Tag Archives: epic fantasy adventure

A Deja Vu Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – Book 1 of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin #DejaVuBrainfluffbookreview #TheHundredThousandKingdomsbookreview

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I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured N.K. Jemisin’s wonderful covers earlier this week, I decided to revisit my first impression of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I started reading while sitting at Victoria Station, waiting for a train home. Such a vivid memory!

This fantasy debut novel is different – no, really… I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time – urban, paranormal, high, low, dark – and this isn’t like any of them. The closest in feel, I suppose, is Liz Williams’ Inspector Chen series, and even then, there are at least a dozen ways in which this book differs.

BLURB: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine.

There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

REVIEW: Written in first person viewpoint, we are immediately sucked into a world where nothing is as it seems and the impossible and improbable occur at least a dozen times a day. Yeine finds herself fending off the unwelcome attention of all sorts of people. And gods. The bar-tight tension twanging throughout this tale relies in a large part in our belief in the capricious, lethal mutability of the immortal beings who crowd into this story and upstage everyone else – particularly Nightlord Nahadoth who fascinates and terrifies Yeine in equal measure. The stakes are high – if for one moment we decide that Naha (his nickname) and his equally lethal sidekick, Sieh, aren’t convincingly scary, then the whole plot crashes with all the grace of a duck landing on ice.

Not only do we have to believe that these gods are terrible, but come to accept and understand why Yeine falls under their spell and start to pity them and want them to behave well – in other words empathise and care about them. That’s always a tough call – to make really ‘other’ characters become sympathetic to the reader. It’s one of the major problems I have with so many hard science fiction books set hundreds of years into the future when Humanity becomes Posthuman – I often don’t bond with the main protagonists because they are just too different. I’ll bet that I wouldn’t have that problem if Jemisin wanted to write that genre, though. She is good at connecting her reader with the weirdly creepy.

She manages to sustain the tempo, while juggling a cast of outstandingly difficult characters in a bizarre setting and suck us right in to this page-turner until the climax and denouement – which I didn’t see coming. At no time did I feel that I was in the hands of some newbie feeling her way into this novel-writing business. Jemisin writes as if she’s been doing this all her life. As if she’s written a good dozen books and got another batch still cooking in her head. I surely hope so – because with a debut like this, I’ll want to jump into her worlds, again. That difference is addictive…
10/10

February 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffFebruary2020Roundup

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And here we are in March, already… The final week of February proved to be a bit grim as I became ill and rather miserable. The unending rain didn’t help, either… Nonetheless, it proved to be a reasonably productive month as I wrote just over 49,000 words altogether, with nearly 35,500 words on Mantivore Warrior, just over 11,500 words on the blog and just over 2,000 in lesson planning and evaluations.

Reading
I read twelve books in February and DNF’d an audiobook because I couldn’t get on with the narrator – the first time that’s happened to me. This is the list of twelve books I completed:

You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce – my outstanding read of the month
The Case of the Reincarnated Client – Book 5 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
AUDIOBOOK Uprooted by Naomi Novi – audio read of the month
A Blight of Blackwings – Book 2 of the Seven Kennings series by Kevin Hearne
P is for Pluto – Book 3 of the Molly Marbles series by Jackie Kingon
AUDIOBOOK Salt Lane – Book 1 of the DS Alexander Cupidi series by William Shaw
Sacred Bride – Book 3 of the Olympus series by David Hair & Cat Mayo
Skyward – Book 1 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter
Murder Your Darlings – Book 3 of the Francis Meadowes series by Mark McCrum
Magic Bites – Book 1 of the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

Writing
I was some 75,000 words into Mantivore Warrior and decided that I was within touching distance of the end – so decided to blast for the finishing line. A mistake – I was nothing of the sort, given that I had a fair amount to tie up in this the last of the trilogy. And as I tried to prioritise my writing to the exclusion of everything else – I was a bit dismayed at just what a struggle it was as there are still a lot of calls on my time. And the stress of trying to push so hard pitchforked me back to feeling dreadful, both physically and mentally… Let’s hope I’ve learnt that lesson and don’t make the same mistake next time around.

Blogging
Given the car-crash I made of managing my work/life balance at the end of the month (I didn’t…) it won’t be a surprise to learn that keeping the blog going was an almighty fail. Sorry folks. It doesn’t help to drop all the balls, I know. But hopefully this won’t happen again! On the plus side, I’ve been buoyed and comforted by the kind messages and encouragement that I’ve been receiving about my decision to ease down on my blogging frequency. Thank you so much for taking the time to send said comfort – it’s been mightily appreciated and certainly justifies my decision NOT to completely walk away from my blog.






*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook A Blight of Blackwings – Book 2 of the Seven Kennings series #Brainfluffbookreview #ABlightofBlackwingsbookreview

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I was very impressed with the first book in this series, A Plague of Giants – to the extent that I pre-ordered this one, which is something I don’t do all that often.

BLURB: SOLDIER AND AVENGER
Daryck is from a city that was devastated by the war with the Bone Giants, and now he and a band of warriors seek revenge against the giants for the loved ones they lost. But will vengeance be enough to salve their grief?
DREAMER AND LEADER
Hanima is part of a new generation with extraordinary magical talents: She can speak to fantastical animals. But when this gift becomes a threat to the powers-that-be, Hanima becomes the leader of a movement to use this magic to bring power to the people.
SISTER AND SEEKER
Koesha is the captain of an all-female crew on a perilous voyage to explore unknown waters. Though Koesha’s crew is seeking a path around the globe, Koesha is also looking for her sister, lost at sea two years ago. But what lies beyond the edges of the map is far more dangerous than storms and sea monsters. . . .

Firstly, if you haven’t yet read A Plague of Giants, then whatever you do – don’t start here. You’ll be flailing around in a welter of names and places that mean nothing to you for far too long to make sense of what is happening. This is, after all, a multi-viewpoint, epic fantasy which sprawls across continents as the natural disaster causes a massive invasion of a displaced people, creating havoc and aftershocks in its wake. I’ll be honest – this isn’t generally my favourite sub-genre, as too often plotting and scene-setting trump strong characterisation. However Hearne has hit upon a nifty way to sidestep some of the limitations of an extensive cast and numerous settings, by having the story told through a bard with magical abilities to take on the characters he is depicting. So we always get a first-person viewpoint and as the bard gives an introduction to his audience, we also get a brief reminder of the character he is about to personify. I think it’s a device that works exceptionally well – particularly as the bard’s abilities are nested within the magical system that runs within the world, anyway.

This slice of the action is a strong continuation of the story that started so successfully in A Plague of Giants, and we get a further progression of the unfolding drama, with more insights into the main characters – good and bad. I also appreciated that we got to know more about the kennings – the magical abilities that some folks have; how they manifest, their limitations and the costs of such magic.

This is a hefty read at over 500 pages, but they flew by as I always picked up the book keen to dive back in and find out more. I’m looking forward to A Curse of Krakens and this one comes highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy peopled by well-depicted characters.
9/10

My Outstanding Books of 2017

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Last year was yet another bumper year for reading, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. As usual, I’ll list the ones that stood out for me – and we’re not talking a top ten. I completed 174 books last year, but won’t go into too much detail in this article about my overall 2017 reading experience, as today it’s all about those that gave me the tingle factor. Most will have received a perfect ten on my scoring system, however there will be a couple that didn’t. The reason they are here is because that after I’d finished reading and writing about them, they didn’t go away, but continued to linger in my thoughts. So here they are, in no particular order:-

 

Emperor of the Fireflies – Book 2 of the Tide Dragons series by Sarah Ash

This godpunk duology set within the Japanese pantheon centres around a beautiful, dark-edged myth. Ash’s lyrical prose and deft handling of this tale has stayed with me throughout the year, despite having read it last January. See my review here.

 

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

I absolutely fell in love with this haunting retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. While I enjoyed and admired Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed – another strong contender – this one stole my heart. The ending gave me goosebumps, while making me weep. That doesn’t happen very often. See my review here.

 

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Planetfall, this one blew me away. The characterisation, the horrible situation the protagonist finds himself in – it all got under my skin to the extent that I woke my husband up as I yelled in shock at a particular point in the book. I can’t wait to see where Newman goes next with this amazing series. See my review here.

 

Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna duology by Ian McDonald

This depiction of an existence on the Moon where rampant capitalism holds sway hasn’t left me alone since I read this one. McDonald has called it ‘A game of domes’ and he certainly has nailed the deadly powerplays the main families indulge in with his reference to George R.R. Martin’s epic. I keep thinking about that ending… See my review here.

 

Winter Tide – Book 1 of the Innesmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

This book was a delightful surprise – I had no idea the writing would pull me into this version of Lovecraft’s monstrous world, with a strong, sympathetic protagonist who is one of the few survivors of the attack on Innesmouth years ago. I loved it and am very much looking forward to reading more in this fantastic series. See my review here.

 

The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, finding Rudden’s punchy prose style both enjoyable and memorable. But this sequel builds on the first with an engrossing adventure and some amazing characters. It’s far too good to leave just for the children. See my review here.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards

I have thoroughly enjoyed all Edwards’ books – but this managed to nock up the stakes to a point I could not put it down until I’d finished reading it. I have rules about never reading or watching TV until after 5.30 pm – otherwise I’d never get anything done. I broke that rule for this book. See my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon

This is a new spinoff series by a much-loved author which I was delighted to read – even better, it was a storming adventure that proved to be an engrossing page-turner. I remembered all over again why I love reading this author. See my review here.

 

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

No one writes different aliens as well as Greg Egan – and I loved this adventure. I’m very much hoping it turns into a series as I would love to spend more time following the fortunes of these amazing creatures. See my review here.

 

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

This is a series I read longer ago than I care to recall – and when I saw it had appeared in Kindle, I snapped it up and reread it, something I hardly ever do. My instincts were spot on – I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this engrossing world and following Rowena’s adventures in this smart, cleverly written fantasy/science fiction mashup. This is the particular story that has stayed with me, though the other books in the series are just as good. See my review here.

 

Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

This epic fantasy got under my skin and into my heart in a way that doesn’t often happen with this genre. I loved the clever, clever twist at the end and one of the treats in 2018 is to tuck into the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance. See my review here.

 

Sea of Rust by Robert C. Cargill

This was another amazing book that came out of the blue – I’d not read anything by this author before and was delighted by this post-apocalyptic world peopled by robots who are starting to wear out and fail. With no factories or warehouses full of spare parts anymore, the only option is to harvest those parts from other robots. See my review here.

 

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

I’ve read a number of apocalyptic tales during the year, however in this version Walker triumphantly succeeds in giving us a dog’s version of a complete collapse in law and order. And the chilling results of what happens when that order is reimposed by the wrong people. See my review here.

 

Empire of Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Beford

This epic science fiction adventure stood out because of the flawed protagonist and the gritty depiction of establishing a colony. I really enjoyed the world and the fact that love clearly doesn’t cure all. I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented author. See my review here.

 

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

After her marvellous series How To Train Your Dragon, I was interested to see how she would follow it up. The writing is more lyrical, the underlying poignancy is more pronounced. My elderly Kindle didn’t like the illustrations throughout this book and part of my Christmas money is going on buying a print version of this book. Not for the grandchildren – for me. See my review here.

 

Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

I have to declare an interest – Richard is a former student and I had read some extracts from a very early draft. However that did not prepare me for the excellence of the writing, where this historical adventure finds two young English people from the same small village ending up in America during the Civil War. They are both caught in quite different ways and this story just kept on delivering in terms of plot twists and tension. See my review here.

 

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

This doorstopper is extraordinary. Don’t ask me what the storyline is – other than recalling there are five main protagonists with very different and vivid voices, it’s too complicated to recall. What I do remember is that very early on I took the decision to slow right down and savour this book as reads like this don’t come along all that often. It took me 10 days to get through this one and I recall feeling sad when it came to the end. See my review here.

To pare the list down to this required setting aside other books that still hurt to leave out – the likes of Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts, The Invisible Library books by Genevieve Cogman and The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews all missed making this list by a whisker. If you force to me to choose just one of these books, I’ll probably never forgive you, but it would have to be After Atlas.

What were your outstanding reads of the year?

Friday Faceoff – Do not go gentle…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring night, or the dark, so I’ve chosen Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Book 1 of Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden.

 

This cover, produced by Puffin in April 2016, is not my favourite, but like all these covers it is a strong contender. I like the fact that Denizen looks the right age and as the light pours from his hands, the creatures lurking in the gloom are suitably menacing, thus accurately reflecting the content in this outstanding children’s fantasy series. I love the strapline, but I’m not a fan of the title font, which is rather boring.

 

This edition was produced by Puffin in January 2017 has a more grandiose backdrop, though the boy looks older which I think is a bit of a shame. That said, the excellent writing and great adventure ought to be enjoyed by anyone in their early teens, as well as younger children. The title font is still rather boring, but reasonably inoffensive and the cover still accurately reflects the content.

 

Published in August 2016 by Random House, I really like this cover. The sword wreathed in blue coruscating fire glows from the cover, as the dark roils in the background. As for the title font – that’s just what a cool title like this needs! The title now delivers depth and suitable awesomeness that promises – and delivers – a cracking adventure you won’t easily forget. This is my second favourite cover.

 

This German offering, published in April 2016 by Sauerländer ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned. I love the cover as it features the depth and breadth of the world, with Denizen standing in the middle. I also like the font, which is attractively displayed and again, reinforces the impression that this is a strong series with a gritted struggle between Light and Dark. This cover is my favourite. What about you – which of these is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Then let the crabs be cursed by Odin…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is Vikings, so I’ve chosen How to Speak Dragonese – Book 3 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

 

This cover, produced by Hachette UK in 2010, is the main template for the other covers. It is illustrated by Cowell herself, in the guise of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who is her chief protagonist and heir to the Hooligan tribe. He grows up to be the greatest of all Viking chieftains, and this is part of the ongoing story of how he survives to adulthood – a mighty achievement in itself. I very much like this cover. It is eye-catching and humorous, while promising a big dollop of exciting adventures in the book. This is my favourite.

 

This offering was produced by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in February 2010. It has a slightly slicker feel, having replaced the page in Hiccup’s journal with a purple background, but still features Hiccup and Toothless drawn by Cowell – and still clearly in yet another scrape. Once more it ticks the boxes for me.

 

This cover from Scholastic published in December 2009 features Toothless sitting in Hiccup’s helmet. Once more the illustration is recognisably Cowell’s and you get the sense that Toothless is sniggering about something. Another attractive cover that effectively gives a sense of the book’s content.

 

Produced in September 2008, this Spanish edition by Ediciones Sm still features the original illustration, but has changed the background. It’s pleasant enough, but I far prefer the blotchy, scruffy effect of the original, which is specifically aimed at reluctant boy readers, who are far more likely to be attracted by the odd ink blot and jagged page.

 

This Kindle edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s Books gives the first cover a very, very close run for its money as my favourite. While the original image has Hiccup and Toothless arguing, with Hiccup clearly losing, there isn’t a whole lot going on. However this cover features on of the most dramatic events in the book ripping a tear in the binding as a huge dragon hunts down his prey…

Teaser Tuesday – 26th September, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Healer’s Touch – Book 1 of the Touch series by Deb E. Howell

80% Llew entered the farmhouse kitchen and nearly burst into tears. It was homely and small, with a central table surrounded by work benches and a range that was surely always well-banked at this time of year. The house was warm and fit exactly into her idealised memories of her early life in Quaver. If she’d been hoping to find safety within the borders to Turhmos, this is what it would look like. She didn’t drop her guard, though. Every kitchen knife, every pot and pan was scrutinised. They all could be turned into weapons; who converted them would be a matter of reflexes.

BLURB: 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.

I had just DNF’d a deeply unpleasant read, full of grim characters gutting animals for dubious ends, when I found this offering in my TBR pile. A classic fantasy scenario with some interesting edges of its own. I love the main character and the fast-paced plot which pulled me in from the first page and hasn’t yet set me free – I dreamt of this one last night…

Friday Faceoff – Thunder is the sound of hoofbeats in heaven…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is horses, so I’ve chosen Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. Obviously I was spoilt for choice, so I picked a couple of covers because they featured horses and the rest of my selection are covers I particularly liked.

 

This cover produced by Houghton Mifflin Company in June 2001 is one of a number generated in the wake of the films. While most film-of-the-book covers tend to fall short, I think most of the covers for LOTR work really well – and this is no exception. The horse and mysterious cloaked rider outlined in the odd lighting that falls somewhere between daylight and night really evokes the otherworldly and sense of danger I recall feeling when first reading the book another lifetime ago.

 

This centenary edition, produced in 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is clearly special. What caught my eye is the illustration on the front. Initially I assumed this was another cover generated by the movie – until I realised that it was released a decade before the film… I love this one – particularly the runic detail and the cool font. A pity about that ugly blue box, though.

 

Published in 2001 by Harper Collins, this is another film tie-in cover. I also like this one – the horses galloping in a posse provide plenty of movement and drama and the red lettering of the font provides a pleasing contrast. It’s not my favourite, but there’s nothing to hate about it either.

 

Produced in June 2005, by Mariner Books, I had initially assumed this was a much older edition as it harks back to the feel and look of much earlier covers, which I think is a smart move. It may well have used one of the earlier covers, but I couldn’t find it elsewhere on what was – admittedly – a fairly cursory search. Again, this one caught my eye as I love the artwork and overall design.

 

Published in May 1978 from Unwin Paperbacks, this is something of a curiosity – as the film they are talking about clearly isn’t the franchise we all know and love. I like the impact the drama of the ringwraiths galloping towards us, but as ever, I deeply dislike the horrible text box plonked right in the middle of the action.

 

This cover is included because it is the one we used to own before Himself loved it to death. It features Gandulf in a dramatic pose without some of the epic backdrops we have become used to seeing with the film tie-ins. I like how the title and author have been handled and think the dark green is attractive – it’s certainly an easy book to spot around the house. What about you – which is your favourite?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton

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I’ve loved this series – to the extent that after reading the third book in the series Spellbreaker, one of my favourite reads last year, I tracked down this second instalment for more Spellwright goodness.

Francesca DeVega is a healer in the city of Avel, composing magical sentences that close wounds and disspell curses. But when a newly dead patient sits up and tells her that she must flee the infirmary or face a fate worse than death, Francesca finds herself in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand—one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal and brings her face-to-face with demons, demigods, and a man she hoped never to see again. Ten years ago, Nico escaped Starhaven Academy, leaving behind his failed life, in which he was considered disabled and felt useless. Now, in Spellbound, he’s starting fresh, using his newfound gifts in the dark Chthonic languages to pursue the emerald that holds his birthright. Unfortunately, he can’t escape the chaos of his old life. His mentor suffers from an incurable curse, agents of the fabled Halcyon hunt him day and night, pieces of Francesca’s story don’t add up, and the prophesized War of Disjunction looms on the horizon.

This epic fantasy adventure is about magical systems and how those imbued with magic have to cope with the way it bends and warps their lives in unimaginable ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series where the rules of magic are so pervasive and have so many unthinkable and frightening consequences. Charlton’s febrile mind has worked out a system where words and will create spells – but what if different spellcasters regard others from different systems with suspicion and fear? What if there is a constant tension between those systems that teeters on the brink of open warfare? And what if in the middle of this tense political landscape come several powerful entities that threaten to overturn the status quo?

Inevitably there is quite a lot of explanation and passages of description throughout the book, but this doesn’t stop Francesca pinging off the page. I love her character – and the scenes where she is fighting to save the life of an injured patient are both exciting and highly plausible, which isn’t surprising given that Charlton is a fellow of Cardiology at the University of California. Nico is a spellcaster whose power undoes and subverts the spells of those who try casting spells against him, as he is unable to accurately spell his spells, thus echoing the pain and confusion Charlton must have endured as a child struggling with severe dyslexia. I can relate all too clearly, watching my granddaughter’s battle with this miserable condition.

While I knew one or two of the shock outcomes near the end of the book, given I had already read the final book in this trilogy, it didn’t prevent me really enjoying the journey which had its own share of surprises. Francesca’s character is a revelation and the way we discover who she is and how she got here is masterly and highly original.

This world is so cleverly devised and smart, it deserves to be far better known and Spellbound, along with Spellwright and Spellbreaker, comes highly recommended.
10/10