Tag Archives: epic fantasy

Sunday Post – 12th July, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

And here we are in high summer – when did that happen? On Monday we travelled to Ringwood to visit Himself’s parents, catching up with them both. By the afternoon, the weather had brightened up sufficiently that we were able to pop in to see my mother and father and sit in their garden for a chat before coming home, again. It was lovely to see both sets of parents – and hear the news that my stepfather has decided to fully retire after 59 years working. Himself returned to work on Wednesday, after our very quiet, uneventful staycation, which was just what he needed after working throughout the craziness of the full lockdown.

On Friday, I drove to Brighton to have lunch with my daughter and the family. We took the children to the swing park and I was amazed at how adventurous Eliza is at two – and was reminded all over again at Frankie’s tendency to climb, as he disappeared up an oak tree… I brought Oscar back with me and we’re having a lovely time with him. I’ve discovered he is amazingly helpful when shopping, as he has nailed the process of disinfecting of the trolleys.

The pics this week are from the garden. By now most of the native plants have flowered, although my little patio rose is still delivering the goods. The echiums are over their best, but I do love the fluffy look they get after most of the flowers have gone. The oregano shouldn’t really be in flower, but it’s so very pretty and as you can see, the bees love it. My bronze fennel is just coming into bloom, too. And those fuchsias will go on producing flowers until the first frosts – I love them!

Last week I read:

Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi

Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter.
Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.
This African-based epic fantasy drew me in and held me. I loved Salo and how his story steadily unspools throughout the book, while the richness of the worldbuilding and interesting, savage magic system worked really well. I am definitely going to want to read the second book in this accomplished series.


Skin Game – Book 15 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day…
Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it…
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town, so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever…
As the first half of the rather chatty blurb makes clear, this book is all about a heist poor old Harry is forced to take part in. It was a reread for me, as with Peace Talks coming out next week, I wanted to ensure I got the best out of the book before tucking into it. So glad I took the time to reacquaint myself with Harry Dresden’s doings – it reminded me all over again why we still love this series.


AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
This has taken me quite a while to get through, given that it is 800+ pages and I set my audiobooks on 1.5x slower. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it. A pity that the narrator – who handled the range of characters extremely well with a pleasing variety of voices – then mispronounced bow throughout, along with a sprinkling of other odd words. Mini-review to follow…

My posts last week:

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Musings

Friday Face-off featuring Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Chaos Vector – Book 2 of Th Protectorate series by Megan E. O’Keefe

Tuesday Treasures – 3

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden

Sunday Post – 5th July 2020


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

Author Spotlight: S.J. Higbee https://thisismytruthnow.com/2020/07/11/author-spotlight-s-j-higbee-w-excerpt/ Jay, whose cosy crime series is a delight, has posted a review of Mantivore Dreams, an excerpt of the book and an interview with me…

The Cabinet of Calm: Words for Worrying Times https://interestingliterature.com/2020/07/paul-anthony-jones-cabinet-of-calm-review/ I really love the sound of this one – so I’ll probably get a copy

Goodbye to an Old Friend https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2020/07/08/goodbye-to-an-old-friend/ There always comes a time, doesn’t there? Unless, like me – you’re a coward who cannot face such partings…

Small Restbites of Relief – or thank god, I don’t have to think for a minute https://weewritinglassie.home.blog/2020/07/08/small-restbites-of-relief-or-thank-god-i-dont-have-to-think-for-a-minute/ I love her view of the world – and if you get a chance to see Six at any stage, I second her recommendation…

The Libraries Re-Opened! https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/07/08/the-libraries-re-opened/ Another step towards civilisation – which personally matters more to me than the pubs opening up again…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheEmpireofGoldbookreview

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I take a bit of persuading to get immersed into a High Fantasy epic series, these days – but when it comes to a tale of sand and sorcery, I’m allll over it. The typically lush prose, desert landscapes and vicious magic centred around huge crocodiles, flying creatures and djinn are irresistible. I’ve loved the first two books in this series – The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper. So would this final book in the trilogy safely bring this wide-ranging, ambitious tale of lethal magic and betrayed peoples to a satisfactory conclusion?

BLURB: Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

REVIEW: Chakraborty does a cracking job in progressing this tale, producing yet another breathtaking round of adventures and plot twists, before winding it up in a way that left a lump in my throat. A word of warning – if you happen upon either The Kingdom of Copper or The Empire of Gold without having first had the pleasure of tucking into The City of Brass, then restrain yourself and go looking for that first book. This is, in effect, a single narrative arc that has been broken into three parts and when I attempted to crash midway into the series, I had to backtrack to The City of Brass, then reread The Kingdom of Copper to really appreciate what was going on. I regularly make a hobby of crashing into series – and mostly get away with it. Not so, this time.

I’m really glad I made the effort to reread the second book, before plunging into this doorstop of a book, which is something over 700 pages long. Though it really didn’t feel like it. This series, with its cast of vivid, often violent and vengeful characters swept me up and held me throughout. It was Nahri’s story that I cared most about, but the amazing being, Dara, the fabled warrior brought back to life with such a bloody past, also held my heart. The characterisation was superb. Nahri could have so easily turned into a bit of a Mary Sue, but her sharp edges and inability to trust anyone kept her from being too cosy, or too much of a victim. And as for Dara – where to begin? A single terrible episode, when he trusted too easily, defined the rest of his very long life and for which he paid a terrible price. And goes on paying it throughout most of this book, too…

George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was a game-changer in ensuring all factions were guilty of some bloody deed – and Chakraborty has continued that dynamic throughout this trilogy. The city of Daevabad was founded by an act of invasion, and throughout it has been riven by injustice and simmering hatred for one group against the other. I was both curious and concerned as to how Chakraborty would manage to find a realistic solution. The worldbuilding throughout has been exceptional. I’ve loved the descriptions of the various landscapes, particularly of the magical city – and found the transformations it undergoes once the magic has left, very moving.

CONCLUSION: I’m not going into any kind of detail as to how she manages it, but I was completely satisfied with the denouement and felt it worked both within the world and as a suitable conclusion.All in all, Chakraborty has magnificently pulled off a true epic fantasy that hits all the tropes within the sand and sorcery sub-genre, providing a wonderful addition to the canon and a magnificent read that took me away from everyday life for hours at a stretch. I couldn’t ask for more. The ebook arc copy of The Empire of Gold was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10


May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffMay2020Roundup

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I recall I said something to the effect that there had never been a month like April in the whole of my life – except that May was exactly the same. Eerily so. Staying at home and seeing no one else, other than Himself. Though we did drive across to my daughter’s house and deliver her bike, so she could also cycle with the children. It was bittersweet seeing them after such a long time and I’m hoping this month, with the easing of the lockdown, I might once more be able to be a regular visitor, again. The weather continues to behave as if we are in July or August, further skewing the sense of abnormality. But thank goodness for books and writing projects!

Reading
I read fifteen books in May, but as I also broke off to read a couple of my own books on editing runs, that did impact on my general reading time. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, so there were no DNFs. They were:

Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit series by Christopher Fowler
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – see my review
Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold – see my review
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik – this is my outstanding read of the month
AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor – this is my outstanding audiobook read of the month
Night’s Tooth – Tales of the River Vine novella by Jean Lee
Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey
The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Writing
I finished the first draft of my Wordmanship Handbook – How to Write Convincing Characters, which went really well. While I had intended this to be part of a series, I decided that if I found it too much of a trudge, then it would be a standalone, but it ended up being quite a lot of fun to write. So during the year I am hoping to write at least another book in the Wordmanship series. The handbook aspect of it – with a quick checklist so an author can tick off possible issues as they go, either during the writing phase, or during an editing run – ended up being about the right length, too.

I then turned back to Mantivore Warrior to do the first editing pass. This is always slightly nerve-wracking. Once I’ve gained a bit of distance, I can work out whether it’s a hot mess, or if it hangs together. And as it is the first book that I thoroughly plotted before I started, I was keen to see how it held up. And I’m delighted – those fixes I put in last month strengthened the overall narrative, so there was only one major addition and then it was a question of smoothing the prose and looking for mistakes.

So once again, it’s been a wonderful writing month. Overall, I wrote just under 43,000 words in May, with just over 15,500 on the blog, and just under 26,000 on my writing projects.

Blogging
The big event during May was Wyrd and Wonder 2020, which I discovered thanks to Tammy from Books, Bones and Buffy. It was about alll things fantastical and I really enjoyed taking part. Huge thanks go to Imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa from Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for all their hard work and effort throughout May to make this such a success.

I hope everyone is managing to keep well and healthy, both physically and mentally – the situation has been a strain on everyone, not helped by some dodgy decisions by those in charge. Take care and stay safe.x






Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 6th May, 20202 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

 

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine. I’m linking this week’s offering to Wyrd and Wonder 2020, which is celebrating all forms of fantasy for the month of May.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty – release date, 11th June, 2020

#epic fantasy #sand and sorcery

BLURB:
Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies. Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own.

While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant.

Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Kingdom of Copper – see my review here – so I was delighted to be approved for The Empire of Gold and I’m looking forward to once again, getting swept up in Nahri’s adventures. Highly recommended for fans of sand and sorcery.





Friday Faceoff – Confidence is an armour you cannot buy… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffarmourcovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with ARMOUR. I’ve selected The Fell Sword – Book 2 of the Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron, see my review.


This offering was produced by Gollancz in June 2014. It’s stripped right back in a really interesting way – no castle or mountain in the background to distract, just that beautifully etched design. Which means all our attention is on the armoured knight fighting for his life against a terrifying monster with too much beak and claws. Look at the fabulous feathers that pick up the colour in the title font… There are some lovely details in this one, including that slightly uneven border, which shows  the thought that has gone into this one. As a result, it is really eye-catching. I also like the font, which manages to evoke the genre and historical period, without becoming impossible to read. Altogether, it’s a classy effort and my favourite.

 

Published in March 2014 by Orbi, this cover is almost the complete opposite of the previous one in approach. Instead of zooming out to show us the whole battle, we get a real close-up – to the extent that we can see the dents in the armour. We’ve no idea what this knight is fighting – indeed, we don’t even get to see the whole figure. That is left to our imagination. I really like it, too. And I especially approve of the treatment given to the title and author fonts, limned in electric blue lightning, as if struck by magic. It’s nicely done and brightens up what could have been a rather dark cover.


This French edition, published in August 2014 by Bragelonne, is another classy design. It has taken the same approach as the Orbit designers, going for the close-up – this time we get a shot of the knight’s helm carried in his arm – note the blood spatter… The same electric blue lighting is used, this time as a backdrop to the main figure, rather than to highlight the title and author fonts. While I like the treatment, particularly of the title, my one niggle is that it is too small for the scale of the cover.

 

This German edition, published in September 2014 by Heyne has grown on me. Initially, I thought it rather underwhelming in comparison with the previous offerings – but the more I see of it, the more I like it. The blue colouring, more intense towards the edges and fading to a brighter shade in the middle is both attractive and effective at drawing our eyes to the centre of the cover, where the etched outline of a heraldic device is traced, with a dragon helm right in the middle of it. And the slight smudging of the author name and title is really effective.

 

This Russian edition, published by Фантастика Книжный Клуб in October 2019, is in effect, the Gollancz cover flipped around, so we see more of the back of the creature as he faces down the knight. For some reason best known to himself, this chap sees fit to fight without his helm on, and wearing a cloak. He clearly hasn’t read the memo about how lethal cloaks can be in combat – and what happens if a claw gets pass your defence and rakes your face. While I do like it, I’m not quite as keen on it as I am the first cover, due to the daft decisions by the knight. Which is your favourite?


Friday Faceoff – Sea in a storm, night with no moon and the anger of a gentle man… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffatmosphericcovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring ATMOSPHERIC covers. I’ve selected The Wise Man’s Fear – Book 2 of the Kingkiller series by Patrick Rothfuss, which I absolutely loved – see my review.


This edition of The Wise Man’s Fear was produced by DAW Books March 2011. Full of shadows and intrigue and mainly featuring wet stone, some of it rough-hewn, some of it paved, not much seems to be happening. But I love this cover and it became – quite rightly – the default cover for this outstanding epic fantasy. It’s the play of moonlight on the rain-slicked cityscape… that archway… and the figure standing in a pool of moonlight. It doesn’t hurt that this is a relatively uncluttered cover and while the fonts are very plain, they work well with the design. This is my favourite…


Published in March 2011 by Gollancz, this another classy effort. The cover is beautiful with those fire-red leaves surrounding the figure dominating the middle of the cover with his flourished sword and lightning limning the stormy skies. But that’s part of the problem. Though it is pleasing on the eye, it seems far too generic to properly represent this remarkable, accomplished novel. It only lacks a rearing horse to tick all the epic fantasy tropes that generally end up on a cover.


This Portuguese edition, published in November 2011 by Arqueiro, has broken away from the darker, moodier covers that defined this book and produced something brighter. It is also beautiful – I love that shade of turquoise, which is eye-catching and unusual in this genre. The sense of the forest whited out behind the intense light is well done and this one could have been a real contender if the figure in the foreground didn’t look quite so much like a refugee from a Disney cartoon. I would have preferred a more travel-scuffed depiction of Kvothe.


This Finnish edition, published in June 2015 by Kirjava, is a great cover. I love that burst of colour on the skyline with the birds flying away from the gathering stormclouds. Young Kvothe crouched on the roof is well depicted – and I really like the fact that he isn’t looking at us. My problem with this one is that the execution is relatively crude. The definition is poor and the colours blocky, with the artwork lacking detail and shading. It’s a shame, as the design is great, but it looks as though the cover designer still hadn’t got to grips with Adobe Photoshop.

 

This Czech edition, published by Argo in October 2012, is another strong offering. I really like the stone ornamentation apparently staring down at young Kvothe, who is glaring out at us, while dealing with a flock of birds. There is a sense of movement and urgency about this cover that isn’t present in any of the others. I like the gradated shading on the author and title fonts, which nests them within the overall cover design, rather than making them look as if they were just plonked over the top as an afterthought. This is the one I so nearly went for… But which is your favourite?


Sunday Post – 16th February, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

No Pilates or Fitstep this week, as our teaching is on a scuba diving holiday on the other side of the world – she surely picked a good time to go! On Tuesday, the Sleep Clinic contacted us to say that the sleep mask Himself had been waiting for had arrived, so we drove to Worthing hospital to pick it up. On the way back, we stopped at the Sea Lane Café and enjoyed a delicious vegan burger for lunch, looking out over the sea in lovely sunshine, though it was raining again by the time we got home.

On Friday, I travelled to Brighton to see Rebecca and little Eliza, who ran up to me – and went on going, past me, calling ‘Papa! Papa!’ She scrambled onto the settee to look out of the window and see if he was outside, ignoring me. And when we went over last week to babysit – did he play with her? Get her tea and feed her? Give her a bath and put her to bed? Nope, that was yours truly. Instead, he read his Kindle, looking up from time to time to acknowledge her chatter as she all but stood on her head to get his attention… Rebecca was in fits of laughter😊. That evening Himself made me a special meal for Valentine’s Day and you’ll be shocked to learn we exchanged books as presents to show how much we love each other…

Yesterday, I tackled the middle bedroom where Rob had put all the stuff he’d brought back from Cambridge, before flying out to LA, as we are expecting the children to stay during half term this coming week. By evening, Storm Dennis was howling around the house with rain lashing the windows, when I got a text from my sister to say that as she’d opened her back door, the wind took hold of it, swung it round and hit her in the face. She is now only ten minutes up the road, so driving through the height of the storm wasn’t too bad, though I wouldn’t have wanted to travel much further. She has a lump on her forehead the size of an egg, cuts across her nose and had bitten through her tongue. She is lucky to have escaped concussion and a broken nose, though she is developing two black eyes. Fortunately, although shocked and in a lot of pain, she was okay, however I stayed the night just in case. We had a cosy breakfast together, and I returned home mid-morning, though the pouring rain – though at least the wind has dropped. My thoughts are with all the poor souls who have suffered damage and flooding for the second weekend in a row…

Last week I read:
A Blight of Blackwings – Book 2 of the Seven Kennings series by Kevin Hearne
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. . . .
I thoroughly enjoyed this epic fantasy sequel to A Plague of Giants with a nifty plot device which works really well.

AUDIOBOOK Salt Lane – Book 1 of the DS Alexandra Cupidi series by William Shaw
DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing – resentful teenager in tow – from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Even murder looks different in this landscape of fens, ditches and stark beaches, shadowed by the towers of Dungeness power station. Murder looks a lot less pretty. The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask – but these people are suspicious of questions. It will take an understanding of this strange place – its old ways and new crimes – to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt.
This is a well written, strongly plotted contemporary murder mystery set in the striking setting of Dungeness, which I loved listening to. Ideal for fans of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series.

Sacred Bride – Book 3 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair & Cath Mayo
Prince Odysseus and the daemon Bria must penetrate the haunted caverns beneath Dodona, seeking a way to save their doomed nation, Achaea, from the might of Troy. The startling revelation that follows will set Odysseus on his most daunting mission yet, as he seeks to reunite the divided Achaean kingdoms before the rapacious Trojans strike. His journey will pit him against wrathful gods and legendary heroes, in a deadly contest for the hand of Helen of Sparta, the daughter of Zeus, upon whose choice the fate of Achaea rests…
This is the third book in the series charting the adventures of Odysseus in the run-up to the Trojan War. I love Greek myth retellings. The characterisation, worldbuilding and explanation of how the gods work and the political and financial pressures all leading to the war is done exceptionally well. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Shoot for the Moon 2020

Friday Faceoff featuring Club Dead – Book 3 of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Blight of Blackwings – Book 2 of the Seven Kennings series by Kevin Hearne

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Case of the Reincarnated Client – Book 5 of the Vish Puri series by Taquin Hall

Sunday Post 9th February 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last couple of weeks, in no particular order:

#writerproblems #writingawesome #characterdesign in three sentences or less https://jeanleesworld.com/2020/02/02/writerproblems-writing-awesome-characterdesign-in-three-sentences-or-less/ Jean’s writing advice and discussions are always worth reading – but this one particularly chimed with me. So very true!

My Favorite Books of the Decade: 2009-2019 https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/12/my-favorite-books-of-the-decade-2009-2019/ I loved this list, and agreed with a couple of the choices – but then also started wondering which books I’d include on my own list. What about you?

An Interesting Character Study: Malvolio from Twelfth Night https://interestingliterature.com/2020/02/character-study-malvolio-twelfth-night/ 
I recall seeing Ken Dodd perform the final speech of Malvolio’s during a Variety performance and being transfixed at just how WELL he did it. This intriguing article explains what drew him to the character…

John Gorka: Semper Fi https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2020/02/09/john-gorka-semper-fi/ Once again, a warm, wonderful piece of writing that makes you think. Thom’s blog epitomises the best in blogging…

Thursday Photo Prompt #Choice #writephoto https://indishe.wordpress.com/2020/02/09/thursday-photo-promptchoicewritephoto/ These posts are always gold for writers seeking inspiration – and I love this one…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Series I Completed in 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedin2019

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The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of Malessar’s Curse duology by Stephen Poore
The duology takes the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy, gives them a jolly good shake and tips them out… I loved the way we find the protagonist is as much the most convenient fool in the neighbourhood as the special chosen one. And that she discovers in the second book that most of the assumptions she’d made in The Heir to the North were wrong. Disastrously so, as it happens. Both The Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are highly recommended – despite the dodgy covers.

 

The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
This epic fantasy comprises The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm, A Plague of Swords and this concluding book – The Fall of Dragons. This high fantasy swords and sorcery adventure is chockfull of action with the battle scenes being particularly outstanding. Cameron wears armour and takes part in historical martial arts – and his own experience means he writes those aspects very well. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy and brilliant battle scenes.

 

 

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
This gave the whole series an enjoyable twist as a huge development occurs in this particular book that is a complete gamechanger. I’ve loved following the feisty Lady Trent through all her adventures, comprising A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – as well as this final instalment. This is historical fantasy adventure is completely original take on dragons and is very highly recommended.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
You’re going to think I mostly read five-book series… But once I finished this military sci fi thriller, where a mercenary teams up with a discarded sentient warship, published in 2012 by Baen, I was really sad to see there were no other books featuring these two likeable, battle-scarred characters. The series comprises Jump Twist Gate, an omnibus edition of the first two books – One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back – review to follow. Highly recommended if you like your military sci fi on the quirky, thoughtful side.

 

 

The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve always enjoyed the sheer mapcap energy that pings off the page with Williams’ writing, but this trilogy is where she showed what she could really do in this genre mash-up, where science fiction and fantasy collide in a magnificent shower of sparks… This series comprises  The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, in addition to The Poison Song. Very highly recommended.

 

 

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso
I loved these books right from the first line onwards. Caruso pulled me right into the middle of her delightful world, where each magic-user needed to be bound to a controller. So what happens when this happens by accident, rather than by design? The intense, assured writing won me over, and it was with real pain that I took the decision that this one couldn’t make the final cut in my 2019 Outstanding Reads list. This series comprises The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir as well as The Unbound Empire. This YA fantasy is very highly recommended.

 

 

AUDIO The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This outstanding children’s alternate fantasy, where people who have died in troubled circumstances turn into feral ghosts who are capable of appearing at night and killing the living. And only children are able to see and fight them… Lucy tells her gripping tale throughout these books, which are funny, poignant and genuinely frightening in places. This series comprises The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow as well as The Empty Grave. This outstanding series is very highly recommended.

 

 

A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
It’s the world that Hunter has created here that makes this one stand out. I’ll be honest – I think the first book is the best one. But I’m glad I also read the other two, as they added breadth and depth to this intriguing and complex version of Regency Britain, where Christianity never prevailed, Roman gods are acknowledged and the country is still a patchwork of smaller kingdoms loosely united by treaties. This series comprises The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick in addition to A Season of Spells – review to follow.

 

 

AUDIO How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Written for reluctant readers, this children’s epic fantasy adventure featuring a small, very ordinary-looking Viking boy, who isn’t all that good at most of the Viking pasttimes. And whose hunting dragon is very small and very, very naughty drew me in from the first by the sheer quality of the characterisation and plotting. I have read these adventures to both children, until they both decided they wanted to complete the books on their own. So I finally finished listening to the last handful of books on my own. Hiccup’s exploits were funny, gripping and ultimately absolutely heart-breaking, so I wept as I listened to the epilogue of this instalment, feeling like I’d lost a cherished friend. This series comprises How To Train Your Dragon, How To Be a Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero as well as How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. Very highly recommended for children of all ages, who believe in dragons ages…

 

The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog recommended this series – and I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky urban fantasy adventure with a difference. Letty the foul-mouthed fairy who bounces right back became a solid favourite with me. This trilogy comprises Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel as well as The Violent Fae. Recommended for urban fantasy fans who are looking for something different.

 

 

 

AUDIO The Last Olympian – Book 5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This children’s re-telling of the Greek myths, updated and made fresh when told through the eyes of young dyslexic half-blood, Percy Jackson. Frankie absolutely loved this series and so I thought I’d better discover what all the fuss was about. This clever, entertaining series comprises Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth as well as The Last Olympian. Highly recommended for those who enjoy teenage coming-of-age fantasy adventures. I didn’t review any of these books on my blog, as I felt most of what I had to say had already been covered about this very popular series.

 

 

AUDIO Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, with forewords written and narrated by Stephen Fry
This marvellous collection of the four novels and all the short stories provided over seventy hours of quality listening as I was decorating the bathroom during the summer. I broke it up, listening to other books in between each of the six sections, stretching it out as long as I could – so it was with a real sense of loss that I finally arrived at the last section. Overall, I was impressed at how well much of Conan Doyle’s canon stood the test of time, although there were a handful of horribly racist stories I simply skipped.

These were the series I completed during 2019. I’ll be posting another article charting those I’m intending to continue throughout 2020. What about you – have you read any of these and did you enjoy them, too?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyHotspurbookreview

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It was the blurb that attracted me – a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV sold this one. I studied the play at school and it sank into my soul. What I hadn’t realised is that this is the second book set in this world of Innis Lear as neither Goodreads or Amazon mention it. However, I think reading The Queens of Innis Lear would have helped enormously. So before picking this one up, go and track down the first book.

BLURB: Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost. Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy. Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire. These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

Unusually, I’ve included the full blurb as it neatly sums up the dynamic of the plot about three young women who were once firm friends, as their relationships change into a more complex dynamic that has consequences not just for them, but for two kingdoms. This long book (600+ pages) is very ambitious, given it claims to be a retelling of one of the Shakespeare history plays. While there are echoes of that dynamic, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that thread, as there are also important differences that occur very quickly.

It took me a bit of time to really bond with the characters, but then I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book and I recommend you read the first one before tackling Lady Hotspur. The title is actually misleading as the book equally deals with Prince Hal and Bana Mora just as much as Hotspur. It covers their joint and individual journeys extremely well. Gratton is an accomplished author who drew me into a world of complex magic and layered characterisation so that despite the heftiness of the read, I was held throughout. I was all set to give this one a ten, before I got to the final act and that crucial defining battle…

As I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, you’ll have to bear with me if I’m a tad vague. But the trajectory of the book charts the relationships and competing claims, both personal and societal, upon three young women who already had high expectations thrust upon them. I felt Gratton did an outstanding job in making those genuinely gripping and very poignant – the relationship between Hotspur and Hal was particularly well done, I felt. But I was very dissatisfied with the manner in which the story was tied up. I think Gratton committed the unpardonable sin of raising reader expectations for one type of outcome, only to pull a switch that didn’t convince me at all. The conclusion was far too tidy for such a tortuous journey – by the end, I wasn’t even sure why they went to war at all, given the outcome.

The other issue I had was the role of women in the story. This magical tale is set in a late medieval setting when political marriages secured dynasties and land and Might is Right. Why we suddenly have a cadre of highborn, marriageable women, able to fight in battle alongside their male counterparts, is never fully explained. And I mind. It seems to me that you cannot sweep away all the impediments to women’s full equality within a story without addressing these obstacles, or factoring in a different dynamic that will give these women some tangible advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. Because their ability to prevail against fully armoured men due to their unique skill never convinced me. And I’m not prepared to go with the flow on this one – what sort of message does that give generations of us who watched our male work colleagues sail past us simply because of their genitalia? That we’re not strong enough? That we need magic? Or that just reading about a cosy world where it’s all just different is going to make me feel better? Systemic inequality of opportunity for women is far too widespread to be treated in such a flippant manner.

Furthermore, it’s supposed to be a retelling of a Shakespearean play. He might have been the greatest playwright that ever lived, but he was still a product of his time – so women were never found on the battlefield fighting alongside their men in his stories. If Gratton had wanted to change that aspect after specifically referencing Shakespeare in her worldbuilding, then she needed to spend at least some time and effort demonstrating what made it possible for these women to be able to learn the martial arts and take part in the bloodletting alongside the men. And she doesn’t.

The really aggravating aspect is that it wouldn’t have taken much to have turned this well-written, but slightly flawed effort into an outstanding read, as far as I’m concerned. And despite my real gripes with the book, I am still awarding it a solid eight. But it could have been a ten with just a little bit more thought… The ebook arc copy of Lady Hotspur was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK How To Fight A Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell #Brainfluffbookreview #HowToFightaDragon’s Fury

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So here it is… the very last book in the series, which I started with Frankie way back in 2014. I started reading the books to him, then he wanted to continue listening to them on audio and it wasn’t until the beginning of last year that I was able to access his Audible account and join in the joys of audiobooks, so I could continue listening to this series.

BLURB: The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s quest is clear…but can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!

Whatever else happens, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this delightful, quirky series – don’t start here. It is the culmination of a twelve-book series packed with all sorts of adventures as a small boy, the heir to the Chief of the Hooligan Tribe, struggles to survive and overcome insanely difficult odds. And this current crisis he’s facing is the most insurmountable of the lot. He is fighting for the survival of humanity and/or the dragons as they are set to fight each other to extinction, although given the firepower the dragons are capable of, the outcome is a foregone conclusion… That’s the situation at the beginning of the book – Cowell is better than anyone else I know at providing overwhelming odds and then fantastic ways for her embattled protagonist to beat them. But this time around, I couldn’t see any way that Hiccup and Toothless would survive the end of this adventure unscathed – and I was wary, because people who matter can die in this series.

While I had enjoyed reading the books, the advantage of listening is that David Tennant also sings the songs – and especially in this book, the songs matter. They provide a strong emotional backdrop to the ongoing action, which was every bit as gripping and exciting – more so as I realised this was the last time I’d hear of Hiccup battling the impossible.

Cowell has written an epic. The overarching themes she covers provide morals and mottos that youngsters listening can use as life lessons. I’m aware that some reviewers became a bit exasperated by the way she emphasises these throughout, but I didn’t have a problem with them. Now in my 60s, it’s handy to remind myself that second best is often good enough and loyalty to those you love is important.

And… that ending. Oh my word. I was sitting in the kitchen and weeping as I heard the final epilogue. Perhaps, because I am now coming to a stage of my life when I, too, am starting to consider what I’ve done and whether it’s been good enough, the words particularly resounded with me. And now I’m sad that it’s over, but so very elated and joyful that I’ve had the chance to read and hear it. Very highly recommended. An outstanding series.
10/10