Category Archives: epic fantasy

Sunday Post – 3rd November, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Last week I was travelling home from Bristolcon and as our train was delayed and in order to avoid a bus trip for the last leg, Himself drove to Southhampton to pick us up, we got home later than we had planned and I was frankly too exhausted to sit down and write a post.
I won’t be saying too much about Bristolcon here, because I do want to write a separate post about it.

Mhairi stayed over for the week, which was a real treat and left on Friday to go on a writing retreat with some friends. We had plenty of time to catch up with what each other is doing, and acknowledge the fact that we badly miss each other’s support and advice on a day-to-day basis. I was still able to continue with Fitstep and Pilates and as luck would have it, it was half term here, so I didn’t have any lessons to eat into my time with Mhairi. It was just a shame about the weather as we had planned to go for walks along the beach in between the writing. It didn’t happen on account of the rain.

Last week I read:

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work. On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.
This thought-provoking read raises some interesting issues regarding the dynamic of power both in society at large and more interestingly, at an individual level in relationships.

 

How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero – AUDIOBOOK 11 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
High up in the Treacherous mists of the Murderous Mountains, Hiccup and the Company of the Dragonmark are in hiding. The witch’s Vampire Spydragons are guarding the shores of Tomorrow — but Hiccup is determined to become King of the Wilderwest. Can Hiccup dodge the dragons and steal back the King’s Things from Alvin before the Doomsday of Yule? And is there a traitor in Hiccup’s camp who, in the end, will betray them all?
Annoyingly, I managed to skip this one before reaching the end of the series. But I didn’t want to miss out on any Hiccup goodness, so I’ve backtracked to listen to this slice of the adventure, in order to put off the inevitable heartache of admitting that I’ve finally come to the end of this marvellous, marvellous series.

 

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair
Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it. She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland. She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird. Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning… Until the past catches up with her.
After enjoying her blog and learning that she has a book recently published, I decided to check it out. It is an enchanting historical romance with a lovely, large-hearted protagonist, who nonetheless has a hard time of it… Review to follow.

 

Journaled to Death by Heather Redmond
Divorced single mom Mandy Meadows scrapes by working as a barista and receiving payments from her cousin, Ryan, who rents her basement apartment. At night, she and her teenage daughter Vellum run a successful home business creating journaling content on their popular social media channels. But Mandy’s carefully organized world is about to come crashing down. While filming their latest journaling tutorial, Mandy and Vellum hear a loud noise on the basement stairs, and Mandy makes a horrifying discovery…
I’ve tweaked the rather spoilery blurb to this rather twisty whodunit. I’m not sure I’d classify this one as a cosy murder mystery. While it isn’t drenched in gore or horrific action scenes, Mandy’s life is frankly a slog while she struggles to balance two jobs and the needs of a teenager, living a hand-to-mouth existence. I really enjoyed the overall story, though, and will be reviewing it.

My posts last week:

Review of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Friday Faceoff featuring Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Review of The Mysterious Howling – Book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood

Teaser Tuesday featuring Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Review of Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son by Miles Cameron

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

SciFi Month 2019: Plot Your Course https://onemore.org/2019/10/17/scifimonth-2019-plot-your-course/ This is running throughout November and as a big fan of science fiction, I’ve been reading and writing reviews I hope to feature during the month. And read plenty of other folks’ too😊

Jerpoint Abbey Tour https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/09/14/jerpoint-abbey-tour/ It’s always a treat when Inessa features another picture tour on her wonderful blog – and this one is just magical…

The Perils and Pitfalls of Research https://writerunboxed.com/2019/10/30/the-perils-and-pitfalls-of-research/ If you need to research some additional material before starting the novel – at what point do you decide you have enough? Some really good advice here…

The Best Poems for November https://interestingliterature.com/2019/10/30/the-best-poems-for-november/ As ever, another interesting article from this invaluable site – I would just add that the Thomas Hood poem ‘November’ has a longer form, vividly describing the seasonal smogs that regularly used to envelope the larger cities at this time of year.

The Evolution of Dragons in Western Literature: A History by Yvonne Shiau https://www.tor.com/2019/10/23/the-evolution-of-dragons-in-western-literature-a-history/ I stumbled across this article by accident and loved it. I hope you do, too…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Review of LIBRARY book The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFallofDragonsbookreview

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I’d read the previous books in this series and enjoyed them – see my review of The Dread Wyrm, The Red Knight and The Fell Sword – then somehow this one slipped through the cracks, so when I saw it on the library shelves, I scooped it up, despite blanching at the prospect of reading 600+ pages of reasonably small print…

BLURB: In the climax of the Traitor Son Cycle, the allied armies of the Wild and the Kingdoms of men and women must face Ash for control of the gates to the hermetical universe, and for control of their own destinies. But exhaustion, treachery and time may all prove deadlier enemies. In Alba, Queen Desiderata struggles to rebuild her kingdom wrecked by a year of civil war, even as the Autumn battles are fought in the west. In the Terra Antica, The Red Knight attempts to force his unwilling allies to finish the Necromancer instead of each other. But as the last battle nears, The Red Knight makes a horrifying discovery… all of this fighting may have happened before.

One of the reasons why I’d hesitated in getting hold of this one, was my concern that I would have forgotten too many details about the series that would make getting back into this world something of a struggle. In the event, that didn’t prove to be a problem. Cameron’s smooth writing and delivery ensured that I was quickly brought up to speed where necessary, and at no time did I flounder in trying to work out what was going on. This is a feat on his part, because just like in George RR Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire series, the action takes place in a variety of locations and the viewpoint shifts between a wide cast of characters. I often find this structure to be annoying, as my preferred scenarios tend to play out in tightly confined backdrops featuring a small number of well-developed and highly nuanced characters to get the depth of story that I really appreciate.

Given that most of the book is concerned with an ongoing war, wherein an increasing number of skirmishes lead up to a large set-piece battle, this clearly wasn’t going to happen. Yet I was pulled into the book almost from the first page and found the pages turned themselves as I was swept along by the action, identifying with each character’s motives.

One of the reasons why this worked so well was Cameron’s mastery of the pacing. Just as I was beginning to wonder what would be filling the rest of the book, there was a sudden twist in the story that gave the whole world a completely different dimension. I’m not going to say more on the grounds that it would be a real spoiler, but it certainly worked well and added an extra layer of poignancy to the current struggle. One of my difficulties with epic fantasy is that it frequently lacks that layer of emotional connection that I particularly enjoy – hardly a surprise when the action is often the driving force in the narrative with each character playing a relatively small piece in the overarching battle plan. Cameron manages to make his characters matter to the extent that one of the reasons why those pages kept turning was that I really cared about a number of his cast and was keen to see what would happen to them. Inevitably, in this war scenario a number of them don’t make it – something else that I generally heartily dislike. And yet this time around I took a deep breath and just kept on reading.

Of course, the catch in this form of writing is that the final battle has to deliver with plenty of heart-stopping action and a huge climax that also packs an emotional punch sufficient to satisfy the reader who has slogged through the previous 600+ pages to get here. Again, Cameron triumphantly succeeds. I finished this book with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, feeling hollowed out by the resultant drama. This book is a marvellous end to a really high-quality series. Recommended for fans of epic and high fantasy.
10/10

Sunday Post – 20th October, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

This has been a turbulent week weatherwise, with torrential downpours punctuated by bright spells of weather and over Thursday night and Friday, there were also a couple of thunderstorms. So it’s been hard to get washing dry outside, however the upside is that it is still mild for the time of year and we have also had some lovely rainbows.

I’ve been continuing with my Aerobics and Pilates classes and am gradually getting a bit fitter and less exhausted during and after the sessions. On Wednesday evening, I managed to make Writing Group which was lovely. I hadn’t been for a month and it was great to catch up with everyone and also get some valuable advice on the opening of Mantivore Warrior.

On Thursday, Sally came over and we started work on her second book. Editing is always such an intense business – I looked around twice and the day had gone, though I was absolutely shattered, to the extent that I spent part of Friday morning sleeping because when the alarm went off, I was just too tired to move. When I got up, I felt much better, but this week I must try to get to bed at a reasonable time as I’ve backslid badly. I needed to be sharp, as we collected the grandchildren on Friday after Oscar’s football practice – it was lovely to spend time with them again and catch up on their lives. Yesterday, we had a gathering of the clan at my sister’s flat. My parents and my sister’s sons and daughter-in-law travelled down to view her prospective new home and she also invited the four of us along. So ten of us, plus Darcy – Mum and Dad’s poodle – sat down to a delicious homemade curry lunch in with all the trimmings, while we provided the apple pudding in her compact flat. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone, who we hadn’t seen since David and Hannah’s wedding. For once the weather behaved and we were able to see my sister’s new home in brilliant sunshine and admire the views of Arundel Castle from her driveway.

I am still in the throes of the first draft of Mantivore Warrior and will be writing about my decision to include an extended flashback in tomorrow’s blog post.

Last week I read:

The Hidden Gallery – Book 2 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
Thanks to their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia are much more like children than wolf cubs now. They are accustomed to wearing clothes. They hardly ever howl at the moon. And for the most part, they resist the urge to chase squirrels up trees. Yet the Incorrigibles are not entirely civilized, and still managed to ruin Lady Constance’s Christmas ball, nearly destroying the grand house. So while Ashton Place is being restored, Penelope, the Ashtons, and the children take up residence in London. As they explore the city, Penelope and the Incorrigibles discover more about themselves as clues about the children’s–and Penelope’s own–mysterious past crop up in the most unexpected ways…
I really enjoyed reading this second book in this series, though perhaps not quite as much as the first one. However, I am looking forward to finding out some answers to the thicket of questions surrounding the children and where they came from…

 

Blue Angel – Book 2 of the Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Waking on an unfamiliar floor, Pax is faced with two hard truths. A murderous government agency wants her dead – and monsters really do exist. What’s more, her body’s going haywire, which she desperately hopes isn’t a side-effect of her encounters in the city’s tunnels. To survive, and protect Ordshaw, she’s got to expose who, or what, is behind the chaos – and she can’t do it alone. But with only the trigger-happy Fae to turn to, Pax’s allies might kill her before her enemies do…
This is the sequel to the quirky urban fantasy tale, Under Ordshaw and as Williams is releasing the third book in the series very shortly, I wanted to catch up before I fell further behind. Review to follow.

 

How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – AUDIOBOOK 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s quest is clear…but can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!
Very annoyingly, somehow I started listening to Book 11 in the series and switched into this, the final book without realising until near the end… Which was just amazing. I found it very emotional and uplifting – a truly epic fantasy written for children and yet also engrossing for hundreds of adult fans too. Review to follow.

 

First Flyght – Book 1 of The Flyght series by S.J. Pajonas
Vivian Kawabata can’t wait to claim her privileged destiny. But when the heir to the family agricultural empire finds her bank account empty while shopping for expensive shoes, she’s horrified to discover that her own brother has financially stabbed her in the back. To stand a chance of restoring her rightful place in the universe, the honest and rule-following Vivian may have to break a few intergalactic laws.
I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in a space opera adventure about a young woman struggling to earn enough to keep the family business after the betrayal of her shifty and shiftless brother. Vivian is an enjoyable heroine and I will be definitely reading more of her adventures. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Friday Faceoff featuring Alien by Alan Dean Foster

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police by Jodi Taylor

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud

Teaser Tuesday featuring Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross

Reblog – Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories

Authoring Annals 4 – Tweaking the Outline – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles series

Sunday Post, 13th October 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Thursday Doors – Cottage Update https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/thursday-doors-cottage-update/ I followed the previous posts Jean published on the massive restoration of this cottage with interest – so these pics showing the completion of the project were a delight.

How to Train Your Editor Brain https://writerunboxed.com/2019/10/18/how-to-train-your-editor-brain/ Anyone who has attempted to complete a major writing project will know that finishing the first draft is just the start – it’s the editing which makes the difference between a well written, polished read and a muddled mess…

What Counts as Reading? https://emeraldcitybookreview.com/2019/10/what-counts-as-reading.html I thought this article was interesting in that it made me stop and consider my own assumptions on the subject. What do you think?

Waterford Walls 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/10/13/waterford-walls-2019/ And this is just a joy – what a wonderful way to bring art and beauty into an urban environment and why isn’t every town and city in the land also following this example?

Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/alvin-and-area-alert-to-literacy-efforts-monday-memories/ Yes… I know I also reblogged this during the week – something I hardly ever do, but I didn’t want anyone to miss this uplifting, amazing post…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron #Brainfluffbookreview #KingdomofSoulsbookreview

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There was a lot of excitement about this one and one of my lovely book-blogging friends highly recommended it – so I scampered across to Netgalley and managed to snag an arc – thank you! If you do recognise yourself, please let me know and I will give you a shoutout.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval. There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit. She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This is essentially African-inspired epic fantasy with a strong POC protagonist in Arrah and an interesting, coherent structure of magical with important differences in tone and effect within the various tribes. I really enjoyed the backdrop, the feel of the book and Barron’s vivid, gritty writing. The supporting characters were also layered – I particularly loved the depiction of Arrah’s mother, who is by far the most interesting, charismatic character for at least the first half of the book. But none of this would have worked if Arrah’s own personality hadn’t pinged off the page in her desperate longing to fulfil the destiny that was well nigh flattening her from the time she was old enough to realise who she was supposed to be. It is often a trope within SFF – a protagonist is lacking that vital talent or magical ability so confidently predicted from their birth. But rarely is that disappointment so acutely experienced as in Kingdom of Souls. It was a real heartbreak to see Arrah’s pain as her mother increasingly distanced herself from her daughter, while her father desperately tried to compensate by providing all the love and companionship she could want – incidentally immersing her in his own blood magic rituals, presumably hoping some of it would rub off…

I loved the fact that family went on mattering to Arrah throughout the length of this twisting plotline – in fact, it’s a major theme that recurs within the narrative arcs of a number of the supporting characters, too. As someone who is fascinated by the family dynamic and also writes a lot about it – this is meat and drink to me.

Do be aware that this is a gritty read including child abduction and death, parental rejection and dark magic – much of which appears in medieval-era fantasy tales as a matter of course, but somehow the more exotic setting and different flavour of magic manages to give a more menacing aspect to these events. I also think that Barron’s intense, sensual writing style packs a punch.

This is a triumphant debut by a very promising author. It’s not perfect – there are places where the pacing could have been tightened up as the description took over at the expense of the action. But given the ambition and breadth of the book, these lapses were relatively few and far between. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something different. The ebook arc copy of Kingdom of Souls was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Sunday Post – 25th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been an intensely busy week as I have been organising the upcoming release of my new book Mantivore Dreams. I’m also working on a major editing project, as well as now editing the next book in the series, Mantivore Prey. On Friday, Himself and I went for a coffee and cake at the Look and Sea Centre, which has now reopened, thank goodness. So we were able to sit at our favourite spot, have a natter while enjoying views of the river as the weather has suddenly become warmer and sunnier again in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. Yay!

Today we will be driving over the Brighton to pick up the children and have them stay over for a few days. It’s a long time since we had Oscar to stay, so we are really looking forward to catching up with them both.

Last week I read:

The Green Man’s Foe – Book 1 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds. Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree. The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

I loved the first book in the series and the sequel is every bit as good. It’s a joy to read a cracking contemporary adventure set in the heart of the English countryside, featuring magical creatures from our own long, colourful history.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had sworn off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined.

Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

Another fabulous read – this has been a wonderful reading week! I treated myself to this one, once I realised how well Mantivore Prey has turned out as a reward from me to me😊

 

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This African-inspired epic fantasy is an impressive debut, given it’s ambition and scope and Barron has triumphantly succeeded in depicting a vivid, dangerous world rife with vengeful seers and lethal magic. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Know Your Rites – Book 2 of the Inspector Paris Mysteries

Friday Faceoff featuring Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Mantivore Dreams Cover reveal and available arcs

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Novacene by James Lovelock

Teaser Tuesday featuring Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Old Bones – A DCI Bill Slider Case by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Sunday Post – 18th August 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

#writers, what #writinginspiration can be found in your #homestate? In #Winsconsin, one #setting to spark your #storytelling is #theHouseontheRock https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/08/22/writers-what-writinginspiration-can-be-found-in-your-homestate-in-wisconsin-one-setting-to-spark-your-storytelling-is-thehouseontherock/ She’s not kidding… This place is UNBELIEVABLE! I’d love, love, love to visit!

Monday Musings https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-musings-5/ Rae is a remarkable lady who has a passion for books and teaching – I loved this article she posted…

Sparoi 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/08/18/spraoi-2019/ Once again, Inessa’s camera takes me to another place far, far away from my own desk in the corner of my lounge and I love her for it.

Friends Do Lie: Normalization of Lies in Fiction http://melfka.com/archives/16489 Joanna raises a really interesting issue in this thoughtful article…

Monday Chatter: Why Plagiarizing Reviews is Bad (Because Apparently It Needs to be Said)
https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-chatter-why-plagiarizing-reviews-is-bad-because-apparently-it-needs-to-be-said/ I was shaken to read this – fortunately I’m aware it’s rare, but it is a real shame that anyone thinks it is acceptable to steal anyone else’s writing – especially when discussing your personal reaction to a book!

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Porpoise by Mark Haddon #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePorpoisebookreview

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Like many others, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Haddon’s best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and when I had the opportunity of reading his latest book, I jumped at it…

A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…

So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears. A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore; in which pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler’s hand, and ghost women with lampreys’ teeth drag a man to hell – and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.

Be warned – if you pick this one looking for more of the same regarding The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, then you’ll be disappointed. This is nothing like it, particularly the immersive first-person viewpoint that made Christopher sing off the page. This book is told throughout in omniscient viewpoint – the storyteller’s point of view. While we do spend short periods in the head of various characters, they are not what powers this story – and we are regularly given information that they are not privy to. I’ll be honest, if the story hadn’t been very well told and one that I hadn’t known, then I don’t think I’d have got through it. This is my least favourite viewpoint and it is a tribute to Haddon’s skill that once I relaxed into the rhythm of the writing and the cadences of the story, not dissimilar to those ancient Greek legends upon which aspects of this is based, I enjoyed it.

This story is a dual narrative, covering two timelines separated by thousands of years. We start with a plane crash that leaves a motherless newborn baby to be brought up by her very wealthy, doting father. And here comes my next warning – this book covers incest and child abuse, and though there are no graphic scenes, Angelica’s plight would certainly be a trigger for anyone affected. As her initial chance for escape disappears and her would-be rescuer flees for his life, the story abruptly jumps back in time.

Is this Angelica’s imaginings taking her to a different place? Or a mirroring of the same plight through the prism of time? We are never told and it’s left for the reader to make up her mind. But the blurb nails it in the second paragraph – the rest of the book plunges us into an adventure full of lost love, storms, pirates and perilous escape, in sharp contrast to the slow passing of time for Angelica as she tries to escape her father’s attentions.

That ending is both shattering and unexpected and has had me musing on this one long after I finished reading it. I’ve come away from this book with mixed feelings – I found it a gripping, unexpected adventure, but also quite disturbing. It has certainly wormed itself inside my head – recommended for readers who enjoy unusual, challenging stories where the ending doesn’t necessarily leave everything neatly tied up.

The ebook arc copy of The Porpoise was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Middlegame by Seanan McGuire #Brainfluffbookreview #Middlegamebookreview

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I was intrigued by the Hand of Glory featured on the cover and I also liked the premise, so requested this one and was delighted when I was approved.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story. Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math. Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet. Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

And that’s the blurb. Reed is definitely the villain you love to hate – he is completely amoral and fully focused on attaining the highest power that all alchemists are seeking. He has created several sets of twins, who are designed to perfectly complement each other’s strengths. Some are brought up together in the laboratory where they were created, while others are split and brought up separately until they grow into their powers. Roger and Dodger fall into the second tranche.

However, they manage to find each other, even though they are both very young and living hundreds of miles apart. Once their connection is discovered, they are split up again – causing anger and trauma to both… Initially, the viewpoint jumps around a bit as McGuire establishes the stakes and demonstrates just what the hapless twins are up against. But once the action centres on Roger and Dodger and we follow their highs and lows as they grow up, I was pulled into the story and became engrossed in the unfolding action.

I liked both of them – Dodger is the more sensitive and brittle personality, who grows up holding people at arm’s length, while Roger is more comfortable in his own skin. I enjoyed watching their development – and the various twists as first they are separated and then get together.
Meanwhile Reed is always lurking in the background, monitoring their progress and comparing it with his other experiments… And yes, the Hand of Glory features throughout the book. Because we get to know the characters well, I really cared and found this one difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I’m not sure that opening section is necessary as I found it distracting while waiting for that particular shoe to drop, which I think interfered with my enjoyment somewhat.

However, the climax was suitably convincing and brought this epic story to a strong conclusion – although there is potential for another book in this world. While I obtained an arc of Middlegame from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheUnboundEmpirebookreview

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I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Tethered Mage, – see my review here – I thought the premise was a really smart one. The idea that lethal magic-users need to have their power curtailed from the time their talent becomes evident makes complete sense – as do the inevitable consequences following from that necessity… I recently read and reviewed the second book, The Defiant Heir, and liked it even more, so was delighted to be approved to read and review The Unbound Empire

While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.

As with the second book, the political and personal stakes in this book continue to ramp up. Amalia continues to grow from the shy academic, whose real passion was studying magical practices, to a political player in her own right, determined to push through a piece of legislation that will impact every magic-user in the Empire. I love her character progression – along with the changes that every other major character undergoes. Caruso makes that aspect of writing a series look a lot easier than it is.

All the characters work well, but two in particular stand out – Ruven is a particularly satisfying villain, who I loved to hate. His arrogant dismissal of anyone non-magical and his tendency to inflict horrible tortures just because he can – as well as his targeting of our protagonist – makes him creepy and revolting. The cleverness in the writing is that Caruso manages also make the reader aware of what is powering his nastiness, so that he doesn’t come across as a pantomime villain. The other character I became a little in love with is one of those enigmatic, dangerous Witch Lords, Kathe. His entourage of crows, his courage, his love of games and his gradually emerging more vulnerable side made him very endearing. His odd courtship of Amalia made the romantic thread running through this series thoroughly entertaining.
Caruso’s other superpower is the pacing – I found The Unbound Empire almost impossible to put down because the narrative arc works so well. I quickly became caught up in her political fight – which then turned into something else far more challenging. Caruso’s ability to ramp up the stakes compelled me to keep reading far longer than I should. The final denouement in a series needs to be able to wrap everything up and give each of the major characters an ongoing path, so the reader gets a sense of their probable future, given the life-changing events they have undergone. Caruso manages to achieve this, making this trilogy one of my favourite, most memorable fantasy series I’ve read in recent years.

Please read these books in the correct order, though – it would a real shame to mess up such a well-crafted progression by crashing midway into this outstanding series. The ebook arc copy of The Unbound Empire was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

Review of The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of the Malessar’s Curse by Stephen Poore #Brainfluffbookreview TheHighKing’sVengeancebookreview #TheBacklistReaderChallenge2019

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I loved Poore’s Heir to the North – see my review here. And my firm advice would be that if you haven’t yet had the pleasure and you are all set to tuck into The High King’s Vengeance, don’t do so until you have read the first book. As this book immediately picks up the story, you’ll probably flounder in the opening chapters.

“I am the Heir to the North.”
Malessar’s Curse is broken, the wards around Caenthell destroyed. The Warlock himself lies, exhausted and gravely wounded, in the rubble of his own house. And while the dire spirits trapped behind the wards for centuries are unleashed into the world once more, Cassia is confined to a cell deep in Galliarca’s grand palace. Yet Caenthell calls to her, and Cassia must answer. As Heir to the North, the throne and the power behind it belong to her. But the twisted hunger of Caenthell’s spirits appals her and Cassia vows to do everything she can to defeat them.

This epic fantasy tale is a gripping read – particularly if you have already fallen in love with Cassia. She is now swept up in the terrifying consequences of her own actions, having been systematically deceived and used as a pawn by one of those lantern-jawed heroes that tend to people these stories. I think Poore has masterfully written a protagonist in the grip of a magical curse, by his depiction of her effect on those around her. As ever, Poore takes the genre conventions and flips them around – Cassia Cats-Paw is what Craw the dragon calls her. Once her part in the story is done – unleashing the dreadful curse – she is supposed to be so overwhelmed by the drumming in her head that she either goes mad, or joins the High King’s evil quest in conquering the world. The novel is about her struggle to avoid either fate… and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if she would succeed.

There is also an enjoyable cast of well-drawn characters that I also really cared about – the debonair Prince Rais, who accompanies her throughout her adventures, a complete misfit amongst the band of hard-bitten, weary ex-warriors who also feel compelled to join this desperate quest. I also very much liked the dynamic in which characters who I loathed in the first book were revisited and came across as less vile.

The catch with writing a story powered by a final confrontation is that said battle needs to be sufficiently spectacular to provide a satisfactory conclusion for a reader who has devoured the previous 448 pages to get to this point. Fortunately, Poore triumphantly succeeds in providing a cracking ending to this accomplished duology. If you are a fan of epic fantasy – or even if you’re a bit jaded and fed up with the genre – this one is highly recommended.
9/10