Category Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheUntoldStorybookreview

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I have been a huge fan of this series – see my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, The Dark Archive and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. So I jumped at the chance to read this latest and last episode in Irene’s adventurous journey.

BLURB: Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.

REVIEW: Not only does this story have to deliver yet another interesting and twisty plot featuring Irene and her comrades in her ongoing task to carry out the Library’s wishes – it also has to successfully wrap up this series. Irene has intrigued me, as being admirably self possessed. And throughout all her entanglements with both fae and dragons, she has kept her head and dealt with life-threatening emergencies with a capable coolness. This sets her apart from those heroines, who flap around in a soup of self doubt and end up backing into situations they’re not prepared for.

However, the previous adventure in The Dark Archive finally punctured her confidence, as she was told a shocking fact that has her questioning all her core beliefs. This is the book where she has to deal with the fallout. So Irene sets out on an adventure, with the support of Kai, Vale and Catherine to discover the truth of what is going on. And yes – it’s a somewhat far-fetched story, but Cogman tells it with skill and conviction and I’m quite happy to suspend my disbelief. Partly because in amongst all the adventures and unexpected discoveries, Cogman looks at the human drive to tell stories and how it can affect the way the the world is formed. As I have always been fascinated by the way some small children start weaving imaginative narratives almost before they are able to talk, this theme really chimed with me.

Even more importantly, Cogman brings this series to a successful close. I was happy with the future stretching before Irene and Kai, which doesn’t prevent further adventures, if Cogman wants to revisit the Library again at some stage. Indeed, I hope she does. I’ve loved this series and I’ll particularly miss dashing between worlds alongside Irene, while she sorts out book-related problems. Or mediating between the Fae and dragons. In the meantime, I can always reread this delightful portal fantasy series and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – it comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Untold Story from Netgalley via the publishers, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMarvellousLightbookreview

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I loved the look of this cover – and the fact it was a historical fantasy was a further inducement. So I was very pleased when I was approved for the arc.

BLURB – truncated: Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the very chatty blurb and my advice is not to read it before tucking into this one. Marske is a talented writer who immediately pulled me into the story right from the beginning with that shocking Prologue – and her assured characterisation of Robin, whose attitude and outlook immediately convinced me that he belongs in this particular era.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the magic. Marske effectively sets up the world where magic is largely hidden by those without any talent. And while her depiction of close-knit magical families who are highly protective of their bloodlines is a familiar device, she manages to weave it within the rigid class system of the time very effectively. There are some delightful touches of humour, particularly when Robin is visiting Edwin’s family home for the first time, where Marske’s writing is vividly sharp and funny. It would have been wonderful if that level of humour continued throughout, but as the stakes kept on getting higher, I wasn’t surprised that the tone became grimmer.

I thought the growing feelings between the two men was beautifully handled. It would have been all too easy to have lost pace and tension with the conflict powering the narrative by focusing on the relationship, which is a pitfall that Marske avoids. Indeed, until about two-thirds of the way into this book, I was rapt as the pages turned themselves – and convinced I was reading another 10/10. And then we hit the first sex scene. I was completely unprepared for the very graphic descriptions of the same-sex encounter, which went on for pages and pages. By the end of it I was a bit fed up.

These days, I’m not particularly interested in books with heavy sexual content – not that I think there’s anything wrong with them. But I’m not at a stage of my life where I find them enjoyable or diverting, so I generally avoid those types of reads. Most of the time, it’s easy – there’s a cover featuring a scantily dressed protagonist pouting in a perfume ad pose. Or the blurb includes words such as steamy, or erotic. I went back to check whether I’d missed those hints – and I hadn’t, because they weren’t there. There’s a thriving sub-genre of historical fantasy adventures with added romance where there isn’t a graphic anything. I know – I’ve been reading a fair number of them during the last year. And I assumed this was yet another of those. But this time around there are three extended, highly detailed sex scenes that I ended up flipping through.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I didn’t DNF the book – but I was hooked on the magical adventure, invested in the characters and wanted to know how it would be resolved. Marske provided some nice twists that brought a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. However, I have knocked a couple of points off my initial score, because the graphic sexual content significantly dented my enjoyment of the overall story and I would have appreciated more warning in the blurb about their existence. While I obtained an arc of A Marvellous Light from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Fireskybookreview

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I’m a sucker for dragons – which is rather stating the obvious, given that I’m in the middle of writing a series allll about the trials and tribulations of Castellan the Black. So I loved the cover and the description of this book, and was delighted when I was able to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.

Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book in the series until I went looking for the details, as de Jager does a really good job of giving snippets of Stratus’s eventful backstory when it’s necessary. However, I assume that in order to get the best from this draconic adventure – the ideal would be to go and pick up Infernal before tucking into this offering.

While I did enjoy this book, I will mention that it is on the darker side of the fantasy genre. It is liberally splashed with gore throughout – Stratus has a suitably ferocious appetite and his diet isn’t remotely vegetarian. The magic featured is also particularly nasty, as the villainous wizards are necromancers which means they are up to their necks in death spells. While there are flashes of rather dark humour, I did break off in the middle to read something a bit lighter as I found the relentless violence and constant death a bit difficult to cope with. But do bear in mind that I’m dealing with Long Covid, so I’m not really looking for dark and doomy. That said – at no time was I tempted to stop reading this one.

Stratus is a wonderful character. He is in human form, but de Jager nails the aura of difference that surrounds him. At no stage in this longish book (544 pages) did I ever forget that Stratus is a dragon. It’s well done. Indeed, while de Jager isn’t an elegant writer – there were times when I was yanked out of the story because of the odd sentence construction, particularly in the beginning – he writes with passionate conviction. His descriptions of his apocalyptic settings are gripping and viscerally evoked, given that we see them through the filter of Stratus and his perceptions. The other impressive aspect of Stratus’s characterisation is that although his actions are often brutal and unpleasant, I was always firmly on his side. That’s a tricky balance to achieve – and one that de Jager triumphantly pulls off.

I loved the story arc and the fact that the pace and tension never let up throughout. And I also particularly enjoyed the ending. All in all, this is an entertaining, enjoyable read – and if you are a fan of epic fantasy on the darker side, then give this one a go. Stratus is a character that I shan’t forget in a hurry. While I obtained an arc of Firesky from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Risenbookreview

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I’ve followed the increasingly dire fortunes of poor old Alex Verus since the beginning – see my reviews of Fated (Book 1), Veiled (Book 6), Burned (Book 7), Bound (Book 8), Fallen (Book 10) and Forged (Book 11). So I was delighted to be able to get a Netgalley arc for this, the final book in the series, Risen.

BLURB: Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack. Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves?

REVIEW: In addition to being the twelfth book in the series, this is also the final instalment of Alex’s adventures. So as well as providing yet another gripping adventure, Risen has to provide a fitting and satisfactory ending to this popular, long-running series. I would add that if for any reason you haven’t read any of the books, or have missed out a few – please don’t tuck into this one unless you’ve at least read Fallen and Forged, or you won’t fully appreciate the enormity of what Alex has gone through. Unlike many books in a series, I cannot claim that you won’t understand what is happening – Jacka is very adept at ensuring the reader does know some of the backstory to what is going on. And as a result, this one took a bit of time to get going.

I didn’t find this a problem, as I felt this was also in line with Alex’s character development. After all, he is facing his imminent death due to a lethal magical infection – so it makes sense that he is thinking about how he got to this stage and who is responsible for the mess he’s in. I’ve always been impressed with Jacka’s characterisation of Alex as a divination mage – the way his ability to see into the future very rapidly wanes as the possibilities multiply is spot on. And while it does give him some advantages in a fight, given he often has lacked the weaponry of other mages, avoidance and nudging others into making mistakes has generally been his only way to survive. So how can this play out in a massive pitched battle against some truly terrifying beings – his former girlfriend being one of the most lethal adversaries?

By now, Alex has become equipped with some mighty tools of his own. And his first-person narration as someone who now has the ability to wreak revenge upon the disturbingly long list of people who have badly twisted his life in the past, is masterful. Alex has never been the cuddliest of protagonists – and this time around, his aloof persona that tries to keep everyone at a distance rings absolutely true. So that by the time it all kicked off, I was completely invested in the story and desperate for Alex to be able to succeed – though that seemed to be an impossible dream.

I was also very aware that Jacka doesn’t flinch from killing off established characters, if it serves the story – and there are losses during the battle that made me wince. So in addition to providing a gripping, action-filled plot – does Jacka also bring this series to a fitting conclusion? Yep. It completely works for me. I’m sorry to see the end of this classy, well-written urban fantasy series – but so glad to see the story safely landed. Very highly recommended for fans of the series. While I obtained an arc of Risen from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The King of Koraha – Book 3 of the Archives of the Invisible Sword series by Maria V. Snyder #BrainfluffNEWRELEASEreview #TheKingofKorahabookreview

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I’m a real sucker for Sand and Sorcery tales. There is something about the mind-twisting nature of much of the magic amidst those desert backdrops that reels me in. And I enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining series so much I pre-ordered this one, which isn’t something I do often. So would I enjoy this final book in the trilogy?

BLURB: Hard on the heels of trouble in Zirdai city, Shyla Sun-Kissed and Rendor are ordered to report to the King of Koraha – a summons that is deadly to ignore. The King holds the key to Koraha’s existence, but a formidable new enemy threatens Koraha’s very survival and the King desperately needs Shyla and Rendor’s help.

Wielding a terrifying and unknown magical power that can convert opponents into devoted soldiers, the mysterious army is hellbent on usurping the crown. Shyla and Rendor are tasked with discovering who in the seven hells these insurgents are. And what their real endgame is.
Trekking through the punishing conditions across the searing surface of Koraha, and facing numerous unseen foes and untold danger, they must follow the clues to uncover the truth before it’s too late. The fate of the King and all the citizens of Koraha rests in their hands…

REVIEW: While I’m sure there’s plenty in this one to enjoy if you happen to pick this one up without having read The Eyes of Tamburah and The City of Zirdai, as Snyder is an experienced author who knows what she’s doing – it would be a huge shame if you didn’t put it back down and get hold of the first two books before tucking into The King of Koraha. All the books are packed full of adventure and incident and while Shyla and Rendor’s adventures in this story are riveting in their own right, knowing what has gone before gives the action and some of the characters extra heft.

I really loved this one. Throughout the series, Shyla has been in some tough situations, poor soul – but this time around, Snyder confronted her with a doozie that had my jaw dropping. I didn’t see that one coming! And while I was still spluttering over the nasty twist and horrible change in her fortunes, it just went on getting worse and worse… By this stage, I was absolutely hooked – no chance of putting this one down before discovering how it all works out.

Snyder’s bouncy, energetic style keeps the tension and pace nicely tight while Shyla is trapped. We also get some lovely descriptions of the underground cities she ends up visiting and interesting insights into how they vary in coping with the killing heat of the sun. All without losing any momentum. At no time was I tempted to skim the worldbuilding, which is a testament to the strong writing, given how invested I was in a certain plot twist. Of course, it’s all well and good providing a cracking adventure – but this book also had to put the trilogy to bed in a satisfactory manner. And again, while I’m very sorry this book is the end of such a wonderfully entertaining series – Snyder brought it all to a strong conclusion. All in all, this was a wonderful, immersive adventure and fitting ending to a delightfully entertaining trilogy. Very strongly recommended for Sand and Sorcery fans.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #World’sEdgebookreview

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Over the last few years, I’ve become a solid fan of Hair’s writing – see my reviews of the Olympus trilogy, Athena’s Champion, Oracle’s War and Sacred Bride which he co-wrote with Cath Mayo. I was also fortunate enough to be approved to read an arc of the first book in this adventure, Map’s Edgesee my review here.

BLURB: Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.

Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first book, Map’s Edge, I strongly advise that you do so before tucking into this one. The action picks up right where Map’s Edge left off and you’ll probably be floundering at the start. That said, if you did read the first book a while ago and can’t quite recall all the important details, Hair has thoughtfully provided a very useful ‘Story So Far’ which handily jogs the memory. However, I don’t recommend that you rely on it instead of reading the first book – you’ll lose far too much of the detail, nuances and sheer energy of this cracking fantasy adventure for that to be a remotely satisfactory substitute for the actual book.

Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the unfolding emergency as two cultures collide. One group is on the run from a powerful regime committed to stamping their own way of doing things onto the subjects of a recently defeated nation, while the other group is the remnant of a mighty magical people responsible for the environmental catastrophe that has overtaken the planet. Hair explores this fascinating dynamic through a number of vivid, well written characters whose adventures and experiences had me reading far later than I’d intended. And at a climactic part of the story, my stomach was churning as I kept turning the pages – which doesn’t happen all that often.

I loved the directions in which the story went – and while there are some villains in the story that I loved to hate, I could understand why they made the choices they did. It takes a storyteller with power and charisma to provide that depth of characterisation and clarity of vision within a narrative crammed with action. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this one since I put it down – the powerful characters and the discovery of a lost civilisation has resonated with me. Very highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy full of memorable characters, a riveting setting and a twisting plot full of action. While I obtained an arc of World’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffNEWRELEASEreview #Array2781bookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Janet Edward’s books – see my reviews of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra.

BLURB: Array 2781 is the second of three full-length novels set immediately after the short story ‘Hera 2781’.

Drago has now learned the secret that his Betan clan has been hiding for almost a decade. He’s currently alternating between moods of pitying his second cousin and fighter team leader, Jaxon, and wanting to strangle him.

They both have to put their feelings aside though, and concentrate on using lumbering solar array transport ships to help with the repairs of the five Earth solar arrays, because Earth is critically short of power. Fortunately, repairing solar arrays is perfectly routine work, so Drago definitely can’t get into trouble.

REVIEW: I’ve had the pleasure of reading both the short story ‘Hera 2781’ and Hestia 2781 see my review – which deal with events leading up to this book. And while I definitely recommend that you get hold of both of these books as they are stormingly good reads, if you did happen upon this one and decided to dive in without having read the previous books, I don’t think you’d flounder. Edwards does an excellent job of giving sufficient information without silting up the pace.

Picking up this one reminded me all over again just how much I enjoy Edwards’ bouncy, upbeat writing style. There is an energy and optimism in her work that is so often missing in sci fi writing, which often deals with the worst-case scenarios. That isn’t to say there aren’t disasters and action adventure within this book – they’re there, alright. But it is far more about the people who strive to do the best in difficult circumstances, rather than concentrating on those who are only out for themselves.

The main protagonist, Draco, could so easily have come across as a bit of a Gary Stu – he comes from a rich, well-connected family, can charm the stars out of their solar systems and is classically handsome. But without having him seem unduly victimised or whiny – Edwards also demonstrates that those traits can also be a major disadvantage. It’s cleverly done and a lot harder to achieve than Edwards makes it look. She is also adept at providing all sorts of details about the solar array that powers Earth in 2781, without any of it coming across as remotely boring. It reminds of when she took us on all those futuristic archaeological digs in Earth Girl, which had me rapt. As I read this one the pages turned themselves, until I was approaching the final chapter with dread as I didn’t want the adventure to end – which is always a sure sign I’m reading a well crafted story with charismatic characters, moments of humour and a cracking plot.

Very highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate science fiction that isn’t painted in shades of dread. I was provided with a review copy of Array 2781 by the author, which in no way has influenced my honest, unbiased opinion.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Every Song a Star – Book 2 of the Ascendance series by Jay Posey #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EverySongaStarbookreview

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I am a fan of Posey’s writing – see my reviews of his Outrider series – Outriders and Sungrazer. So I was delighted when last year I had the opportunity to read and review Every Sky a Grave, which took his writing to a new level – would I enjoy the next book in the series as much?

BLURB – Truncated: Far in the future, human beings have seeded themselves amongst the stars. Since decoding the language of the universe 8,000 years ago, they have reached the very edges of their known galaxy and built a near-utopia across thousands of worlds, united and ruled by a powerful organization known as the Ascendance. The peaceful stability of their society relies solely on their use of this Deep Language of the cosmos.

Elyth—a former agent of the religious arm of the Ascendance, The First House—is on the run after the events of Every Sky a Grave, when she and the fugitive Varen Fedic exposed the darker side of Ascendance hegemony on a planet called Qel. Though she just wishes to put the past (and Varen) behind her, she is soon tracked and cornered by the Ascendance agents – will she manage to escape?

REVIEW: Don’t read the full blurb for this one – it contains far too many spoilers regarding Elyth’s initial adventures. And if you have picked this one up without having first read Every Sky a Grave, it’s not a major problem. Some time has passed since the events of the first book, and Posey is sufficiently skilled that you can quickly work out what is going on without needing to know about Elyth’s previous adventures. That said – I think this is an outstanding series, so I’d advise that you read it, anyway.

As with the first book, I was struck by Elyth’s nuanced and subtle characterisation. She is very capable, but spends a lot of time quietly observing from the sidelines – and such characters are tricky to write. It’s all too easy to make them appear overly passive, or plain boring and Elyth is neither. It doesn’t hurt that once again, I was swept up in the cracking story, full of adventure and tension. Which meant I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on for a large portion of the book – other than it wasn’t anything good…

But who is responsible? Could it be the recklessly dangerous Varden? Or maybe one of the scarily clever scientists working for the ruthless organisation partly responsible for running the Ascendance. And amongst the elite team put together to investigate this latest crisis were some thoroughly likeable people who I didn’t want to see either hurt, or find out they’re the villains. Posey’s vivid descriptions of the rogue planet brought the landscape to life in all its threatening beauty. And he has the knack of writing routine so that it’s still gripping, which gives the action scenes extra shock value when they appear to come from nowhere.

All in all, this was an outstanding read. I got to the point where I had nearly finished the book and I didn’t want such a thoroughly satisfying reading experience to end – and that’s when I know I’m in the middle of something special. Very highly recommended for all science fiction readers – and those who enjoy a gripping adventure. While I obtained an arc of Every Song is a Star from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fall of the Argosi – Book 2 of the Ferius Parfax series by Sebastien de Castell #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #FalloftheArgosibookreview

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I absolutely loved the Spellslinger series – see my reviews of Spellslinger, Shadowblack, Charmcaster, Soulbinder, Queenslayer and Crownbreaker. So I jumped at the opportunity to catch up with crafty old Ferius Parfax in this second slice of her adventures, in this spinoff of the original series, where we discover where Ferius comes from and what happened to her, before she encountered young Kellen.

BLURB: New to the ways of the Argosi, the tribe of wandering philosophers who seek to defeat evil by wit and guile, Ferius Parfax encounters a hideous plague – the Red Scream. Highly contagious, caught by the hearing of a deadly verse, it turns its victims into mindless monsters that destroy all human life they come into contact with. With the help of a deaf boy whom she has saved from two horrifying victims of the plague, she sets out to find the source of the Red Scream and overcome it’s terrifying power. Along the way she is joined by another Argosi, Rosie, who purports to be so much wiser and more adept than Ferius, but who turns out to have her own dark secrets.

REVIEW: It turns out that I’ve missed out on the first book charting Ferius’s adventures – Way of the Argosi – something I’ll need to rectify soon, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the Spellslinger novels so far. But I didn’t flounder too much as Ferius is an old friend. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Spellingslinger books, I don’t really think it matters. As this adventure takes place well before Kellen comes onto the scene, you certainly won’t have any trouble working out what is going on. And for those of you who do know the series, then there are all sorts of little gifts along the way – mostly to do with Ferius’s mannerisms that drive her pupil crazy a lot later on.

Back to this adventure – I absolutely loved it. The author knows the protagonist inside and out and it shows. There is a heady mix of major danger, huge emotional stakes and snarky humorous dialogue to lighten the load. I also enjoyed the constant references to the principles of the Argosi way of life, as well as the difficulty in attaining them. It provided an interesting philosophical backdrop to the ongoing drama – where someone who thinks they’re doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, up until they fall off a moral ledge and plunge into terrible evil. Given the stakes, I enjoyed the ongoing discussion throughout the book as to what is the right way to cope with evil.

I’m conscious that I may have given the impression that this book gets caught up in major questions of Right and Wrong – but there’s so much more going on. The story cracks along at a fair pace, so that I kept waiting for the action to ease up a tad, allowing me to put it down and get some sleep. And I didn’t… One of the main reasons why this book is such a page turner, is that we don’t just have one strong female character, but two. Given what a vivid, arresting personality Ferius is, I was also impressed at just how much Rose jumped off the page. She could so easily have been a thoroughly wicked character, instead of the interestingly nuanced, flawed personality that was depicted. Add to the cast list a mute child who only signs in an archaic language, and a stubborn horse – and the adventure has the same quirky humour that I’d come to expect from de Castell’s Spellslinger series, despite the very high body count and bloody action.

I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Ferius and learning more about this infuriating, enigmatic character who dominated so much of the early Spellslinger books. And whether you’ve read them or not – this fantasy adventure comes highly recommended. While I obtained the arc of Fall of the Argosi from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of ARC Given to Darkness – Book 2 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams #BrainfluffARCreview #GiventoDarknessbookreview

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I enjoy Phil’s quirky writing – see my reviews of his Ordshaw series – Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae. So I was delighted to also tuck into the first book in this duology last year, Kept in Cages and when Phil contacted me and asked if I’d like a review copy of Given to Darkness, I was delighted.

BLURB: Ikiri demands blood. Whose will it be?

A malevolent force stirs from the heart of the Congo. One child can stop it – but everyone wants her dead. Reece Coburn’s gang have travelled half the world to protect Zipporah, only to find her in more danger than ever. Her violent father is missing, his murderous enemies are coming for them, and her brother’s power is growing stronger. Entire communities are being slaughtered, and it’s only getting worse.

They have to reach Ikiri before its corruption spreads. But there’s a long journey ahead, past ferocious killers and unnatural creatures – and very few people can be trusted along the way.
Can two criminal musicians, an unstable assassin and a compromised spy reach Ikiri alive? What will it cost them along the way?

REVIEW: I’m aware the cover and the blurb make this one sound really dark. And while I cannot deny that there is a lot of mayhem and death – there is also a madcap energy running through the book that means it isn’t an unduly bleak, depressing read. Partly, the lighter tone is down to the magnificently eccentric characters. Of course the classic trope of talented child with awesome powers is personified in Zip – but in this book, she is also shown to be more vulnerable. As her father disappears off, leaving her without a backward glance, it’s down to the American musicians, Leigh-Ann and Reece, to look after her. And then, there’s Katryzna, the Russian assassin – who is now trying to adapt within this group brought together while trying to fight a terrible evil.

Of course, coping with the monsters and constant danger facing them is a major part of the book. But for me, the highlight was watching the members of the group become closer as they end up trying to protect each other. The character forced to make the greatest change is former lone killer, Katryzna. Now aware that she needs to take into account the needs of the other team members, she often ends up having loud arguments with her conscience – a character named Rurik. The dynamic is often very funny as well as poignant, without tipping into caricature. It’s a fine line and Phil walks it well.

There is also the tragedy of what has happened to Zip’s shattered family, which looms over the book in a dark counterpoint, making this one hard to put down. As ever, the action scenes pop and the vivid depiction of the dark evil crawling through the African landscape as they get ever closer to Ikiri nicely winds up the tension. And the climactic denouement doesn’t disappoint. All in all, I really enjoyed this series – Williams’ accomplished writing spins a story full of light and dark, good and evil without ever trying to be moralistic. A memorable read that is highly recommended for fantasy readers looking for something different. The author provided me with a review copy, which in no way has compromised my honest opinion of Given To Darkness.
9/10