Category Archives: military fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Garrison Girl – Book 1 of the Attack on Titan! series by Rachel Aaron #Brainfluffbookreview #GarrisonGirlbookreview

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I like Rachel Aaron’s writing – see my reviews of Fortune’s Pawn and Nice Dragons Finish Last – so when I saw her name on this one, I immediately requested it. I had no idea the world was set in a very successful manga series. And frankly, I offer up this nugget of information as a point of interest, because if I hadn’t told you – other than the rather indigestible info-dump right at the beginning, you wouldn’t know.

An original novel, with all-new characters and a new story set in the world of Attack on Titan! Fans of the series and readers alike will enjoy this immersive and engaging experience of the pop culture phenomenon and manga mega-hit.

With the last vestige of the human race threatened by unstoppable carnivorous giants, a brave young woman decides to defy her wealthy family and join the military to fight against humanity’s enemies. But Rosalie Dumarque soon finds out that bloody sword fights with monsters aren’t the only dangers faced by the Wall Rose Garrison. Can she earn the trust of her fellow soldiers, stand up to a corrupt authority, navigate a forbidden romance…and cut her way out of a titan’s throat?

Aaron is accomplished at dropping us into a situation and giving us all the necessary details as we go along, so that rather tedious opening info-dump is out of character. I’m guessing it was a stipulation by the publishers, it certainly feels that way… Once that is out of the way, this one picks up the pace. We are largely in the viewpoint of Rosalie, who has been raised to honour the military tradition of her noble family and is determined to do more than marry and continue the bloodline.

I love the setting of the wall and the steampunk feel to the gizmos that assists the soldiers in the insanely dangerous business of killing the titans. Any other wound the monsters suffer from, they can regenerate – doubtless fuelled by all the human flesh they keep gobbling at any available opportunity.

Rosalie has first to surmount the hurdle of being accepted by her fellow soldiers as she appears in an immaculate dress uniform and far too much luggage, whereas most of her comrades in arms are desperate refugees who watched their friends and family eaten. It makes for a rocky start… I like her idealism and determination to do her duty. It would have been all too easy to make her some heroic, adrenaline-fuelled protagonist who excelled when alongside her poor, commoner companions – and I’m very glad Aaron resisted the urge to do so.

The action scenes are well written, with plenty going on. While I realised early on there would be a romantic thread, it doesn’t impact too much on the gritted struggle to keep the titans at bay. I like Jax, but my favourite supporting characters are Willow and Emmet, who are part of Rosalie’s team. They are a lovely pair of warm-hearted characters with a tragic backstory, who I really cared about.

I had sort of guessed how the climax and denouement would pan out – and I was utterly wrong. It was far more gritty and shocking. The story was wrapped up satisfactorily, but I was left with a lot of questions about the titans, which the book raises but doesn’t remotely answer. I guess that’s okay – it is, after all, the first in the series. Will I be interested in reading more of this world? Absolutely. The world ravaged by ravenous giants makes for page-turning adventures. Recommended for fans of action fantasy with plenty of fighting and a side-order of romance.
8/10

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#Sunday Post – 12th August, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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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.

I have been busy rewriting the second book in The Arcadian Chronicles series, Mantivore Preys, as I’d like to be able to self-publish the first three books about a telepathic alien in close succession. Other than that, my blogging buddy Mhairi spent Monday with me, as we loaded up the corrected proofs for the paperback version of Running Out of Space. And on Wednesday the print proof copy arrived! I leapt around the house, whooping with excitement and as luck would have it – I was able to show it off to my sister, when we met up for lunch, as well as some of my writing friends. Brenda prepared us the most delicious meal on Wednesday evening with lots of lovely veggie dishes. On Thursday evening, I went to Chichester Theatre to see a performance of the world premiere of The Meeting – a really interesting play about a Friends’ Meeting House and how they react when a fleeing soldier pitches up in their midst…

On Friday, some of my students had planned to have a picnic at Marine Gardens in Worthing and invited me along. In the event, we were a select group – and we certainly weren’t picnicking as gale-force winds and torrential rain battered the coastline. We ended up in the café, chatting about writing, the world and everything over a yummy bowl of homemade soup. And on Saturday, Himself, my sister and I went for a walk along the River Arun in Arundel – I love the sound of the wind in the reeds…

I got a nasty shock this week. During our cosy catch-up on Wednesday, my sister demonstrated her new blood pressure machine on me. Then blinked and did it again, as it turns out my bp is way too high. I eat sensibly, don’t drink or smoke so I’m guessing the culprit is my very sedentary lifestyle and the fact the weight has crept back on. Before I go to the docs, I’m going to give myself a month where I try to get it down with a regime of exercise and losing those extra pounds that have rolled back onto my hips and tummy when I wasn’t looking. Watch this space!

This week I have read:

Pirate Nemesis – Book 1 of the Telepathic Space Pirates series by Carysa Locke
Mercy Kincaid is a fugitive from her own family. Her dangerous telepathic gifts make her a target. So is anyone she gets close to. When her best friend is captured and tortured, Mercy’s only hope is to reunite with the family that tried to murder her as a child. She trusts few among her blood relatives, but finds herself intrigued by an enigmatic and dangerous killer.

Reaper has spent a lifetime watching his people die. He’s vowed to kill anyone who jeopardizes their survival. Mercy’s gifts are the biggest threat they’ve faced in eleven years, since a biological weapon nearly annihilated the pirate colonies. But Reaper realizes her talents can either destroy them, or save them.
Entertaining space opera adventure with a really nicely creepy antagonist.

 

Hero at the Fall – Book 3 of The Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
When gunslinging Amani Al’Hiza escaped her dead-end town, she never imagined she’d join a revolution, let alone lead one. But after the bloodthirsty Sultan of Miraji imprisoned the Rebel Prince Ahmed in the mythical city of Eremot, she doesn’t have a choice. Armed with only her revolver, her wits, and her untameable Demdji powers, Amani must rally her skeleton crew of rebels for a rescue mission through the unforgiving desert to a place that, according to maps, doesn’t exist. As she watches those she loves most lay their lives on the line against ghouls and enemy soldiers, Amani questions whether she can be the leader they need or if she is leading them all to their deaths.
I loved the first two books in this entertaining sand and sorcery series – see my review of The Rebel of the Sands – and wanted to find out how it all finishes, given how very high the stakes have become. Review to follow.

 

Garrison Girl – Book 1 of the Attack on Titan! series by Rachel Aaron
An original novel, with all-new characters and a new story set in the world of Attack on Titan! Fans of the series and readers alike will enjoy this immersive and engaging experience of the pop culture phenomenon and manga mega-hit.

With the last vestige of the human race threatened by unstoppable carnivorous giants, a brave young woman decides to defy her wealthy family and join the military to fight against humanity’s enemies. But Rosalie Dumarque soon finds out that bloody sword fights with monsters aren’t the only dangers faced by the Wall Rose Garrison. Can she earn the trust of her fellow soldiers, stand up to a corrupt authority, navigate a forbidden romance…and cut her way out of a titan’s throat?
Action-packed and engrossing debut to this interesting series. I will be reviewing this one tomorrow.

 

Anachronism – novella by Jennifer Lee Rossman
It’s the same old story: Time traveler meets girl, time traveler tells girl she’s the future president, time traveler and girl go on a road trip to prevent a war…

Petra Vincent is at the end of her rope – or rather, the edge of a bridge. Her world is falling apart around her and she sees no way out of the meaningless existence the future has in store. But when stranded time traveler Moses Morgan tells her that she will one day lead the country out of the rubble of a nuclear civil war as President of the United States, she’s intrigued – and when another time traveler starts trying to preemptively assassinate her, she realizes Moses might be telling the truth…
I loved this foot-to-the-floor adventure and rather lost my heart to Petra, the despairing young woman who discovers she has a shining destiny – if only she can survive to fulfil it. And there’s that twist… marvellous stuff!

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 5th August 2018

Review of The Backworlds – Book 1 of The Backworlds series by M. Pax

Teaser Tuesday featuring Garrison Girl – Book 1 of the Attack on Titan series by Rachel Aaron

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Salvation’s Fire: After the War – Book 2 of the After the War series by Justina Robson

Review of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Friday Face-off – Behind every mask… featuring The Masked City – Book 2 of the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

Review of novella Anachronism by Jennifer Lee Rossman

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

50 Ways to Reward Yourself http://www.bryndonovan.com/2018/07/30/50-ways-to-reward-yourself/ Okay – put your hand up if you have recently given yourself a proper treat – no… I’m not talking about scoffing a sticky bun that you shouldn’t be eating, anyway. I’m talking about a proper reward to acknowledge an achievement. Hm. Thought so… you need to read this, then.

The Wordwitch: A Writer’s Life in Pictures – July http://melfka.com/archives/2864 I love these clever drawings – they don’t just sum up Joanna’s writing life. Many of us have the same issues…

Mash ups – it could work! https://lynns-books.com/2018/08/07/mash-ups-it-could-work/ I loved the idea of some of these – the idea of The Shining mashed with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe had me cackling with laughter…

Face Lift https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/08/06/face-lift/ Apparently we are hard-wired to recognise faces – but this is taking that ability too far, I feel…

A Short Introduction to the Haiku https://interestingliterature.com/2018/08/08/a-short-introduction-to-the-haiku/ We all know about this verse form, given we write these at school – right? Wrong, apparently – it’s not that straightforward, for starters…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and have a great week.

Teaser Tuesday – 6th August, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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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:

Garrison Girl by Rachel Aaron
1% “I was wondering when you’d come,” he said, reaching to turn down the oil lamp that was flickering on the shadowed side of his writing desk. Rosalie took that as evidence he’d started working before the sun rose. Her father didn’t sleep through the night very often anymore. Not since the fall of Maria.
“Leave us,” he told the butler.
The old servant bowed and left. When the door clicked softly behind him, Rosalie took a deep breath. “Father, I—ˮ
“No.”

BLURB: An original novel, with all-new characters and a new story set in the world of Attack on Titan! Fans of the series and readers alike will enjoy this immersive and engaging experience of the pop culture phenomenon and manga mega-hit.

With the last vestige of the human race threatened by unstoppable carnivorous giants, a brave young woman decides to defy her wealthy family and join the military to fight against humanity’s enemies. But Rosalie Dumarque soon finds out that bloody sword fights with monsters aren’t the only dangers faced by the Wall Rose Garrison. Can she earn the trust of her fellow soldiers, stand up to a corrupt authority, navigate a forbidden romance…and cut her way out of a titan’s throat?

I’d like to claim that as my granddaughter loves manga novels, I’d got hold of this one to see why. But I can’t. It’s a complete accident that I discovered as I got around to opening it up that it is part of an on-going Attack on Titan! series. So why did I request this one? Because of the author. Rachel Aaron has written the entertaining space opera Paradox series – see my review of Fortune’s Pawn as Rachel Bach, as well as the successful Heartstriker series, see my review of Nice Dragons Finish Last. I’m looking forward to this one – because whatever else happens, I know I’m in capable hands.

Review of Dreams of Gods and Monsters – Book 3 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor

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I really enjoyed the other two books in this series – read my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone here. Would this, the final book in the series, bring this gripping story to a sufficiently satisfying ending? Because, given the scope and epic tone of this adventure, the conclusion needs to be a resounding finale and anything less simply won’t do.

dreamsofgodsandmonstersOnce upon a time, an angel and a devil pressed their hands to their hearts and started the Apocalypse. When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and in the skies of Eretz… something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

You see what I mean? This isn’t a book that is able to end on a whimper – it has to go out on a bang. So does Taylor deliver? Oh yes. Her larger-than-like style encompasses betrayal, brutality, double-crossing and vengeance, as well as convincingly portraying the searing love between Akiva and Karou, which is a lot more difficult to successfully achieve than she makes it look.

Taylor niftily introduced new plotlines into each book featuring new characters, alongside the main protagonists we had already bonded with, which could have ended in a muddled mess in less capable hands. And in this book, we meet up with Eliza, plagued with nightmares of terrible creatures since she was a child. I really enjoyed following her journey and trying to work out exactly where she would fit into the overarching narrative. What this did, during most of the book, was give us a human scale for the immense, world-changing events that were sweeping through Earth and Eretz – and no,  I didn’t see the plot twists coming that pulled the story into the finale. Another favourite character is Akiva’s grim half- sister, Liraz, whose journey throughout the series has interestingly mirrored Akiva’s own narrative arc. Taylor’s skill in handling her progression to her final position in the book demonstrates both her adept writing and her innate understanding of these epic, feral characters she has created.

While there isn’t quite so much of the blood-soaked brutality that characterised Days of Blood and Starlight – see my review here – there is still plenty of full-on action. And once again, the humorous interchanges between Karou and her bestie Zuzana provided some light relief – even if the jokes are somewhat mordant.

But the more I think about all the elements that go towards that finale, there isn’t a dangling thread, or a misstep that has me wincing – it is all satisfying resolved, for good or ill. However whatever you do, don’t pick this book up if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of the first two in the series. Taylor provides sufficient clues that you won’t be left adrift, but even so, this series deserves to be read in the correct order.
10/10

Review of Antiagon Fire – Book 7 of the Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

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The hard-won battles fought in Imager’s Battalion have earned the imager Quaeryt a promotion to commander, as well as an assignment to convince the stiff-necked Pharsi High Council in the nation of Khel to submit to Lord Bhayar’s rule. Joined by his pregnant wife, Vaelora, who is also Bhayar’s sister, Quaeryt leads an army and a handful of imagers, deep into the hostile lands once ruled by the tyrannical Rex Kharst.

antiagonfireAnd that’s part of the rather chatty blurb. I read the first three books in this series and thoroughly enjoyed them, then lost track of the subsequent books – until I noticed this one on the shelves. So I haven’t read Imager’s Battalion – if you have, then I’d skim-read the first chapter which effectively fills in the subsequent storyline. I’d like to say  it wasn’t rather clunky – but it was. However Modesitt’s normally smooth prose resumed once we dived into the main story.

I like the way Modesitt builds up the world by the constant dripfeed of small details as his main character, Quaeryt, tries to get through this adventure without getting himself killed. While keeping the inevitable death toll down… It’s always a challenge depicting a really powerful protagonist with awesome abilities without it becoming an anti-climax. After all, if you have the capability to collapse buildings and sink ships, then you’re not exactly vulnerable, are you? So why would the reader really care? Except – I did. I really wanted Quaeryt to succeed in his dream of a united continent where the downtrodden peasants who make up the majority of the population would have a chance of a fairer life. Where the law protected everyone – not just the rich and powerful. Where imagers would have a safe, stable retreat where they could hone their skills and live with others of their kind, rather than become powerful tools of tyrants, constantly under threat.

As well as his ideals and his guilt at the deaths he’s caused when unexpectedly finding himself serving in the army – the other attractive trait Quaeryt displays is his love for Vaelora. She has unique abilities of her own that haunt her, the gift of being able to see into the future. It often surfaces at times of stress or great danger as a warning, but Vaelora is terrified of confiding in Quaeryt in case she changes his actions or behaviour such that the future timeline she envisages doesn’t come about… It creates a fair amount of tension between them, despite their obvious affection for each other.

Modesitt is good at depicting a strong relationship without turning it overly sugary – the domestic conflict points and minor disagreements work nicely at highlighting their equality in a world where women are so often abused chattels. It makes the final climactic moments of the book far more meaningful, giving a memorable finish to this accomplished slice of adventure in the series.

Any grizzles? Hm. One that became increasingly annoying throughout the book… As the historical setting is late mediaeval, they travel everywhere on horses. We get details about the weather, the state of the roads, how comfortable and clean their lodgings – and next to nothing about the horses, apart from a couple of throwaway sentences on how fond Quaeryt has become of his loyal mare. Anyone who has ever travelled anywhere on a horse for any length of time will know their temper and pace varies from day to day. This sometimes depends on the weather – they are invariably a lot more skittish on a windy day, or when bad weather is approaching; they will be stiff and sore if the going underfoot is rough; travelling through woods tends to cause them to spook at shadows or unexpected noises; and each animal will have its foibles anyhow. Given how well Modesitt depicts his world through the little things, I found this omission a real shame – it wouldn’t have taken too much more to have added this layer on an otherwise convincing world. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker – I enjoyed too much about this accomplished addition to the Imager series.
8/10

Review of The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove

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I’ve been promising myself this treat for a while – though what with one thing and another, I simply didn’t get around to it. But based on the other offerings in this intriguing godpunk series – see my review of the Age of Aztec here, and my review of The Age of Ra here – I was in for a thoroughly enjoyable read. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, this isn’t a series where you need to read these books in any particular order. The only common theme is that they are about a pantheon of gods – each story is set in a completely different world with unrelated, disparate protagonists.

ageofodinGideon Coxall was a good soldier but bad at everything else, until a roadside explosive device leaves him with one deaf ear and a British Army half-pension. So when he hears about the Valhalla Project, it’s like a dream come true. They’re recruiting former service personnel for excellent pay, no questions asked, to take part in unspecified combat operations. The last thing Gid expects is to find himself fighting alongside ancient Viking gods. The world is in the grip of one of the worst winters it has ever known, and Ragnarők – the fabled final conflict of the Sagas – is looming.

Gideon bounces off the page right the start. His sarcastic commentary on the ashes of his life after his terrible accident pulled me in and had me fiercely on his side – which is just as well, because as the story progresses he does some unpleasant things. Of course he does – this is war. And Lovegrove isn’t going to provide us with all the military excitement through some prism that sanitises the bloody brutality of it all. Be warned – Lovegrove also isn’t afraid of killing off main characters.

However, I learnt several books ago, if you relax into the journey and trust this author, he doesn’t disappoint or let you down. And once more, he majorly delivered. This world of the Norse gods has Odin, haunted by past mistakes and grittedly determined not to let the forces ranged against this diminished version of Valhalla get the better of them. I loved that Odin’s pragmatic attitude means they now use mechanical means instead of some of the dire beasts of the past. So the Valkyries swoop across the snowscape on souped-up snowmobiles, and the fabled eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, is replaced by a huge helicopter. It doesn’t mean that all magical creatures are gone, though. The Jotun, the ice giants, are all too evident in this world, as are trolls and packs of ravenous wolves.

Lovegrove weaves a tale of desperate odds and savage encounters – not dissimilar to the flavour of the old Norse legends, themselves. And it is this echo of the original myths that makes Lovegrove’s godpunk such a joy. His style allows readers to easily access his stories on the level of joyous adventure – but there are also tongue-in-cheek allusions and humorous extras for those who know the gods and their stories well enough. As you may have gathered, I’m something of a fan – and this book has only increased my  appreciation of this author. In my opinion, he’s one of the sharpest, best writers in speculative fiction we have. Don’t take my word for it – go and track down one of his books and see for yourself…

10/10

Review of Blood of Tyrants – Book 8 in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

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I have enjoyed this unusual alternate history series for two reasons – firstly, I’m a sucker for dragons and secondly, Novik’s handling of the main characters has been imaginative and skilful. She has managed to provide Termeraire and Laurence with a variety of challenges and different landscapes as they have roved across the planet trying to survive, or halt Napoleon’s ambition. See my review of Victory of Eagles here, my review of Tongues of Serpents here and my review of Crucible of Gold here.

Shipwrecked in Japan, along with no memory, Laurence quickly draws attention and becomes untangled (sic) in political intrigues blood of tyrantsthat could not only prove deadly to him, but also destroy England’s position in the Far East. Old enmities and suspicions have turned the region into a powder keg, and Temeraire’s search for his captain may unwittingly ignite the gunpowder, providing new enemies for Britain just when they most desperately need friends. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, Emperor Alexander, and is leading an army of unimaginable size to the gates of Moscow.

And there you have most of the back cover blurb – complete with spelling blooper… Shame on the editor who let that through – if traditional publishers cannot even provide a faultless cover, they are thoroughly letting down their authors. However, in fairness, I don’t recall seeing any mistakes within the reasonably long book. But then I was seriously engrossed in the story…

This is, for my money, one of the best instalments in this long-running series for a long time – and as you’ll see from my reviews, this isn’t to say that any of the books have been bad. But I loved the opening, which immediately took us away from the familiar scenario. And while Laurence and Temeraire have been separated in the past, Laurence’s amnesia takes him back in time to before he met and bonded with Temeraire – so the crisis in their relationship is that Laurence isn’t even aware of what he has lost. As ever, Novik’s restrained 19th century feel in her prose still managed to depict all the emotional undercurrents which means that I really care about the protagonists and remain hooked by the storyline.

I love Temeraire, anyhow – the impulsive, hot-headed nature of the dragons always comes across very clearly. But if you haven’t read this series before – don’t begin at this point, go back to the first book Temeraire – while Novik is far too skilful to keep any stray readers adrift for long, there is so much enjoyable, riveting backstory you are denying yourself if you plunge in that this point in the narrative arc. However, while listening to Temeraire squabbling with Iskierka may lull you into a sense of their charming contrariness – seeing how the Russian ferals behave also provides an insight into why the Russian military treat their dragons with such savagery. It comes from fear…

This book tips into the beginning of one of the most remarkable and terrible times in history – Napoleon’s foray into Russia. This dragon-added version is no less gripping – and those of you who may have some knowledge of the historical facts will appreciate Novik’s exhaustive research and clever weaving of fact with fiction that has been the hallmark of this series. As for me – I was bitterly disappointed when the book came to the end, which is always a symptom of a really good read – and very much looking forward to the next slice of Laurence and Temeraire’s adventures. If you haven’t come across this series, I highly recommend it.
10/10

Review of Banners in the Wind – Book 3 of Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution by Juliet E. McKenna

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This is the final instalment in this intriguing series where McKenna decided to see what would happen if the downtrodden masses and squeezed middle men revolted. And, no, I’m not guessing about this – I happened to be at Bristolcon this year when McKenna gave a fascinating talk on her world. She is an articulate, intelligent speaker and if you get a chance to meet her, take it. You won’t be disappointed.

A few stones falling in the right place can set a landslide in motion. That’s what Lescari exiles told themselves in Vanam as they plottedbanners to overthrow the warring dukes. But who can predict the chaos that follows such a cataclysm? Some will survive against all the odds; friends and foes alike. Hope and alliances will be shattered beyond repair. Unforeseen consequences bring undeserved grief as well as unexpected rewards. Necessity forces uneasy compromise as well as perilous defiance. Wreaking havoc is swift and easy. Building a lasting peace may yet prove an insuperable challenge.

And there you have the blurb – congratulations on whoever wrote it, by the way. It’s a relief to read a back-of-the-book taster that doesn’t feel obligated to give away half the plot… So, the question has to be – after the tumult of the pitched battles, does McKenna manage to convincingly tie up the host of loose ends still waving in the wind along with those banners? Well for my money, this book is the best of the trilogy. This was always an astoundingly ambitious project – to depict a full blown revolution through the viewpoints of six characters.  McKenna succeeded so well because she is an experienced, skilled writer whose epic Fantasy has always been character-driven.

However, this series is not something a reader can skim through. McKenna has taken care to ensure all six characters are widely differing, but several of them are constantly on the move – as would be the case in a war. So that means, with a couple of exceptions, the backdrop to much of the action, especially the battles, is also changing.  In addition,  there is a host of other characters constantly processing through the story. It really took me until halfway through Blood in the Water, the second book in the series, to slow up my reading pace sufficiently to ensure I was able to fully absorb what was happening. The advantage of immediately picking up Banners in the Wind straight afterwards was that I was already in Lescari mode from the start and fully in touch with all the characters.

This is the book where the stakes are at their highest. As the death toll has steadily mounted, I really cared whether the revolutionaries managed to bring about any peace in Lescar. Because if they haven’t managed to do so, then a lot of lives have been ruined and lost in vain. It wasn’t a surprise to learn that McKenna studied history – the political powerplays and unintended consequences of apparently good ideas rang all too true. And her depiction of the damage to all those involved in the revolution also feels very realistic – this is no romp where everyone gets to swash their buckles with a witty chortle on their lips. This is a gritted, desperate business brought about by a group of individuals who simply felt they had no choice.

The themes that were started in Irons in the Fire are still being played out here – the nature of power, who has it and who is desperate to hold onto it; as the struggle continues, what rules of engagement get broken – this particularly applies to magic. The Archmage has expressly forbidden the use of magic in warfare – however, the speed and convenience that magic can provide proves to be far too tempting for this edict to be obeyed by either side. And it is this aspect of her world that McKenna continues to explore in her latest trilogy.

Meantime, she manages to bring this trilogy to a satisfactory, if not wholly tidy conclusion – which is just fine. Revolution is a messy, bloodsoaked business that hurts both the innocent and guilty, and it is a measure of McKenna’s writing skill that this final book is such a gripping, engrossing read.
10/10

Review of Blood in the Water – Book 2 of The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution by Juliet E. McKenna

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Following on from Irons in the Fire, this is the second book in this interesting fantasy series, where McKenna attempts to chart a revolution from its inception through to the consequences in a more realistic, nuanced manner than the typical high fantasy – bad, evil Emperor/undead King has arisen after centuries of having been forgotten and the current, good populace and Ruling Family have to scramble to catch up, etc, etc….

Those exiles and rebels determined to bring peace to Lescar discover the true cost of war. Courage and friendships are tested to breaking point. Who will pay such heartbreaking penalties for their boldness? Who will pay the ultimate price? The dukes of Lescar aren’t about to give up their wealth and power without a fight. Nor will they pass up some chance to advance their own interests, if one of their rivals suffers in all this upheaval. The duchesses have their own part to play, more subtle but no less deadly.

blood_in_the_water_250x384That’s the blurb – and for starters, congratulations on all involved for not muddling the term ‘blurb’ with ‘synopsis’. I’ve become really fed up with the slew of books I’ve read recently that have given away major plot spoilers on the back cover – nothing of the sort going on here, I’m delighted to report.  So, the first question has to be – has McKenna succeeded in accurately depicting an uprising organised and funded by a handful of well-meaning people in a politically complex situation? The answer is ‘yes’. McKenna’s strength is world-building. She manages to produce a character-led story about a world with a labyrinthine historical and political backstory. While in the various viewpoints of her cast of characters, McKenna manages to lay out the various factions, each with a divergent set of loyalties driven by feuding, ambition and fear. We see how the conspirators begin to quarrel as events roll forward – and, importantly, we also see how the war affects protagonists on both sides of the conflict.

The story structure works well as the initial scene setting inevitably takes some time – something that didn’t bother me. What I did enjoy was the way the narrative pace steadily built to the series of gripping, well written battle scenes, which in no way glorified the business of warfare and its consequences. I particularly liked the premise that as the campaign wore on and the stakes became higher, those involved became ever more willing to consider less honourable tactics. The use of magic in the book was well handled. I liked the sense of discomfort shown when a scryer learnt intimate personal information leaked by his fellow magic user – it was also a handy device for keeping the plot moving along and giving the reader different takes on the same situation.

In a cast of characters of this size, there is inevitably going to be one or more who stand out from the crowd. I really enjoyed Litasse and her gutsy reaction to her numerous reverses of fortune. The other character particularly well drawn, is Ameril. It is always difficult to portray a character who has a severe disability and McKenna conveys his physical frailty and pain convincingly without holding up the plotline.

Any niggles? Given the scope of the book and the number of protagonists, it is a very big ask for all to work equally well. While McKenna has all the military and political machinations impressively nailed, I felt less convinced about some of her characters’ private lives. The relationship between Tathrin and Failla seemed rather lifeless in an environment where personal feelings tend to be heightened by the danger. I was also rather confused as to the scope and severity of Branca’s injuries at the end of the story. But, taken as a whole, these are minor concerns set against what the book is trying to achieve. It is an ambitious series that largely succeeds and I’m looking forward to reading the final instalment.
9/10