Monthly Archives: September 2015

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Shadows – Book 1 of The Rephaim by Paula Weston

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In response to the recent release of the final book in The Rephaim series, Netgalley offered reviewers a chance to read, Shadows, the start of the series. As I’d heard a fair amount about this YA Fantasy series, I took the opportunity to download it and judge for myself.

ShadowsIt’s almost a year since Gaby Winters was in the car crash that killed her twin brother, Jude. Her body has healed in the sunshine of Pandanus Beach, but her grief is raw and constant. It doesn’t help that every night in her dreams she kills demons and other hell-spawn. And then Rafa comes to town. Not only does he look exactly like the guy who’s been appearing in Gaby’s dreams—he claims a history with her brother that makes no sense. Gaby is forced to accept that what she thought she knew about herself and her life is only a shadow of the truth—and that the truth is more likely to be found in the shadows of her nightmares. Who is Rafa? Who are the Rephaim? And most importantly, who can she trust?

I really enjoyed this offering. Gaby is a likeable character, whose reactions to the steady stream of unwelcome surprises that knock her sideways out of her life made me care about her. Weston’s depiction of a grieving sister is well done, and I liked the fact she took the time to establish Gaby’s normal routines and daily life before it all gets turned upside down. Far too often, we are plunged into the tumult of the adventure, which is all very well until the heroine starts longing for everything to go back to how things used to be – which is so often somewhere the reader cannot envisage as I was never there. eston doesn’t fall into that trap.

In fact, judging by the quality of the writing, the slick scene setting and deft characterisation, I’d be prepared to have a quiet bet on the side that while Weston may be a ‘debut’ author, she’s got a manuscript or two tucked away. The pacing of the story is well done – as soon as Rafa turns up, events start stacking up and continue to do so until I was thoroughly caught up in the increasing tempo until I took time I didn’t have to sit down and finish it. There was no point in trying to complete the tasks I’d set myself anyway, as I couldn’t stop thinking about Gaby’s adventures.

If you’re looking for some angel-based action and a story that goes on delivering pace and action throughout, then track this one down. It’s an enjoyable, engrossing read that grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished it. And if my TBR pile doesn’t keep growing ridiculously high – I’ve promised myself that I’m going to track down the other books in the series the next time I’m due some escapist me-time.
8/10

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Review of The Slow Regard of Silent Things – a Kingslayer Chronicle novella by Patrick Rothfuss

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Received wisdom dictates that Fantasy titles should be mostly be short and punchy. Literary tales are the ones with wafty, long-winded titles. But then, literary stories tend to focus on beautiful prose, striking descriptions, while pushing the envelope of exactly what prose can do. Genre fiction is too busy ploughing through a crowded plotline, peopled with a cast of characters bristling with dour intent to deceive, murder or seduce the innocent, wide-eyed protagonist who has unwittingly wandered into the middle of this eventful, threat-filled landscape. However every so often an author, like Rothfuss, comes along who totally upends these genre conventions. Does he get away with it?

Untitled-14Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. Her name is Auri and she is full of mysteries. This novella offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes.

So, do you really need to have read The Kingkiller Chronicle to get The Slow Regard of Silent Things? Hm. There are a number of apparently throwaway references that have a certain resonance if you have read the book in which this novella is nested, but to be honest, I really don’t think you’ll be floundering all that much if you haven’t. For starters, there isn’t a huge cast to wrestle with, or a welter of events that has your head spinning. Auri lives in the dark places long forgotten and ekes out a sparse, solitary existence. She needs to move carefully, if sure-footedly through this landscape. So the pace is slow as we spend a week in her world alongside her.

Rothfuss has managed to build a painfully beautiful story, woven from her imagination and the events with which she fills her dark days. When the prose flows at its best, we are right in her head and caught up in the weird, discarded landscape she inhabits. I was rapt by the poetry of the writing and I felt the depth of Auri’s brokenness was fully conveyed without ever alluding to the events that caused her to flee and live such a solitary existence.

Any grizzles? Yes. Rothfuss every so often throws in comments about Auri’s appearance, referring to her ‘tiny feet’ and describing her eyes being ‘all softness and want’ while ‘her mouth grew firm and furious’. Which immediately yanked me out of her viewpoint and pulled me away from the story – such a great shame when most of the novella is so well crafted in deep pov.

This book has divided Rothfuss’ readership, as he recognised in his apologetic prologue – in fact skimming through the reviews on Goodreads, there are folks out there all set to go to war over this slim book. I really enjoyed this ambitious, beautiful story, but like poor little Auri, it is flawed.
8/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Overbite – Book 2 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

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I was away for a few days and wanted a bit of light relief from some of the grimmer Fantasy offerings I’ve been recently sampling – and this new addition to my Kindle, courtesy of Himself suddenly seemed like a very good idea.

OverbiteMeena Harper has bitten off more than she can chew… She has a special gift, but only now does anyone appreciate it. Her ability to predict how everyone she meets will die has impressed the Palatine Guard—a powerful secret demon-hunting unit of the Vatican—and they’ve hired her to work at their new branch in Lower Manhattan. Sure, Meena’s ex-boyfriend was Lucien Antonescu, son of Dracula. But that was before he (and their relationship) went up in flames, and now she’s sworn off vampires for good—even though she firmly believes that just because they’ve lost their souls, it doesn’t mean they can’t love.

Convincing her new partner, Über-demon-hunter Alaric Wulf, that vampires can be redeemed won’t be easy. Especially when a deadly new threat arises, endangering not only the Palatine, but Meena’s friends and family as well. As she unravels the truth, Meena will find her loyalties tested, her true feelings laid bare.

Yes, yes, I know. Vampires. Again. But this offering has a welcome sprinkling of humour, and as you see from the cover, neither does it deal in indecent boring detail about their sexiness, either. Meena is struggling to cope with the aftermath of what went down in the first book – as well as continuing to cope when she’s confronted with how people might die. And she keeps annoying Alaric, who to be honest, initially comes across as something of a berk. Although when juxtaposed with Lucien’s smooth patter, he quickly grew on me. But it’s Meena who holds the plot together. Her strong belief that no one is doomed forever, as well as her frantic efforts to try and head off the deaths of people she encounters are by turns humorously dappy and hopelessly idealistic. While I often want to shake such heroines till their teeth rattle, I just wanted to put an arm around Meena and gently explain to her how the world really works.

So why? I suspect it’s the way she’s written. Cabot is an experienced writer with a slew of successful books behind her and it shows. The characters are well depicted and enjoyable, the storyline was engrossing and provided some twists and turns. And for all the chirpy tone, there were still some death and destruction that had me fearful for the surviving cast in case Cabot offed someone I really cared about. I had the strong impression that she wouldn’t be afraid to kill off a major character…

The story arc raced towards the inevitable climax – and came to a satisfying ending that had me reading waaay into the night to find out what happened. If you enjoy urban fantasy, then give Overbite a go, but my firm advice would be to read Insatiable first. This series is worth savouring.
9/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK The Iron Ghost – Book 2 of The Copper Cat series by Jen Williams

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There was a time not so long ago when I’d open up an epic Fantasy tale half expecting to abandon it before the end of the first chapter, as yet another turgid trek through a medieval landscape with a bunch of charmless Tolkien wannabes trudged across the pages. But that was before I encountered the passionate writing of Sophie E. Tallis, the vivid characters depicted by Sammy H.K. Smith, the intelligent plotting of Joanne Hall. And Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise. So does this sequel sustain the high standard Williams set in her success debut?

theironghostAfter their defeat of the dragon-god Y’Ruen, the trio of mercenaries who call themselves the Black Feather Three find that demand for their services as swords for hire is high, and it’s the lure of money (the copper promise) that entices them to the northern city of Skaldshollow, high in the mountains. They have been asked to retrieve a stolen artefact, but this relatively simple job takes on multiple levels of complication as our sellswords find themselves embroiled in a war between the stone-crafting Skalds and their neighbours and rivals, the cold-blooded Narhl. They are fighting an ideological war for the very soul of the mountains, in a land steeped in ancient magic, while below the surface of the earth something even more ancient, more magical, and more evil, is stirring…

Oh yes. This is a cracker. Williams’ smooth, deft writing style means that she manages to make this triple-stranded storyline look seamless, as we continue to follow the adventures of Lord Frith, Wydrin and Sebastian. I did wonder if Williams was going to be able to sustain the full-on pace of The Copper Promise after the climactic ending with the dragon. And I can confirm she certainly does. While there isn’t quite the same blithe breeziness that had me categorising the first book as gleedark, we are immediately plunged right into the middle of yet another, apparently routine adventure, which rapidly turns into a mess. We also have flashbacks showing Sebastian’s time with the Dragon Brood and his struggles to civilise them and keep them safe from retribution for their previous bloody deeds. I really enjoyed this nifty device to get us up to speed without slowing the pace of the unfolding crisis.

As the full-tilt adventure continues, we also get steadily more information about all three complex, cagey characters, particularly Wydrin. Each character is well developed with strong flaws as well as bravery and a hatred of injustice – Lord Frith is very aware of his station in life and can appear cold and rather remote, Wydrin’s refusal to address her inner sorrows makes her stupidly reckless and Sebastian tends to feel overly responsible for everyone and everything around him. Williams uses these weaknesses to deftly pull the plot forward which means the characters in the middle of the action are engaging and easy to care about.

Williams also writes evil characters with splendid relish that had me engrossed, while wondering if this is the instalment where the Three Feathers becomes Two… The stakes, once more, get insanely high as all three adventurers become the only hope for civilisation.  There is no trace of the dreaded second book hiatus during this slice of the unfolding story, as the climactic ending had me hooked, unable to put the book down until the end. I’m now looking forward to the next book, The Silver Tide, due out next February.

The book was provided by Netgalley, while the opinions in this review are my own.
9/10

Review of The Thousand Names – Book 1 of The Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler

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1000namesHimself and I make a good pair. Whereas I find any starscape-spangled cover irresistible, Himself is unable to pass by a book displaying weaponry. It’s surprising how often we can swap these books, though. And that’s what happened to The Thousand Names. Frankly, I wouldn’t have plucked it off the shelves in a long lifetime – but once Himself finished it, he plonked it in my lap with the words, “You’ll like this one.”

In the desert colony of Khandar, a dark and mysterious magic, hidden for centuries, is about to emerge from darkness. Marcus d’Ivoire, senior captain of the Vordanai Colonials, is resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost, when a rebellion leaves him in charge of a demoralised force in a broken down fortress. Winter Ihernglass, fleeing her past and masquerading as a man, just wants to go unnoticed. Finding herself promoted to a command, she must rise to the challenge and fight impossible odds to survive.

Marcus and Winter are the two main protagonists and Wexler has nicely balanced the narration between the two. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale. It bounces along with plenty of nice touches of humour, detailed world-building that doesn’t hold up the pace and engrossing storyline. It was also refreshing to have a military-based fantasy so richly character-led. I found myself really caring about both protagonists, as well as many of their fellow soldiers. This shapes up to be pleasantly complicated, as there is a political agenda to all the warfare kicking off that we barely skimmed, and I’m betting will feature a whole lot more in the next book in the series, The Shadow Throne, which I’m delighted to report is by my bed.

Winter, a runaway orphan destined to be married off to the first man who pays for her, disguises herself as a boy and joins up. Her natural talent for tactical thinking under pressure ensures her survival, but she is always having to keep herself aloof. And before anyone rolls their eyes and thinks this is a ridiculous fictitious event, there is on record there is a steady trickle of girls and women who joined both the army and navy from the 16th century onwards to serve, often in appalling conditions, alongside their male comrades and often it was only when they were wounded they were discovered.

The battle scenes are vividly depicted, with plenty of tension and I stayed up waaay long than I should have to discover what happened next. Wexler brings his clean, punchy writing style to bear on the supernatural elements and the magic is described with a real sense of wonder that is often lacking in fantasy books. Altogether, this is a very promising series and I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading the next one.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 22nd Sept

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:TeaserTuesdays-ADailyRhythm3-300x203

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

usMy current teaser is from Us by David Nicholls. It’s very funny and desperately poignant at the same time. I’m afraid I’ve broken the rules in that I’ve given you 3 sentences, instead of two from P. 19 and they are absolutely typical of the humour throughout.

‘When he spoke – and he spoke a great deal – his eyes blazed at Connie, passing straight through me, and I was forced to accept that I was watching a blatent seduction. At a loss, I reached for the rudimentary salad. Doused liberally with malt vinegar and cooking oil, it was my sister’s rare culinary gift to make lettuce taste like a bag of chips.’

Review of Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

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A while ago, I read Popcorn on my daughter’s recommendation. Although I found it funny and abrasive, the style and subject matter meant I wasn’t in a hurry to go searching for another Ben Elton. And then I saw this offering on the shelves, and being a real sucker for books with an element of time travel, decided to have go.

timeandtimeagainIt’s the first of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer, is the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be. Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history. Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century?

That’s most of the blurb. So we are in the territory of alternate history – a beguiling sub-genre that works incredibly well when properly crafted and is incredibly annoying when it isn’t. Elton falls mostly into the former camp. His protagonist, Hugh Stanton, isn’t a particularly nice man but then this isn’t a job for a nice man. His job is to try to prevent WWI by stopping the assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and killing someone else instead. Despite the fact that Hugh isn’t nice, I really cared about him, or more accurately his mission. Elton very effectively evokes the wonder of the belle époque and some of the wonders we lost, never to be seen again, along with some of the unfortunate attitudes that were prevalent then.

The pacing is spot on, with the tense onward momentum needed in an adventure thriller and yet there is sufficient description and information to keep the stakes high and give a pin-sharp picture of everything going on. I was utterly engrossed and stayed up reading way longer than I should in order to finish it. And, for me, that’s the other must-have for an alternate history book. Why is Time being mucked about? What is the ‘what if’? In this version, Newton worked out that Time was affected by gravity centuries before Einstein existed – and left instructions on how time travel could be effected using his theory. So the payoff must be big. You don’t travel back in Time because you forgot to lock the car and it was stolen – unless it contained world-changing secrets.

Any grizzles? Well I have to say the love interlude jarred. Given that Hugh was a history student, he should have been very familiar with the butterfly effect and he’d already had a graphic, bloody illustration of what could happen when you start tweaking with events. He was also on a mission and grieving for a lost family, so taking time out to chat up a pretty young thing on a train simply didn’t ring true. It might have been a dealbreaker, but for the fact that the ending is a doozy and one I didn’t see coming. It has left me musing a lot about the outcome, being exciting and disturbing by turns. If your taste runs to time travelling tales, have a go – I’d love to know what you think.
9/10

Review of Veiled – Book 6 of the Alex Verus novels by Benedict Jacka

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I’ve enjoyed this London-based urban fantasy series, featuring divination mage Alex Verus and was delighted when Veiled joined the canon. To get the very best out of the series, I recommend that you start with the first book, Fated, read my review here. So would Veiled live up to my expectations?

VeiledAlex Verus is a mage who can see the future, but even he didn’t see this day coming. He’s agreed to join the Keepers, the magical police force, to protect his friends from his old master. Going legit was always going to be difficult for an outcast like Alex, and there some Keepers who will do anything to see an ex-Dark mage fail. He finally has the law on his side – but trapped between Light and Dark politics, investigating a seedy underworld with ties to the highest of powers, will a badge be enough to save him?

When reading the blurb above, if you think it sounds a tad like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, you’d be right. And I’m fine with that. Jacka’s Brit humour and his sense of the London setting give this book a sufficiently home-grown feel that I don’t have an issue with any apparent similarities, as the differences matter.

Alex’s problems with the magical authorities don’t ease down as much as you’d think they should, now that he joins the investigative team who are checking out an attack on a tube station. This is classic urban fantasy fare. What sets it apart for me, is Jacka’s very clever use of Alex’s divination powers. He can see a short distance into the future – and the more people surrounding him, the more different timelines fracture into dozens of possibilities. It gives him an edge against some lethally powerful magic-users and their creatures, but the catch is that he has to concentrate very hard. And if he doesn’t, he won’t last all that long, for while he works hard at hand to hand combat, he doesn’t possess particularly vicious magic, or great strength. It’s very well done. Especially as it could rapidly become a boring nuisance if the writing wasn’t so smoothly accomplished.

I also enjoyed the cast of characters peopling this world, from the gigantic spider who weaves magical artefacts, to the apprentice, Luna, whose chance magic draws bad luck on those who threaten her. Another joy is the wheeling and dealing that goes on in this pleasingly complex political backdrop. This fantasy world is every bit as tangled and compromised as our own, but peopled with some truly scary, unpleasant people, which means that Verus has to keep a constant watch out for danger, nicely ramping up the ongoing tension that pervades this story.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read. And I’m looking forward to reading the next slice of Alex Verus as this series shows no sign of running out of steam.
8/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK In Search of Gods and Heroes – Book 1 of the Children of Nalowyn series by Sammy H.K. Smith

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This is another Kristell Ink author – I’ve been very impressed with the writing of authors Joanne Hall, see my review of Rider here and White Mountain written by Sophie E. Tallis, here, would this epic Fantasy offering reach the same high standard?

insearchofgodsandheroesWhen a demon sneaks into the mortal world and murders an innocent girl to get to her sister Chaeli, all pretence of peace between the gods is shattered. For Chaeli is no ordinary mortal, she is a demi-goddess, in hiding for centuries, even from herself. But there are two divine brothers who may have fathered her, and the fate of Ibea rests on the source of her blood. Chaeli embarks on a journey that tests her heart, her courage, and her humanity. Her only guides are a man who died a thousand years ago in the Dragon Wars, a former assassin for the Underworld, and a changeling who prefers the form of a cat. And there you have part of the blurb.

As you may have gathered, this is a classical epic fantasy, complete with many of the themes and conventions you’d expect. The protagonist is pleasingly complex and the evident latent power she possesses but doesn’t yet really understand or properly know was well handled. I also liked her edges. While she is harried and on the run, reliant on the kindness of strangers, it doesn’t mean she is overly submissive or biddable – or stridently, unbelievably stroppy either. It’s a balance harder to achieve than Smith makes it look. In fact, the writing is accomplished and smooth.

Triangular relationships are difficult to pull off, without the woman in the middle looking like a conniving flirt and Smith has the two heroes falling in love with Chaeli. However, I really like how she sets up the relationships, where gods get involved, using mortals in their power struggles. It’s a nifty way of setting up a situation that causes plenty of ongoing tension and heartache and certainly had me very much caring about the outcome. It’s a familiar theme that runs through much epic Fantasy and yet Smith’s character-led approach makes her take on this engrossing and readable.

World-building is always crucial in this genre, and it can be something of a stumbling block for me. While I always enjoy a detailed, believable world, I do end up skimming pages of description – not so with In Search of Gods and Heroes. Smith’s depiction of the cut-throat atmosphere of court, a city where everyone is frightened and subdued, and the initial calm freedom of the academic atmosphere of Lindor gives a wide-ranging backdrop to her ongoing adventure, providing a vivid and complex world.

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this one. Any niggles? Well, it’s more of an observation and something of a risk. While Smith sets a number of plotlines running, by the end of the first book – and it’s a reasonably hefty read at 400+ pages – there is no resolution to any of the ongoing stories. For some reason I’m still not able to fathom, I found I was fairly relaxed about this. Perhaps it’s because halfway through the book I promised myself that I’d dive into the next book as soon as I can. But if you really mind about having a payoff by the end of a book, then be warned, In Search of Gods and Heroes is very much the start of a series.

This sub-genre isn’t an automatic favourite of mine – I’ve trudged through far too many over-written, long-winded tomes with nothing fresh or original to say. But after reading a book of this calibre, I also know why I haven’t given up on it. And if you’re a fan of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, Glenda Larke, Elspeth Cooper and Helen Lowe, and you haven’t yet had the pleasure, go look and track this one down. You’ll be thanking me if you do.
9/10