Tag Archives: book review

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheIvoryKeybookreview

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That gorgeous cover drew me in – and then when I read the blurb I grew even more intrigued. It’s relatively rare that it’s the conflict between four siblings that powers the narrative, so I was delighted when I was approved to read this arc.

BLURB: Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power. They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.

REVIEW: This fantasy adventure, set in an Eastern-style country, takes a while to really get going. That didn’t bother me overmuch, as the narrative swings between all four siblings and we gradually learn about them and their motivations. I think I would have struggled more if I hadn’t grown to like each of them and understand their actions – even when I could see them making horrible mistakes. On the face of it, they are all pampered princes and princesses. But when we get to see exactly what has happened to each of them, then it becomes clear they are all essentially trapped in lives they didn’t choose and they are all desperately trying to break free, or make things better. The conflict rises as each of them approaches their problem in very different ways…

It takes deft writing and very clear characterisation skills to give us four such rounded and sympathetic protagonists within a relatively short time, before they finally embark on a major adventure together. And as it all starts kicking off, I simply couldn’t put this one down. Be warned – it ends on something of a cliff-hanger, but I loved it and have found myself thinking a lot about this one after I finished, which is a sure sign that it’s something a bit special. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like an Eastern setting, strong characters and lots of adventure.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore mysteries by Mary Miley #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SpiritsandSmokebookreview

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I was delighted to come across the first book in this entertaining series last year, The Mystic’s Apprenticesee my review. So when I saw this second book on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and I’m very glad I did.

BLURB: December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.

REVIEW: While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and recommend you get hold of it if you enjoy historical murder mysteries set in the 1920s – it’s not vital to have read it before plunging into this offering. Though do be aware that at one point the first book was released under the pen name, Mary Miley Theobold. That now has been changed, but I mention it in case you come across a copy with the previous name across the cover.

It was a real joy to once again read a story featuring Maddie’s gutsy first-person narrative. She has had a terrible year, going from being a happily married young woman expecting her first child, to being suddenly widowed and out on the streets and penniless in 1920s Chicago. Thanks to the kindness of strangers and her own courage, she has now managed to rebuild her life. Miley portrays this without any sentimentality, which I appreciated. As you’d expect in this genre, it isn’t too long before Maddie’s job collecting information on the clients of her employer and landlady, the medium Madam Carlotta, brings her up against another suspicious death. And while this is a major narrative engine to the plot, I also enjoyed the fact that it isn’t Maddie’s major priority, because her main concern is looking after Baby Tommy. Knowing that so many working mothers have to perform similar daily juggling acts – it was enjoyable to read a book that reflects that reality.

She is also trying to keep him safe from the attentions of the mob. However, given how much the criminal gangs are raking in from Prohibition and how much they have pervaded all levels of Chicago society, that task is harder than it might seem. At the back of the book, Miley explains just how money the likes of Al Capone were making – and the amounts are truly eye-watering. The pages more or less turned themselves, as the vivid characters, complete with seances, mob members and Maddie, along with her friends, leap to life with Miley’s easy prose style. There is plenty of tension and danger, but we also have interludes where Maddie has a brainwave about a present for Freddie, the young orphan that Madam Carlotta has taken under her wing, as they get ready to celebrate Christmas.

All in all, it was a thoroughly satisfying read that completely immersed me from the first page to the last – and I’m looking forward to more books in this entertaining series. Highly recommended for fans of historical whodunits, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of Spirits and Smoke from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Absynthe by Brendan Bellacourt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Absynthebookreview

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For those of you who are interested in such things, Brendan Bellacourt also writes under the name of Bradley Beaulieu. I loved his exciting Sand and Sorcery trilogy The Song of the Shattered Sands – see my reviews of Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand – so I was keen to get hold of this arc when I realised who the author is. Would I enjoy his science fiction writing as much as his fantasy?

BLURB: truncated: Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere–Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.

Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but his journey towards self-discovery hits a major roadbump, when he becomes a target for those who are determined to prevent him from learning who he is really is and what he can do.

REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the very chatty blurb and my advice is to give it a miss, as it gives away far too many of the main plotpoints of the story. This is an intriguing world, clearly still fractured and struggling after the terrible events of the Great War. In this alternate United States ended up fighting a desperate war against a coalition of Britain, France, Canada and Germany and only narrowly managed to win, thanks to the valiant intervention of the now-President De Pere. Their technology is far in advance of where we were in the 1920s, as huge strides have been made in the field of virology, so that people can undergo major transformations, both physically and mentally on being injected by serums.

I particularly enjoyed the opening sequences of this book, where we are firmly in Liam’s head and he reluctantly attends a public opening for a new train as a favour to his friend – and it is Liam’s journey that powers this narrative. Personally, I would have preferred it if the narrative had kept with Liam throughout, as there were times when we were with other characters and I was conscious that I was flipping the pages wanting to get back to him.

The fast-moving, twisty plot provides a number of surprises. The worldbuilding was especially well done, so that I was able to visualise the interesting blend of art deco and steampunk, with a helping of speakeasies and vintage cars to add to the richness. This is an ambitious novel that examines the theme of power – who has it, who wants it and what some people will do for it. None of the conclusions are particularly original or world-shattering. But I like the fact that Bellacourt ends up having power as a personification – and that the damage started when initially decent people decided that the means justified the ends when they were in desperate straits.

However, if you’d rather read it as a straightforward 1920s steampunk action adventure story – fans of this genre should find it an entertaining book. While I obtained an arc of Absynthe from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom #Brainfluffbookreview #Lamentationbookreview

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One of my targets for last year was to go back and resume following series that I’ve loved, but subsequently neglected in favour of the new and shiny. This is one of those series – I have formerly loved this series – as my review of Revelation makes clear. So I got hold of Lamentation to see if Matthew Shardlake’s adventures still had the power to enthrall…

BLURB – truncated: Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr. Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript… And that’s all I’m prepared to reveal of this very chatty blurb that reveals far too many early plotpoints in the book.

REVIEW: Shardlake is older and during this period of religious tumult, continuing working as a lawyer and trying to keep his head down. For he no longer has the patronage of Thomas Cromwell and during some of his former adventures, managed to incur the wrath of some powerful men, especially Richard Rich. I very much liked how Shardlake is affected by his traumatic involvement in the sinking of the Mary Rose, which gives a nice ring of authenticity to his character. And I also enjoyed how he is unable to resist the draw of once more getting involved in matters concerning the highest in the land – even though such involvement comes at a very high cost.

He has loved Catherine Parr from afar for a long time – and there is no one in his own life to blunt the edges of his yawning loneliness, which seeps through his account. Often shunned and verbally abused for having a hunched back, he is nonetheless a highly intelligent, sensitive man with a brilliant mind. Sansom’s characterisation is pitch perfect – and I also love his descriptions of London, where a sudden crackdown leading to four public burnings, has left many feeling frightened and exposed. As for Shardlake, he now finds it difficult to gain any real comfort from praying to God – a response to an increasing sense of disgust at the lack of religious freedom. Despite the risk to himself, and to his long-time right-hand man, Jack Barack, Shardlake gets involved in one of the most dangerous cases of his life. With almost catastrophic consequences…

I whipped through this fairly hefty book (600+ pages) in just four days, because once I’d picked it up, it was very, very difficult to put down again. Once more Shardlake beautifully blends historic fact with gripping fiction – and this being the reign of Henry VIII – the fact is every bit as enthralling as the fiction. I’m so very glad I decided to make this the year where I went back and completed series I’d dropped – because Lamentation is one of my reading highlights of the year. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of this series and your taste runs to well-written historical fiction, then give yourself a Christmas present and get hold of the first book, Dissolution.
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ScarsofStonebookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery fantasy adventure – see my review of By the Pact. So I was delighted when I belatedly realised that Joanna had published the second book in the series, giving me the opportunity to scoop it up and read it.

BLURB: Discovering the truth about magic is one thing. Doing something about it will require bloodletting, backstabbing, and a bunch of lies.

The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.” When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading By the Pact, then put this offering back on the shelf and grab a copy. Initially these two books were written as a single volume, so the opening action in Scars of Stone follows on immediately from the final scene in By the Pact. While I think most experienced readers would eventually pick up what is going on – it’s a shame to compromise such an entertaining read by initially floundering.

I have a real weakness for this Sand and Sorcery sub-genre, where demons or djinn frequently feature with some kind of magical possession in a desert world. Kamira and Veelk are interesting, nuanced protagonists who have their own edges as they have spent years working together and trying to survive against formidable odds. I also like the fact that their partnership isn’t a romantic one, despite the fact that they spend weeks and months relying on each other to the extent that they have saved each other’s lives on a number of occasions.

While there is a romantic thread running through the book, it’s not straightforward. Joanna has provided Kamira with a couple of prospective partners – but she is wary of committing to any kind of long-term anything. Which, given the huge task ahead of her, is a wise move. Right now, it’s debatable as to whether she’ll survive what lies ahead. I love the degree of plotting and politicking going on in amongst the action scenes, both by the demons and the high mages. There is also the complicating factor of the refugees, who are all getting steadily sicker as their addiction to magical essence starts to bite, while trying to resettle in a city where there is no magic freely available.

All in all, it provides plenty of tension and excitement that meant the pages flew by. Once again, this one ends on the cliff-hanger. So I’m very much looking forward to reading the third book, Shadows of Kaighal, which is hitting the shelves in March 2022. Highly recommended for fans of enjoyable fantasy adventures, where characters are nuanced and the stakes are high.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ASpellofRowansbookreview

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I saw this one on Netgalley and liked the look of the cover and it didn’t hurt that I’d also thoroughly enjoyed Nash’s romantic retelling of Cinderella. So would this fantasy offering set in the small town of Grimsby have the same fairytale vibe?

BLURB – truncated: As children Mother twisted our magic as part of her games.

My talent for reading other people’s feelings, my sister who could charm men, and my brother who knows with a touch the history of any object.

But when I returned to Grimsby to settle the estate, the police hauled in my autistic brother for questioning. And that hometown boy I dumped way back after high school? He’s in Grimsby and thinks he knows the truth about me.

REVIEW: As you might have gathered from the blurb, this one is told in first person viewpoint by Vic, the middle of the three siblings. And as for their mother, she has to be one of the nastiest villains I’ve encountered for a while. It’s heinous enough when baddies do horrible things to relative strangers – but evil is taken to a whole new level when it’s perpetrated against their own children.

So be warned – there is physical and emotional child abuse in this story, which could have turned this one into a really dark story. But despite all three siblings having been damaged by their mother’s treatment, and without in any way diminishing what happened to them – Nash manages to avoid this becoming overwhelmingly bleak. Indeed, there are moments of farce and humour as Pip, Vic and Liam try to untangle the trail of mayhem that follows their mother’s death. They are well equipped to discover who has done what to whom, given their specific talents.

But I also liked how these so-called gifts are also far more of a hindrance in modern life – particularly poor Vic, whose ability to read people’s feelings means that her love life in non-existent. Just imagine a first date, when you immediately know what your prospective partner is thinking… And Pip’s talent for charming men doesn’t necessarily mean that her choices are ideal, either. Nash’s smart, witty writing quickly turns this paranormal whodunit into something more memorably special than your usual urban fantasy. The characters are all layered and complex, the setting utterly convincing and the writing sufficiently edgy that I wasn’t convinced that the very appealing protagonists were going to prevail.

I read far long than I should have to discover what happens, as the plot twists kept coming, bodies started piling up and exactly what the Rowan’s horrible mother was actually up to gradually becomes clear. I also really enjoyed how Nash handled the denouement and wrapped up the story. All in all, I’m congratulating myself on having discovered yet another talented writer and highly recommend this one to fans of contemporary, paranormal crime. While I obtained an arc of A Spell of Rowans from the publisher via Netgalley, 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