Category Archives: Tackling my TBR

Review of The Medusa’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Mask of Medusa series by T.O. Munro

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I met the author during a late-night session at the bar at Bristolcon 2016 – a marvellous evening and it ended up with him giving me a review copy. I’m ashamed it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it…

Haunted by very different pasts, three travellers journey together across a continent riven by clashes of faith and race. Odestus, the war criminal flees from justice. Persapha, new to all things human, yearns for a way and a place to belong. Marcus Fenwell, schooled in diverse talents, seeks a future beyond a wine bottle. But past and future entwine to snare them all, for the Medusa has not been forgotten nor her daughter forgiven.

As it happens, that very snappy, non-spoiler blurb neatly sums up the ongoing structure of the book. We follow the fortunes of all three of these interesting characters as events unspool around them. This is complicated by the fact that one of the characters is in a very tricky position in a timeline ahead of when the rest of the action takes place.

Munro certainly knows how to wind up the tension as we witness one of the protagonists being interrogated in fairly dire circumstances – before switching to one of the other characters. The focus of the book is the title heroine, Persapha, who has had a very peculiar start in life, having been hatched from an egg and raised by reptiles. We are alongside as she starts to pick her way through a busy city filled with humans, who she finds difficult to understand. I found myself genuinely concerned on her behalf as the dangerously innocent girl uses her mother’s mask to try and discover what happened to her.

The magic system is skilfully handled and I really enjoyed the world, which works well. There are some nice twists in the political landscape that I appreciated and the characterisation is convincing with plenty of depth. However, I was more distanced from the main protagonists than I would have liked as Munro tends to drift out of viewpoint and into a semi-omniscient point of view. While I am aware that plenty of readers still enjoy this story-telling structure, it gives the book a slightly old-fashioned feel and left me a little frustrated. Given the depth and complexity of the characters, I would have appreciated a more immersive approach to fully hook me into the story, though this is very much a personal preference.

That said, it is still very well written with plenty going on and a gathering momentum towards the end. Before it all comes to a juddering halt. Not a single storyline is resolved – every single one of the main plotlines is left on a cliffhanger after reading over 600 pages. I am aware that a second book is in the works, but I would have liked some payoff for getting to the end of the first volume in this series.
8/10

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Review of KINDLE Ebook Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this delightful urban fantasy set in York, Vampire State of Mind – see my review here – so was delighted to see the sequel was languishing on my TBR pile.

Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he? Sil knows there s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.

This is great fun, if decidedly darker than the first book. While the humour and gags are all still there, Jessica and her loyal underpaid and overworked assistant, Liam, are bantering with a slightly desperate edge. The situation has gone from difficult to grim and it doesn’t help that the local newspaper is definitely gunning for Jessica, while the Council are as much help to their put-upon staff as a lead balloon.

I really enjoyed the sense that things have moved on since the first adventure – and that has left its mark on Jessica. I get a tad fed up when protagonists in series deal with knee-buckling events only for them to spring back to action in the next book as if nothing has happened. While obviously, the author needs to take into account that some readers (like me) regularly crash midway into a series, there should also be a payoff for the loyal followers who read all the books in the correct order. Lovering achieves this. We also get an insight in Liam’s growing problems with the long hours and poor pay – he is frankly unable to afford to keep working in the job as he is now supporting a baby daughter. It is refreshing to have a shaft of realism penetrate this essentially escapist adventure – because far too many people in this country are in exactly the same situation.

As Sil struggles to put together the holes in his memory, I was completely caught up in the story and found the plot progression worked well – I certainly didn’t see the plot twist coming or the major change in their fortunes at the end.

I notice on Goodreads that these are the only two books in this series – a shame. I do hope Lovering considers writing more. Recommended for anyone who enjoys quirky urban fantasy with a Brit twist of humour.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Local Habitation – Book 2 of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

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I read Rosemary and Rue far too long ago and when ill I came across this one on my Kindle and immediately dived into it, recalling the quality of the writing in the first book.

October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, the daughter of Amandine of the fae and a mortal man. Like her mother, she is gifted in blood magic, able to read what has happened to a person through a mere taste of blood. Toby is the only changeling who has earned a knighthood, and she re-earns that position every day, undertaking assignments for her liege, Sylvester, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills. Now Sylvester has asked her to go to the County of Tamed Lightning—otherwise known as Fremont, CA—to make sure that all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary, whom he has not been able to contact. It seems like a simple enough assignment—but when dealing with the realm of Faerie nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Toby soon discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, whose domain is a buffer between Sylvester’s realm and a scheming rival duchy. If Toby can’t find the killer soon, she may well become the next victim.

This is  a classic murder mystery where the potential victims are all within a closed environment – in this case a software systems industrial unit – and Toby is desperately struggling to discover the perpetrator before everyone is wiped out. A complicating factor for Toby is that she is not working alone – Sylvester wanted her to take along one of the young pureblood courtiers to get him out of the way. So when she finds herself pitchforked into the middle of a situation far more dangerous than she expected, she is also responsible for a youngster who has no training or preparation for this kind of assignment. Though Toby increasingly is coming to the conclusion that she hasn’t sufficient preparation for it, either…

I loved this extra insight into McGuire’s haunting, dangerous world of fae where creatures who live for a very long time are slowly failing against humanity. As for the variety of types – think of the TV show Grimm. The standout characters are brilliant, abstracted January, who is responsible for keeping her people safe and running a successful company; Alex with the red eyes, who Toby finds she enjoys being around far too much. And poor little April – a young tree dryad who escapes the slaughter of her community when the oak grove where she lives is bulldozed flat to make way for a housing estate and is found wandering alone and traumatised by Jan. She is rescued and, before she fades away, is digitised to wander around the server as a shy, ever-present entity who occasionally runs errands for the staff and spends much of her time with Jan, who she regards as her mother.

Often in this type of murder mystery, the victims are the props – no one likes or cares much about them and they are there to provide clues and possible red herrings as the investigator and reader tries to puzzle out who is doing the killing. While I didn’t particularly care about some of the characters who died, there was a real sense of loss conveyed in the story. Each one was mourned by those around them, which had the effect of both upping the stakes and creating a sense of menace as Toby tries to discover what is going on.

I guessed part of the puzzle before we got to the denouement, but that didn’t really matter, as this case was as much about the ‘why’ as the ‘how’. And the answer is something of a heartbreak. Perhaps it was because I was feeling ill, but the ending left me with a lump in my throat as McGuire’s depiction of the final funeral drew to a close. This one really packs a punch and I now need to get hold of the next book, An Artificial Night, before too much time goes by.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Language of Power – Book 4 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

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I have been reading this series throughout the year and read the final book during my bout of flu as I wanted something to take me away from the misery of feeling so ill…

A STEERSWOMAN ASKS, AND IS ALWAYS ANSWERED

The steerswoman Rowan has learned much about the master-wizard Slado: how his spells are devastating the distant lands known as the Outskirts, and how they will ultimately threaten even the Inner Lands. But she knows nothing else about him, not even why he is hiding his actions from the other wizards. He must be found, and stopped. Now, following the slimmest of clues, Rowan arrives in the city of Donner hoping to learn more about Slado’s plans. But when the answers begin coming in faster than the questions can be asked, a strange tale from the past emerges, a tale behind all the secrets of the present…

My firm advice with this particular slice of the adventure is not to read it. First, go back to the first in the series, The Steerwoman, and start the narrative there. While I’m sure you could follow this slice of the unfolding story without too much trouble, this is such a cracking series with so many clever twists and scenarios that starting here right at the end would be a real shame. Far better to begin at the start to fully appreciate this adventure.

Rowan visits Donner on the trail of the wizards – and Slado in particular. Once there, she needs to be careful as she cannot afford to come to the attention of the wizards. They have lethal powers and arcane methods of tracking people.

And once more we are tipped into the middle of a nail-biting adventure that had me gripped – while I don’t want to venture into Spoiler territory, the scene in the field with the dragons was masterfully handled and will stay in my mind for a very long time. I also loved the manner in which this magical fantasy slowly slides into science fiction. Kirstein beautifully handles the action and unfolding plot. It was also great to have her companion Bel alongside once more. They make a strong team and I missed her presence in the last story. In fact there is only one major problem for me with this particular book – it doesn’t wrap up the adventure.

Kirstein is apparently working on the next two books in the series and I am hoping that they will appear in due course. Though I’m prepared to be patient as she is now self-publishing the whole series – this outstanding adventure deserves a suitably awesome ending. In the meantime, I recommend the series so far – it’s a gem and should have far wider recognition.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook World of Fire – Book 1 of the Dev Harmer Mission series by James Lovegrove

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I had already read the enjoyable World of Water which happens to be the second in the series – and spotted that I actually had the first book in my TBR pile…

Dev Harmer wakes in a new body with every mission, and he has woken this time on Alighieri, a planet perpetually in flames, where the world’s wealth lies below the elemental surface, and humanity is not the only race after it. Dev Harmer, reluctant agent of Interstellar Security Solutions, wakes up in a newly cloned host body on the planet Alighieri, ready for action. It’s an infernal world, so close to its sun that it surface is regularly baked to 1,000°C, hot enough to turn rock to lava. But deep underground there are networks of tunnels connecting colonies of miners who dig for the precious helium-3 regolith deposits in Alighieri’s crust. Polis+, the AI race who are humankind’s great galactic rivals, want to claim the fiery planet’s mineral wealth for their own. All that stands between them and this goal is Dev. But as well as Polis+’s agents, there are giant moleworms to contend with, and a spate of mysterious earthquakes, and the perils of the surface where a man can be burned to cinders if he gets caught unprotected on the day side…

Dev is such an enjoyable character. As ever, this book starts with a bang when poor old Dev, barely able to stand as he is still getting to grips with his new body, which is very nicely described, suddenly finds himself in the middle of an earthquake. And from that moment, Dev is playing catchup on a hostile planet with some heavily vested interests in a body that isn’t his own.

This is just what I needed to keep the misery of flu in the background as I was swept up into this action thriller. Lovegrove’s sense of pacing is always good and as Dev finds himself struggling against an alien race determined to see humanity founder and fail, the pages flipped past where other books I had thought I wanted to read got abandoned. It didn’t hurt that there were also some nice touches of humour in amongst the action and danger. But I simply relaxed and became swept up in Dev’s problems. For me, the highlight was the action in the tunnel when confronting those moleworms.

Lovegrove satisfactorily brings this tale of danger to a suitably exciting close – but I did enjoy the poignancy of poor Dev, doomed to continue on these ridiculously dangerous missions in a series of disposable bodies, until he has earned the right to have his own body back. Checking this out on Goodreads, I note there are only the two books so far – I do hope there are more to come and recommend these for anyone who enjoys a well-written far future action thriller.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Wolfsbane – Book 4 of the Silver series by Rhiannon Held

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I have really enjoyed the previous books in this superior werewolf series – see my reviews of SilverTarnished and Reflected – and was delighted to see this one on my Kindle, evidently bought as a gift from Himself.

When an envoy arrives from the secretive Russian werewolf pack, Roanoke alphas Silver and Andrew Dare are instantly suspicious. Tatiana claims she has been sent to locate an heirloom, lost by immigrants centuries ago, but she and the alphas both suspect that Russia fears the strength of the newly-united, continent-spanning Roanoke pack.

This is an interesting book. Andrew and Silver are absolutely correct to be concerned about this envoy as they fall prey to an unusual form of attack and while they lie comatose, fighting for their lives, they find themselves in vivid dreams or visions where an alternative timeline prevails.

It isn’t necessarily the same timeline and there is some confusion/crossover where Andrew, in particular, knows that he isn’t really a brutalised enforcer at the mercy of an inept alpha he actually took care of years ago. And that lands him in a shedload of trouble, just at a time when he doesn’t need it. However, it is Silver’s timeline which is probably the most heart-rending. In her alternate timeline, she has escaped the devastating effects of being injected with silver, so she no longer struggles with a paralysed arm or is unable to Change. So you’d think she would be capering for joy – except the consequences for her pack having not been the one hit is catastrophic. She is whole and her family are still alive, but the cost is terrible…

Meanwhile the Russian envoy, who incapacitated these two high-profile alphas, is having to cope with some hard truths of her own. Expecting to be torn to pieces for attacking Andrew and Silver, she is shaken at the response, having been raised so very differently. While I would recommend you read the series in order, this book would make a good entry point with the flashbacks and as we follow Tatiana as she copes with the difference in customs between the Russian and US packs, we learn a fair amount about the politics in this complex, intriguing world that Held has constructed. I was also pleased to meet up with John and Susan again – they are solid favourites of mine, particularly Susan. It’s refreshing to read an urban fantasy werewolf series where the strong characters aren’t necessarily the largest and shaggiest with the sharpest teeth.

Knowing how Held can take a story and produce unexpected twists, the pages flew by as I was engrossed in this story right up to the end. I don’t think this is her best book – the visions/dreams did slightly remove that edge of danger that generally permeates these adventures. However, there was more character development and it was lovely to get back to this enjoyable, complex world. I’m very much looking forward to reading more books in this quality series.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Healer’s Touch by Deb E. Howell

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Looking for something enjoyable and interesting to read, I found this offering languishing in my TBR pile…

Llew has a gift. Her body heals itself from any injury – but at a cost to anyone nearby. In a country fearful of magic, freeing yourself from the hangman’s noose by wielding forbidden power brings dangers of its own. After dying and coming back, Llew drops from the gallows into the hands of Jonas: the man carrying the knife with the power to kill her – permanently.

Llew has had a hard time of it. Abandoned by her drunken father and swindled out of her rightful inheritance by the city authorities, she finds herself on the streets dressed as a boy and thieving to stay alive – until she steals the knife of a well-dressed stranger. And everything changes… Often protagonists appear to be able to cope with difficult conditions unrealistically – but Llew is able to soak up a huge amount of physical punishment by pulling life energy from her surroundings to heal herself. I really liked this character. She is genuinely tough, both physically and emotionally, so that when she hits hard times she tends to get on with it. Having spent six years on the streets, she is used to fending for herself and I liked the fact she is flummoxed by wearing a dress and suddenly very unsure of herself when mixing with other girls of her own age.

I also loved the premise – the healing power she generates has to come from somewhere and given she is totally untrained, it comes from any living thing within her orbit. Often in fantasy books, those objecting to magical powers seem simply prejudiced about something different. But I felt the folks that went around exterminating anyone with Llew’s powers had a point – in the wrong circumstances, she is simply lethal. Jonas is one such individual – but when their paths cross unexpectedly, he finds himself very reluctant to carry out his mission. The romance is well handled so that it doesn’t become the main issue, but acts as an engine to drive the plot forward as the classic fantasy theme – how do we treat someone with good intentions who nevertheless has the potential to be destructive – plays out.

And when someone with such a powerful gift pops up, you can bet there will be someone else all too happy to track them down and use said destructive gifts for their own ends. Sure enough, there is a powerful magic-user who is on Llew’s trail with a dark agenda of his own regarding her powers. I liked the backstory regarding Jonas and Braph’s past and how their own genetic heritage plays out in the world Howell has depicted.

I’m conscious this sounds like a purely classic fantasy tale – but Howell takes those genre tropes and gives them a spin. Llew isn’t some helpless female unable to cope without a man looking after her – indeed, she becomes part of a guard detail, herself. And while I liked and sympathised with her, I winced at the trail of damage she leaves in her wake and found it only too understandable why most of her kind have been killed. This is a well written, interesting tale that has stayed with me since I’ve read it and I highly recommend this one for any fantasy fan who enjoys a well-told adventure with some interesting twists.
9/10

Sunday Post – 15th October 2017

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

I don’t expect to have another fortnight quite like this last one anytime soon. I’m recovering from flu – but it’s taking its own sweet time to move on. In the meantime my nose is running like a tap, I have backache, tinnitus, headaches and a temperature and I’m really fed up with feeling this lousy. Oh, and on Wednesday, I self-published my first novel, Running Out of Space. Needless to say, the launch was very lowkey. But it is ‘out there’. On Amazon. I keep nipping across to have look… And despite feeling like something the cat sicked up, every time I look at the cover I find myself grinning…

I hope you have a good week and in the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I feel less like a snot-powered zombie and more like my old self by tomorrow night so I can resume my Creative Writing classes before my students forget what I look like.

This week I have read:

The King’s Name – Book 2 of The Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
The warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord King Urdo have finally united the land of Tir Tanagiri into a kingdom ruled by justice under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny. Soon Tir Tanagiri faces the blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms against former comrades and loved ones, fighting harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream.
This sequel that concludes Walton’s magical version of the Arthurian legend continues to deliver. See my review of the first book The King’s Peace. Marvellous writing and a wonderful, poignant ending that is still resonating with me…

 

The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
When Emma Ruskin becomes governess to 10-year-old Poppy Ackroyd, the haughty Ackroyd family all treat her with contempt – particularly Gavin, the effortlessly superior eldest son. Yet Emma realises that Gavin alone genuinely cares for Poppy and their unexpected rapport flatters and alarms her – surely he is out of her league?
I requested this book without realising it was a romance adventure this author had written relatively early in her writing career. But as it happens, although romantic fiction isn’t generally my go-to genre, I really enjoyed this sprightly, enjoyable adventure.

 

Wolfsbane – Book 4 of the Silver series by Rhiannon Held
When an envoy arrives from the secretive Russian werewolf pack, Roanoke alphas Silver and Andrew Dare are instantly suspicious. Tatiana claims she has been sent to locate an heirloom, lost by immigrants centuries ago, but she and the alphas both suspect that Russia fears the strength of the newly-united, continent-spanning Roanoke pack. What Tatiana doesn’t realize is that her pack is willing to sacrifice even their own trained spy for their goals…
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this clever, nuanced werewolf world once more, after falling in love with the first three books – see my reviews of Silver, Tarnished and Reflected – and I am delighted to see that Held has decided to self-publish this book after her publishers took the decision to no longer continue with this series.

 

Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering
Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he? Sil knows there’s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.
I loved Vampire State of the Mind featuring a feisty heroine who helps to keep the ancient city of York safe for its human inhabitants. This adventure gives us more insights into the courageous, funny cast of characters when one of them is threatened. Or is he actually the threat? The Department for Otherworldly Affairs has to deliver a decision – along with a dead vampire… I really enjoyed this one and the snarky humour was very welcome as I sneezed and snuffled my way through the action.

 

A Local Habitation – Book 2 of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Toby Daye-a half-human, half-fae changeling-has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world had other ideas… Now her liege, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills, has asked Toby to go to the Country of Tamed Lightening to make sure all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary. It seems like a simple enough assignment-until Toby discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, and that if the killer isn’t stopped, January may be the next victim.
Another classy series that I started with Rosemary and Rue a while ago and taken a while to return to. This classic murder mystery, where the victims are picked off one by one as Toby desperately tries to unravel who is committing these crimes, is gripping and unexpectedly poignant at the end. There is a real sense of loss over the deaths, which I appreciated. No doubt about it – McGuire’s writing packs a punch.

My posts last week:

Teaser Tuesday featuring Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

PUBLISHED TODAY! featuring Running Out of Space – Sunblinded: 1 by S.J. Higbee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger series
by Sebastien de Castell

Friday Face-off – You have nice manners for a thief and a LIAR! featuring Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Review of Waking Gods – Book 2 of The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel

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

Saying Thanks to Great Teachers https://dogdaysanddelights.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/saying-thanks-to-great-teachers/ A moving tribute to a clearly remarkable teacher by someone who wants to say thank you. Before it’s too late…

Finding Inspiration in the Space Race – In the Spotlight Guest Post http://www.secondrunreviews.com/2017/10/finding-writing-inspiration-space-race-guest-post.html Yours truly musing on the impact that growing up during the height of the space race had on my expectations

Times they are a-changing (I hope) ~ on the prevalence of sexual harassment & on why we’re starting to speak up https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/times-they-are-a-changing-i-hope-on-the-prevalence-of-sexual-harassment-on-why-were-starting-to-speak-up/ Viv’s articles are always worth reading and I particularly enjoyed this one…

Richard & Linda Thompson, Sam Cooke and Charlie Rich – The Cry for Home! https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/09/26/richard-linda-thompson-sam-cooke-and-charlie-rich-with-the-cry-for-home/ If you love popular music, then swing by this marvellous site. I don’t know anyone who writes with such passion and knowledge about the music we grew up with.

We won Best Books And Literature Blog Of The Year! https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/we-won-best-books-and-literature-blog-of-the-year/ I thoroughly enjoy browsing this entertaining library blog where the staff chat about books in an approachable entertaining way. No wonder they won – congratulations, guys.

ANDDD…

Rainne Atkins has kindly invited me today to share my top ten fiction authors during my blog tour for Running Out of Space on her delightful book blog Just Books

 

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

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

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I was delighted to once more dive into this wonderful series – and it didn’t disappoint…

How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world?

The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…

This book absolutely filled the brief of completely absorbing me from the first page to the last, which I finished once more blown away by where Kirstein has taken this amazing series.

I love Rowan. She is a strong, capable protagonist who is consumed with curiosity about the world around her – which is why she trained to be a Steerswoman in the first place. Steerwomen undertake long, arduous journeys mapping and logging the landscape and are bound to answer any questions put to them by the local populace, unless someone refuses to answer one of their questions. So part explorer, cartographer, naturalist and educator… It’s a really nifty plot device to get a skilled, capable cadre of people out on the road without resorting to war. Over the last three books, I’ve come to be aware of her weaknesses as well as her strengths. She has an over-developed sense of responsibility and is poor at delegating jobs to others – and while she is good at moving through a landscape and keeping on good terms with the people around her, she tends to hold herself somewhat aloof.

This means that once she arrives in Alemeth, where the retired Steerswoman has recently died and they are awaiting a replacement – the villagers contrast her unfavourably with chatty, manipulative Mira. I love the fact that all these books can be read as a standalone without too much difficulty – however if you do read them in the right order (and for a wonder, this time around I have…) then they stitch together to build into a coherent adventure where the consequences of not tracking down Slado could be devastating. However, there is a wrinkle – once Rowan arrives, the village is attacked by a creature never seen before in those parts… I’m not saying any more as I do not want to venture into spoiler territory – but suffice to say that I’m so very impressed at the sheer peculiarity of the creatures that populate her fantasy landscape, along with the flora. Kirstein has built an amazingly detailed and plausible world without holding up the pace.

The twisting turns in this adventurous tale take meant that I stayed up late to read this one – it’s a reasonably substantial read at well over 400 pages, but they more or less turned themselves as I was desperate to know what happened next. This particular story arc was satisfactorily brought to a close – but the overarching narrative has now got an additional disturbing and dangerous strand which has added to the worldwide threat.

I have been spacing these books out, as I didn’t want to reach the end too quickly – but I am delighted to note that Kirstein is working on the fifth and sixth book in the series. Yippee! Highly recommended for all fans of excellent fantasy.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

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I was intrigued by the cover and the rather nifty title – and when I looked at the opening paragraph, I decided to get hold of it. But it languished on my TBR pile until I got hold of the second book – and decided I had to read it.

There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.

Magic is a con game.
Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.

This YA coming-of-age adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. Kellen is an appealing protagonist who inexplicably has no magical ability despite his family’s great power and influence. In this world where magic is everything, his lack of magical talent will doom him to a life of servitude and drudgery – like his uncle, who instead of being a respected member of the council and adviser to Kellen’s father, instead runs the household. Kellen cannot quite believe that his magic won’t at some stage manifest itself. I really enjoyed the first-person narration and the shafts of humour.

The way the plot continually produced more surprises and Kellen’s strong character drew me in and kept the pages turning. It doesn’t hurt that the squirrel cat is also great fun with a lovely line in sarcastic putdowns. It is always a challenge when depicting someone discovering that their whole way of life and value system is based on lies and exploitation, but de Castell does a very good job as Kellen slowly discovers some very disturbing secrets. I enjoyed the magic system and really liked the idea that magic would tattoo its power upon the magic-user’s skin. However, the problem with the first-person narrative is that with so much going on, the worldbuilding at times suffered. That said, this is the first book in the series and I’m hoping in due course, we will have a clearer idea of the environment and exactly what it looks like.

While the story was satisfactorily wrapped up with the really unpleasant antagonists sorted out and Kellen’s future, at least in the short term, resolved, there was a major plot point left dangling to tempt us to get hold of the next book in the series. I’m delighted that I already have a Netgalley arc of Shadowblack and look forward to tucking into it very soon. This book is recommended for fantasy lovers of magical systems and a strong first-person protagonist.
8/10