Category Archives: Japanese fantasy

My Outstanding Books of 2017

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Last year was yet another bumper year for reading, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. As usual, I’ll list the ones that stood out for me – and we’re not talking a top ten. I completed 174 books last year, but won’t go into too much detail in this article about my overall 2017 reading experience, as today it’s all about those that gave me the tingle factor. Most will have received a perfect ten on my scoring system, however there will be a couple that didn’t. The reason they are here is because that after I’d finished reading and writing about them, they didn’t go away, but continued to linger in my thoughts. So here they are, in no particular order:-

 

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

This godpunk duology set within the Japanese pantheon centres around a beautiful, dark-edged myth. Ash’s lyrical prose and deft handling of this tale has stayed with me throughout the year, despite having read it last January. See my review here.

 

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

I absolutely fell in love with this haunting retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. While I enjoyed and admired Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed – another strong contender – this one stole my heart. The ending gave me goosebumps, while making me weep. That doesn’t happen very often. See my review here.

 

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Planetfall, this one blew me away. The characterisation, the horrible situation the protagonist finds himself in – it all got under my skin to the extent that I woke my husband up as I yelled in shock at a particular point in the book. I can’t wait to see where Newman goes next with this amazing series. See my review here.

 

Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna duology by Ian McDonald

This depiction of an existence on the Moon where rampant capitalism holds sway hasn’t left me alone since I read this one. McDonald has called it ‘A game of domes’ and he certainly has nailed the deadly powerplays the main families indulge in with his reference to George R.R. Martin’s epic. I keep thinking about that ending… See my review here.

 

Winter Tide – Book 1 of the Innesmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

This book was a delightful surprise – I had no idea the writing would pull me into this version of Lovecraft’s monstrous world, with a strong, sympathetic protagonist who is one of the few survivors of the attack on Innesmouth years ago. I loved it and am very much looking forward to reading more in this fantastic series. See my review here.

 

The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, finding Rudden’s punchy prose style both enjoyable and memorable. But this sequel builds on the first with an engrossing adventure and some amazing characters. It’s far too good to leave just for the children. See my review here.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

I have thoroughly enjoyed all Edwards’ books – but this managed to nock up the stakes to a point I could not put it down until I’d finished reading it. I have rules about never reading or watching TV until after 5.30 pm – otherwise I’d never get anything done. I broke that rule for this book. See my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

This is a new spinoff series by a much-loved author which I was delighted to read – even better, it was a storming adventure that proved to be an engrossing page-turner. I remembered all over again why I love reading this author. See my review here.

 

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

No one writes different aliens as well as Greg Egan – and I loved this adventure. I’m very much hoping it turns into a series as I would love to spend more time following the fortunes of these amazing creatures. See my review here.

 

The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

This is a series I read longer ago than I care to recall – and when I saw it had appeared in Kindle, I snapped it up and reread it, something I hardly ever do. My instincts were spot on – I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this engrossing world and following Rowena’s adventures in this smart, cleverly written fantasy/science fiction mashup. This is the particular story that has stayed with me, though the other books in the series are just as good. See my review here.

 

Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

This epic fantasy got under my skin and into my heart in a way that doesn’t often happen with this genre. I loved the clever, clever twist at the end and one of the treats in 2018 is to tuck into the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance. See my review here.

 

Sea of Rust by Robert C. Cargill

This was another amazing book that came out of the blue – I’d not read anything by this author before and was delighted by this post-apocalyptic world peopled by robots who are starting to wear out and fail. With no factories or warehouses full of spare parts anymore, the only option is to harvest those parts from other robots. See my review here.

 

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

I’ve read a number of apocalyptic tales during the year, however in this version Walker triumphantly succeeds in giving us a dog’s version of a complete collapse in law and order. And the chilling results of what happens when that order is reimposed by the wrong people. See my review here.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Beford

This epic science fiction adventure stood out because of the flawed protagonist and the gritty depiction of establishing a colony. I really enjoyed the world and the fact that love clearly doesn’t cure all. I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented author. See my review here.

 

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

After her marvellous series How To Train Your Dragon, I was interested to see how she would follow it up. The writing is more lyrical, the underlying poignancy is more pronounced. My elderly Kindle didn’t like the illustrations throughout this book and part of my Christmas money is going on buying a print version of this book. Not for the grandchildren – for me. See my review here.

 

Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

I have to declare an interest – Richard is a former student and I had read some extracts from a very early draft. However that did not prepare me for the excellence of the writing, where this historical adventure finds two young English people from the same small village ending up in America during the Civil War. They are both caught in quite different ways and this story just kept on delivering in terms of plot twists and tension. See my review here.

 

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

This doorstopper is extraordinary. Don’t ask me what the storyline is – other than recalling there are five main protagonists with very different and vivid voices, it’s too complicated to recall. What I do remember is that very early on I took the decision to slow right down and savour this book as reads like this don’t come along all that often. It took me 10 days to get through this one and I recall feeling sad when it came to the end. See my review here.

To pare the list down to this required setting aside other books that still hurt to leave out – the likes of Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts, The Invisible Library books by Genevieve Cogman and The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews all missed making this list by a whisker. If you force to me to choose just one of these books, I’ll probably never forgive you, but it would have to be After Atlas.

What were your outstanding reads of the year?

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Series I Have Continued or Completed in 2017 – Part 1

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

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I was beguiled by the first book in this excellent series, The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice, which I thoroughly enjoyed last year. In any other year, it would have made my list for Outstanding Reads as it missed the cut by the merest whisker – but the standard of books I read last year was extraordinarily high. Would I enjoy Emperor of the Fireflies as much?

emperorofthefirefliesKai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.

No, I didn’t like this offering as much – I loved it a whole lot more. Now I’m thoroughly acquainted with the cast of characters and the Japanese culture, it took no time at all to slide back into this world, where the stakes are higher than ever. Hotaru and his new bride are busy accustoming themselves to their new roles. Kai and Masao, harnessed to the tides, find themselves steadily losing their mortality as they seek some way to break free of the curse. While the feisty little kitsune struggles to save the sacred mountain from the depredations of a ravening fire dragon.

In less skilled hands this multi-viewpoint epic fantasy could have easily turned into a muddled mess, but Ash’s clear, unfussy style delivered the story with such vivid clarity, I could easily visualise the imperial court and the daily power struggles unfolding between the rival clans and factions, in addition to the magnificent tide dragons as they transformed from the victims of the ancient curse. This was one of those delightful reads where I was caught between turning the pages wanting to know what would happen next, yet not wanting this one to end. It was with a real sense of loss as I finally came to the end of this marvellous story which was brought to a fitting, bittersweet close.

If you enjoy epic fantasy and would welcome something different from the usual medieval era, then I recommend you track down this excellent duology which deserves to be far better known. The added bonus is that the Kindle edition for both books represents excellent value for money.
10/10

Sunday Post – 15th January 2017

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Sunday Post

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

This week was full throttle as I started back at Northbrook with the new term – the first session is my least favourite as we always have a mound of admin to wade through, but it was lovely to see everyone again. I also resumed my exercise classes – more fun and I wasn’t as stiff and sore as I thought I’d be, which was also a bonus! On Wednesday evening, I went to see a film of the live performance of The Tempest by the RSC at Stratford at the Connaught in Worthing. It was amazing – the special effects and the performances were stunning and filled me with the desire to see the real thing at The Barbican. I should have gone to the monthly West Sussex Writers’ meeting on Thursday night but the weather had other ideas. The rain turned to sleet with the forecast for snow later in the evening and I decided not venture out – I don’t do driving in snow if I can possibly avoid it. This week-end I’m grannying again, which is lovely as ever.

This week I have read:
A Symphony of Echoes – Book 2 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in asymphonyofechoessearch of Jack the Ripper, witness the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches.

But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary’s – an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.

This time-travelling adrenaline-filled adventure is every bit as foot to the floor as the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another. I enjoyed following the exploits of Max and her fellow historians as they witness and chronicle some of the most famous events in History at great risk to their lives and look forward to continuing with this series.

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash
emperorofthefirefliesKai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.

Sakami, Kai’s lover, has become a kitsune, a fox spirit. She is determined to do all in her power to save him – but is Hotaru, aided by his treacherous shikigami, Kurika, just too formidable an opponent to overcome?

This is a joy. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this vividly depicted Japanese world and quickly got swept back up into the story from where The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice left off. I love the fact that we not only get a ringside seat at what is going on with the protagonists, but we also get to know what is driving the main antagonists, too. It makes for an enjoyably nuanced tale. I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 8th January 2017

Review of The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

Teaser Tuesday featuring Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons by Sarah Ash

Shoot for the Moon 2016 Challenge – How Did I Do?

My Outstanding Books of 2016

Friday Faceoff – Nobody likes a clown at midnight… featuring Chicot the Jester by Alexandre Dumas

Review of The Falconer – Book 1 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
50 Word Stories: Breakfast Memories https://richardankers.com/2017/01/14/50-word-stories-breakfast-memories/ Another quirky offering from the talented Richard Ankers

Inspirational F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes http://logicalquotes.com/f-scott-fitzgerald-quotes/
There are some really smart, enjoyably clever quotes in this post.

10 of the Best Short Literary Epitaphs https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/13/10-of-the-best-short-literary-epitaphs/ …and this one does exactly what it says…

Most Requested #6 Jan 2017 https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/most-requested-6-jan-2017/ It always makes fascinating reading to discover what is the most requested book in the Ballyroan area

Thursday Doors https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/thursday-doors-74/ This popular weekly post looking at different doors takes a slightly grim turn…

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Teaser Tuesday – 10th January, 2017

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tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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!

This is my choice of the day:
Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash
emperorofthefireflies4% Kai swivelled his head around to try to make out what had become of Masao. And as the inexorable pull of the outgoing tide tugged Kai further out to sea, away from the contours of the familiar shoreline, he saw a white-haired man crawl out of the receding tide. Naked, water streaming from his body, the distant figure pushed himself up to hands and knees on the damp sand. As Kai stared, he saw color flood into the man’s long white hair, turning it as dark as if someone had poured a pot of ink over his head.

BLURB: Kai and Masao, once enemies, are now condemned to the sea by the Tide Dragons’ Sacrifice. If Hotaru, the new emperor, is unable to summon the Tide Dragons of Ebb and Flood at the Autumn Moon Festival, he will forfeit the right to rule Cipangu. The two Sacrifices face a desperate race against time to free themselves from this ancient curse before Hotaru binds them with forbidden magic to obey his will – forever.

Sakami, Kai’s lover, has become a kitsune, a fox spirit. She is determined to do all in her power to save him – but is Hotaru, aided by his treacherous shikigami, Kurika, just too formidable an opponent to overcome?

I read and reviewed the first book in this Japanese epic fantasy adventure here, so when Sarah Ash let me know the second book is now available, I rushed over to Amazon and snapped it up. Now I’ve reacquainted myself with the story and the stakes involved, I’m settling in for another slice of this wonderful world.