Category Archives: epic fantasy

Sunday Post – 17th September 2017

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

I started the week spending half the day in bed recovering from a virus. On Wednesday, I no longer felt like a piece of chewed string so drove over to Northbrook to photocopy all my course notes in readiness for my Creative Writing courses which start tomorrow. On the way home I popped in to see my sister and catch up. We ended up at the Harbour Lights café for a cuppa and a HUGE slab of lemon drizzle cake – yum! In the evening I attended Writing Group where the lovely Sarah Palmer gave me loads of useful advice regarding where to take Miranda’s Tempest.

On Thursday, Mhairi and I did our tax returns together, which worked really well. I always find this online business stressful, but going through the document with a buddy feels a whole lot less lonely. As a reward for having completed a really grotty job, we sat down to watch Sharknado 5 which had us howling with laughter.

I finally started teaching Tim a whole week later than I should on Friday. It was all about the film rehearsal which I attended most of Saturday. Frances accompanied me and I helped with the blocking and line rehearsal for several scenes. It’s lovely seeing Tim’s film script being acted by an enthusiastic, energetic cast. Today my sister is coming over for lunch and as the grandchildren are staying over this week-end, it should be a noisy, enjoyable affair. I love having plenty of folks sitting around our kitchen table talking and laughing as we eat. I hope you have a lovely week, hopefully with some of that fine September weather we’re owed.

This week I have read:

The Tiger’s Daughter – Book 1 of Their Bright Ascendency by K. Arsenault Rivera
The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests. Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons. This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.
This Eastern epic fantasy tells the story of two young women and their adventures through the letter of one of them to the other. The language is lush and the story full of demons, magic and destiny…

 

The Paper Magician – Book 1 of The Paper Magician series by Charlie N. Holmberg
Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.
An entertaining, smoothly written fantasy that I mostly enjoyed, though I did have a bit of an issue when the teacher and apprentice fall in love. Hm…

 

 

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
England. A century ago, give or take a few years. An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.
An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives.
This world is fascinating, where the presence of Smoke defines and hardens class barriers. This alternate history is enjoyable and thought provoking.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 10th September

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

Teaser Tuesday featuring Smoke by Dan Vyleta

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Dazzling Heights – Book 2 of The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Taste of Marrow – Book 2 of River of Teeth series by Sarah Gailey

Friday Face-off – Checkmate… featuring Blackout – Book 1 of the All Clear series by Connie Willis

Shoot for the Moon – August roundup

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

Goodbye is not an Option https://ginnibites.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/goodbye-is-not-an-option/ Ginni is a talented poet and this moving poem written in collaboration with a grieving widow is beautiful and brave.

Generational Time Machine https://scvincent.com/2017/09/09/generational-time-machine/ This lovely article is about a first day at school and the memories it evokes…

Inspirational David Mitchell Quotes http://logicalquotes.com/david-mitchell-quotes/ David Mitchell is one of my favourite authors and this article reminded me why…

10 of the Best Poems about Friendship https://interestingliterature.com/2017/09/13/10-of-the-best-poems-about-friendship/ This is a lovely selection of poems about the positive relationships that enhance our lives.

Different Ways To Organise Your Bookshelves https://aspiringwriter22.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/different-ways-to-organize-your-bookshelves/ Half of these ways of classifying my book collection never occurred to me, what about you?

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

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Review of KINDLE Ebook The Voyage of the Basilisk – Book 3 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

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The discovery of this series has been one of my reading highlights – and the reason I haven’t powered through all the books is because they are too good. I want to savour each one after I’ve read it and reflect on it for a while, before once more diving back into this rich, beautifully evoked world. That said, the gap between The Tropic of Serpents and this one was longer than I’d planned.

Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.

The tone and writing is pitch perfect. Isabella Trent epitomises those gutsy Victorian lady explorers who endured hazardous journeys to distant corners of the world in primitive conditions – often still wearing corsets and long skirts. Although Isabella does adopt trousers for their practicality in scrambling over ruins and running away from enraged dragons. This time, most of the book is spent aboard the ship Basilisk as the expedition she is heading attempts to garner more information on sea dragons, amongst other breeds living inconveniently long distances away from Scirland.

The first third of the book is necessarily episodic as the expedition gets under way – but once events start to spin out of control, as they invariably do for Isabella and her companions, the pace picks up along with the stakes. While she would love to devote all her attention and resources on tracking down and learning more about dragons, the politics of the region has to be taken into account – particularly in relation to her own country’s ambitions and she has learnt the hard way that this is an aspect of her travels she cannot afford to disregard.

The long-running narrative arc regarding the issue of dragon bones being stabilised and used industrially continues to gain momentum through this book. While I think all the books can be easily read as a standalone, it is always gratifying to have at least one ongoing thread to reward readers who follow the series. The climax in this book kept me reading until the end – I simply couldn’t put it down. And while I am not going to dive straight into the next book – I want more time to fully absorb and appreciate Basilisk goodness – I certainly don’t want to leave it too long before I once again delight in revisiting this world with the next book in the series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. Highly recommended.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Thunder is the sound of hoofbeats in heaven…

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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 week the theme is horses, so I’ve chosen Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. Obviously I was spoilt for choice, so I picked a couple of covers because they featured horses and the rest of my selection are covers I particularly liked.

 

This cover produced by Houghton Mifflin Company in June 2001 is one of a number generated in the wake of the films. While most film-of-the-book covers tend to fall short, I think most of the covers for LOTR work really well – and this is no exception. The horse and mysterious cloaked rider outlined in the odd lighting that falls somewhere between daylight and night really evokes the otherworldly and sense of danger I recall feeling when first reading the book another lifetime ago.

 

This centenary edition, produced in 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is clearly special. What caught my eye is the illustration on the front. Initially I assumed this was another cover generated by the movie – until I realised that it was released a decade before the film… I love this one – particularly the runic detail and the cool font. A pity about that ugly blue box, though.

 

Published in 2001 by Harper Collins, this is another film tie-in cover. I also like this one – the horses galloping in a posse provide plenty of movement and drama and the red lettering of the font provides a pleasing contrast. It’s not my favourite, but there’s nothing to hate about it either.

 

Produced in June 2005, by Mariner Books, I had initially assumed this was a much older edition as it harks back to the feel and look of much earlier covers, which I think is a smart move. It may well have used one of the earlier covers, but I couldn’t find it elsewhere on what was – admittedly – a fairly cursory search. Again, this one caught my eye as I love the artwork and overall design.

 

Published in May 1978 from Unwin Paperbacks, this is something of a curiosity – as the film they are talking about clearly isn’t the franchise we all know and love. I like the impact the drama of the ringwraiths galloping towards us, but as ever, I deeply dislike the horrible text box plonked right in the middle of the action.

 

This cover is included because it is the one we used to own before Himself loved it to death. It features Gandulf in a dramatic pose without some of the epic backdrops we have become used to seeing with the film tie-ins. I like how the title and author have been handled and think the dark green is attractive – it’s certainly an easy book to spot around the house. What about you – which is your favourite?

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Heir to the North – Book 1 of the Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

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This is a book I picked up by a fellow Grimbold author a long time ago which has spent far too long stuck in my TBR pile – and this week I rediscovered it. So I dusted off the virtual fluff and got stuck in. I’m so glad it did!

“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.

Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries. As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle. The North will rise again.

There are so many classic elements to this story – a lost civilisation that has fallen into ruin… evidence of arcane knowledge now gone… some grumpy powerful magic-users… a lantern-jawed warrior with a shiny family tree… If you are an epic fantasy fan these tropes are as cosily familiar as a cup of hot chocolate at bedtime. And then Poore adds his own spin on this epic storyline. Think of the absolute opposite of George R.R. Martin’s approach. There is a single protagonist – and no… it isn’t the shiny warrior – it is the daughter of a drunk storyteller who is constantly on the road.

Somehow – and this is a masterclass on the intelligent use of a protagonist – through this worm’s eye view, we are shown the bones of a lost culture and the way the current world works as young Cassia is given the chance to make her own way as a storyteller. I’ll be honest – epic fantasy isn’t always my go-to genre. I’m rather allergic to a horde of unpleasant main characters scrambling for power or survival, depending on the politics. I’m not a fan of pages of explanation about the world, either. Poore nicely side-steps these pet peeves of mine and unpeels a wonderful, vibrant world, alongside an engrossing storyline that held me throughout as I really cared about young Cassia.

She is a delightful protagonist – wary and neglected after an abusive childhood, she gradually begins to see there are opportunities for her other than just trying to stay out of trouble and survive. And when threats or dangers loom, she is reasonably good at reacting. All of this is written into her story without her coming off as a Mary Sue.

So as the book progressed – much faster than I generally take reading an epic fantasy as the pages pretty much turned themselves with this one – I was gearing up, waiting for the nasty warlock to unleash his world-ending magical mayhem. And Poore changes it all. While I had already figured out some of the reveals, I didn’t see that final twist coming – that came as a real shock. I’m so very glad that I had bought the next book in this series, The High King’s Vengeance, during the last Fantasycon – which I shall be tucking into just as soon as I can. Because I really, really need to know what happens next.
10/10

Tough Travelling – Strongholds

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At the start of every month, Fantasy-Faction will lead you (yes, YOU!) on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, we will guide you in search of a different trope, theme or cliché. Lest we become lost, we’ll be referring to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.

I’ve know I’ve left it right to the last minute to jump on board with this enjoyable meme – but after seeing what fun several of my blogging friends have had with this one, I wanted to join in.

My choice for a stronghold is Kallisti, known as The Just City, which is a thought experiment dreamed up by Athene in Jo Walton’s fascinating book. And yes… I’ve cheated just a weeee little bit in that it is something of a mash-up between fantasy AND science fiction – but those robots could be made out of chocolate by a witch, right? And then it’s pure fantasy… I love this book which takes an off-the-wall idea, gives it some intellectual heft – Kallisti is run along the precepts laid down in Plato’s The Republic – and in the subsequent two books, Jo Walton takes that idea and stretches it into yet another level see my review here.

However she has crafted this marvellous series, Kallisti has to be one of the coolest strongholds ever built as it is set in Atlantis before it is swallowed up by the sea and everyone in the city strives to be the best they can possibly be. While I may not want to live there for my entire life, I would LOVE to be able to visit for a year or so.

Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.
FACTS FOR TRAVELLERS
Name: Kallisti
Nickname: The Just City
Population: 10,520 children, 300 philosophers, Sokrates, Athene, An unknown number of robots
Languages: Classical Greek, Latin
Location: Thera (aka Atlantis)
Climate: Mediterranean
Government: Philosophical Monarchy
Religion: Hellenistic Pagan (with onsite gods)
Sports: Wrestling, Running in Armour, Archery
How to get there: Read Plato’s Republic and pray to Athene. Or be a ten-year-old. Or be a god.
How to leave: You can’t.

Sunday Post – 27th August 2017

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

The news with my sister continues to be good. By some miracle she has managed to avoid any eye injury as last week the eye clinic gave her the thumbs up. Now we just have to get the allclear with the heart clinic… The bruising continues to fade and she continues to recover. Thank you everyone who wished her well and/or prayed for her – you clearly made a difference!

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was busy grannying as the children returned from their trip to Disneyland Paris, full of enthusiasm and excitement about their wonderful holiday. As ever, they were a joy – I just wish the weather had been less uncertain. Typically, from the moment they returned home, it brightened up! Thursday I spent lazing around after having painfully pulled a muscle in my shoulder – I was also quite tired so gave myself permission to read and sleep throughout the morning, though I did get up later to do some writing and answer emails.

On Friday, my sister and I went shopping for wool – I have to knit a Dr Who scarf for Tim’s film and rehearsals will be resuming at the start of September, which is closing at the speed of an oncoming train. I went online and found a really good knitting pattern produced by the BBC for Tom Baker’s first Dr Who scarf. However, as well as wool, we got a bit sidetracked and I found myself returning home from an ad hoc shopping spree with a couple of storage jars, two sets of lovely towels and a very nice jacket. We only went out for some balls of wool and a row counter! We’ve agreed that we need to ration our shopping habit as we are clearly a bad influence on each other. Though it was huge fun.

This week I have read:
The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world? The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…
This wonderful series just keeps on delivering. I thought I was on one kind of adventure – and turned around twice to find it was something completely different. I love it when that happens! Utterly engrossing, this third book in the series is a joy.

 

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones
When Andrew Hope’s magician grandfather dies, he leaves his house and field-of-care to his grandson who spent much of his childhood at the house. Into this mix comes young Aidan Cain, who turns up from the orphanage asking for safety. Who he is and why he’s there is unclear, but a strong connection between the two becomes apparent.
I spotted this one in the library – and it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it off the shelves. Once more this wonderful writer has woven a fantasy tale that drew me in with her magical mix of mayhem, humour, darkness and magic… I didn’t want to put this YA offering down until I reached the last page.

 

Death Shall Come – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb … Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world’s largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan’s latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy. When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy’s curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them … and why?
This is the class country house murder – right down to the Egyptian curse surrounding some unique ancient artefacts. However, this isn’t set back in the 1920s when these affairs were all the rage – Green has set this one here and now with a paranormal twist and lots of gritty action. Great fun!

 

Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper
Barely recovered from her brush with necromancy, Ivy is flung once more into a world of intrigue, adventure and potential death and disaster. It’s not her fault – it just so turns out that she’s now the only person in the entire world who can communicate with the dead. And they’re a chatty bunch with a list of demands. When the ghosts offer information about a witch-hating mass murderer in return for Ivy’s help, she has no choice but to get involved. She might be getting herself into more trouble than she realises though – and that’s even before she’s dragged to Sunday dinner so she can meet Winter’s family…
Another wonderful offering that helped to continue this year’s marvellous string of thoroughly enjoyable reads – there has never been a better time to be a book-lover! This is the latest and supposedly last in this hilarious urban fantasy series – but I’m hoping that Helen Harper will listen to the pleas from her fans to consider at least one more helping of Ivy, Rafe and Brutus, the talking cat. Pretty please with sprinkles on the top!

 

The Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse series by Steven Poore
“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North. Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries. As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.
The North will rise again.
I got hold of this book by fellow Grimbold author, Steven Poore, with the firm intention of reading it – and somehow it got trapped in a holding pattern on my TBR pile. Until I decided I wanted some epic fantasy in my life… I’m so glad I did! I really loved this one.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 20th August

Review of Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice – Book 4 of The Austen Project by Curtis Sittenfeld

Teaser Tuesday featuring Death Shall Come – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Review of One Fell Sweep – Book 3 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts

Friday Face-off – If I be waspish, best beware my sting… featuring Lord of the Flies by William Golding

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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

Lola’s Ramblings: Birthday Party Book Tag http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-ramblings-birthday-party-book-tag/ This was great fun and particularly appropriate as it happened to turn up on Lola’s blog near her birthday… Happy Birthday, Lola😊

Brief Memories of Brian Aldiss http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2741 Fantasy author Juliet E. McKenna has written a lovely tribute to Brian Aldiss, who I had the honour to meet at my very first Fantasycon back in 2011. I grew up reading his amazing worlds and to have the chance to talk to him was magical. While it was only a passing conversation, I can echo Juliet’s comments on just what a generous man he was. He will be missed…

Good venues for microfiction http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/24/good-venues-microfiction/ Once again, Steph has provided a really useful article for those of us who write short shorts…

Finding and Losing Time https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/finding-and-loosing-time/ I loved this one. It sums up the dilemma of parenthood – and I happen to think Anne has made the right choice…

#WhenDreamsComeTrue with author Alice Castle @ DDsDiary https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/whendreamscometrue-with-author-alice-castle-ddsdiary/ I really enjoy reading how various authors come to write and publish their books, so wanted to share my love for this series.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Series I Have Continued or Completed in 2017 – Part 1

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Over the past year, I’ve becoming increasingly conscious that I’ve getting into the habit of plunging into a series with a book that has caught my eye and simply not getting any further. Given my go-to genres heavily feature series books, which are always part of a longer narrative, this is a habit I’d like to break. So this year, I’ve decided to make myself more accountable by recording my progress with series that I have either completed, or brought right up to date – hence this post now that we’re more than halfway through this year.

The Tide Dragons duology by Sarah Ash
The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice and Emperor of the Fireflies
This delightful fantasy series is strongly influenced by Japanese mythology and culture, so as well as the wonderful dragons of the title, there are kitsume and demons, emperors and generals and a formidable goddess all weaving through this richly textured world. I loved it and Emperor of the Fireflies is one of my outstanding books of the year so far.

 

The Wayfarers by Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit
This science fiction space opera series made a big impact with the hit debut book which had a real vibe of the hit TV show Firefly as an ensemble piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second book featured one of the ship’s crew and a waif who needed refuge and while it is set in the same world as the first book, you don’t need to have read it to appreciate what is going on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these two books and am keen to discover where Chambers next takes this series.

 

The Witchlands by Susan Dennard
Truthwitch and Windwitch
This epic fantasy initially features two young witches, Safi and Iseult, who manage to get themselves into an almighty scrape at the start of the first book, entangling them in a major plot. I like the fact that their friendship is one of the main emotional drivers throughout the story so far and that the magical system is structured with clear rules and involves a high price from magic-users. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the third book, Bloodwitch, due to come out next year.

 

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne
I love this sand and sorcery adventure! Hamilton’s punchy writing style and vivid scene setting means both of these books have stayed with me as memorably enjoyable, exciting reads and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, which will hopefully arrive next year.

 

 

Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Tiger and the Wolf and The Bear and the Serpent
This epic fantasy adventure takes place in a pre-agrarian world where clans divide depending on what animal they shape-shift into. Both books are full of incident and tension, along with splashes of humour as Tchaikovsky’s vivid, three-dimensional characters leapt off the page and into my heart. I’m very much hoping there is going to be more of this amazing story…

 

The Falconer trilogy by Elizabeth May
The Falconer; The Vanishing Throne and The Fallen Kingdom
This riveting series features a young, well-bred woman, Lady Aileana, who leads a double life – by day she is the wealthy heiress in an alternate Victorian society, while by night she hunts and kills the fae after witnessing her mother’s brutal murder. Violent and enthralling, this trilogy is one of the reading highlights of the year so far.

 

 

The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy is set in a brutal world ruled by twelve kings possessing great magical power – and the efforts of one lowly-born girl to overturn their stranglehold on the desert city-state. I loved the story so far and will be looking out for the third book, A Veil of Spears, due to be published next year.

 

Planetfall by Emma Newman
Planetfall and After Atlas
This dystopian science fiction series is amazing. Both books are set in the same world, but on different planets and can be read as standalones – I loved each one, though the tone and mood were quite different. After Atlas is my book of the year so far and I will be pouncing on the next book, Before Mars, just as soon as I can get my hands on it.

 

 

Luna by Ian McDonald
New Moon and Wolf Moon
This duology envisages that the industrialisation of the Moon has been divided between five families, all ruthless entrepreneurs who have taken capitalism to the extreme as they continue vying for yet more power – with shocking consequences. McDonald has called this series ‘a game of domes’. I loved the brutal, detailed world and the charismatic characters.

 

Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric and the Demon; Penric and the Shaman; Penric’s Mission; Mira’s Last Dance
This series is a joy. Each one of these engrossing, beautifully written stories gives us another slice of Penric’s adventures as he copes with the demon he accidentally acquired while helping an elderly woman at the side of the road. Fortunately, Himself is also a serious fan and immediately buys up these gems as soon as they published. Quite right, too.

 

 

Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
The Drafter and The Operator
Harrison explores a fascinating premise in this military science fiction thriller, where black ops agents are able to shift small amounts of time to kill or dodge attacks. The snag is that as they alter the timeline, they forget chunks of their lives with the aid of a drafter who helps them avoid a catastrophic neural overload that occurs if they remember more than one version of reality. This is really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining duology.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes
This lush, eastern-influenced classic fantasy duology is another one of those which is set in the same world with a few linking characters, but follows different storylines. Each one is a delight, full of incident and beautiful descriptions that pinged off the page and lit up cold rainy days as I read.

 

 

The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens
This delightful portal worlds adventure is gritty, wise and astonishing. It is one of my favourite series with its emphasis on a number of nuanced, feisty female characters of all ages. This one has lodged in my head and won’t leave – particularly the poignant ending…

 

There are more to come – but I’ll be rounding up the others in another article.

Friday Faceoff – I must go down to the sea again…

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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 week the theme is ships, so I’ve chosen Ship of Magic – Book 1 of the Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb.

 

This is the cover produced by Voyager in 1999. I like this one – it has the now-familiar design of all Hobb’s UK covers, with the attractive font and styling. The ship’s bow gives a sense of movement with the dragonwing in the foreground giving a hint of something else going on. The detail and artwork is nicely done.

 

This edition, produced in February 1999 by Spectra features the protagonist, Althea in the foreground. While I normally am not a fan of characters appearing on covers, as it is rarely how I envisage them, the depiction here works well. This is another eye-catching, attractive cover.

 

Published in 2008 by HarperVoyager, this is my least favourite cover. I suppose it was a 10th anniversary edition – but there is no sense of magic or excitement about this design. It looks like the sort of drawing you might find on a copy of an 18th century sailing manual, rather than a tale of piracy and oppression.

 

This is the offering Spectra came up with in December 2003 – and once again, bristles with energy and danger as this time around, it is the pirate Kennit who features in the foreground. The desperate liveship, Vivacia, also featured plunging through the waves. Another great cover.

 

This cover, produced by Plaza Janés in July 2015, is my favourite. I love the dark background, giving a sense of menace and the wonderfully dramatic font and loops across the top of the book. And this ship truly looks as if it could be magical and driven to madness… But which one do you prefer?

Review of KINDLE novella Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan

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The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command.

There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

And this female warrior springs into life, full of fury, not knowing who she is or where she comes from – but bound by magic to the rather frightened mage who summons her. So… as a reader, do I care about her? After all, I haven’t a clue who she is or what she stands for – other than the fact that they are all very frightened of her and she would dearly like to do them bloody harm. What about learning of her backstory to pull me into her world and make me bond with her? Nope – that can’t happen. She doesn’t know so much as her name. But, yes – I care, alright.

As she struggles to make sense of what is going on, she quickly becomes subsumed with her quest. Which she only has the haziest notion about – and the mage warns her that she shouldn’t try to find out too much, or it will be used against her. Yet Brennan still managed to pull me into this violent, threat-filled world we see through the viewpoint of a magically bound warrior, who can’t even recall her name. It takes serious writing chops to pull off such a feat – so many of the usual techniques used to make readers bond with main characters are simply off the table with this scenario.

But what is in abundance is punchy, strong writing in this epic, classic warrior story. Brennan draws on all our memories of heroic warriors stretching back as far as Beowulf and King Arthur and evokes echoes of those stories with her elevated language. It’s nicely done – too much would have just come off as pretentious and annoying, while not enough would haven’t given this tale the gravitas necessary to keep the stakes so high and pull us in.

As it is, I was hooked right from the dramatic moment of her summoning as she struggles against the magical bindings while trying to work out who she is – and then manages to sustain that tension and threat throughout. As for me – I could no more put this one down until it was finished than flap my wings and fly around the room… I was caught up in the story, while also trying to figure exactly how Brennan sank her hooks so deeply into me with such a tricky, violent character.

I was also a tad concerned that by the end, I still would be as much in the dark as I was at the start – which would have probably had me hurling my Kindle across the room. But Brennan knows how to play fair with her readers and the quest was brought to a satisfactory ending, while also providing us with some information about our mysterious female warrior – which of course, I’m not going to divulge as it would be a spoiler. This one comes highly recommended.
9/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – May Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During May, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to sixteen. They are:

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett
All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.
This is an impressive debut novel that takes a familiar trope of the apocalyptic end of the world and makes it more about the protagonist’s internal, emotional journey than the gritted struggle of survival we normally get. I thoroughly enjoyed this offering and look forward to more from this author – see my review here.

The Broken Ones – prequel to The Malediction Trilogy by Danielle L. Jensen
Below Forsaken Mountain, a plot is being hatched to overthrow the tyrant king of Trollus, and Marc is the right-hand man of its leader. His involvement is information more than one troll would kill to possess, which is why he must keep it a secret from everyone, even the girl he loves. After accidentally ruining her sister’s chance to become queen, Pénélope is given one last opportunity by her father, the Duke d’Angoulême, to make herself useful: she must find proof that the boy she’s in love with is conspiring against the crown. If she fails, her life will be forfeit.
This gripping, emotional book charts the power struggle going on in the highest level of society. Those with the most magic are in control and treat everyone else with a chilling lack of compassion. It is all about getting more influence and control and no one is allowed to stand in the way – certainly not a young couple in love and afflicted with iron rot… I very much enjoyed this savage world and look forward to getting hold of more books in this series in due course – see my review here.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…
This is a lovely story with a big heart – and no, that is not some coded warning that this is a saccharine read. For in amongst the quirky charm, Hogan tackles head-on issues such as dementia and features characters that fall outside society’s ideas of what is normal. I very much enjoyed this one and will be reviewing it in due course.

I also managed to clear eleven books from my TBR pile. They are:
Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton
Francesca DeVega is a healer in the city of Avel, composing magical sentences that close wounds and disspell curses. But when a newly dead patient sits up and tells her that she must flee the infirmary or face a fate worse than death, Francesca finds herself in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand—one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal and brings her face-to-face with demons, demigods, and a man she hoped never to see again. Ten years ago, Nico escaped Starhaven Academy, leaving behind his failed life, in which he was considered disabled and felt useless. Now, in Spellbound, he’s starting fresh, using his newfound gifts in the dark Chthonic languages to pursue the emerald that holds his birthright. Unfortunately, he can’t escape the chaos of his old life. His mentor suffers from an incurable curse, agents of the fabled Halcyon hunt him day and night, pieces of Francesca’s story don’t add up, and the prophesized War of Disjunction looms on the horizon.
This epic fantasy adventure is about magical systems and how those imbued with magic have to cope with the way it bends and warps their lives in unimaginable ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series where the rules of magic are so pervasive. This inventive, clever series deserves to be far better known – see my review here.

A Second Chance – Book 3 of The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue
As you may have gathered from the blurb, in parts this book is laugh-aloud hilarious – what isn’t quite so obvious is that in other places it is heart-breakingly sad. What it never does is stand still. I love the roller-coaster ride – even though I need some breathing space between books. See my review here.

The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife.
Another gem of a series that deserves to be read far more widely. This second book has provided plenty of twists and given the story a cool science fiction twist that has me longing to pick up the next book – see my review here.

Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of the Fitz and the Fool series and Book 16 of The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.
This is the final book in this trilogy and for my money is her best book yet. Action-packed and full of emotion, with a real twist in the end, this is one of my favourite books of the year so far and is my book of the month. See my review here.

The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.
Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. Another cracking read – see my review here.

Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…
I really enjoyed this unusual urban fantasy set in an inn with a difference. This particular peace conference certainly provides plenty of opportunity for mayhem and turmoil – review not yet posted.

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This novella certainly packs a punch with an impressive protagonist full of rage and power – and no recollection of who she is and where she came from. She just knows she has a quest and is bound to carry it out. Review not yet posted.

A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons – Book 6 of the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but that’s not going to keep him from getting into trouble. To save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished, Hiccup must sneak into the Meathead Public Library and steal the Viking’s most sacred book. But the Vikings see books as a dangerous influence, and keep them locked up and under heavy guard. To save his friend, Hiccup must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian and his dreadful army of Meathead Warriors and face off against the formidable Driller-Dragons. Will he make it out and live to see his next birthday?
Once more Oscar and I settled down together to enjoy this madcap adventure with all the unexpected plot twists, wondering how Hiccup is going to escape this next lethal threat. Great stuff!

Silent City – Book 1 of the Corin Hayes series by G.R. Matthews
In the Corporation owned cities life is tough. All Hayes wants is money and a bar to spend it in. He is about to learn that some jobs in the abyss can be killers. For a man who has lost everything, is life even worth fighting for?
Lots of adventure and incident in this underwater, military science fiction offering, featuring a flawed protagonist with a dark backstory… Enjoyable and engrossing.

 

 

 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
I loved this one. It could so easily have descended into a sentimental mess and didn’t. I particularly enjoyed the unpredictable, dangerous nature of the monster… Review not yet posted.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
See above.

So that is my May roundup. Due to my illness back in April, I still have a backlog of reviews waiting to be posted, which is a nice position to be in – and a change for me! Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?