Tag Archives: epic medieval fantasy

Review of LIBRARY book The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFallofDragonsbookreview

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I’d read the previous books in this series and enjoyed them – see my review of The Dread Wyrm, The Red Knight and The Fell Sword – then somehow this one slipped through the cracks, so when I saw it on the library shelves, I scooped it up, despite blanching at the prospect of reading 600+ pages of reasonably small print…

BLURB: In the climax of the Traitor Son Cycle, the allied armies of the Wild and the Kingdoms of men and women must face Ash for control of the gates to the hermetical universe, and for control of their own destinies. But exhaustion, treachery and time may all prove deadlier enemies. In Alba, Queen Desiderata struggles to rebuild her kingdom wrecked by a year of civil war, even as the Autumn battles are fought in the west. In the Terra Antica, The Red Knight attempts to force his unwilling allies to finish the Necromancer instead of each other. But as the last battle nears, The Red Knight makes a horrifying discovery… all of this fighting may have happened before.

One of the reasons why I’d hesitated in getting hold of this one, was my concern that I would have forgotten too many details about the series that would make getting back into this world something of a struggle. In the event, that didn’t prove to be a problem. Cameron’s smooth writing and delivery ensured that I was quickly brought up to speed where necessary, and at no time did I flounder in trying to work out what was going on. This is a feat on his part, because just like in George RR Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire series, the action takes place in a variety of locations and the viewpoint shifts between a wide cast of characters. I often find this structure to be annoying, as my preferred scenarios tend to play out in tightly confined backdrops featuring a small number of well-developed and highly nuanced characters to get the depth of story that I really appreciate.

Given that most of the book is concerned with an ongoing war, wherein an increasing number of skirmishes lead up to a large set-piece battle, this clearly wasn’t going to happen. Yet I was pulled into the book almost from the first page and found the pages turned themselves as I was swept along by the action, identifying with each character’s motives.

One of the reasons why this worked so well was Cameron’s mastery of the pacing. Just as I was beginning to wonder what would be filling the rest of the book, there was a sudden twist in the story that gave the whole world a completely different dimension. I’m not going to say more on the grounds that it would be a real spoiler, but it certainly worked well and added an extra layer of poignancy to the current struggle. One of my difficulties with epic fantasy is that it frequently lacks that layer of emotional connection that I particularly enjoy – hardly a surprise when the action is often the driving force in the narrative with each character playing a relatively small piece in the overarching battle plan. Cameron manages to make his characters matter to the extent that one of the reasons why those pages kept turning was that I really cared about a number of his cast and was keen to see what would happen to them. Inevitably, in this war scenario a number of them don’t make it – something else that I generally heartily dislike. And yet this time around I took a deep breath and just kept on reading.

Of course, the catch in this form of writing is that the final battle has to deliver with plenty of heart-stopping action and a huge climax that also packs an emotional punch sufficient to satisfy the reader who has slogged through the previous 600+ pages to get here. Again, Cameron triumphantly succeeds. I finished this book with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, feeling hollowed out by the resultant drama. This book is a marvellous end to a really high-quality series. Recommended for fans of epic and high fantasy.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia by Luke Aylen #Brainfluffbookreview #TheForgottenPalacebookreview

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I can’t lie – once again it was the cover with that amazing dragon’s eye peering through the castle window that sucked me into requesting this one. Much to my surprise, this year I seem to have read a number of children’s books – would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: Deep in the heart of Presadia’s Great Forest lie many secrets, including the ancient ruins of a once-magnificent palace. A chance encounter with a bedraggled stranger and the discovery of broken shards of a magical mirror lead Antimony, an unusually tall dwarf, on a journey of discovery.

The blurb continues for another couple of paragraphs, busily letting drop a number of plotpoints I think would be better for the reader if they encountered them in the book, rather than waiting for them to happen. I like fourteen-year-old Luke, who is unusually tall for a dwarf with a flair for problem-solving and design and impatiently waiting for his beard to start growing. It was a refreshing change to find he comes from a close-knit community and has a loving mother who provides staunch support throughout, rather than the classic child protagonist without any positive adult in his life.

I did struggle a bit at the start of the book, even though I’m very used to being tipped sideways into adventures owing to my habit of crashing midway into series. Unhelpfully, neither Amazon, Goodreads, or the cover give any indication of the previous book The Mirror and the Mountain where we follow the fortunes of two children who have fallen through a portal into this medieval-type society. My advice would be to get hold of the first book before embarking on this one, as while I did sort out what was going on before it spoilt the story for me, I’m an experienced reader. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a youngster to pick their way through the various references to previous events and characters that they never meet.

Once I gathered exactly what was going on, I was able to relax into the story. Aylen writes an old-school epic fantasy, where Good and Evil are personified by the characters within the story and adventures are there to test their mettle.

I did like the way all the different races came together to rebuild the palace, despite the evident tensions between them. I would have liked a bit more discussion on how the task would provide all those toiling to rebuild it with protection and shelter, rather than focusing on how much the King wanted it rebuilt so he could fix the land. While this is clearly epic fantasy, there were times when the emphasis on the grand ambitions of peace and renewal gave this book a slightly old-fashioned feel and I’m intrigued to find out how today’s modern youngsters react to it.

That said, I enjoyed the characters and the story and would recommend it for independent readers from ten/eleven years old and upward – the battle scenes might be a bit too gory for younger readers. The ebook arc copy of The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – When a knight won his spurs…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a cover featuring medieval times, so I’ve selected Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, who sounds as if he should be joining in the jousting with a name like that…

 

To be honest, this cover produced by Roc in December 1999 is rather underwhelming. It is very brown with an embossed emblem of something that looks as though it belongs on a shield. I’m not overly struck with the rather spindly font, either. Given this is a book about a particularly colourful time, the cover seems to be expending a great deal of energy just to blend into the general background of the shelf this book will be sitting on.

 

This edition was produced by Roc Fantasy in October 1991 and is far more attractive and lively. The gold font upon the red is much more in keeping. However, my main worry is on behalf of the long-suffering queen or princess… no wonder she is looking so grumpy. I’d be looking a tad fed up if I had an halberd handle sticking out of my left ear, too.

 

Published in April 2005 by Penguin Canada (APB), I like this one. The gold colour sings out and the distant city in the distance looks invitingly different – an impression reinforced with the two moons in the sky. I like the attractive pattern bordering the vista, which gives a suggestion that this might be an embroidered depiction after the style of the Bayeux tapestry.

 

This Italian edition, published by Sperling & Kupfer in 1992, has very much gone for the fantasy feel. The moonlit scene – featuring two moons – is beautifully conveyed and unlike the queen in the Roc Fantasy offering, this monarch is unhampered by any weaponry protruding from her ears. She is beautiful and focused – and I want to pick up this book and find out why. This is my favourite cover.

 

This edition, produced by Penguin Canada in June 2016, is another dun effort. This time we get the edge of the shield, as if we are peeping over it to snatch a view of the city in the distance – also brown. I’m not quite sure why, because it isn’t remotely appealing. However, that’s just my opinion – which cover do you like best?

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Name – Book 2 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last – and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

“The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms – and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.”

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentent usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hardwon Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies – and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens. Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.
10/10

Review of The Dread Wyrm – Book 3 of The Traitor Son series by Miles Cameron

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The first book in this series, The Red Knight was something special – see my review here – and I also, eventually, much enjoyed The Fell Sword – see my review here – but now we are on the third book, has Cameron managed to sustain the pace, excitement and drama?

thedreadwyrmThe Red Knight has stood against soldiers, against armies and against the might on an empire. He’s fought on real and magical battlefields alike, and now he’s facing his greatest challenge yet. A tournament. The flower of the nobility will ride against each other for royal favour and acclaim. It’s a contest the Red Knight has the skill to win. But the stakes are higher than he thinks: the court has been infiltrated by a dangerous faction, led by the greatest knight in the world – Jean de Vrailly.

This medieval swords and sorcery adventure revolves around the Red Knight’s mercenary outfit, who are now a whole lot more prosperous and secure than they were a couple of books ago. So you’d think their problems would be solved – but you’d be wrong. Things are badly awry in the kingdom of Alba, where a group have more or less taken over the court… the Wild are gathering all across the continent and massing under the leadership of Ash, the powerful mage, who has his own agenda.

I love this world. The main protagonist, Gabriel Muriens – our Red Knight – is clever, driven, a skilful fighter, brimful of magical talent and short fused. He pings off the page with charisma and a burning desire to prove himself to his family – his scheming mother and scornful father aren’t the kindest parents. There is also a whole cast of intriguing, three-dimensional characters who are all nuanced and complex so that no one is whiter than white and we get to see the motivations of even the darkest characters. Politicking and scheming abound in this book – but the outstanding aspect of this book and the series are the battle scenes. Cameron has taken part in tournaments while wearing armour and it shows. The battles are written with a sense of realism, intensity and danger that are in a class of their own – and it isn’t only slavering creatures from the Wild that die. A fair sprinkling of likeable, interesting characters are also cut down in skirmishes or full-scale battles.

The magic is also beautifully handled. Magicians need to be able to control and pinpoint their talents and are given precise visualisation methodology in order to control their ability. Mags, the Company’s seamstress, has managed to devise her own particular spell casting using her needleworking, while those classically trained have their mental palaces.

All in all, this series just goes on getting better and better, with several surprising twists that really have me wanting more. But if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – don’t start with The Dread Wyrm, go back to The Red Knight and read them in order. I haven’t read an epic fantasy swords and sorcery that is better crafted.
10/10

Review of Antiagon Fire – Book 7 of the Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

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The hard-won battles fought in Imager’s Battalion have earned the imager Quaeryt a promotion to commander, as well as an assignment to convince the stiff-necked Pharsi High Council in the nation of Khel to submit to Lord Bhayar’s rule. Joined by his pregnant wife, Vaelora, who is also Bhayar’s sister, Quaeryt leads an army and a handful of imagers, deep into the hostile lands once ruled by the tyrannical Rex Kharst.

antiagonfireAnd that’s part of the rather chatty blurb. I read the first three books in this series and thoroughly enjoyed them, then lost track of the subsequent books – until I noticed this one on the shelves. So I haven’t read Imager’s Battalion – if you have, then I’d skim-read the first chapter which effectively fills in the subsequent storyline. I’d like to say  it wasn’t rather clunky – but it was. However Modesitt’s normally smooth prose resumed once we dived into the main story.

I like the way Modesitt builds up the world by the constant dripfeed of small details as his main character, Quaeryt, tries to get through this adventure without getting himself killed. While keeping the inevitable death toll down… It’s always a challenge depicting a really powerful protagonist with awesome abilities without it becoming an anti-climax. After all, if you have the capability to collapse buildings and sink ships, then you’re not exactly vulnerable, are you? So why would the reader really care? Except – I did. I really wanted Quaeryt to succeed in his dream of a united continent where the downtrodden peasants who make up the majority of the population would have a chance of a fairer life. Where the law protected everyone – not just the rich and powerful. Where imagers would have a safe, stable retreat where they could hone their skills and live with others of their kind, rather than become powerful tools of tyrants, constantly under threat.

As well as his ideals and his guilt at the deaths he’s caused when unexpectedly finding himself serving in the army – the other attractive trait Quaeryt displays is his love for Vaelora. She has unique abilities of her own that haunt her, the gift of being able to see into the future. It often surfaces at times of stress or great danger as a warning, but Vaelora is terrified of confiding in Quaeryt in case she changes his actions or behaviour such that the future timeline she envisages doesn’t come about… It creates a fair amount of tension between them, despite their obvious affection for each other.

Modesitt is good at depicting a strong relationship without turning it overly sugary – the domestic conflict points and minor disagreements work nicely at highlighting their equality in a world where women are so often abused chattels. It makes the final climactic moments of the book far more meaningful, giving a memorable finish to this accomplished slice of adventure in the series.

Any grizzles? Hm. One that became increasingly annoying throughout the book… As the historical setting is late mediaeval, they travel everywhere on horses. We get details about the weather, the state of the roads, how comfortable and clean their lodgings – and next to nothing about the horses, apart from a couple of throwaway sentences on how fond Quaeryt has become of his loyal mare. Anyone who has ever travelled anywhere on a horse for any length of time will know their temper and pace varies from day to day. This sometimes depends on the weather – they are invariably a lot more skittish on a windy day, or when bad weather is approaching; they will be stiff and sore if the going underfoot is rough; travelling through woods tends to cause them to spook at shadows or unexpected noises; and each animal will have its foibles anyhow. Given how well Modesitt depicts his world through the little things, I found this omission a real shame – it wouldn’t have taken too much more to have added this layer on an otherwise convincing world. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker – I enjoyed too much about this accomplished addition to the Imager series.
8/10

Review of The Fell Sword – Book 2 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron

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I’ll be honest – I nearly didn’t write this review. In fact, I nearly didn’t finish the book. If it hadn’t been for Himself promising me that – yes – the constant switching from character to character and place to place eased up a tad by a third into the book, so that I could catch my breath and work out exactly who was doing what to whom – it would have gone flying across the room… If ever a book cried out for a Cast of Characters list – this is it.

fell swordLoyalty costs money. Betrayal, on the other hand, is free. When the Emperor is taken hostage, the Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand – and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But the Red Knight has a plan. That is the blurb. Just be prepared for there to be a lot of other plotlines nesting in and around this particular one that is all but buried for the first third of the book.

Whatever you do, don’t pick up The Fell Sword if you haven’t first read The Red Knight. There were times when I was still floundering, and I knew many of the main characters and their backstory. However, the other reason why I stuck with The Fell Sword is that I loved The Red Knight – read my review here. While the same restless jumping from character to character went on, most of the action centred on the siege, so my brain wasn’t struggling quite so much to work out what was going on. Whereas Cameron has widened out the focus of this novel to encompass much more than the mercenary band that were the stars of the first book – and who were still the folks I wanted to follow in the sequel.

However, as ever, Himself was right – once the action started kicking off, this book was unputdownable. Some authors write medieval fantasy battles as well as Cameron, perhaps – but I’ve never read anyone who does it better. His accomplished characterisation and superb knowledge of all sorts of details give his story a gritty reality. And if A Song of Ice and Fire has you drooling with pleasure and your taste runs to other epic fantasy series, then this latest offering in The Traitor Son Cycle will probably tick all your boxes.  There are some really interesting story twists and Cameron brings many of his plotlines – including the main one – to a completely satisfactory ending. It is a testament to his skill that I stayed with it and finally got fully immersed in the world, again.
7/10