REVIEW: The Blood of Outcasts by D.A. Smith

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

The Blood of Outcasts is the feudal Japanese-inspired grimdark fantasy from D.A. Smith, the first entry in his Bane Sword Saga.

The Blood of OutcastsThe protagonist of The Blood of Outcasts, Dattori Masako, is grimdark to the core. Although presumed dead by execution, a blood curse has brought her back to wreak vengeance on behalf of her slaughtered clan.

The premise for The Blood of Outcasts evokes a cross between two of my favorite grimdark novels: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. Like Prince of Thorns, The Blood of Outcasts is told from the point of view of a brutal, take-no-prisoners narrator who is hellbent on revenge. As in The Sword of Kaigen, the fantasy world directly adopts many aspects of Japanese culture.

Notwithstanding the occasional flashback chapter, The Blood of Outcasts is told in the first- person present tense, giving the story a sense of urgency. The flashbacks switch to past tense, except for the final flashback chapter which, confusingly, is written in the present tense.

As in Prince of Thorns, D.A. Smith’s writing incorporates heavy use of short sentences. This may be off-putting for some readers, but I think it is an effective way to convey Masako’s harried mental state, especially during the numerous fight scenes. In this way, D.A. Smith
provides one of the most authentic point-of-view experiences that I have read in fantasy.

The combat scenes in The Blood of Outcasts are exceptionally well written, making the reader feel like they are immersed in the middle of the action. The influence of manga is apparent throughout these action scenes. D.A. Smith even describes The Blood of Outcasts as his love letter to the manga series Rurouni Kenshin.

The Blood of Outcasts largely succeeds as a character study of the monomaniacal Masako, who is relentless in her pursuit of revenge as she seeks to restore honor to her clan. But the novel also suffers from Masako’s tunnel vision, which restricts our ability to get to know other characters and to learn about broader aspects of the world.

A major part of what makes Prince of Thorns work is that Jorg’s brutality is balanced by his wickedly dark sense of humor. In contrast, Masako is dead serious throughout The Blood of Outcasts which, as a result, suffers from a sameness of tone that grows a bit tiresome over the novel’s nearly 500 pages.

Overall, D.A. Smith has created a compelling grimdark heroine with Masako, but I was left hungry to learn more about the world outside of her point of view. Still, fans of Japanese- inspired fantasy may find much to enjoy in The Blood of Outcasts.


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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.