to fly out to the UK for six months, and getting ready to launch Legacy of Ghosts the next day. I’m still surprised my hair didn’t turned completely white from the stress.

But I’ve had the best time hanging out with the other finalists. There’s barely a day that passes where we don’t talk to each other, whether it’s to cry or laugh or swear or scream or wonder why the fuck none of us can manage to de-code Amazon’s advertising algorithms. That has been the most valuable and amazing part of the whole thing. 

What comes first, the plot or the characters?

Well, both, kind of… My brain will vomit out a person, or an idea of a person, and they come with all these stories attached to them. Stories of where they have come from and where they are going. Stories of what they are doing now and what they think they need to do next. Sometimes they hide from me and don’t want to show me all that they are, so it takes time to get to know them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a plot arrive without a central character formed within it, or a character form without a story, either past or future.

What do you think makes a good story?

You can make a very basic plot work with really compelling characters. Ideally you want a bit of both though, but I can’t engage with a story that has a thrilling plot, but characters I don’t care about. I want to feel for them, want them to win, or lose, or get their arses kicked, or finally get that revenge, or find that one person they can trust in a world of scoundrels and thieves. If not for the characters, then what’s the point? 

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

It’s so cliché, but listen and learn, but most of all join a community of likeminded fools. You can’t do this on your own, not the drafting or the research or the learning about the craft, or the publishing and subbing and the crying into your choice of beverage after a shit review or a rejection. You need to be part of the writing tribe, so join the rebellion.

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

Empire of Shadows, book three of the trilogy will be out some time in late 2020, or early 2021, depending on how quickly I can write it. It’s going to be huge, so it may take longer than expected. Once that’s out, I’m going to pick up where I left off with The Smuggler’s Daughter, a pirate/smuggler/spy fantasy set in the criminally infested archipelago off the coast of Coraidin. Cannot wait to get back to working on it! 

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Arina April 21, 2020 - 6:45 pm

Oof, I wanna read everything by Alicia (that pirate/spy/smuggler fantasy tease was like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit ).

I’m on route to reading all SPFBO finalists and this one def caught my eye! Love Alicia’s humor and good-natured responses in the interview. Really great post

Justine Bergman April 21, 2020 - 7:12 pm

Thanks, Arina! I’ve been meaning to get to this one for far too long, and I’m upset with myself for waiting so long. Going to be picking up book two as soon as possible. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

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