Category Archives: epic fantasy

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The River of Silver: Tales from the Daevabad Trilogy S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheRiverofSilverbookreview

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I’ve recently acquired the Netgalley app on my phone, enabling me to listen to audiobook arcs and so far it’s been a success. I recall reading this Sand and Sorcery trilogy with great fondness – read my reviews of The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold – so when I saw that Chakraborty had released an audiobook of stories based in that world, I jumped at the opportunity to tuck into this offering.

BLURB: A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

REVIEW: This collection of shorter tales showcases Chakraborty’s writing chops. It takes more technical skill to craft a successful short story than a novel, because there is less time to pull the reader into your world. And while in a novel-length work, the three pillars of strong storytelling – setting, plot and characterisation – don’t always have to be perfectly balanced, or even fully realised, that isn’t the case when writing shorter fiction.

It doesn’t hurt to have an accomplished narrator, like Soneela Nankani to bring these stories to life. To the extent that I had to make several starts before I could get through the first very emotional story, which had me in bits. Before each story, Nankani announces whereabouts within the trilogy the events take place and whether it provides a spoiler or not. This useful addition makes the collection an ideal companion read alongside the trilogy, providing extra insights into all the main characters who feature, along with interesting backstories that may have been mentioned within the main trilogy, but now are fully fleshed out.

I think that first wrenching story is my favourite – and it also provides a poignant insight into the suffering of a character whose subsequent anger has a profound effect on Daevabad. More than anything, this collection reminded me all over again just how the enmity within the city affects the main characters and what a claustrophobic, hurtful place it has become. Highly recommended for fans of the Daevabad Trilogy – and it is also worth reading alongside the series, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of immersing yourself in this classy sand and sorcery adventure. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The River of Silver from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ScarsofStonebookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery fantasy adventure – see my review of By the Pact. So I was delighted when I belatedly realised that Joanna had published the second book in the series, giving me the opportunity to scoop it up and read it.

BLURB: Discovering the truth about magic is one thing. Doing something about it will require bloodletting, backstabbing, and a bunch of lies.

The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.” When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading By the Pact, then put this offering back on the shelf and grab a copy. Initially these two books were written as a single volume, so the opening action in Scars of Stone follows on immediately from the final scene in By the Pact. While I think most experienced readers would eventually pick up what is going on – it’s a shame to compromise such an entertaining read by initially floundering.

I have a real weakness for this Sand and Sorcery sub-genre, where demons or djinn frequently feature with some kind of magical possession in a desert world. Kamira and Veelk are interesting, nuanced protagonists who have their own edges as they have spent years working together and trying to survive against formidable odds. I also like the fact that their partnership isn’t a romantic one, despite the fact that they spend weeks and months relying on each other to the extent that they have saved each other’s lives on a number of occasions.

While there is a romantic thread running through the book, it’s not straightforward. Joanna has provided Kamira with a couple of prospective partners – but she is wary of committing to any kind of long-term anything. Which, given the huge task ahead of her, is a wise move. Right now, it’s debatable as to whether she’ll survive what lies ahead. I love the degree of plotting and politicking going on in amongst the action scenes, both by the demons and the high mages. There is also the complicating factor of the refugees, who are all getting steadily sicker as their addiction to magical essence starts to bite, while trying to resettle in a city where there is no magic freely available.

All in all, it provides plenty of tension and excitement that meant the pages flew by. Once again, this one ends on the cliff-hanger. So I’m very much looking forward to reading the third book, Shadows of Kaighal, which is hitting the shelves in March 2022. Highly recommended for fans of enjoyable fantasy adventures, where characters are nuanced and the stakes are high.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #6

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This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Life has been very busy this last fortnight. The good news is that I’ve now recovered from the flu jab and am definitely feeling a lot better. However, on the same day both our washing machine and hairdryer died. This is a major problem as Himself immediately changes out of his uniform and puts it straight into the washing machine as soon as he comes home from work, to cut down the risk of infection. We were able to order one online that arrived two days after our defunct washing machine joined the great laundry in the sky. And now we’ve found the express programme, I’m a lot happier with it. But I wasn’t pleased when the wretched thing took over TWO HOURS to deal with a load of delicates on a cold-water wash.

As for the hair dryer, I went with Himself to get a new one at the local Tesco’s. It was the first time I’ve been inside a supermarket for months – and when Himself went off on a hair dryer hunt, I froze. Suddenly terrified by the onslaught of lights… noises… complete sensory overload. And then I was shaking with fury. I’ve battled so damn hard to get to this stage – how dare Long Covid take away my confidence to go wherever I need to! I managed to haul myself together, but I will confess to having a meltdown once we got home. Himself, as ever, was endlessly kind and patient and suggested that we get out of the house more often to do things other than attend medical appointments. Which seems like a solid plan. Although the reality is a bit more challenging…

On Monday, I had a hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan of my thyroid. And given my supermarket experience the day before – I was very focused on getting there and back without being overwhelmed. I wasn’t thinking at all about what they’d find on the scan – so I was rather blindsided to be told that I’ve nodules on my thyroid, one of which is pressing on my windpipe. The specialist is reasonably confident they are all benign and have been there a while. What has changed, courtesy of covid, is that my thyroid is quite swollen, which is why I’m now feeling the pressure in my throat. He was also concerned that one of my lymph glands is not just swollen but also misshapen, but I’m not surprised, given that it’s on the side where my ear is still constantly draining. He wants to see me in three months to monitor the situation and I need to discuss further options with my GP.

On Tuesday I was back at our local surgery for a chat about my blood pressure. The nurse was very reassuring that while my readings were a bit on the high side, they weren’t too bad given that I’m struggling with Long Covid which will be stressing my system anyway. I’m not keen for my BP medication to be increased, as the last time they did so I quickly felt very unwell. Right now, that isn’t a complication that I need. She also mentioned that I needed to make an appointment for another blood test, which I did. And then on Wednesday, I received a text from the surgery to say they want me to make another appointment to talk about my BP results with my GP. It seems like I’ve a bunch of outings ahead of me that will be allll about my health, given that I’ve also got to make an appointment tomorrow for a booster covid jab.

And on Wednesday, on the way back from seeing the reflexologist, we were involved in a minor accident. A lady parked on the left swung out as we were approaching a T-junction and the corner of her bumper scraped down my passenger door, leaving traces of red paint and several dents. Fortunately it all happened at very low speed and no one was hurt. But it’s a hassle we don’t need right now. And it didn’t exactly help my ongoing anxiety about going out and about…

This week, it was my eldest grandson’s birthday – I cannot believe he’s now turned 17, and today it’s my mother’s birthday. Right now, I’m not in a position to see either of them. But I’ve been thinking of them a lot. It’s months since I’ve seen Frank and the last time I saw Mum was on Mothering Sunday back in 2020. That’s one of the hardest things about this situation – it’s kept families apart at a time when we could all do with a hug from those we love.

In the meantime, I am focusing on changing my sleep patterns, continuing with my activity journal, meditations and taking supplements. It’s all low key and repetitive – but if it helps me stay well enough to avoid another major relapse, then that’s what I’ll do.

This week I’ve read:-
The Alchemical Detective – Book 1 of the Riga Hayworth series by Kristen Weiss
Her gargoyle’s got an attitude. Her magic’s on the blink. Alchemy might be the cure… if Riga can survive long enough to puzzle out its mysteries.

Someone’s killing psychics in bucolic Lake Tahoe, and the police think Riga may be connected to the crimes. They could be right. Riga recognizes the sinister hand of a long-dead enemy in the crime scene. Juggling demons, daimons, and a devilish casino owner, can this metaphysical detective catch a killer before she becomes the next target?
I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty, urban fantasy whodunit. Riga is an experienced practitioner who has recently lost her magic, which gives the story an interesting dynamic – and I loved the French gargoyle. I’ll definitely be reading more about Riga’s adventures. 9/10

Dance of Hearts: A Cinderella Regency Romance Retelling by Byrd Nash
In Regency England, 1816, it is not fashionable to display fairy blood.

Melinda Wychwood managed to stay at her family home after her father’s death by working as her cousin’s unpaid housekeeper. But when a childhood friend returns, playing a game of deception, will she be satisfied acting as the dowdy chaperone? Or will her wild fairy heritage and a magical dress finally win her true happiness?

A Cinderella retelling as a historical romance with a touch of fairytale magic and a happily ever after ending.
I’d seen a book on Netgalley by this author and wanted to check out the writing, so downloaded this KU novella. And it’s exactly what it says on the cover – which is often a strength of indie authors. It is also well written and enjoyably paced, and was a welcome break from the gory intensity of the following book. 8/10

Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager
Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.
Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…
This is definitely on the darker end of epic fantasy with death magic and piles of bodies. But the characterisation of a cornered dragon, who is increasingly out of options in a hostile world, is spot on. Review to follow. 8/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 4 – Go For the Juggler by Leanne Leeds

A jarring homecoming.
An uncertain fate.
To save everyone, one witch must perform the juggling act of a lifetime

When Charlotte returns home with Gunther, Devana, and Ethel Elkins in tow, she doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. But when one of her parents’ Animal Shelter volunteers turns up dead, her control begins to slip as her old human life and her new paranormal life collide.

While racing to come up with a plan to defeat the Witches’ Council, Charlotte must defend her family against an intrusive police investigation that risks exposing their true nature to the human world—an act which will condemn them all.
When I saw this Box Set on KU, I immediately snapped it up and have been spacing out this delightful magical circus series of murder mysteries amongst other books. There is a strong, overarching threat running through the series that works particularly well reading them close together. Peopled with a wonderful cast of eccentric, strong characters, this entertaining and poignant instalment was yet another reason why Leanne Leeds has become a solid favourite with me this year. 8/10

A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash
Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free. A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings. And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.
This is a gripping paranormal murder mystery where the family dynamic is at the heart of much unhappiness and lethal violence. It’s also very well done – and while it’s twisty and full of surprises, it isn’t too dark. I thoroughly enjoyed reading something so very different from the romance novella earlier in the week. Nash is clearly an accomplished and experienced author. Review to follow. 9/10

What the Lady’s Maid Knew – Book 1 of The Riftmagic Saga by E.E. Holmes
Imagine a London where magic is real… real, but feared. This is Eliza Braxton’s London, and she has always accepted her place in it gladly. As one of the Riftborn, her magic has relegated her to the servant class, where she dutifully serves as the lady’s maid in one of the most powerful households in the country. There, she uses her remarkable powers of persuasion to keep Elder Hallewell’s rebellious daughter in the path to an arranged match of power and prosperity. Eliza has never questioned her loyalty… until now.

Currents of discontent are roiling beneath the city’s surface, and Eliza’s comfortable existence is about to be caught up in the tide. A resistance is building, a resistance that covets Eliza’s talents above all else. But can Eliza betray everything she’s ever known for things she never dared to dream?
Think of the class struggle that emerged in the middle of the Industrial Revolution with a magical spin. It’s been done before, but I really enjoyed the below stairs perspective of this dystopian fantasy. A punchy, memorable read. Review to follow. 9/10

Reviews Published Since my Last Sunday Post:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel – Book 2 of the Twilight Imperium series by Tim Pratt

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Draco Tell Dramis Tell series by Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The King of Koraha – Book 3 of the Archives of the Invisible Sword series by Maria V. Snyder

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #World’sEdgebookreview

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Over the last few years, I’ve become a solid fan of Hair’s writing – see my reviews of the Olympus trilogy, Athena’s Champion, Oracle’s War and Sacred Bride which he co-wrote with Cath Mayo. I was also fortunate enough to be approved to read an arc of the first book in this adventure, Map’s Edgesee my review here.

BLURB: Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.

Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first book, Map’s Edge, I strongly advise that you do so before tucking into this one. The action picks up right where Map’s Edge left off and you’ll probably be floundering at the start. That said, if you did read the first book a while ago and can’t quite recall all the important details, Hair has thoughtfully provided a very useful ‘Story So Far’ which handily jogs the memory. However, I don’t recommend that you rely on it instead of reading the first book – you’ll lose far too much of the detail, nuances and sheer energy of this cracking fantasy adventure for that to be a remotely satisfactory substitute for the actual book.

Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the unfolding emergency as two cultures collide. One group is on the run from a powerful regime committed to stamping their own way of doing things onto the subjects of a recently defeated nation, while the other group is the remnant of a mighty magical people responsible for the environmental catastrophe that has overtaken the planet. Hair explores this fascinating dynamic through a number of vivid, well written characters whose adventures and experiences had me reading far later than I’d intended. And at a climactic part of the story, my stomach was churning as I kept turning the pages – which doesn’t happen all that often.

I loved the directions in which the story went – and while there are some villains in the story that I loved to hate, I could understand why they made the choices they did. It takes a storyteller with power and charisma to provide that depth of characterisation and clarity of vision within a narrative crammed with action. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this one since I put it down – the powerful characters and the discovery of a lost civilisation has resonated with me. Very highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy full of memorable characters, a riveting setting and a twisting plot full of action. While I obtained an arc of World’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #5

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This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. My energy levels have plummeted, meaning that I am now once again spending much of the day in bed. Getting up and showering feels like a huge mountain to climb and there are days when I simply cannot do it. The night-time sweats have also returned and as my inner ear is still draining, my tinnitus is very loud – which means I’m struggling to sleep at night. Several times I haven’t managed to fall asleep until dawn. This time around, I’m not finding it as easy to remain calm and positive – particularly as Himself has also been struggling. It was recently his father’s birthday, which has been hard as he died in May and the family home is in the process of being sold, so he has also been involved in helping to clear the house. And I’m too ill to be able to help in any way.

My reflexologist thinks my downturn is still the consequence of the flu jab that I had a fortnight ago. As my system is very stressed, she thinks the vaccine has hammered my energy levels and healing and warned me that it could go on causing problems for at least another week. That said, I’d still rather deal with the fallout from the vaccine than a full-blown attack of flu. I vividly recall suffering from the illness when I was a fit young woman in my 20s – and there is no way I want to cope with that on top of dealing with Long Covid.

Needless to say, my editing and the work I was doing on my manuscripts has come to a screeching halt. And as you’ll already realise, I haven’t had the energy to post anything on my blog, either. Hopefully if I continue to rest as much as possible and go on taking the supplements, eating sensibly and meditating, things will start to swing back round again. At least I’m still able to walk without a stick. I’ve also been reading and listening to audiobooks. It’s been a lifesaver, particularly on nights when I’m bathed in perspiration and the continual high-pitched whine in my ears won’t let me sleep.

This week I’ve read:-
World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair
Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.

Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation?
This epic fantasy series continues to deliver wonderful action scenes and fascinating plot twists as two cultures crash together in very difficult circumstances. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and it’s definitely making my Outstanding Reads list this year. Review to follow
10/10

Double, Double, Tart and Trouble – Book 2 of the Spellford Cove Mystery series by Samantha Silver

Just when Robin thought things were settling down a bit in Spellford Cove, she finds herself mired in a murder investigation once more when a customer of hers is poisoned. Then just to make matters worse, a photo of Queen of Tarts cheesecake in front of the body is printed on the front page of the local paper.

Robin soon realizes that once again she has no choice but to try and find the killer, this time to save her business. But with the main reporter in town deciding to tank Robin’s bakery, and that strange woman making another reappearance, Robin feels like a woman juggling too many muffins. Can she find the killer and save her business? Or has Robin baked her last batch of brownies?
I wasn’t quite as invested in this murder mystery as I was in the first book. Partly because I found the victim rather unconvincing. That didn’t prevent it from helping me to pass a long, difficult night when the shafts of snarky humour were very welcome.
7/10

AUDIOBOOK Asylum – Book 9 of the Star Kingdom series by Lindsay Buroker

A young woman with cybernetic upgrades, Mari Moonrazor has decided to flee the restrictive machine-worshipping cult she was raised in. She longs to know what it’s like to live among normal humans and experience simple biological pleasures like consuming alcohol, kissing a boy, and—most importantly—eating chocolate.

But her mother, the infamous astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor, is determined to get her back, even if it means sending a bounty hunter after her. Mari’s only hope for freedom is to be granted asylum from the leaders of the powerful Star Kingdom. First, she must prove that she has knowledge and resources she can offer them. Second, she has to earn their trust. This all would have been easier if her people hadn’t bombed their planet…
This book is a standalone, as it occurs after all Casmir’s adventures are over and features one of the intriguing astroshamans. I did miss dear Casmir’s viewpoint – but it was fun seeing how other characters regarded him. And as I now feel like all the regular Star Kingdom characters are old friends, revisiting this world was huge fun. Buroker is now one of my favourite authors.
9/10

Death’s Rival – Book 5 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.

Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war.
This series just goes from strength to strength. I’m loving the quality of the writing and the ongoing development of Jane as she emerges from yet another devastating adventure.
9/10

The Queen’s Pardon – Book 6 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
Trapped on a hostile world, hunted by pirate bands and abandoned by her fellow captains, Alexis Carew must lead her small band to safety, even though it seems every hand is set against her.

Stalked by pirates in the skies above and shadowy, alien figures on the planet below, Alexis must convince former enemies to trust her even as she discovers where the tendrils of her true enemies lead.
This is the final book in this entertaining Hornblower-in-space adventure series. I thought Sutherland handled this twisting action-packed plot particularly well and while I’m sad to get to the end of Alexis’s story, I was very happy with how the whole thing ended.
10/10

Licence to Howl – Book 2 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper
Devereau Webb is riding high. He’s a powerful werewolf with a killer combination of intelligence, wits and strength and he’s learning more and more about his abilities every day. He isn’t usually the type to take orders, however, and that has to change with his new role as a supernatural spy within the British security services.

Tasked with heading to Rome to infiltrate a mysterious gang with terrorist links, Devereau has to call on all his newfound skills to prevent disaster from happening. That might be prove to be the easy part. He’s also determined to convince a certain sexy vampire that he’s the man for her. What could possibly go wrong?
Helen Harper is another favourite author – and this spinoff series featuring Devereau is a bundle of fun. While there is plenty of action and danger – there is also a lot of humour. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between the adrenaline-junkie, alpha male and his former Vampire girlfriend. After their fling, it’s Devereau who has been left heartsick and pining – and determined to woo her back, which is a nice change.
9/10

Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack.

Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves?
This is the final book in this classy, well-written series. I haven’t read another author who so effectively portrays the issues facing a divination mage – and Alex’s character development, particularly in this book, is outstanding. Jacka also manages to bring this popular, long-running series safely home. Review to follow.
10/10

I haven’t published any blog posts since 7th November. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Cry for Blood – Book 3 of The Reborn Empire series by Devin Madson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeCryforBloodbookreview

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I’ve come very late to this series, given that many of the book bloggers that I like and respect loved this one. Indeed, I had a copy of We Ride the Storm gathering dust on my TBR pile – until I realised the third book was available on Netgalley, so decided to give it a whirl. And as I’m now reviewing said third instalment, you can assume that I thoroughly enjoyed We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death. Indeed, if I wasn’t struggling with Long Covid, I would have written a review on at least one of the other two books.

BLURB: Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as it first appeared.

After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.

Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret—one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.

And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva e’Jaroven is caught in his web. To successfully challenge him, she’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win.

REVIEW: In many ways, this series hits many of the tropes around current epic fantasy stories, as the origin world takes more from eastern cultures, rather than drawing on classic western civilisation. And there are strong female protagonists – three of them, compared to the single male warrior. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer excellence of the writing that yanked me into the initial book and simply wouldn’t let go.

My firm advice is to get hold of We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death before tucking into this one, as the narrative timeline follows straight from one book to the next. However, should you choose to ignore my advice, Madson has obligingly added a ‘Story So Far’ foreword, along with a detailed cast of characters. I wish more authors did this with series where the ongoing narrative is vital. Luckily, I didn’t need to be reminded of the previous story, as Cassandra, Rah, Miko and Dishiva are such vivid, memorable characters, even my brain fog hadn’t blurred their various difficulties. I even dreamt about this world – though I have to say that when I woke up and found that I wasn’t in the middle of it, I was very relieved.

The balance between the worldbuilding and the characterisation is skilfully handled, with the prose consistently assured and flowing. The battle scenes leap off the page, full of the bloody violence that is inevitable in hand-to-hand fighting, while the twists and turns of the political scheming kept me turning the pages. These days, this isn’t my go-to genre – I am often alienated by morally compromised characters and the wretched fallout that ensures when the great and the good decide warfare is the only answer. So I’m not quite sure why this series has sunk its hooks so deeply into my inscape – but it certainly has. And my chief complaint is that the third book has finished with not a single major plotpoint being resolved. So I’m going to have to wait before discovering what happens next to Madson’s hapless main characters. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy. While I obtained an arc of We Cry for Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Shadow of the Gods – Book 1 of The Bloodsworn Saga by John Gwynne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShadowoftheGodsbookreview

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I’ve had an unread hardback copy of Malice sitting on my bookshelves for far too long. Epecially as a number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are huge fans of Gwynne’s writing, such as Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek. So when I spotted this first book in a new series, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .

REVIEW: After reading the blurb, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a classic epic fantasy read, although the alternate world has some interesting twists in it, due to the previous apocalyptic event that tore it apart. Those who have survived are tough and resourceful – they have to be.

Gwynne has clearly thoroughly researched Nordic history and mythology and it shows in the immersive writing that gives a strong sense of the world, the clothing, food, weaponry and customs. I really enjoyed picking up these details through character actions and thoughts, rather than pages of information. But if you haven’t encountered this author before, do be aware that he drops in a lot of Norse words for articles of clothing, weaponry and food. If you find this tendency irritating, then this might not be the book for you.

We follow the fortunes of three main protagonists – two women and a man. Orka is a tough, experienced warrior who settled down with the love of her life to raise her son. But that was before a warband came through… Varg was raised as a slave and his beloved sister was the only source of light and love in an otherwise brutal life. Until she was murdered. Now he wants to find the killers and make them pay. Elvar is a young warrior who has risen through the ranks of a warband by her skill and courage, and has an interesting backstory that I won’t Spoil here. But as you can see – this is a brutal world, where might is right.

Gwynne’s plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding are all skilfully done – but what he does superbly well is describe battle scenes. This isn’t so much sword and sorcery, as slash and sorcery – using axes and knives as well as swords means that the close-quarters fighting is bloody and injuries are horrific. During the numerous fights and battles, I always had a ringside seat as to what exactly was going on and how the protagonist was feeling and coping, even as blows, stabbings and slashes were being traded. However, while the fighting was violent and bloody, at no stage was it gratuitous.

All in all, this was an engrossing story that kept me turning the pages until the end. And yes – about that ending… in common with many epic fantasy books, all the major plotpoints were left on a cliffhanger. So I’m hoping the second book won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in a Norse setting. While I obtained an arc of The Shadow of the Gods from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 18th April, 2021 #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 a long, miserable week. Until yesterday when the sun came out. My daughter and her family moved house a couple of weeks ago. This time around, we weren’t there to help – in fact I’ve only seen them twice since Christmas and we’re part of their support bubble. But yesterday, she drove over to pick me up, and organised for me to spend part of the day with them, before she dropped me back again. Unfortunately half the country decided they wanted to visit the Littlehampton/Brighton area yesterday so the roads were clogged solid and the journey took over two hours and would have been longer if she hadn’t gone across country. It was wonderful to see the children again, catch up with them all and be shown over the house. They now have a bedroom each and the house is lovely and bright with a real homely feeling. I can now visualise where they are…

Before I went, I hadn’t appreciated just how very down I’d become. After all, I didn’t cry, and though it took some effort and a lot of books – I wasn’t feeling utterly miserable. But that shot of absolute joy on seeing the family again felt like waking up. So this morning we went for a walk along the beach – just a short one, as we don’t have much stamina yet. But it was lovely to get out again!

The photos this week are of our little walk along the beach.

Last week I read:
Traitor’s Blade – Book 1 of the Greatcoats series by Sebastien de Castell
Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
This is an engaging and action-packed swords and sorcery adventure that packs an emotional punch. It kept me turning the pages to the end, with plenty of surprises along the way. Mini-review to follow.

The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor
Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…
This series continues to go from strength to strength. Taylor’s ability to weave real life events into the affairs of his fictional protagonists, James and Cat, is impressive. His depiction of the historical period is masterly and gives a vivid backdrop to the engrossing action that left me slightly reeling by the end. Review to follow.

The Daydreamer Detective – Book 1 of the Miso Cosy Mysteries by Steph Gennaro aka S.J. Pajonas
Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.

As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she?
I thoroughly enjoyed this charming murder mystery, as poor Mei finds herself having to admit defeat and return home to her mother. I’m sure many young people these days are finding themselves in the same miserable position. But this is also set in Japan, so there is a different slant on family life, and the investigation which was enjoyable to read. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The House of Hades – Book 4 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Hazel stands at a crossroads. She and the remaining crew of the Argo II could return home with the Athena Parthenos statue and try to stop Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter from going to war. Or they could continue their quest to find the House of Hades, where they might be able to open the Doors of Death, rescue their friends Percy and Annabeth from Tartarus, and prevent monsters from being reincarnated in the mortal world. Whichever road they decide to take, they have to hurry, because time is running out. Gaea, the bloodthirsty Earth Mother, has set the date of August 1 for her rise to power.

Annabeth and Percy are overwhelmed. How will the two of them make it through Tartarus? Starving, thirsty, and in pain, they are barely able to stumble on in the dark and poisonous landscape that holds new horrors at every turn. They have no way of locating the Doors of Death. Even if they did, a legion of Gaea’s strongest monsters guards the Doors on the Tartarus side. Annabeth and Percy can’t exactly launch a frontal assault.

Despite the terrible odds, Hazel, Annabeth, Percy, and the other demigods of the prophecy know that there is only one choice: to attempt the impossible. Not just for themselves, but for everyone they love. Even though love can be the riskiest choice of all.
This book takes our plucky protagonists into some very dark places indeed. And yet, Riordan’s adroit use of humour, without minimising or disrespecting their evident ordeal, managed to allow me to listen to this without finding it unbearable. I shall really miss this series, once I’ve finished it. Review to follow.

Southern Spirits – Book 1 of the Southern Ghost Hunter mysteries by Angie Fox
When out of work graphic designer Verity Long accidentally traps a ghost on her property, she’s saddled with more than a supernatural sidekick—she gains the ability see spirits. It leads to an offer she can’t refuse from the town’s bad boy, the brother of her ex and the last man she should ever partner with.

Ellis Wydell is in possession of a stunning historic property haunted by some of Sugarland Tennessee’s finest former citizens. Only some of them are growing restless—and destructive. He hires Verity to put an end to the disturbances. But soon, Verity learns there’s more to the mysterious estate than floating specters, secret passageways, and hidden rooms. There’s a modern day mystery afoot, one that hinges on a decades-old murder. Verity isn’t above questioning the living, or the dead. But can she discover the truth before the killer finds her?
I like Fox’s upbeat, quirky writing style – and this ghostly murder mystery with a splash of romance was an entertaining read with some real creepy moments and a very satisfying ending. Review to follow.

A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh
When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death.
I’ve omitted the final paragraph in the blurb, which is completely wrong and led me to expect something quite different from what I got. And this clever, enjoyable story set in Jane Austen’s Regency England deserves better than that. Overall, this is classy murder mystery that very much impressed me and I look forward to reading more from this promising writing. Review to follow.

The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen
Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago.

Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.
This is the industrial revolution played out in a fantasy version of the early Victorian period where fairies live alongside humans, and sell their magical abilities to the factory owners for a pittance. Though Agents Finley and Donovan are more concerned with the catastrophic explosion that has ripped through a new dragon-bone train… I thoroughly enjoyed this difference spin on a period of history I know very well. And the bonus is that the book has a number of beautiful pen and ink drawings executed by the clearly talented author in the style of the period. Review to follow.

Empire of Sand – Book 1 of the Books of Ambha by Tash Suri
The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda. Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
I acquired this offering as it is on sale – and very good value it has proved to be. I’m always a sucker for a well-told tale of sand and sorcery. Mehr’s journey is full of drama and emotion, and the world she creates along with the magic system, is vivid and enjoyable. Very highly recommended.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of Aftermath – Book 5 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre

Friday Face-off featuring The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary edition by Gareth L. Powell

Tuesday Treasures – 32

Review of INDIE Ebook Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney

Sunday Post – 11th April, 2021

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

Music and the Art Show – Part 2 https://jenniefitzkee.com/2021/04/08/the-art-show-part-2/
The biggest problem for teachers is to inspire children to be fearless in their creativity. In our modern world, they never get a chance to see ‘works in progress’. They only ever see the shiny, flawless, final effort and particularly as they get older, they are aware that what they produce can’t possibly rival that – so they often give up before they even get going. Unless they met up with a wonderful teacher like Jennie when they were younger, who inspired them to have a go…

Review: Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses and Heroes Handbook by Liv Albert https://bookfever11.com/2021/04/15/review-greek-mythology-the-gods-goddesses-and-heroes-handbook-by-liv-albert/ I don’t usually include book reviews – but this one by Stephanie at Bookfever went to the trouble of including some of the illustrations and the accompanying text. I realised that it is ideal for those youngsters studying Classical History, as it also references popular films and points out where they have altered the story from the original – so helpful!

Shiver Me Timbers! The 2021 Hugo Finalists – Part One
https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2021/04/15/shiver-me-timbers-the-2021-hugo-finalists-part-one/ I’ve grown to trust and respect the Cap’s quirky approach to book reviews – and found this overview of the Hugo Finalists both informative and helpful.

The USS Lexington: Aircraft Carrier AND Temporary Power Plant https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2021/04/09/the-uss-lexington-aircraft-carrier-and-temporary-power-plant/ Anne has documented a fascinating account of this aircraft carrier’s unusual history – along with some wonderful photos.

Hamlet: Character Analysis List https://interestingliterature.com/2021/04/hamlet-character-list-analysis/ Whether you agree with character summaries or not – it’s is often handy to get a handle on the main protagonists in a complicated and long play before you go to see it. And that is particularly applicable to Shakespeare’s plays…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Reaper of Souls – Book 2 in the Kingdom of Souls series by Rena Barron #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ReaperofSoulsbookreview

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I read and reviewed the first book in this African-inspired epic fantasy, Kingdom of Souls – see my review. So when I had the opportunity to read and review this next slice in the adventure, I leapt at the opportunity.

BLURB: After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—at a terrible price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom in shambles, and long-buried secrets about who she is. Desperate not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, Arrah must return to the tribal lands to search for help from the remnants of her parents’ people. But the Demon King’s shadow looms closer than she thinks. And as Arrah struggles to unravel her connection to him, defeating him begins to seem more and more impossible—if it’s something she can bring herself to do at all.

REVIEW: I found that the first book quickly came to mind as I began reading this one, and Barron adroitly slides in useful reminders of previous events. However, I would strongly advise that you go hunting for Kingdom of Souls before reading this one. Far too much happens in that first book which directly impacts on events in this one for you to be able to get the most out of Reaper of Souls if you haven’t read it.

Arrah continues to be a sympathetic protagonist as she now finds that trying to put together the world after the havoc wreaked by her sister and mother is a daunting task. It’s always a challenge to portray a very powerful character as sufficiently vulnerable that we care and I was impressed that Barron managed to achieve this, without making her too angsty or much of a victim. The form of magic that is particularly prevalent involves inhabiting another person’s body – it’s deeply unpleasant and once again, Barron’s punchy prose reminded me of just what a revolting intrusion this is. No wonder there are swathes of the population who are convinced that all magic is innately evil. I really enjoyed the fact that Arrah found it difficult to use her magic benevolently. Given the number of enemies she is facing, it’s all too easy to rely on the powerful tribal magic that she is imbued with, to lash out and simply end them.

The characterisation is the ongoing strength of this engrossing epic fantasy tale. Although I wasn’t particularly in the mood to be confronted with a largish tale featuring some really dark magic – nonetheless, I didn’t struggle at all. And that’s down to the quality of the worldbuilding, the strong characters and solidly good writing throughout. If you enjoy fantasy with an African setting, then this series comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Reaper of Souls from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Bears are not companions of men, but children of God… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofffurrycreaturescovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with pictures of furry creatures. I’ve selected Shardik – Book 2 of the Beklan Empire by Richard Adams.

Overlook Duckworth, Nov 2004

This edition was produced by Overlook Duckworth in November 2004, and is one of the default cover designs for this book, which originally came out in May 1974. I really like it – the fact that the bear’s head is made up of the buildings of the main city is spot on, as the story is about what the bear represents to this civilisation. I also appreciate the punchy title and author fonts, which are easily read even in thumbnail. I think this is a successful, eye-catching cover.

Penguin Books, Jan 1976

Published in January 1976 by Penguin books, this is the cover on the book that I owned. It’s one of my most memorable reads – along with the very disturbing The Girl in a Swing – there is something about Adams’ writing that got right under my skin, so it brings back happy memories. I love the image of this bear, huge and savage – just look at the length of those claws. But reluctantly, I don’t like it as much as the previous cover.

Oneworld Books, Nov 2014

This edition, published by Oneworld Books in November 2014, is a reworking of the first cover – and while I like that one, this is my favourite. I think it’s because there is so much here that relates to the story. The profile of the bear in red is apt – Shardik’s appearance triggers a series of violent events. The wooden boards that act as backdrop represents his imprisonment, while I particularly love the fir trees as his teeth in his upper jaw, meeting the cityscape in his lower jaw. Which is a really clever pictorial depiction of the tension between the wilderness and what he represents to the Belden civilisation. I just wish more covers were designed with such respect for the story.

Danish edition, 1977

This Danish edition, produced by Gyldendals Bogklubber in 1977, also features Shardik up on his hind legs trying to outrun the fire that has destroyed the forest where he used to live. Look at the clouds of ash as he moves and the wisping, ashy remains of grass right in the foreground… Again, this is a scene right from the book and works really well as a cover. I like the fact that we are looking up at the bear, emphasising his huge size.

Italian edition, 1976

This Italian edition, published by Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli in 1976 is probably the most attractive of all the covers. The artwork is detailed and beautifully executed, though I don’t get the sense of Shardik’s power and size from this image, unlike the other covers. And it also features an unnecessarily large textbox, which I hate. That said, I still like it even if it isn’t my favourite. Which one do you prefer?