With Blood Infernal, the tour de force that is the Order of the Sanguines trilogy comes to a powerful and fitting conclusion. What began with The Blood Gospel and continued with Innocent Blood ends here. If you were to pick up Blood Infernal without having first read the two preceding novels then we would have to have words – not a page of this finale would make sense without having followed The Woman of Learning (Erin), The Warrior of Man (Jordan) and The Knight of Christ (Rhun) through their earlier trials and torments. Spoilers for the first two books are inevitable below.
Blood Infernal follows hot on the heels of Innocent Blood. The stage is set for the return of Lucifer, the way prepared by Legion, a demon that combines within his stolen form the darkness of 666 damned souls. Erin, Jordan and Rhun must chase the clues left by alchemists and kings hundreds of years before to discover the location of Lucifer’s return and defeat him. This journey takes them from the belly of Rome and Venice to the medieval centre of Prague, the forests and mountains of the Pyrenees, and much further. All the time the power of the evil strigoi builds while more and more Sanguinists are destroyed. Very little time is left. Countess Elizabeth, one of the most infamous of all the strigoi and one of the most entertaining characters within these pages, chooses to help our army of three – perhaps because for once in her interminable life she has her eye set on saving the life of an innocent. Not that this makes her much safer to have around. But by this stage of the struggle it is possible that the angels themselves have begun to take notice.
I am no lover of vampire tales, on the contrary, but I am a huge fan of the storytelling genius of thriller master James Rollins. I approached the Order of the Sanguines trilogy with some trepidation only to discover that Rollins, along with his co-writer Rebecca Cantrell, had brought out all of his thriller writing weaponry, putting it to use from the very first page, hooking me instantly. All of the ingredients I love from the Rollins Sigma stories are here – historical twists and mysteries, strong and believable characters, adrenalin-pumping action, fabulous and exotic locations, cataclysmic and even apocalyptic threats, and, holding it all together, superb dramatic writing. With all that in play, I’m prepared to put up with vampires and demons, especially when they prowl beneath such a well-visualised Rome or hide within ancient European forests.
Blood Infernal is the conclusion. By now we are deeply invested in the story of Jordan and Erin as well as Elizabeth and Rhun, not to mention young Tommy who has endured so much. We are caught up in the fate of the brave and strong Sanguinists, plus the connivance and plotting of their papal masters. By this stage, the reader needs it all to end well. And it does. The ending was both touching and powerful, completely satisfactory, if a little emotional. It’s not easy letting these people go.
Arguably, Blood Infernal doesn’t achieve the heights of its predecessors. I think that’s because this is a book about bringing everything to a close, leading characters and plot to a state in which we can leave them. Legion is no match for the presence of Judas in the previous novel and Tommy plays a much more minor role here than before – I missed him. Likewise, Rhun has seen about as much character development as he’s going to, but that didn’t make his world any less fascinating. In fact, in Blood Infernal, we see much more of the Sanguinists in their preferred state and there are some very powerful moments, not least when they sing to disguise the heartbeat of Erin within their most sacred enclave. We also learn more about the nature of the Sanguinist curse – there is more to their existence than the rule of the church. There is hope despite this bleakest of curses.
Blood Infernal is a page-turning ride from start to finish. Exhilarating and thrilling, it achieves all that I expected and wanted. Inevitably, when it finished, I was left sad. This is it – over! But that is a mark of how much I have enjoyed this trilogy, even buying in hardbacks from the US so that I can read them sooner. The writing of Rollins and Cantrell together is seamless – a great achievement – and I hope that this is not the last we see of their collaborative efforts.