Category Archives: epic medieval Fantasy

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?

Weekly Wrap-Up – 27th March 2016

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Given I am now reading and reviewing more frequently, I thought I’d follow Hayley’s suggestion over at RatherTooFondofBooks – check it out, it’s a really good book blog – and write a short summary of my week to share with other bloggers, inspired by the Sunday Post meme from the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

This week I completed and wrote reviews for three books:-

Luna: New Moon – Book 1 of the Luna series by Ian McDonaldluna
This was a vivid, entertaining read about runaway development in a viciously capitalist structure that has the Five Dragon ruling family battling for ascendancy. I’ve already posted the review here.

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
manyselvesofkatherineThis Netgalley arc is a remarkable read about a young girl who jumps into premade animal bodies – Ressies – in order to better understand the habits and lives of the wildlife around us against a backdrop of climactic change. As a YA dystopian science fiction adventure, this book has far more science content than the average YA read, and the character is complex and nuanced. I featured this book in this week’s Teaser Tuesday. My review will not be appearing until June, however, when the book is due to be released.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This is another storming read – I LOVED this fantasy offering. The magic system is great, the uprootedprotagonist punchy and spirited, but what for me sets this book apart is the nature of the Wood, whose implacable opposition to humanity blights the lives of all who have to live near it. I shall be posting the review in due course.

I posted a blog every day, with one reblog from the marvellous Lizzie Baldwin’s entertaining book blog. My most popular post was this week’s Teaser Tuesday, as Emma Geen’s book attracted a lot of attention, with the next most visited post this week being my article Favourite Space Operas – Part 1.

I’m grateful to everyone who popped in and an especial thanks goes to those of you who took the trouble to comment – I still get a thrill at being able to share my reading passion with like-minded souls. Happy Easter to you all!

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 2

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I posted my first five Favourite Fantasy Worlds a few weeks ago, so here are the next group. All of these worlds are well developed, nicely complex and provide satisfying backdrops for the stories. It’s no accident they are all series. One of the reasons I really enjoy multi-book story arcs is the extra layers of detail that can be built into the worldbuilding.

The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
This original, remarkable series is set in the equivalent age of the Tudors, with horse-drawn conveyances Touchstoneand charts the fortunes of a magical travelling theatre company. In the first book, Touchstone, they form their group and the next three books in the series records their highs and lows as they steadily get more prosperous and successful. Though that brings its own pressures. The glass thorns of the series title, are the drugs the actors dose themselves with, in order to heighten their emotions – or help them relax after the excitement of performance. I eagerly await each book and so far, have not been disappointed at the unfolding drama of these enormously talented, difficult people battling to produce their best work in less than ideal circumstances.

The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones
This series of books covers the adventures of the state-appointed enchanter Chrestomanci, who is taskedCharmedLife with keeping law and order amongst the magical community. I have read most of these books to my granddaughter, after having devoured them myself several decades ago – my favourite is Charmed Life. And rereading them aloud has not only proved they can stand the test of time, but increased my respect at the quality of the writing, the crafting of the story arcs and the sheer quirky genius of Jones’ imagination. Yes – I know they are supposed to be for children, but give them a go if you appreciate magical mayhem. They are a joy for any age group.

The Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
nohumansinvolvedThis world is extensively portrayed in the thirteen-book series, with a number of accompanying novellas and short stories. It all kicks off with Bitten, where werewolf Clay accidentally bites his girlfriend – and her life is never the same again. But don’t go away with the idea that the series is all about werewolves – it also encompasses witches, necromancers and vampires. In short, anyone who dabbles with the paranormal or magic. Read my review of No Humans Involved. The world is enjoyable – I love the way Armstrong manages to slide from everyday normality into something else.

Einarinn by Juliet E. McKenna
Again, this extensive, detailed world has been produced over a long period of time through several series dangerous watersof books – there are five books within The Tales of Einarinn; four books in The Aldabreshin Compass; three books and a novella in The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution and her latest trilogy, still set within the same world – The Hadrumal Crisis. Juliet provides an excellent explanation of her world on her blog. They are all great reads – but my personal favourites are The Aldabreshin Compass series and The Hadrumal Crisis – see my review of Dangerous Waters.

The Inheritance trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
thehundredthousandkingdomsThis is an extraordinary series – particularly the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which is set in the city Sky where gods and mortal co-exist. See my review here. The book is pervaded by the sense of threat and a feeling that a set of rules apply here that our protagonist needs to know, but doesn’t fully understand. The second book, The Broken Kingdoms had me in tears at the end – and that doesn’t happen all that often, these days. If you like remarkable fantasy on an epic scale focusing on gods, then give it a go.

And there you have it… a few of my favourite fantasy worlds to date. What are your favourite fantastic worlds?

Review of The Dread Wyrm – Book 3 of The Traitor Son series by Miles Cameron

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The first book in this series, The Red Knight was something special – see my review here – and I also, eventually, much enjoyed The Fell Sword – see my review here – but now we are on the third book, has Cameron managed to sustain the pace, excitement and drama?

thedreadwyrmThe Red Knight has stood against soldiers, against armies and against the might on an empire. He’s fought on real and magical battlefields alike, and now he’s facing his greatest challenge yet. A tournament. The flower of the nobility will ride against each other for royal favour and acclaim. It’s a contest the Red Knight has the skill to win. But the stakes are higher than he thinks: the court has been infiltrated by a dangerous faction, led by the greatest knight in the world – Jean de Vrailly.

This medieval swords and sorcery adventure revolves around the Red Knight’s mercenary outfit, who are now a whole lot more prosperous and secure than they were a couple of books ago. So you’d think their problems would be solved – but you’d be wrong. Things are badly awry in the kingdom of Alba, where a group have more or less taken over the court… the Wild are gathering all across the continent and massing under the leadership of Ash, the powerful mage, who has his own agenda.

I love this world. The main protagonist, Gabriel Muriens – our Red Knight – is clever, driven, a skilful fighter, brimful of magical talent and short fused. He pings off the page with charisma and a burning desire to prove himself to his family – his scheming mother and scornful father aren’t the kindest parents. There is also a whole cast of intriguing, three-dimensional characters who are all nuanced and complex so that no one is whiter than white and we get to see the motivations of even the darkest characters. Politicking and scheming abound in this book – but the outstanding aspect of this book and the series are the battle scenes. Cameron has taken part in tournaments while wearing armour and it shows. The battles are written with a sense of realism, intensity and danger that are in a class of their own – and it isn’t only slavering creatures from the Wild that die. A fair sprinkling of likeable, interesting characters are also cut down in skirmishes or full-scale battles.

The magic is also beautifully handled. Magicians need to be able to control and pinpoint their talents and are given precise visualisation methodology in order to control their ability. Mags, the Company’s seamstress, has managed to devise her own particular spell casting using her needleworking, while those classically trained have their mental palaces.

All in all, this series just goes on getting better and better, with several surprising twists that really have me wanting more. But if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – don’t start with The Dread Wyrm, go back to The Red Knight and read them in order. I haven’t read an epic fantasy swords and sorcery that is better crafted.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday (24th November)

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.
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Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

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

My teaser:

‘Swooping from the safety of their altitude, they dropped on the Queen’s party as they rode, fully exposed, along the low path in the gorge’s edge. They leaped like wolves upon sheep.’ P.442thedreadwyrm

Extract from The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron, Book 3 of The Traitor’s Son Cycle.

A medieval Fantasy series that features some cracking battle scenes and plenty of character-driven action.

Part of the blurb… The Red Knight has stood against soldiers, against armies and against the might of an empire. He’s fought on real and magical battlefields alike, and now he’s facing his greatest challenge yet. A tournament.

Here is my review of the first book in the series, The Red Knight.

Review of Heartwood – Book 1 of The Elemental Wars by Freya Robertson

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I seem to be reading a slew of epic Fantasy at the moment. Though it’s not my favourite genre, there seems to be a number of well written, enjoyable tales that have me zipping through the hefty tomes at a fair old clip because I want to know what’s going to happen. And this is another…

HeartwoodA dying tree, a desperate quest, a love story, a last stand. Chronrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood’s holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Heartwood’s holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace. As the leaves begin to fall the knights divide into seven groups and begin an epic quest to track down the elements needed to revive the ailing tree and save the land from a ferocious new threat.

That is a potted version of the rather chatty blurb. And while Heartwood definitely epic Fantasy, it is also High Fantasy. The sense of the quest being holy and the knights feeling their calling has to be prioritised over their everyday lives and concerns is a strong theme that powers much of the narrative throughout this adventure. For me, it is this aspect of the book that makes it stand out from the rest. Because while they are also battling uniquely foul weather, dreadful roads, a fraying society while travelling on horseback, this sense of having to live by a code of beliefs and values that sets the chosen apart means that when the going gets tough, more than a handful of the characters are battling themselves.

I really enjoyed the character arcs of the twins Gavius and Gravis, who initially appear to be constantly together and uniquely bonded – a regular staple of Fantasy fiction. But as circumstances becomes more dire and they are separated, it becomes clear there are deep-seated resentments that challenge their relationship far more sorely than the constant rain and nasty warriors threatening to overrun civilisation. Can they prevail? And what will happen if they do? It is this dynamic that caught and held my interest every bit as much as the overarching threat to the sacred tree and the land.

For one of the main conventions of High Fantasy is that the quest will transform all those who undertake them – often costing lives. And that was the other pageturner for me. Not everyone comes back from this quest. A couple of early deaths had me sharply aware that Robertson isn’t afraid of culling her character cast. So who would make it – and who wouldn’t?

I also enjoyed the fact that as well as questioning their own abilities – not everyone on the quest is totally convinced about the sacred tree. Chronrad, though a brave and skilful fighter, isn’t one of the holy knights and frankly finds all the elaborate religious ritual and the tree itself offputting. He wasn’t the only one. That tree is creepy. And not necessarily in a good way… The elemental magic vital to keep it alive is not remotely cosy.

Having set up this wide-ranging, urgent quest of utmost importance, the trick then is to bring the seven bands some conclusion. Does Robertson manage to tie up these various plotlines satisfactorily to a satisfying climax? It’s a big ask when the storyline has sprawled to this extent, particularly when considering Robertson is a debut author. Oh yes. There is the major battle, along with some unexpected twists that I very much liked. And those twins? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Have a go – if you enjoy your Fantasy with more than a touch of Arthurian influence – this is a must-read.
8/10

Review of Fool’s Quest – Book 2 of Fitz and the Fool by Robin Hobb

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This epic fantasy book is set in the complex, layered world Hobb has established over twenty years and some fourteen books, starting with the first book Assassin’s Apprentice, where we first encounter Fitz as a boy. As a solid fan of Hobb’s writing, I have read all of the books in this epic fantasy series in order and before you so much as open Fool’s Quest, my firm advice would be to go right back to the start and at the very least, read The Farseer Trilogy, which tells of Fitz and where he fits into the story. If you find yourself beguiled by Hobb’s writing, then move onto The Tawny Man Trilogy, which gives the history of the Fool. While Hobb is too smart a writer to leave readers floundering, I think that this world is simply too special and complex to crash into sideways. And then, don’t start with this book – go back to the first one in the series Fool’s Assassin – see my review here.

foolsquestHappy endings never last… Years ago, they freed a dragon from the glaciers on Aslexjal. Then they parted ways, the Fool returning to far off Clerres, while Fitz finally claimed a wife, a family and a home of his own. Now, betrayed by his own people and broken by torment, the Fool has made his way back to the Six Duchies. But as Fitz attempts to heal his old friend in Buckkeep Castle, he is not at Withywoods to protect his young daughter, Bee. A mistake…

That’s a very shortened version of the rather chatty blurb that drops far too many spoilers for me to want to repeat it. I love Hobb’s writing and thoroughly enjoy her worldbuilding and Fitz is a special favourite – although that doesn’t stop me wanting to shake him until his teeth rattle. So I quickly became engrossed in this doorstep of a book, which had my arms aching long before I finished it.

It’s my favourite kind of epic fantasy – where the action stays focused on a handful of characters we come to know and care about. However, be warned. If you enjoy foot-to-the-floor non-stop action, then this won’t necessarily tick your boxes. Hobb provides plenty of adventure, but she lays the groundwork first, thoroughly establishing her protagonists, their motivations and providing the world in plenty of detail. While I love the way she crafts her books, I’m also aware it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

We also get far more of the Fool in this book. He has always been a mysterious character, whose backstory has never been fully told, so the revelations provided in this book regarding his origins and his backstory are a particular delight to read. There is a special joy when an author provides a world where in Book 15, you learn a vital slice of the story that began in Book 1. Hobb is good a writing enigmatic characters that don’t irritate me, which is something of a feat as I generally am a tad short-fused when I feel an author has gone all mysterious because she hasn’t figured how to fill a certain plothole she discovered far too late in the day. Chiefly because I trust Hobb sufficiently to know that sooner or later, she will fill in the gap in her narrative, thoroughly and imaginatively such that I’ll love the journey.

So does Fool’s Quest match the standard set in the other books? Yes, I think it does, though there were places where I felt the pace was just a tad slow. Thing is, I was quite pleased, because it meant the book wasn’t coming to an end, yet. Did I mention I loved her writing? But, be warned, the book does not tie anything up. Hobb leaves the whole story on a cliff-hanger ending. So I’m quite relieved that my TBR list has become ridiculously long – I’m far too busy trying to catch up to be pining after the next book, which isn’t scheduled to appear until 2017.

In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of Hobb magic, why don’t you make a start on the first book? That will give you time to complete the whole series before Assassin’s Fate is released…
9/10

Review of The Raven’s Shadow – Book 3 of The Wild Hunt by Elspeth Cooper

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Elspeth Cooper was kind enough to send me a review copy of The Raven’s Shadow – but the deal still applies. If I don’t like a book, I won’t bother to complete it and I certainly won’t write about it. It’s the reason why I don’t generally ask authors to submit books for review and am very reluctant to take requests unless I’m fairly certain that I’m going to enjoy the book. Did this, the third in this epic fantasy quartet, fulfil the promise of the earlier two books? You can read my review of the first book, Songs of the Earth here.

theravensshadowIn the Archen Mountains, Teia struggles through the high, snowy passes to warn the Empire: a war band is poised to invade, and their leader means to release the Wild Hunt – and with it Maegern the Raven, the Keeper of the Dead. In Gimrael, the fires of revolution robbved Gair of a friend and left him alone in a hostile city, unsure even if the Song is still his to command. He has one last duty to discharge, and then nothing will stand between him and his vengeance. And in the Nordmen’s chilly halls, Savin plays out a game in which kings, chieftains and men are but pawns on a chessboard than spans the Veil itself.

Yep. You’re right – it’s vintage epic Fantasy fare. But there is so much more to this excellent series than that. While the setup may not be groundbreakingly original, it is a solidly well-constructed world with plenty of depth and breadth – furthermore Cooper achieves this without pages of exposition.
I gave myself a break between reading the second and third books, as if I read a block of books from a single writer, I tend to find stylistic quirks start to grate and interfere with my enjoyment. But as soon as I opened up this hefty tome, I was immediately whisked back into the world of Teia, Gair and Tanith. The protagonists are vivid, enjoyable and bounce off the page such that I was soon immersed into the experience, relishing and savouring it – the mark of a thoroughly enjoyable read. That said, it isn’t a good book to pick up if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series. You’d miss far too much of the backstory to fully appreciate the characterisation and exactly why they are doing what. Gair, in particular, has a whole suite of emotional baggage due to his previous traumatic experiences – and neither would you fully appreciate Tanith’s irritation at the insufferable Ailric and his unwanted advances.

Obviously the main task of a mid-series book is to continue the story arc, continue the protagonists’ journeys ensuring the tension pings off the page and while the finale of this particular book cannot wrap the story up, neither can it sputter to an uninspiring close. And I’ve read far too many of those in my time.

Not so in this book – Cooper really lets loose. She has a clean, punchy writing style I really enjoy and when it came to the showdown that had been building from the opening scenes, she ensures she delivers an almighty battle scene that had me rapt. I should have got up and got going on my lengthy To Do list, but I was going nowhere without knowing first who prevailed. And – yes – I really didn’t know, because she has already seen off a couple of major characters that I’d become very attached to. We’re not talking the kind of protag persecution that Martin displays in his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, but nevertheless I was winded when they died. It was a triumphant climax to a cracking Fantasy read that is right up there with the likes of Joe Abercrombie, Kate Elliott and Glenda Larke in my opinion.

I’m really looking forward to the fourth book – and if you enjoy character-led epic Fantasy, then track down this series. It deserves be far better known.
9/10