Category Archives: epic medieval Fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia by Luke Aylen #Brainfluffbookreview #TheForgottenPalacebookreview

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I can’t lie – once again it was the cover with that amazing dragon’s eye peering through the castle window that sucked me into requesting this one. Much to my surprise, this year I seem to have read a number of children’s books – would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: Deep in the heart of Presadia’s Great Forest lie many secrets, including the ancient ruins of a once-magnificent palace. A chance encounter with a bedraggled stranger and the discovery of broken shards of a magical mirror lead Antimony, an unusually tall dwarf, on a journey of discovery.

The blurb continues for another couple of paragraphs, busily letting drop a number of plotpoints I think would be better for the reader if they encountered them in the book, rather than waiting for them to happen. I like fourteen-year-old Luke, who is unusually tall for a dwarf with a flair for problem-solving and design and impatiently waiting for his beard to start growing. It was a refreshing change to find he comes from a close-knit community and has a loving mother who provides staunch support throughout, rather than the classic child protagonist without any positive adult in his life.

I did struggle a bit at the start of the book, even though I’m very used to being tipped sideways into adventures owing to my habit of crashing midway into series. Unhelpfully, neither Amazon, Goodreads, or the cover give any indication of the previous book The Mirror and the Mountain where we follow the fortunes of two children who have fallen through a portal into this medieval-type society. My advice would be to get hold of the first book before embarking on this one, as while I did sort out what was going on before it spoilt the story for me, I’m an experienced reader. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a youngster to pick their way through the various references to previous events and characters that they never meet.

Once I gathered exactly what was going on, I was able to relax into the story. Aylen writes an old-school epic fantasy, where Good and Evil are personified by the characters within the story and adventures are there to test their mettle.

I did like the way all the different races came together to rebuild the palace, despite the evident tensions between them. I would have liked a bit more discussion on how the task would provide all those toiling to rebuild it with protection and shelter, rather than focusing on how much the King wanted it rebuilt so he could fix the land. While this is clearly epic fantasy, there were times when the emphasis on the grand ambitions of peace and renewal gave this book a slightly old-fashioned feel and I’m intrigued to find out how today’s modern youngsters react to it.

That said, I enjoyed the characters and the story and would recommend it for independent readers from ten/eleven years old and upward – the battle scenes might be a bit too gory for younger readers. The ebook arc copy of The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Beware the jabberwock, my son… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is FANTASY BEASTS, so I’ve selected The Red Knight – Book 1 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron – see my review here.

 

This edition was produced by Gollancz in October 2012 and is my favourite. It didn’t hurt that this is the cover of the edition that I read. I love the simplicity of the fully armoured knight fighting the wyvern – and how his foot is on the top of the title font, which is stylish and feels part of the overall design. The artwork is beautiful and detailed and it’s no surprise that this cover is the one that appears on most editions.

 

Published in January 2013 by Orbit, while this cover is clearly dramatic with the flames licking the sword – I find it rather generic. This could be any knight clutching any sword, though why anyone would want to roast their precious weapon is a puzzle. I do like the font, however, which works well within the design.

 

This German edition, published by Heyne in June 2013, is another strong offering. I really like the weathered parchment effect, with the slight blurring of the author and title fonts, as if this precious document has become wet at some stage. The engraving of the sword gives a sense of the medieval era, albeit an alternate timeline where wyverns and dark magic menaces the land.

 

Produced by Bragelonne in January 2017, this French edition once again features a hand holding the sword, but I think it is far more successful than Orbit’s effort. For starters, the detailing on the sleeve and the blood-spattered gauntlet feels more connected to the book than some random character holding a sword in a fire. I also love the background, which also had been given some serious consideration. The ornate lettering capitalising the title font manages to give it a period feel without compromising the clarity. This classy effort is a close contender, but for the fact that I’m a sucker for that wyvern.

 

This Russian edition, published by Фантастика Книжный Клуб in December 2016 uses the original cover as its inspiration, going back to the battle between the red knight and the wyvern. I’d expected this to be my second favourite, but I find the figures – particularly the fabulous beast – lacking in the fluid lines that add to the drama of the original. This stilted version simply isn’t as well executed, however I do like the addition of that red border which works really well against the grey background. Which is your favourite?

 

Friday Faceoff – When a knight won his spurs…

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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 a cover featuring medieval times, so I’ve selected Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, who sounds as if he should be joining in the jousting with a name like that…

 

To be honest, this cover produced by Roc in December 1999 is rather underwhelming. It is very brown with an embossed emblem of something that looks as though it belongs on a shield. I’m not overly struck with the rather spindly font, either. Given this is a book about a particularly colourful time, the cover seems to be expending a great deal of energy just to blend into the general background of the shelf this book will be sitting on.

 

This edition was produced by Roc Fantasy in October 1991 and is far more attractive and lively. The gold font upon the red is much more in keeping. However, my main worry is on behalf of the long-suffering queen or princess… no wonder she is looking so grumpy. I’d be looking a tad fed up if I had an halberd handle sticking out of my left ear, too.

 

Published in April 2005 by Penguin Canada (APB), I like this one. The gold colour sings out and the distant city in the distance looks invitingly different – an impression reinforced with the two moons in the sky. I like the attractive pattern bordering the vista, which gives a suggestion that this might be an embroidered depiction after the style of the Bayeux tapestry.

 

This Italian edition, published by Sperling & Kupfer in 1992, has very much gone for the fantasy feel. The moonlit scene – featuring two moons – is beautifully conveyed and unlike the queen in the Roc Fantasy offering, this monarch is unhampered by any weaponry protruding from her ears. She is beautiful and focused – and I want to pick up this book and find out why. This is my favourite cover.

 

This edition, produced by Penguin Canada in June 2016, is another dun effort. This time we get the edge of the shield, as if we are peeping over it to snatch a view of the city in the distance – also brown. I’m not quite sure why, because it isn’t remotely appealing. However, that’s just my opinion – which cover do you like best?

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Name – Book 2 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last – and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

“The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms – and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.”

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentent usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hardwon Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies – and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens. Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – I know why the caged bird sings…

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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 bird covers, so I’ve chosen The Lies of Locke Lamora – Book 1 of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch.

 

This is the offering produced by Bantam Spectra in July 2006 is an evocation of a setting like St Mark’s Square in Venice, complete with the pigeons. The clean two-tone design and spare use of colour really works well. I also really like the flourishes on the title font and author name, although I could do without George R.R. Martin’s recommendation crawling across the artwork – I prefer such chatter on the back cover.

 

This cover, also produced by Bantam Spectra in June 2007 is far more lush with a gorgeous use of colour and giving us a representation of our young thief and his imagining how he will scale the high tower as he sits surveying the skyline. This design has even managed to tidy up Martin’s blurb, while keeping the attractive title font.

 

This cover design produced in February 2007 by Gollancz is once more in a Venetian-type setting, though there are clear differences. The buildings are piled far higher and there is a more chaotic atmosphere. The dark green water gives a sense of danger and I think the title font works really well against the darker background. This is my favourite.

 

This effort was produced by Del Rey in June 2013 once more gives a sense of a crowded city where the buildings are all piled upon each other. The detailing in the artwork is far more masked by the title, author name and other blurb crashing through the image, which is a shame, as it is yet another beautiful and effective depiction of the book.

 

This is the audio CD edition produced by Tantor Media Inc in May 2009. While the building featured is rather crude and simplistic in comparison to some of the other covers, I do like the face superimposed in the sky and the placing of the title font and author name has been well thought out. Another effective, attractive effort.

Once again, I don’t think there is a wrong ‘un in amongst this selection, though the most successful is the third offering in my opinion. Which one is your favourite?

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

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I’m not quite sure how it happened, but despite December being a really busy month I managed to continue reading more than two books a week. As for my Discovery Challenge, which I undertook after reading this post by Jo Hall to read and review at least two books a month by women authors previously unknown to me – I managed to read and review five books during December, though one of those reviews hasn’t yet been published.

Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the World series by Tessa Elwood
splitthesunThe Ruling Lord of the House of Galton is dead, and the nation is in shock—or celebrating, depending on the district. Kit Franks would be more than happy to join him. Kit’s mother bombed the digital core of the House, killing several and upending the nation’s information structure. No one wants the daughter of a terrorist. Kit’s having dreams she can’t explain, remembering conversations that no longer seem innocent, understanding too much coded subtext in Mom’s universal feed messages. Everyone has a vision of Kit’s fate—locked, sealed, and ready to roll. The question is, does Kit have a vision for herself?
I really enjoyed this one. Foot-to-the-floor, action-packed dystopian sci fi adventure with an appealing spiky heroine, I was scooped up into the middle of this world and didn’t want to pull away until the last page. Great fun – see my review here.

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsShe’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from, as she’s destined to wind up “wed or dead”.
There has been a real buzz about this YA desert fantasy offering, and I can see why. Hamilton tips us right into the middle of the action from the first page as Amani’s spiky first person narrative pulled me into the story and didn’t let go. It is a foot to the floor, non-stop adventure where she careens through the vividly depicted landscape that borrows much from eastern influences. It’s a delight and I’m now hoping to be able to hunt down the sequel. See my review here.

Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her everthehunteddays tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer. However, it’s not so simple. The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart.
It was pure chance that I read two YA fantasy adventures back to back. They both featured teenage female protagonists on the run, both had secrets and issues they knew nothing about at the start of the adventure. Both had a romantic sub-plot. Both are cracking reads. However, Britta isn’t so carelessly, gloriously reckless as Amani – she is wary and untrusting of everyone. The pace in this one isn’t quite so full-on, either, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale set in a more traditional medieval fantasy setting. There were some pleasing plot twists in this adventure I didn’t see coming – and I certainly didn’t guess who had murdered Britta’s father. See my review here.

The City of Ice – Book 2 of The Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
thecityoficeDeep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise. The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages. As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.
It took me a while to get into this genre mashup, where epic fantasy meets a steampunk-type world using magic to power machinery. However there are unforeseen consequences to harnessing such power in that particular way… I love the intricate, layered world with a number of interesting creatures including the tyn, powerful godlike rulers who nevertheless are somewhat down on their luck – and a number of ambitious humans trying to get what they can. Altogether, this becomes an engrossing world with a number of fascinating stories – I’m definitely going to be looking out for the sequel. See my review here.

It was also a good month for my other reading challenge of the year – Tackling my TBR as I read and reviewed five books from my teetering To Be Read pile, which were:-

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
The story is about a lonely child who is made to see the world through her cousin’s unusual eyes. When thornyholdthe child becomes a young woman, she moves to Thornyhold where she is thought by the local community to be a witch. However, as she finds out, this is no normal community, and worries quickly present themselves. And not everyone who initially greets her is as friendly as they seem…
An enjoyable, initially slightly eerie read that becomes a more conventional romance – as ever Stewart’s writing is a joy. See my review here.

 

 

A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.
This was recommended to me by the wonderful Kitvaria Sarene during an intense evening at Bristolcon talking books, so I made it a top priority on my TBR list and decided to treat myself this week. And I’m delighted I did – it’s a gem and you can find review here.

Judged – Book 3 of the Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jagar
judgedKit’s job description includes solving crimes – the supernatural kind . . . Glow, a fae-created drug, is rapidly going viral and the suppliers have to be shut down. Teaming up with Aiden and Dante, Kit follows leads across London, tracking down dealers. They stir up trouble, making themselves a target for the gang they’re trying to stop. In the Otherwhere, Thorn stumbles across a secret that could destroy both the human and Fae worlds. The Veil that separates our human world from the fae realms is weakening and the goddess is dying. And if she dies and the Veil fails, madness and chaos will wreak unstoppable havoc upon both lands.
I really enjoyed the previous two books in this series, Vowed and Banished so was pleased to be able to wrap up Kit’s adventure before the end of the year. Though whatever you do – don’t start with this book, go back to the start and experience this charming series in the right order. See my review here.

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a jsutonedamnedthingdifferent kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.
This is time-travelling adventure is a joy. Funny, anarchic with a reckless sense of derring-do, this tale is told in first person viewpoint by Max as we follow her initial introduction to St Mary’s, training and early adventures. That said, the attrition rate is high and a number of folks die in this – some of whom I was really sorry to see go… I think this would make a marvellous TV series, however – not yet. There are a raft of these books out there and I want to read them all, first.

The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
thekingspeaceSulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, where the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.
I loved this version of the King Arthur story. As ever, Walton took me somewhere different and engrossed me in the life of someone with other values and ideas. Another great addition to a wonderful reading year…

What about you – how did your December reading targets go?

Friday Faceoff – Looking Out on All I Own…

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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 we are looking at covers featuring thrones. I have chosen The Poison Throne – Book 1 of The Moorhawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan.

 

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This offering was published by Allen and Unwin in 2009. I think it effectively captures the gothic overtones with the pared back etched look and I like it very much. Unfortunately, the lettering in the title is rather poor, I think.

 

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This version was produced by Orbit in 2010 and is the cover on the book that I own. I have to say it is my least favourite. Yet another cloaked, grumpy looking female scowling at me…

 

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This edition was published in 2010 by Orbit, presumably it’s the hard cover version, though I’m not completely sure about that one. It has the same beautiful artwork, attractive font and stylish colour palette – and I think the throne works really well. So this is my favourite cover this week. Do you agree?

Eve of War is unleashed…

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I’ve copied this announcement from Fox Spirit Books. For obvious reasons I’m not reviewing this particular anthology – but I would just add that I’ve had the opportunity to read through all the stories. And my mate Mhairi has done it again:).

You may remember BFS shortlister Tales of Eve where Mhairi Simpson collected fantastic tales of women seeking their perfect partner in life and the consequences of the search. Well now we see Eve’s daughters, fierce and defiant stepping out to battle.

Edited by Mhairi Simpson, who once again pulled in a great group of authors and Darren Pulsford who curated them into the anthology, we bring you Eve of War.

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Cover art and layout by Vincent Holland-Keen

Sharp of mind and instinct; with poise and grace and power – Eve’s Daughters are a match for any opponent. Whether seeking out a worthy test or assailed by brave (but foolish) foes, she is determined and cunning, and will not fail.

Here are fifteen tales from across the ages; full of prowess both martial and magical, from an array of unique voices.

Contents:

Miranda’s Tempest by S.J. Higbee
The Devil’s Spoke by K.T. Davies
Himura the God Killer by Andrew Reid
The Bind that Tie by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Et Mortuum Esse Audivit by Alasdair Stuart
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick by Juliet McKenna
A Veil of Blades by R.J. Davnall
In Amber by Rob Haines
Skating Away by Francis Knight
Ballad of Sighne by Rahne Sinclair
The Crossing by Paul Weimer
Lucille by Alec McQuay
Born by G Clark Hellery
Repo by Ren Warom
One Sssingular Sssenssation by Chloe Yates

Friday Faceoff – Renewed Shall Be the Blade That Was Broken…

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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’s topic is comparing covers featuring sharp, pointy things. It was a no-brainer for me. I think The Traitor Son series is a marvellous read – see my review of The Red Knight. For the purposes of the Friday Face-off cover challenge, however, I’ve selected the second book – The Fell Sword.

fell swordThis first cover was published by Gollancz in January 2014 as the hardcover edition. I really love it – the angle of the cover emphasises just how small the armoured man is. It also reflects some of the experiences described so vividly in the book.

 

thefellsword1This second cover is the paperback edition brought out by Orbit in March 2014. I also love this one. The sense of intensity, with the vivid colouring and the fact the knight is in mid-swing gives a power to this particular cover. I’m really torn this week. I think I’ll have to go with this Orbit cover – but it is only by gnat’s eyelash. Do you agree?

Friday Faceoff – Just Then Flew Down a Monstrous Crow…

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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’s topic is comparing covers featuring birds. It took me a while to track this one down – I recalled the cover, but had forgotten the book, so was delighted when I realised it was by one of my all-time favourite authors – Fool’s Quest – Book 2 of Fitz and Fool series by Robin Hobb.

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This first cover is for the 2015 edition released by Del Rey. While I love a lot of their covers, I’m not sure this one really does justice to the book. The man dominating the cover is presumably Fitz, but I have such a clear idea of how he looks that I find it jarring.

 

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For me there simply is no contest this week. This cover, produced by Harper Voyager, was the one I’d envisaged as soon as I saw this week’s Friday Face-off. I love its simplicity and the sense of movement with the wings half on and half off the page.  I also think the title font works well. As evidenced by my trawling back to find it – this is also a memorable cover. What do you think? Do you agree?