Tag Archives: apocalyptic fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Nightmare Stacks – Book 7 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

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I was delighted when I realised last month after reading the awesome The Annihilation Score – see my review here – that the next book in this outstanding series was due for release. And even more delighted when I managed to get hold of a NetGalley arc…

thenightmarestacksAlex Schwartz had a promising future – until he contracted an unfortunate bout of vampirism, and agreed (on pain of death) to join the Laundry, Britain’s only counter-occult secret agency. His first assignment is in Leeds – his old hometown. The thought of telling his parents that he’s lost his old job, let alone them finding out about his ‘condition’, is causing Alex more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses. His only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a student appearing in the local Goth Festival, who flirts with him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock. But Cassie has secrets of her own – secrets that make Alex’s night life seem positively normal . . .

First, a warning. For fans of Bob and Mo Howard, who are keen to catch up on them after their roller-coaster journey during the last two books – you’ll have to wait a bit longer to discover how they’re doing. This instalment is all about Alex, who we first met in The Rhesus Chart – see my review here. While Alex doesn’t have the dry wit of Bob, the storyline soon whisked me up and held me as we have the Charles Stross version of elves making a dramatic appearance and like his version of vampires, they are far more lethally compelling and unpleasant than Tolkien suggests.

I really enjoyed this break with the normal London setting, as Leeds is where Alex finds himself entangled in the latest incursion from another dimension in this smart fantasy/science fiction mash-up. Although I did miss Bob’s dry, world-weary commentary, there are still some lovely touches of humour – particularly enjoyable is Alex’s meal with his parents as they reel under the combined onslaught of his apparent demotion, Cassie’s oddness and his sister’s bombshell.

But the tone is a lot darker and those odd splashes of humour were very welcome in the final act, where there is chaos and mayhem in full measure. The battle scenes are full of drama and I found myself unable to put the book down as I needed to know what would happen next – I wasn’t sure that Alex would survive, for starters, as Stross is perfectly capable of mowing down a major character.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one, though for me, it didn’t have the emotional punch of The Annihilation Score which is my all-time favourite in this series, so far. However, there is plenty of compelling action and those elven warriors rampaging across the English countryside on lethal battle steeds, wielding magical weaponry will stay with me for a while.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Annihiliation Score – Book 6 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

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Dr. Mo O’Brien is an intelligence agent at the top secret government agency known as ‘the Laundry’. When occult powers threaten the realm, they’ll be there to clean up the mess – and deal with the witnesses. But the Laundry is recovering from a devastating attack and when average citizens all over the country start to develop supernatural powers, the police are called in to help. theannihiliationscoreMo is appointed as official police liaison, but in between dealing with police bureaucracy, superpowered members of the public and disgruntled politicians, Mo discovers to her horror that she can no longer rely on her marriage, nor on the weapon that has been at her side for eight years of undercover work, the possessed violin known as ‘Lecter’. Also, a mysterious figure known as Dr Freudstein has started sending threatening messages to the police, but who is he and what is he planning?

I recently caught up with this excellent series when I got hold of The Rhesus Chart – see my review here – and this book is very much its companion piece. This extract from the Laundry Files is told in Mo’s viewpoint, rather than Bob’s, the usual protagonist who features in these adventures. Mo is Bob’s wife, who is sent out to regularly confront the grisly and terrible creatures with her bone violin. The sticker on the violin case THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS isn’t a joke… So it was treat to actually have her first person viewpoint.

I’ve read a few reviews complaining about what a bitch she is – but she’s teetering on the edge of full PTSD, while wrestling for control of her soul and psyche with the violin she uses as a weapon. If Stross had presented her as a softer-edged character, full of concerns about her husband’s woes while all this grief was piling up at her door, the book would have gone flying across the room. Of course, she’s taken up with her own concerns – I think Stross has done a first class job of writing her. The only grizzle I have is the rather constant harping on about middle-aged women turning invisible – given she’s beautiful (Bob has told us she is and I’ve no reason to doubt him) and only in her early forties, she shouldn’t be turning into wallpaper given the strength and charisma she displays in other situations. It grated because, while it can be a problem for women who have spent their vital years running around after spoilt children and a demanding spouse, Mo clearly doesn’t fall into that category so it struck a false note.

However, it’s a relatively minor niggle in a tour de force. Mo’s spiky tetchiness pings off the pages as she finds herself attending meetings and trying to defend her fledgling department’s performance. Being mired in office politics and powerpoint presentations while trying to save the world from the outbreak of superhero powers manifesting within the general population seems an all too realistic probability. I also really enjoyed the discussions about the uniforms they are supposed to be wearing. While Mo doesn’t have the sardonic, world-weary humour Bob regularly displays, there was plenty in this book that had me quietly grinning.

But her gritted desperation as she battles to hold it all together without Bob’s support is palpable. I found her timed crying jags very poignant – especially as there isn’t an ounce of self pity on display. The storyline worked well within the series, though I’m aware there is a steady heightening of the stakes and I do wonder how it plays out and whether they all survive intact. This particular crisis was brought to a satisfying end, though I have found myself pondering this book quite a bit since I finished reading it – always a strong sign I’ve read something special. This is a great addition and, for me, one of the best books in the series to date.
10/10

Sunday Post – 15th May

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Weekly Wrapup

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

This week, I still seem to be running to stay on the same spot… Monday was taken up with helping my son with an audition tape and teaching and I’ve been out every night this week, except Friday. Tuesday and Wednesday I was with a couple of writing groups – vital to get feedback and discuss various writing/editing problems as well as great fun. Friend and accomplished poet, Lyn Jennings helped me out with my poem ‘The Price of Breathing’ and on Wednesday evening Sarah Palmer set me on the right track with my woefully bad blurbs for Dying for Space and Breathing Space.

On Thursday evening, the West Sussex Writers monthly meeting had Sarah Lewis talking to us about using social media as authors. It was a really good evening, with plenty of useful information. And we’ve had the pleasure of Oscar’s company throughout the week-end, so fun things like trips to the beach and bowling have pushed editing and reading into the background.

I have managed to read four books this week, although one of those is a book Oscar and I have been reading together, so it would count as more of a novella, as it is the £1 book he bought for World Book Day. I completed:

theoutliersThe Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight
I was given the opportunity to read this YA mystery sci fi thriller via NetGalley and couldn’t resist. It is a taut, twisting plot full of surprises written in first person viewpoint. It definitely is a Marmite book that readers seem to either love or hate and I posted my review of it yesterday.

 

planetfallPlanetfall by Emma Newman
I bought this book in the early New Year, but wanted to wait until I felt the need for a bit of a pick-me-up before reading it. I’m glad I did. This book is a joy. It grabbed me by the throat from the first page and wouldn’t let go until the end. I still get a tingle every time I think about it… I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 of The Laundry Files by Charles Strossannihilationscore
This is the companion book to The Rhesus Chart and I’m very glad I managed to read the two books reasonably close together. Again, a roller-coaster ride through an everyday setting with recognisable people dealing with threats that are anything but mundane. Though the inter-departmental politics, office rivalries and budget constraints certainly are… Stross manages to weave a unique world that we all instantly can identify with – before throwing it into a tentacle-lined abyss. I’ll be reviewing this on or around 9th June when the paperback version is released.

 

theescapeEscape – Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space by Scott Cavan
This is a nifty idea – get a major film franchise agree to use their setting for a series of children’s books. Oscar was rather underwhelmed about the idea of going off to spend his £1 book voucher on anything other than the inevitable sticker book – until we happened upon this offering. And he was so excited, I bought the rest of the series. We completed this book on Friday night as soon as he walked through the door.

 

My editing schedule has lurched to a halt this week, but I’m hoping that as next week is considerably quieter, I’ll be able to really get cracking on Breathing Space.

My posts last week:
Weekly Wrap-Up – 8th May

Review of Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. Foner

Teaser Tuesday – Planetfall by Emma Newman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

2016 Discovery Challenge – April Roundup

Friday Faceoff – Which Witch is Which? featuring Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers series by Kimberley McCreight

It has been an enjoyably sociable week with lovely writing friends. I am also getting steadily fitter with my weekly sessions of Fitstep and Pilates – though I stupidly dropped my TENS machine while loading the washing and broke it, so need to order another as my hip is being a bit niggly.

May your books bring you entertainment and enjoyment, or profound insights and I hope everyone has a fulfilling, busy week.

Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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As a solid fan of Novik’s awesome Temeraire series – see my review of Victory of Eagles hereuprooted – I was shaken to realise that I somehow managed to miss her latest offering, Uprooted. But after regularly seeing it recommended across the book blogs I visit, I vowed to get hold of it as part of my 2016 Reading List, especially as it was short-listed for the 2015 Nebula Best Novel award.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
This character bounces off the page. I loved the depiction of her life in the isolated village where she lives and the casual manner in which she mentions the disappearances and horrific transformations of people she knows. The first person narrative works extremely well and Novik is very deft as depicting the world through the eyes of her charismatic and quirky protagonist. However, that doesn’t mean there is any undue hanging around with pages of scene setting, as Novik whisks us up into the narrative at a fair clip.

I found myself reading during the day to discover what happens next – thus breaking one of my rules. But there was no point in trying to immerse myself in my own editing, as my head was too full of Agnieszka and her story. Not wanting to encroach into Spoiler territory, I am not going to discuss any details of the narrative, but the magic system works well, with structure and rules that have consequences.

What I particularly liked about this tale, is the depiction of the antagonist. As the books progresses, we realise there is more than a single version of why the Wood is very hostile to humanity. Having read several books recently where the finale was compromised by the thin characterisation of the antagonist, it was a delight to have such an intelligent approach to the story resolution. A great end to a fabulous, entertaining read.
10/10

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 The City’s Son – Book 1 of The Skyscraper Throne by Tom Pollock

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I had the pleasure of hearing Tom Pollock talk about worldbuilding in one of the best talks I’ve attended at any con – and I am something of a nerd when it comes to attending all those panels… It was a workshop with him and the marvellous Kate Elliott, another favourite author of mine, and the two of them were awesome. They both spoke fluently and passionately on a subject they both knew well. Just as importantly, they clearly liked and respected each other. I came away buzzing with excitement and ideas – and a promise to myself to get hold of his books. Well, it’s way later than it should have been, but I’ve finally got around to reading The City’s Son – was it worth the wait?

thecity'ssonHidden under the surface of everyday London is a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets. When a devastating betrayal drives her from her home, graffiti artist Beth Bradley stumbles in the secret city, where she finds Filius Viae, London’s ragged crown prince, just when he needs someone most. An ancient enemy has returned to the darkness under St Paul’s Cathedral, bent on reigniting a race through a bizarre urban wonderland, searching for a way to save the city they both love.

Oh yes. This book is beautifully written, full of remarkable creatures, sights and smells. Though to be honest, I’m truly glad many of those smells and sights are consigned to the page and I did put it down while eating my breakfast, when Filius was talking to the litter monster who’d raised him. Pollock’s sensual writing had me imagining all too clearly the sour milk, eggshell eyes and rats scampering over the decomposing takeaway meals…

It’s all very well being able to write beautifully, though – is there also a strong story and wonderful characters? Oh yes. The narrative buckets along at a cracking pace and while the story deal with some hefty issues – loss and grief, betrayal, sacrifice and destruction – this isn’t a downbeat, grim read. Pollock’s cast of characters have to endure knee-buckling problems and he doesn’t slice them any free air just because they happen to be his protagonists. But behind the sharp awareness that it doesn’t end happily ever after, there is also a gritted joy in living and plenty of sly humour that had me quietly chuckling. It is shelved in the YA section, but to be honest, though the protagonists are teens, this book didn’t have a YA feel for me any more than Gaiman’s offerings do. The ending was certainly unexpected and has me wanting to get the next in the series to find out what happens next.

The blurb on the back of the book compares Pollock to Neil Gaiman and China Miéville – and for once, it is absolutely right. As well as being a delightful speaker, the man can write. In a year that so far has treated me to a slew of stormingly good books, this is yet another gem.
10/10

Review of Days of Blood and Starlight – Book 2 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

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The first book Daughter of Smoke and Bone – see my review here – was recommended by fellow blogger and author, Sara Letourneau. It blew me away with the quality of the writing, the sheer vividness of the world and the storytelling with the plot twists that I didn’t see coming. Would I enjoy the second book as much?

daysofbloodandstarlightOnce upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying. Once the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness. This was not that world.

I turned from the first book, humming with excitement and shock at the ending – and found myself initially slightly adrift. The opening chapters are a little fractured and Taylor didn’t devote any time in rebonding us with the two main protagonists and star-crossed lovers. I’ll be honest – I was a bit disappointed. However, the excellence of the writing continued to draw me in and I soon became drawn into the story, once again. Taylor’s prose style is poetical and doesn’t hold back – her epic tone could so easily be overblown, verging on parody if she wasn’t as gifted as she is. It gives her apocalyptic world, wracked with war, a tragic, almost operatic edge.

The characters are similarly larger than life. The war weariness and grief suffered by both Akiva and Karou are so bitingly depicted, I could all but taste it. For as the war becomes ever more bitter and bloody, at what point do they abandon their duty to their fellow fighters and own species – and commit the ultimate betrayal, namely treason? Karou is particularly caught, as without her the embattled chimaera don’t have a chance. Not a state of affairs that their leader, the savage wolf leader, Thiago, at all relishes.

I really enjoyed the fact that neither side is the ‘good’ side, or the ‘bad’ side. Both angels and chimaera are capable of acts of dreadful savagery and yet, there are warriors on both sides who also show mercy. It is the leaders on both sides who are the savages – particularly the ghastly Emperor Joram, who I loved to hate. As Karou is battling with these weighty matters, the chirpy humour she displays in Daughter of Bone and Smoke has been knocked out of her, so until her two friends Zuzana and Mik pop up, there isn’t much light relief. Himself has struggled to get through this book because in the depths of February, he has found it a rather bleak read. There are also high levels of violence, and while there is nothing gratuitous, the hefty mood music created by prose highlights the senselessness of the slaughter. However, I was pulled along by the power of the story and the vividness of the characters.

This is a powerful story that will reverberate with me for a while – but whatever you do, don’t start this series with Days of Blood and Starlight. In order to do justice to the story arc you really must get hold of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but if you have read it, then do track this one down and if you do, persist with it – it’s worth it.
9/10

20 16 Discovery Challenge – January

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After reading Joanne Hall’s post here, I decided to also take part in the Discovery Challenge – that of reading and reviewing at least two female authors new to me every month. So how did the year start?

The answer is – extremely well. Unsustainably well, if the truth be known… During January I read and reviewed FOUR books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered…

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
This book was buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

thepuppetboyWhen his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

This is an interesting read – for me, the standout aspect was that unlike so many tales set in WWII, the story continues after the war, charting the devastating effects of what happened on the protagonists, which gave it a more realistic feel for me. Read my full review here.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Himself picked this up in Waterstones with some of his Christmas money, after reading the cover blurb – and I was very glad he did…

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his Truthwitchruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together. This is full-on adventure and the key relationship that powers the narrative drive in this story is the bond between the two girls, rather than the romantic entanglement – a pleasant change. This YA paranormal coming-of-age adventure is action-packed fun – see my review here.

Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
This much-anticipated debut novel is from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. In places the writing is brilliant and extraordinary – but it is also uneven with erratic pacing and jarring viewpoint switches that leach a lot of the power and tension from the prose. See my full review here.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten.daughterofsmokeandbone

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’. She has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed – to the extent that I’m in the process of tracking down the other two books in the trilogy. See my full review here.

All these authors are powerful, effective writers who have crafted engrossing, readable novels and I’m very glad that I have become aware of their work. Have you come across any female authors you hadn’t previously encountered, recently?

Teaser Tuesday – 2nd February

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This is a weekly meme set up by Jenn at A Daily Rhythm.TeaserTuesdays-ADailyRhythm3-300x203

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!

Days of Blood and Starlight – Book 2 of  the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

P. 60 She didn’t know why this part of the process unsettled her so much; she supposed it was the image of two creatures going off into the scree and only one coming back. She hadn’t seen the pit, and she hoped she never would, but some days she could smell it: a fug of decay that gave reality to what was usually remote.

daysofbloodandstarlightBLURB: Once upon a time an angel and a devil feel in love and dared to imagin a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was alike a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

 

Review of The Blood Curse – Book 3 of The Cursed Kingdoms trilogy by Emily Gee

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I recently read The Fire Prince – see my review here – and immediately found myself connecting with the storyline and vivid characters so that by the time I reached the end, I vowed to treat myself to getting hold of The Blood Curse in the New Year. But the very next time I went to the library, there was the book on the shelves…

thebloodcurseA curse is ravaging the Seven Kingdoms. Fugitive Osgaardan prince, Harkeld, is the one person who can destroy it. Guarded by Sentinel mages, pursued by Fithian assassins, he begins the final – and most dangerous – stage of his quest: entering the cursed kingdom of Sault, where drinking even one drop of water means madness and death. But the mages aren’t the only travellers heading east. Princess Brigitta, abducted by the Fithians, is also bound for Sault – unless she can escape. And in close pursuit is her loyal armsman, Karel. Young orphan, Jaumé, is also headed for Sault – where he will be forced to make decisions that will change the fate of the Seven Kingdoms forever.

It was a real stroke of luck to encounter this book when the story was still singing inside my head, so I immediately opened it up and sank back into the world with a sigh of pleasure. Gee is very good at delivering the multiple storylines experienced by her group of protagonists without any jarring sudden switches or sense of dislocation – which is a lot harder than she makes it look. Each character has developed and changed throughout the trilogy and I have enjoyed watching each one travel on an arc – those that haven’t been killed off, that it… Gee hasn’t quite got the ruthlessness of George R.R. Martin, but throughout the series, I’ve been a tad winded at times after a skirmish that has offed yet another poor soul I expected would play a major role in the rest of the book. So I have genuinely been reading the fight scenes holding my breath in case another strong likeable character met an untimely end.

The worldbuilding is solid and well depicted without holding up any of the narrative pace and I have also appreciated having a ringside seat with the antagonists, especially Bennick, who spends time and attention looking after Jaumé. It is part of the strength of her writing that Gee doesn’t tell us that law and order is breaking down, but shows us that Jaumé’s only option is to stick with the Fithian assassins, even when he realises what they intend to do, because there is nowhere else a small orphan boy can go.

So, after three books, does Gee bring the story to a satisfying conclusion, tying up all the loose ends? Oh, for sure. In addition to the anticipated closure of the main storyline, there are a couple of other major plots that need tidying up and she ensures they are also sorted out. All in all, a real treat over the Christmas holidays – but whatever you do, don’t start with this book, instead track down The Sentinel Mage – see my review here. It would be a crying shame not to appreciate this excellent series from the beginning.
9/10