Category Archives: mages

Review of INDIE Ebook TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier #Brainfluffbookreview #Tuyobookreview

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I’ve loved this author’s writing – her series The Griffin Mage is one of my all-time favourites and still stands out in my memory – see my review – and Black Dog. So I was delighted when the author contacted me and asked if I would provide an honest review, in return for a copy of the book.

BLURB: Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined. Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?



REVIEW: Right from the start of this engrossing story, I was pulled right into the middle of Ryo’s plight. He has been left as a sacrifice in the hopes that their enemy will exact his revenge upon the young warrior, allowing the rest of the warband to escape into the wilds of the forest. So we start with Ryo waiting for his fate and wishing he could take back his angry words to his older brother, who’d made the painful decision to leave him. While also hoping that he doesn’t disgrace himself by buckling in the face of torture and trying to prepare himself for the upcoming encounter. However, in the event, he isn’t remotely ready for who he ends up facing…

This thoughtful, beautifully written fantasy adventure explores a clash of cultures and does a fabulous job of fully unpacking what it actually means to be in the hands of a sorcerer capable of going into your mind and altering your mental landscape, seeding false memories and changing your loyalties. While I’ve seen this form of magic used before – I cannot recall such a clever and thorough examination of the consequences of it. I was completely convinced of the threat and genuinely gripped as the stakes continued to be raised. Neumeier’s pacing and handling of her cast of characters, in addition to her wonderful worldbuilding – something she excels at – held me throughout. Very highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well written fantasy that is genuinely different.
10/10

May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffMay2020Roundup

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I recall I said something to the effect that there had never been a month like April in the whole of my life – except that May was exactly the same. Eerily so. Staying at home and seeing no one else, other than Himself. Though we did drive across to my daughter’s house and deliver her bike, so she could also cycle with the children. It was bittersweet seeing them after such a long time and I’m hoping this month, with the easing of the lockdown, I might once more be able to be a regular visitor, again. The weather continues to behave as if we are in July or August, further skewing the sense of abnormality. But thank goodness for books and writing projects!

Reading
I read fifteen books in May, but as I also broke off to read a couple of my own books on editing runs, that did impact on my general reading time. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, so there were no DNFs. They were:

Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit series by Christopher Fowler
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – see my review
Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold – see my review
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik – this is my outstanding read of the month
AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor – this is my outstanding audiobook read of the month
Night’s Tooth – Tales of the River Vine novella by Jean Lee
Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey
The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Writing
I finished the first draft of my Wordmanship Handbook – How to Write Convincing Characters, which went really well. While I had intended this to be part of a series, I decided that if I found it too much of a trudge, then it would be a standalone, but it ended up being quite a lot of fun to write. So during the year I am hoping to write at least another book in the Wordmanship series. The handbook aspect of it – with a quick checklist so an author can tick off possible issues as they go, either during the writing phase, or during an editing run – ended up being about the right length, too.

I then turned back to Mantivore Warrior to do the first editing pass. This is always slightly nerve-wracking. Once I’ve gained a bit of distance, I can work out whether it’s a hot mess, or if it hangs together. And as it is the first book that I thoroughly plotted before I started, I was keen to see how it held up. And I’m delighted – those fixes I put in last month strengthened the overall narrative, so there was only one major addition and then it was a question of smoothing the prose and looking for mistakes.

So once again, it’s been a wonderful writing month. Overall, I wrote just under 43,000 words in May, with just over 15,500 on the blog, and just under 26,000 on my writing projects.

Blogging
The big event during May was Wyrd and Wonder 2020, which I discovered thanks to Tammy from Books, Bones and Buffy. It was about alll things fantastical and I really enjoyed taking part. Huge thanks go to Imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa from Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for all their hard work and effort throughout May to make this such a success.

I hope everyone is managing to keep well and healthy, both physically and mentally – the situation has been a strain on everyone, not helped by some dodgy decisions by those in charge. Take care and stay safe.x






Friday Faceoff – Tears come from the heart and not from the brain… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffSorrowcovers #WyrdandWonder2020

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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 SAD covers.

I’ve selected Miranda and Caliban by Jaqueline Carey, see my review, which I absolutely loved and broke my heart. And yes – I’m aware there aren’t many covers and those there are don’t provide much variety. But the brief was to find a cover that made me sad. I don’t read many sad books these days – not if I can avoid it, but this is one of the most heartbreaking, beautiful books I’ve ever read. I am linking this post to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.


This edition was produced by Tor Books in February 2017. It is haunting – and yes, we are talking Miranda and Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s an odd play with a fantastic setting and a disturbing undercurrent, which Carey takes full advantage of in her fabulous book. This muted, stolen embrace sums up the situation between these two lost, lonely souls in this fabulous retelling and I think it’s beautiful.

 


Published in January 2018 by Tor Books, this less muted version (you couldn’t really call it colourful, could you?) makes a surprising difference. But I think, on balance I prefer the first cover. The highlighting of Miranda’s face seems to emphasise the difference between them, while the reality is that they are startlingly alike.

 

This Audible edition, published by Tantor Audio February 2017, is my least favourite. It is two characters, with the same colouring and design, but seeing their faces staring out at us robs the cover of a great deal of its power, I think. However, we still get a sense of their sadness… Which is your favourite?




Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over #five5-starbooksin5wordsx2 #BrainfluffWyrdandWonderChallenge2020

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The aim of this one is to select five of your all-time favourite books and sum each one up in five words as part of this year’s Wyrd and Wonder challenges. I read this fun challenge on one of my fellow blogger’s site (sorry – I made a note of who it was, then lost it…) and decided that I really, really wanted to have a bash at it. Then Himself also wanted a go and so I’ve added his choices, too.

My Selection

 

Among Others by Jo Walton
Battle-scarred schoolgirl seeking solace.
See review…

 

How to Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Naughty dragon trains small Viking.
See review…

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Heroic quest – or is it?
See review…

 

Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett does religion. Profound silliness.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
Mother’s mission – rescue her daughter.
See review…



Himself’s Selection

 

Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein
The first, greatest epic fantasy

 

The Curse of Chalion – Book 1 of the World of the Five Gods series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Tattered hero dies three times.

 

Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Vimes’ timeloop saves his family.

 

Furies of Calderon – Book 1 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Powerless hero surviving powerful world.

 

Dead Heat – Book 4 of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs
Ancient werewolf visits old friend.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Crownbreaker – Book 6 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell #Brainfluffbookreview #Crownbreakerbookreview

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This is a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed – here is my review of Spellslinger. For those of you who are interested, or have already read the series – here are my subsequent reviews for Shadowblack, Charmcaster, Soulbinder and Queenslayer.

BLURB: Once an outlaw spellslinger, Kellen Argos has made a life for himself as the Daroman Queen’s protector. A little magic and a handful of tricks are all it takes to deal with the constant threats to her reign. But when rumors of an empire-shattering war begin to stir, Kellen is asked to commit an unimaginable act to protect his queen.

To be honest, I have been putting this one off. I did have some issues with the previous book, Queenslayer, and given that Crownbreaker is the final book in the series. I was concerned in case de Castell didn’t bring this memorable series to a fitting conclusion. However, my worries were soon put to rest when I encountered that amazing opening to the book, signalling that de Castell was back to form. When he is at his best, there aren’t many who can rival his twisty plotting and the ingenious methods Kellen finds for getting out of difficult situations.

Of course, given that it is the last book in the series, there needs to be an even bigger threat to overcome and it is posed in the form of an incipient war. Everyone is keen for Kellen to step up and assassinate a key player on the grounds that this will prevent the political situation from escalating further. Kellen, despite having killed a string of people, is very reluctant to take on the job. While he has high-flown ideas about his refusal, I’ve noticed throughout the series that when someone requires him to undertake a task, he often finds reasons not to accede to their wishes – it’s called demand avoidance and it’s a trait teachers are only too aware of…

Despite the raised stakes, it’s striking that even in this final slice of an event filled, action-packed series, the tone hasn’t darkened appreciably since the first book, which is unusual. Normally several books down the line, everything is a whole lot more sombre – just think of the Harry Potter series, for instance. I appreciated the same chirpy interplay between Kellen and his murderous squirrel cat, which is largely responsible for keeping the tone lighter. The difficult relationship Kellen has with his family also comes to a head and is resolved in this book, in a totally unpredictable manner. I thought the ending worked well and all the plotpoints were tied up satisfactorily. And while I am sad that I will no longer be going on any more adventures with Kellen, I celebrate the fact that the whole series was safely brought home in a manner that does justice to such a quirky, enjoyable protagonist.
9/10


A reminder that the Kindle edition of Running Out of Space is still FREE – just click on the cover on the sidebar to claim it

Sunday Post – 2nd February, 2020 #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.

This week was the first since Christmas which was just routine – and I was very grateful for it. I’ve now recovered from my stomach upset, other than the occasional uncomfortable twinge. Other than that, so far we are both okay healthwise, which is a plus with all the nasty colds and illnesses going the rounds. I taught Tim as usual on Monday, which went well. Though I missed Pilates – again! Something always seems to come up on a Monday afternoon, but at least I made Fitstep on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, Himself and I had breakfast together at the Look and Sea centre, enjoying the river views, although I’m not convinced by the refurbishment. At least the food was good. On Friday, I spent the day with my daughter and little Eliza, who is full of cold. I had a lovely time with them both and also managed to stay long enough to see the older grandchildren, too. Yesterday I worked all day on an editing project with a friend and had a lazy lie-in this morning, listening to a lovely audiobook…

Last week I read:

Bone Silence – Book 3 of the Revenger series by Alastair Reynolds
Two sisters ran away from home to join the crew of a spaceship. They took on pirates, faced down monsters and survived massacres . . . and now they’re in charge. Captaining a fearsome ship of their own, adventures are theirs for the taking. But Captain Bosa’s fearsome reputation still dogs their heels, and they’re about to discover that, out in space, no one forgives, and no one forgets . . .
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It was a really solid finish to an unusual and dark-toned space opera adventure that featured on a sibling relationship, rather than a romantic one.

 

Crownbreaker – Book 6 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell
Once an outlaw spellslinger, Kellen Argos has made a life for himself as the Daroman Queen’s protector. A little magic and a handful of tricks are all it takes to deal with the constant threats to her reign. But when rumors of an empire-shattering war begin to stir, Kellen is asked to commit an unimaginable act to protect his queen…
I have thoroughly enjoyed this quirky fantasy series featuring a young failed mage and his ferocious squirrel cat, so put off this one in case it didn’t bring the whole adventure to a proper conclusion. However, I needn’t have worried – it was wound up with plenty of adventure and flourish, leaving me with a lump in my throat. Review to follow.

 

Ribbonworld – Book 1 of The Balcom Dynasty series by Richard Dee
Miles Goram has a problem. All the down-on-his-luck journalist planned on doing was writing a hotel review and now there’s a body in his bathroom. Far from home on a strange planet, Miles must deal with the fact that somebody wants him dead. Welcome to Reevis, a planet without days or nights where life is only possible under a vast pressure dome.
The murder mystery was well plotted, though nothing extraordinary – but the worldbuilding of the ribbonworld described in this story was amazing.

 

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.
I really enjoyed this twisty space opera thriller, which really drilled down into what it means to have your brain chemistry altered to suit society’s needs. Review to follow.

 

My posts last week:

Friday Faceoff featuring Foreigner – Book 1of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Bone Silence – Book 3 of the Revenger series by Alastair Reynolds

Series I Completed in 2019

Sunday Post 26th January 2020

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

My Favourite Books of 2019 https://notesfromareaderholic.com/2020/01/20/my-favorite-books-of-2019/ I got a shoutout with my reviewing hat on, as someone who regularly recommends authors Jan enjoys reading. Even better – Mantivore Dreams made her list of favourite reads of the year! Thank you, Jan😊.

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #7: Chosen https://platformnumber4.com/2020/01/22/fantastic-find-at-the-bookstore-7-chosen/ Becky clearly has a nose for finding books – but this is remarkable discovery…

5 New Poetry Collections to Watch Out For https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2020/01/29/5-new-poetry-collections-to-watch-out-for-4/ This award-winning library site is always worth a visit…

The Benefits of Sensory Deprivation for Writers https://writerunboxed.com/2020/01/27/the-benefits-of-sensory-deprivation-for-writers/ I particularly noticed this one, as I’m writing a character whose senses of smell and colour are heightened – and found it fascinating reading…

Splitting a Novel http://melfka.com/archives/30282 As someone who has frequently felt obliged to perform major surgery on my manuscripts, it was interesting to read someone else’s experience…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Series I Completed in 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedin2019

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The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of Malessar’s Curse duology by Stephen Poore
The duology takes the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy, gives them a jolly good shake and tips them out… I loved the way we find the protagonist is as much the most convenient fool in the neighbourhood as the special chosen one. And that she discovers in the second book that most of the assumptions she’d made in The Heir to the North were wrong. Disastrously so, as it happens. Both The Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are highly recommended – despite the dodgy covers.

 

The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
This epic fantasy comprises The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm, A Plague of Swords and this concluding book – The Fall of Dragons. This high fantasy swords and sorcery adventure is chockfull of action with the battle scenes being particularly outstanding. Cameron wears armour and takes part in historical martial arts – and his own experience means he writes those aspects very well. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy and brilliant battle scenes.

 

 

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
This gave the whole series an enjoyable twist as a huge development occurs in this particular book that is a complete gamechanger. I’ve loved following the feisty Lady Trent through all her adventures, comprising A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – as well as this final instalment. This is historical fantasy adventure is completely original take on dragons and is very highly recommended.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
You’re going to think I mostly read five-book series… But once I finished this military sci fi thriller, where a mercenary teams up with a discarded sentient warship, published in 2012 by Baen, I was really sad to see there were no other books featuring these two likeable, battle-scarred characters. The series comprises Jump Twist Gate, an omnibus edition of the first two books – One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back – review to follow. Highly recommended if you like your military sci fi on the quirky, thoughtful side.

 

 

The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve always enjoyed the sheer mapcap energy that pings off the page with Williams’ writing, but this trilogy is where she showed what she could really do in this genre mash-up, where science fiction and fantasy collide in a magnificent shower of sparks… This series comprises  The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, in addition to The Poison Song. Very highly recommended.

 

 

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso
I loved these books right from the first line onwards. Caruso pulled me right into the middle of her delightful world, where each magic-user needed to be bound to a controller. So what happens when this happens by accident, rather than by design? The intense, assured writing won me over, and it was with real pain that I took the decision that this one couldn’t make the final cut in my 2019 Outstanding Reads list. This series comprises The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir as well as The Unbound Empire. This YA fantasy is very highly recommended.

 

 

AUDIO The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This outstanding children’s alternate fantasy, where people who have died in troubled circumstances turn into feral ghosts who are capable of appearing at night and killing the living. And only children are able to see and fight them… Lucy tells her gripping tale throughout these books, which are funny, poignant and genuinely frightening in places. This series comprises The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow as well as The Empty Grave. This outstanding series is very highly recommended.

 

 

A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
It’s the world that Hunter has created here that makes this one stand out. I’ll be honest – I think the first book is the best one. But I’m glad I also read the other two, as they added breadth and depth to this intriguing and complex version of Regency Britain, where Christianity never prevailed, Roman gods are acknowledged and the country is still a patchwork of smaller kingdoms loosely united by treaties. This series comprises The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick in addition to A Season of Spells – review to follow.

 

 

AUDIO How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Written for reluctant readers, this children’s epic fantasy adventure featuring a small, very ordinary-looking Viking boy, who isn’t all that good at most of the Viking pasttimes. And whose hunting dragon is very small and very, very naughty drew me in from the first by the sheer quality of the characterisation and plotting. I have read these adventures to both children, until they both decided they wanted to complete the books on their own. So I finally finished listening to the last handful of books on my own. Hiccup’s exploits were funny, gripping and ultimately absolutely heart-breaking, so I wept as I listened to the epilogue of this instalment, feeling like I’d lost a cherished friend. This series comprises How To Train Your Dragon, How To Be a Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero as well as How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. Very highly recommended for children of all ages, who believe in dragons ages…

 

The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog recommended this series – and I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky urban fantasy adventure with a difference. Letty the foul-mouthed fairy who bounces right back became a solid favourite with me. This trilogy comprises Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel as well as The Violent Fae. Recommended for urban fantasy fans who are looking for something different.

 

 

 

AUDIO The Last Olympian – Book 5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This children’s re-telling of the Greek myths, updated and made fresh when told through the eyes of young dyslexic half-blood, Percy Jackson. Frankie absolutely loved this series and so I thought I’d better discover what all the fuss was about. This clever, entertaining series comprises Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth as well as The Last Olympian. Highly recommended for those who enjoy teenage coming-of-age fantasy adventures. I didn’t review any of these books on my blog, as I felt most of what I had to say had already been covered about this very popular series.

 

 

AUDIO Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, with forewords written and narrated by Stephen Fry
This marvellous collection of the four novels and all the short stories provided over seventy hours of quality listening as I was decorating the bathroom during the summer. I broke it up, listening to other books in between each of the six sections, stretching it out as long as I could – so it was with a real sense of loss that I finally arrived at the last section. Overall, I was impressed at how well much of Conan Doyle’s canon stood the test of time, although there were a handful of horribly racist stories I simply skipped.

These were the series I completed during 2019. I’ll be posting another article charting those I’m intending to continue throughout 2020. What about you – have you read any of these and did you enjoy them, too?

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyofMagickbookreview

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I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, The Midnight Queen, which charts the fortunes of Sophie and Gray and if you haven’t yet read this first book, then I recommend you do so before plunging into this one.

BLURB: In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magickal knowledge can finally be nourished. But she must put her newly learned skills to the test sooner than expected. All is not well in the Kingdom of Alba, and before long the Marshalls find themselves beset by unexpected dangers.

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to divulge – I read a stream of reviews complaining on how the pace dragged in the first half of the book, which I found rather surprising. Until I read the blurb after I finished the book and realised that it gave away a major plotpoint that occurs just over halfway through the book – which the author clearly intends to come as a nasty surprise to the reader. However, not if you started the book expecting it to crop up from the first page…

Hunter does a good job of depicting a world where Christianity didn’t gain ascendancy, so there are a variety of religions, including some of the Roman deities and a lot more, besides. Latin is the lingua franca and magic is part of the everyday, though not everyone has magical ability and as we are in an alternate Regency period, women don’t have much agency, though if they are particularly magically gifted they do have more opportunities.

Hunter is a beguiling author – when I’m in the middle of her tales, I find I’m swept along by the intensity of her writing and the nuanced characterisation. It wasn’t until I put this one down with a sad sigh and had cleared my head a little, I realised that the lassitude that afflicted two of the main characters did flatten the pace of the story at times – and I’m not sure how that could have been avoided.

I did thoroughly enjoy watching Joanne coming into her own and finding her feet, after all the hardship and emotional turbulence of the last couple of years. I do like the spiky relationship she has with her sister, and also the sense of loss she feels now that Sophie is no longer there. She is the character who comes to the fore and is by far the most successfully depicted in this book, I think. Not that any of the characters fail to convince – apart from her portrayal of a complex, conflicted world, Hunter’s strength is her characterisation.

While I don’t agree that the pace drags during the first half, I do think that the game-changing climactic scene in the grove near the end is a tad rushed. But I am definitely going to continue reading this enjoyable, engrossing series – it’s worth it for the worldbuilding alone… Recommended for fans of Brit-based fantasy with roots in our rich, historical past.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Queenslayer – Book 5 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell #Brainfluffbookreview #Queenslayerbookreview

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series to date – see my review of Spellslinger here, so was delighted to discover that the fifth book was already out – and even more delighted when Himself made me a present of it…

BLURB: Kellen and Reichis have just finished fighting a duel in the desert when Kellen inadvertently smears blood on the Daroman flag – an act of treason for which the Marshals have no choice but to arrest him. Just before he’s put before the Queen to be executed, Kellen is given a strange piece of advice from one of his fellow prisoners: kill the Queen and he’ll be given clemency by those who take power. But when Kellen comes face-to-face with the eleven year-old monarch, he realises she’s vastly smarter than he expected – and in a great deal more danger.

I settled back into this one with joyous expectation as Kellen was every bit as sneakily desperate and Reichis as snarkily bloodthirsty as before. Kellen is now confronted with court politics and to be honest – he’s way outside his comfort zone. As he tries to keep himself, his squirrel cat and a number of other random folks alive, he finds himself up against all sorts of foes. Including his sister… By now, there is a hefty backstory that has built up and my firm advice is not to jump into this series midway, but go back to the beginning and savour all the magical madness and mayhem from the first book, Spellslinger.

Kellen now has a major mission – he is trying to find a cure for the magical affliction that is dogging his steps and will leave him dying horribly. So he views all the court politics with a certain amount of detachment, until he’s forced to get involved or watch an innocent be killed… I followed the twisting plot with great enjoyment, until about two-thirds of the way through the book there was a certain incident involving a mage, poor old Kellen and a serving girl. I found it very shocking – as did he, so I expected it to be a major gamechanger. It wasn’t – not really, given that while he was shaken and talked about it changing everything, that was as far as it got.

The trouble was, this was just such a major issue that all the ongoing problems Kellen was facing shrank in the face of it and when yet the next round of survival shenanigans kicked off, I found I was a lot less involved.
To be honest, I’m not sure whether it’s me, or if the pacing and narrative arc is really compromised, but while I didn’t dislike what came next, I found I was a lot more emotionally detached from the rest of the story. It was wound up with de Castell’s usual flourish and I definitely want to the read the final instalment, but I think this book is the weakest of the series so far.

It says a lot for the overall quality of the Spellslinger series that this book still earns a reasonable score. The series is recommended for fans of adventure fantasy featuring an accident-prone protagonist and regular dollops of humour.
7/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidnightQueenbookreview

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I’d like to take credit and claim that I was the one that stumbled across this gem – but it was Himself, once again, who unearthed this enjoyable read, though if I’d come across it, I certainly would have succumbed, given the gorgeousness of that cover…

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented – and highest born – sons of the kingdom are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover . . .

Gray’s Britain is a fragmented kingdom of many tongues, many gods and many magicks. But all that concerns Gray right now is returning as soon as possible to his studies and setting right the nightmare that has seen him disgraced and banished to his tutor’s home – without a trace of his powers. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

That is the start of this story – we’re tipped right into the middle of the disastrous expedition that impacts so badly on Gray’s life, to the extent that I did wonder a couple of times whether this was the second book in the series. I’m conscious that some readers don’t enjoy this approach, but I happen to love it – so long as I’m not left floundering for too long – and I wasn’t. While I enjoyed the characters – Gray’s diffidence and cleverness are well portrayed in third person POV – what particularly enchanted me is the world.

This version of Britain doesn’t have Christianity sweeping through the country and wiping away the variety of pagan religions that proliferated before. So there are mentions of the Roman pantheon, along with several of the old Celtic deities and magic is also tied up with the worship of them. The historical era is Regency and while the story isn’t particularly original, there are plenty of twists and turns that held me right to the ending.

There is a slow-burn romance bubbling away throughout and if the book had been all about that, then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but as the viewpoints swing between the two main protagonists, Sophie and Gray, with a few extra characters giving their points of view from time to time – we get to see their relationship mature. This is a main subplot to the narrative driving the story – that of a shadowy conspiracy against the Master of Merlin College, that, perhaps goes even higher than that…

I found this one difficult to put down as the sense of tension held me throughout and while many elements of the plot were familiar, I enjoyed how Hunter played with our expectations and tweaked some of them. The climax of the story was suitably exciting and all the dangling plotpoints were all tidied away very neatly – a tad too neatly for the first book in a series, I felt. Because there is no way that I believe His Majesty is going to be content to let things lie as they’ve been arranged – but I’ll have to read the next book to see if I’m right, which I’m looking forward to doing. Recommended for fans of British-based fantasy with a splash of romance.
8/10