Tag Archives: epic fantasy

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – March Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During March, I read – um… no books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge. Nope – not a single one. I read plenty of books by women writers throughout March – the catch is that they were writers I’d read previously. So my yearly total of seven books so far is unchanged.

So surely I at least managed to clear a host of books from my TBR pile towards this year’s Tackling My TBR, given my sorry showing in the previous challenge. No… not really – just four – but it was definitely quality over quantity because every single one is a cracking read:

After Atlas – Book 2 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
This science fiction whodunit blew me away and is every bit as good as the awesome Planetfall. It starts out as one sort of story and steadily morphed into something else, all the while giving us an insight into what makes Carlos tick. He is entertainingly grumpy about all authority figures – and then… something happens – a gamechanger that had me yelping in horror and unable to put the book down. And as for that ending – wow!

Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards.
Another gem from one of the leading speculative fiction writers of our time. This series is wonderful – Penric has continued to change and develop since as an idealistic young man, he inadvertently acquired a demon he calls Desdemona. This story follows on immediately from Penric’s Mission so my top tip would be to read that one first before plunging into this one. Better still, start at the beginning with Penric and the Demon. Each one doesn’t cost more than a cup of coffee and are worth every penny.

Blood upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater.
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy doesn’t suffer from any second book slump after Twelve Kings as we continue to follow Çeda’s fortunes while she seeks a way to get close enough to the kings in order to bring them down. But they are every bit as powerful as myths say they are… This is a compelling world riven with factions and deep, corrosive secrets and I loved it.

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Parents series by Pete
Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . .
Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
After reading the hilarious How To Train Your Parents, it was a no-brainer that I would want to track down this sequel. Unlike many other children’s books, it puts Louis’s interaction with his parents right in the middle of the story. It makes for a funny, often poignant and engrossing tale with some shafts of wisdom about the intergenerational divide and modern family life.

So that is my March roundup. It’s early days in April – and already I’m doing better with the my Discovery Challenge. What about you – are there any challenges you’re undertaking during the year? I’d love to hear about it!

Review of KINDLE Ebook Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

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During the dark winter months, I’ve found myself drawn to desert-based fantasy or Sand and Sorcery as I like to call it… I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this epic series, would this one sustain the tension?

Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it – will Çeda manage to keep their dark drives under control?

My advice before you plunge into this book is to first track down Twelve Kings. In common with most epic fantasy, there is a wide-ranging cast of characters and a handful of plotpoints spiralling away from Çeda’s main story arc that holds it altogether. So inevitably you’ll be slightly floundering at the start of this one as it hits the ground running – and the premise and world are of a quality that it would be real shame to miss out on the nuances and backstory.

I’m not the greatest fan of epic fantasy, as inevitably when trying to keep track of all those interconnecting plotlines and weaving the political machinations that abound in these books, the depth of characterisation tends to suffer. Not so with Çeda. Beaulieu manages to continue to make her motivations and unfolding backstory the nexus of this complicated, vividly drawn world – which is a major achievement and doubtless has garnered the clutch of positive reviews I have read by reviewers who I know like character-driven plots. And the fact that he has succeeded in keeping her so sharply defined within such a very broad canvas elevates this one. I don’t always like her, or what she gets up to, but I am mesmerised by her and her fractured, lonely childhood. And I’d love for her find a measure peace and happiness – though I don’t somehow see that happening…

As for the world – it is riveting. The gods in this environment are every bit as savagely unyielding as the arid landscape and have exacted a terrible price from the kings to keep them ruling over this city-state – Sharakhai. This book is peopled by vengeful ghosts, demons and monsters in human form intent on keeping hold of what they have at all costs… Meanwhile neighbouring kingdoms are circling, feeding support to the freedom fighters plotting to bring down the twelve kings. There is no second book slump here as the pace accelerates, rocketing forward to the climactic battle where everyone has something to lose – and gain. I’ll definitely be looking out for the next book in this excellent fantasy series and if you like your action dune-pocked and dripping with sweat, then this one is for you.

While I obtained the arc of Blood Upon the Sand from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – February Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During February I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, making my yearly total seven books so far.

My February books are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This book is written as a dual narrative, with both Miranda and Caliban giving their different version of events from the time Caliban enters Miranda’s life when she is a six-year-old. If Shakespeare’s The Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Prospero, then this story is from the point of view of two of the characters who are most impacted by the events unfolding around them.

 

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
Addy Corwin is a florist with an attitude. A bad attitude, or so her mama says, ’cause she’s not looking for a man. Mama’s wrong. Addy has looked. There’s just not much to choose from in Hannah, her small Alabama hometown. Until Brand Dalvahni shows up, a supernaturally sexy, breathtakingly well-built hunk of a warrior from – well, not from around here, that’s for sure. Mama thinks he might be European or maybe even a Yankee. Brand says he’s from another dimension. Addy couldn’t care less where he’s from. He’s gorgeous. Serious muscles. Disturbing green eyes. Brand really gets her going. Too bad he’s a whack job. Says he’s come to rescue her from a demon. Puh-lease. But right after Brand shows up, strange things start to happen. Dogs talk and reanimated corpses stalk the quiet streets of Hannah. Her mortal enemy Meredith, otherwise known as the Death Starr, breaks out in a severe and inexplicable case of butt boils. Addy might not know what’s going on, but she definitely wants a certain sexy demon hunter by her side when it all goes down. . .

This is not my normal fare – I freely admit it. But this was just plain fun. While the insta-love was more about insta-lust, I was prepared to go with the flow as Addy is just so much fun. I enjoyed the fact that she was still concerned about what the neighbours thought and was very mindful of her mother’s opinion even after all the life-changing adventures. Meanwhile, she plays with the trope of the good Southern girl, looking for a husband, concerned with her appearance and intent on putting on a good front for the neighbours.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Patricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

 

This month I managed to clear five books from my teetering TBR pile – they are:-

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
See above.

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting series by Lexi George
See above.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
See above.

Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night… Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved.

Dina is a thoroughly engaging protagonist. Impulsive, brave and with an over-developed sense of responsibility, she immediately plunges into this adventure when she feels the caretaker of this territory is not doing enough. I really enjoyed her character, particularly as she also has a vulnerability that pulled me further onto her side. She has lost her parents, who disappeared from their thriving Inn and though she has spent years trying to track them down, all her efforts have ended in failure.

 

Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven.

Sunday Post – 12th February 2017

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

Another busy week with the Northbrook courses going well and my sessions with Tim now less pressured with the extra session. The catch is this week Himself’s shift pattern meant I had to pick him up from work at stupid o’clock in the wee small hours. A lot of the time that isn’t too much of an issue but this week, for some reason, I wasn’t getting back to sleep all that quickly so I’ve been rather sleep-deprived – even for me. As a confirmed insomniac, I’m used to functioning on not much sleep, but I only managed three hours on Thursday night/Friday morning.

On Thursday, Mhairi and I got together for a writing day – we work really well together and manage to get a great deal done. It’s also helpful to have someone you know and trust to bounce ideas around, along with lots of tea and laughter. It was the West Sussex Writers’ monthly get-together on Thursday night. This month was the manuscript surgery followed by an excellent Open Mic session where a variety of amusing and thought-provoking prose and poetry highlighted just what a talented membership we have. The Friday morning planning session regarding Tim’s progress went really well – intense, but we realised we are on track and now just need to focus our efforts on moving forward.

This week-end we have the pleasure of the grandchildren staying over. As ever, they are a joy – which is more than can be said about the bleeping weather. Oscar is suffering with a heavy cold and bad cough, so taking him out and about in the bitter cold – yesterday it was snowing quite heavily though thankfully it didn’t settle – won’t be doing him any favours. We nicked out to get a few vital supplies, but are mostly hunkering down for cosy indoors activities.

This week I have read:
The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echo of the Falls series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

thebearandtheserpentManiye, child of Wolf and Tiger, has a new soul and a new shape. But as Champion of the Crown of the World, does she represent an opportunity for the North – or a threat? Travelling as a bodyguard to the Southern prince, with her warband of outcasts, she hopes to finally discover her true place in the world, though she is quickly pitchforked in the middle of a crisis that puts her at the eye of a political storm.

I loved the first book in this shape-shifting epic fantasy set in a largely bronze age society, The Tiger and the Wolf . My firm advice is to tuck into this one before you reach for this offering as you are simply missing too much wonderful worldbuilding and rich character development if you plunge into this series with this one – which proves to be another real treat.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartlessCatherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

This prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a respectful and skilful addition to this famous classic that provides a fascinating take on what has happened to some of the major characters in the story. Highly recommended.

 

How To Cheat a Dragon’s Curse – Book 4 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Reluctant hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III must rescue his best friend, Fishlegs, from the deadly howtocheatadragonscursedisease Vorpentitis. The only cure is rare and almost impossible to find…a potato. But where will Hiccup find such a thing? He’ll have to dodge the terrible Sharkworms, battle Doomfangs, and outwit crazy Hooligans if he’s going to be a Hero. Again.

Oscar and I completed this slice of Hiccup’s madcap adventures that takes him into the territory of one of the Hooligan tribe’s deadliest enemies in an effort to save Fishlegs’ life. Once more we giggled and gasped through this adventure together. Being a granny gets to be so much fun with books like this to share…

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 5th February 2017

My 2016 Reading Year – the Statistics

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Turn – Prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 to the Echoes of the Fall

Friday Faceoff – Diamonds Are Forever… featuring Diamond Mask by Julian May

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
12 Thoughts Every Book Lover Has Had At Least Once https://athousandlives01.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/12-thoughts-every-book-lover-has-had-at-least-once/ This amusing post had me grinning and nodding in recognition – especially numbers 1 and 11…

8 Useful Computer Shortcuts and Hacks https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/8-useful-computer-shortcuts-and-hacks/ These commands Ana has compiled can save a lot of time and frustration – I’ve certainly bookmarked them.

Booklovin’: What It Is and Why You Should Be Using It https://bookishnessandtea.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/all-abloglovin/ Ava’s excellent article helps those of us who enjoy reading blogs but have problems keeping track of our favourites.

The Best Poems for Valentine’s Day https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/10/the-best-poems-for-valentines-day/ In preparation for a certain date coming up next week, those fine folks at Interesting Literature have a stock of romantic poetry to wow that special person in your life…

Proverbs from Africa https://siuquxebooks.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/www-siuquxebooks-wordpress-comproverbs-africa-josbons/ Josbons has compiled these favourite African proverbs, which make fascinating reading.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Regulars to this site will know that Tchaikovsky is a favourite author of mine and last year I read and reviewed the first book, The Tiger and the Wolf, in this latest epic fantasy offering and loved it.

Maniye, child of Wolf and Tiger, has a new soul and a new shape. But as Champion of the Crown thebearandtheserpentof the World, does she represent an opportunity for the North – or a threat? Travelling as a bodyguard to the Southern prince, with her warband of outcasts, she hopes to finally discover her true place in the world, though she is quickly pitchforked in the middle of a crisis that puts her at the eye of a political storm.

For those of you tempted by the cool cover to plunge in and pick up this one without reading the first book in the series, my advice would be don’t. Though Tchaikovsky provides a ‘Story So Far’ – a development that I thoroughly approve of – the first book is a tour de force and you’ll miss far too much of the wonderful richness of this amazing world. A world where people are defined by their clans and what they shape-shift into when they reach puberty. A world riven by constant wars and fights between the clans. A pre-agrarian society, where the secret of smelting iron belongs to the Wolf and the rest of the clans make do with bronze weapons.

While The Tiger and the Wolf mostly features the adventures of Maniye, the outcast child of the Wolf, this sequel branches off and we have another main protagonist, the Champion of the Bear, Lord Thunder. He has been dragged unwillingly right into the middle of the ferment caused when catastrophe overtakes the Seal people. A rather grumpy character possessing great strength and a short temper, he has no desire to become any kind of leader. I like the humour that comes from his struggles to deal with the political in-fighting, while he yearns to retreat once more into solitude – though that humour is tempered by the undertow of threat that runs through the book.

In common with much epic fantasy, there is Something Nasty and Worldchanging the prophesies are all saying is just around the corner. And indeed, Tchaikovsky’s talent for writing gripping action scenes and battles comes in handy as the book builds up to a page-turning climax that meant I read far into the wee small hours to discover how it all turns out. Anyone who has read Tchaikovsky’s Spiderlight and Children of Time will know he’s the master of unintended consequences, and while the main storyline is satisfactorily concluded in this action-packed book, there are some intriguing plotlines left dangling for the next in this series. Classic epic fantasy isn’t my favourite sub-genre, but Echoes of the Fall has a place in my heart – I dreamt of it when I finally fell asleep. So it comes very highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Bear and the Serpent from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Traitor to the Throne – Book 2 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton

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I fell in love with reckless, danger-loving Amani in Rebel of the Sands when I seemed to be the last person on the planet to have read this highly praised book, so would I enjoy the sequel?

traitortothethroneMere months ago, gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.

Firstly, a huge thank you to NetGalley. I requested this one more in hope than expectation and was thrilled when I was granted permission to read it – only to discover that I wasn’t able to download it. The techs at NetGalley were on it, unfailingly helpful and persistent until they sorted out the problem and Traitor to the Throne duly turned up on my trusty Kindle.

And I was even more grateful once I tucked into this gem, for as much as I relished the first book, I loved this one even more. Hamilton has a very nifty trick for those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first book – she gets Amani to recite a tale about her exploits to date at the start of the story. While I would highly recommend those of you who may not have read Rebel of the Sands to do so, if you pick up Traitor to the Throne first, I can guarantee you won’t be adrift. And the abbreviated blurb is spot on – everything does change in this next slice of the adventure.

For starters, the rebels are having a tough time of it. Life is hard and dangerous as they are unceasingly harried and their comrades continually foray forth on life or death assignments and all too often don’t return. Until it is Amani’s turn to volunteer – and she finds herself in more trouble than she knows what to do with and one of the biggest mistakes she made in escaping her town now rebounds on her.

Amani is put in a position where she is forced to consider the consequences of her actions and question if what the rebels are doing is right for the inhabitants of Miraji. I really loved this aspect of the story. Firstly, considering her situation, I thought it psychologically was spot on and I also liked the extra spin it put on the worldbuilding, when we get a ringside seat as to the motivations of the antagonist. It raised the stakes, winding this adrenaline-fuelled adventure up another notch.

I thought I could see how this was going to end – until Hamilton suddenly threw a massive spanner in the works and pulled yet another game-changing plot twist right at the end. Marvellous stuff. While ending that particular storyline satisfactorily, once more everything has been thrown up in the air – and I will be fretting for another slice of this wonderful world for the rest of the year.

While I obtained the arc of Traitor to the Throne from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

Review of KINDLE book The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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This detailed and engrossing historical adventure novel is the start of a retelling of the King Arthur story, though not necessarily from any viewpoint you instantly recognise…

Sulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, whethekingspeacere the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.

Regular visitors to Brainfluff will know that one of my all-time favourite authors is Jo Walton, so why this offering has been languishing unread in my TBR pile for so long, I’m unsure. Walton has, once again, created a vibrant and rich world where upheaval, raids and constant food shortages are commonplace. Therefore the kind of attack Sulien is subjected to is also not infrequent – what is unusual is the fact that she survived and how she managed to do so. But it leaves scars that define the rest of her life and what she decides to do next. Once more, Walton’s writing swept me up so that I was immersed in a world where the new religion is beginning to force out the older, land-based beliefs. Where might is right is the way of life and those with the healing powers of the old gods regularly call upon them for help.

I love Sulien – an unusually powerfully built woman with strong reasons to dedicate herself to learning the craft of fighting. From her viewpoint as one of the most gifted fighters and battle commanders of her age, she tells the story of how she is part of a movement trying to restore a measure of peace to a land battletorn since the retreat of the Vincan Empire years before. As ever, there are layers of detail and political infighting within Walton’s writing that bring extra focus to the inevitable action scenes, with no guarantee of success. There are upsets and reversals that had me brimming with emotion and anyone who loves epic fantasy and has enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire should give this one a go.

The story ends with some of the major plotpoints dangling, though the current crisis has – sort of – been averted and it is a given that I shall continue reading this amazing historical fantasy series early in the new year.
10/10

Favourite Completed Series of 2016

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For a variety of reasons, 2016 has been my best reading year for a long time, and as the year is drawing to a close, it’s time to share my favourite series. I’m going to split these into two groups – series I completed during the year and series I look forward to reading more of in 2017. Today, I’m featuring those series I completed during the year.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE TRILOGY BY LAINI TAYLOR

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on 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 understoodaysofbloodandstarlightd 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. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

This one started the year with a bang – Taylor’s lush prose and emotional intendreamsofgodsandmonsterssity, along with her very gritty approach blew me away. I read this series during January and February and now, over a 100 books later, I still regularly find myself thinking of Karou and this savage, beautiful world. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this series.

 

 

 

THE RED RISING TRILOGY BY PIERCE BROWNredrising

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood golden sonand sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.

This dystopian science fiction adventure, charting the progress of Darrow, a lowly Red, who determines to bring about change in a very rigid society was another roller-coaster ride. There are elements that put me in minmorning stard of The Hunger Games series – but Darrow’s exploits encompass both triumph and disaster and Brown’s pacey, action-packed prose had wrung me out by the end. An unforgettable reading experience I highly recommend.

 

 

 

THE THESSALY TRILOGY BY JO WALTON

thejustcityCreated as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future–all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and thephilosopherkings1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome–and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo–stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does–has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of necessitythe children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives–the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself–to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Unusually, I’ve included the whole blurb, because the big challenge is to couch this beguiling, unusual series in terms that make people want to track it down. And saying that Walton has written a tale where Pallas Athene decides to found a society based on the precepts of Plato’s Republic doesn’t guarantee you’ll all go rushing off to read it in your hordes. And of all the series I’ve read this year, this is the one that has lodged in the back of my brain like a burr and won’t leave me alone. Walton throws in all sorts of interesting, gnarly ideas along with an engrossing story such that I’m left with lots to ponder. I finished Necessity enormously moved and uplifted and if I had to recommend only one of these series – it would be this one.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

ME BEFORE YOU DUOLOGY BY JOJO MOYESmebeforeyou

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . . Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master afteryouof the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Me Before You is an extraordinary read, with a funny, offbeat heroine, who needs a job in austerity Britain and ends up looking after Will… It’s also heart-rending and beautiful. The sequel takes the story on after the shocking, climactic ending of the first book and although it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights (which is an almighty ask, anyhow) it nevertheless continues to amuse, shock and engross. My favourite contemporary series of the year.

THE COPPER CAT SERIES BY JEN WILLIAMSthecopperpromise

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…
Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.
theironghostFor Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.thesilvertide

If you like your swords and sorcery with plenty of gung-ho attitude, foot-to-the-floor action and lots of mayhem with some really hardcore antagonists, then this is the series for you. Even the final book doesn’t lose the chirpy humour that often disappears as events and backstory stack up sufficiently to wipe the grin off the face of the most hardened protagonist – but then they aren’t madcap adrenaline junkie Wydrin of Crosshaven, known as Cat…

And these are the series I completed and loved during 2016. What about you – which are your favourite series you completed this year?

Teaser Tuesday – 20th December, 2016

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tuesday

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:
The City of Ice – Book 2 of The Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
55% “Teach her to fight.”thecityofice
“Are you serious?” said Bannord.
“If I get you to teach her some of the more masculine arts, perhaps it will blunt her fury at me,” he said. “The women in my family! None of them seem content with their lot. She reads too many books.”

BLURB: Deep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise. The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages. As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.

This is a NetGalley arc due out at the end of the month. As you can see, once more I’ve acquired a second book in the series without realising it. However, although this one starts slowly I’m very much enjoying the complexity and tensions depicted in the worldbuilding. In multiple viewpoint with some intriguing other species that don’t automatically fall into the elf/dwarf/fae offerings, I am now keen to see where the story takes me. This looks like a promising series for fans of epic fantasy.

2016 Discovery Challenge – November Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During November, I read two Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to thirty four books I’ve completed written by women authors I haven’t previously encountered.

Synners by Pat Cadigan

In Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and thesynners external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.

 

Renting Silence – Book 3 of the Roaring Twenties Mysteries by Mary Miley
renting-silenceCan 1920 s script girl Jessie do Mary Pickford s bidding and uncover a real killer? When Jessie is asked by her idol, the famous actress Mary Pickford, if she can do some private investigating for her, Jessie reluctantly accepts. A girl was found stabbed in her bedroom with another woman lying unconscious on the floor next to her, a bloody knife in her hand. With no police investigation into the murder, it’s up to Jessie to hone her amateur detective skills and prove the girl’s innocence before she hangs for murder.

While I was aware that I’d once more crashed midway into a series, this isn’t a major deal as Miley is far too adept for keep her readers floundering. Instead I quickly bonded with Jessie, a sparky character with plenty of spirit who is embracing the opportunities Hollywood has presented for her. It is also the perfect setting for all sorts of mayhem and murder.

As with all the best historical whodunits, Miley uses the adventure to present us with a slice of Jessie’s life. While I cared about seeing the mystery solved, I was every bit as involved with Jessie’s ongoing concerns, such as her wardrobe choices, her problematic romance and interest in the Hollywood gossip. Miley vividly recreates the 1920s world for us, from the clothes and the Hollywood glamour and the thrill of drinking forbidden alcoholic drinks.

 

Tackling my TBR
In a bid to try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Last month, I’m pleased to say, I managed to read four books languishing on my To Be Read pile:

Penric’s Mission – a Penric and Desdemona novella by Lois McMaster Bujold
Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on penricsmissionhis first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems and Penric is forced to use his own wits and resources. As well as those of the demon that lives alongside him in his body…
Firstly, avoid reading the blurb – it gives away far too much of the story and given this is a novella, there simply isn’t time for the narrative arc to recover from such a reveal. I’ve included a modified version that doesn’t contain any spoilers.

Fairly rapidly, Penric’s mission is in trouble and from then on, he is forced to think on his feet. I really like the way Bujold sets this up as one kind of story – and then suddenly changes everything around. I had intended to begin this book this morning and break off to complete it later tonight – except that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down until I’d reached the end. Once more, Penric’s wry humour, his self-effacing manner and the real danger he and his companions find themselves in hooked me in and wouldn’t let go.

 

Bloodrush – Book 1 of The Scarlet Star trilogy by Ben Galley
bloodrush“Magick ain’t pretty, it ain’t stars and sparkles. Magick is dirty. It’s rough. Raw. It’s blood and guts and vomit. You hear me?”
When Prime Lord Hark is found in a pool of his own blood on the steps of his halls, Tonmerion Hark finds his world not only turned upside down, but inside out. His father’s last will and testament forces him west across the Iron Ocean, to the very brink of the Endless Land and all civilisation. They call it Wyoming.
This is a story of murder and family.
In the dusty frontier town of Fell Falls, there is no silverware, no servants, no plush velvet nor towering spires. Only dust, danger, and the railway. Tonmerion has only one friend to help him escape the torturous heat and unravel his father’s murder. A faerie named Rhin. A twelve-inch tall outcast of his own kind.
This is a story of blood and magick.
But there are darker things at work in Fell Falls, and not just the railwraiths or the savages. Secrets lurk in Tonmerion’s bloodline. Secrets that will redefine this young Hark.
This is a story of the edge of the world.

I immediately liked the premise of a fantasy set in the Wild West as the railroad is being built and very much hoped the book would live up to the punchy blurb. It does. Merion is a really appealing protagonist – a suddenly orphaned thirteen-year-old, who is uprooted from all he knows and shipped out to the wilds of the frontier to live with an aunt he’s never met.

 

Synners by Pat Cadigan
See above – this offering also had languished on my TBR pile FAR too long…

 

The Banished Craft – Book 1 of The Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell
Struggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a thebanishedcraftsecret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

One of the reasons why I wanted to return to this world is its richness and sheer quirky difference. I’m used to worlds being endangered by maniacal gods/powerful mages/artefacts – I can’t recall another world risking extinction because the child of a powerful being accidentally touched it… However, any impulse to burst out laughing is steadily eroded as we become engrossed in the lives of our protagonists on the sundered worlds. Bell handles the epic nature of her narrative really effectively, as both societies – stressed by the environmental upheaval – start to fall apart.

So that’s where I am so far on Tackling my TBR challenge. Once again, November was a far better reading month than I’d expected and my Discovery Challenge target, which was twelve books now looks stupidly unambitious, but then I’d expected to be doing a great deal more writing this year. How are you getting on with your reading challenges now the year is rapidly drawing to a close?