Tag Archives: fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Jewel Bright Sea – Book 1 of the Mage and Empire series by Claire O’Dell #Brainfluffbookreview #AJewelBrightSeabookreview

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Yep – I’ve done it again… Seen a beautiful cover and scampered across to Netgalley to see if it’s available. And it was. Would my love of pretty cover art deliver yet another winner – or a dud?

BLURB: It was her talent for tracking magic that got Anna Zhdanov sent to catch a thief. A scholar’s daughter sold as a bond servant, she has no desire to recover the Emperor’s jewel for herself. But a chance to earn her freedom has driven her to the untamed Eddalyon province, awash with warm breezes, lapping waves, and more danger than she could possibly guess.

I’ll be honest – I did check a couple of times to make sure that I was reading the first book as O’Dell tips us in the middle of this adventure and for a variety of reasons, I do think this one would have been even more effective if we’d seen at first hand Anna’s life with the unpleasant man who she finds herself in bondage to. However, once I sorted out exactly who was doing what to whom, I thoroughly enjoyed being swept up into the swashbuckling adventure and various twists and turns of this story. It’s always a challenge to keep the characterisation suitably three-dimensional when so much is going on, but overall O’Dell rose to that challenge and I really liked Anna in all her guises.

O’Dell’s writing works particularly during the magical scenes where her prose nocks up a notch to vividly portray what is happening to Anna, so that we are kept in touch with her as she is confronted with a powerful magic capable of ripping her away from her soul and killing her. I also like the fact that we, the reader, realise the extent of her abuse in a way that Anna isn’t fully able to process – it’s nicely done. And while it arouses our sympathy, it means that our heroine doesn’t come across as too much of a victim.

I also liked the variety of people she met and in amongst the violence and double-dealing, I enjoyed the fact that she also met a number of kindly folks who are prepared to help her. Most of these characters worked well, but I have to say, this book would have had another mark if I had been wholly convinced by a certain captain. Sadly, I wasn’t. I’m not sure why – but I’ll admit to my heart sinking a bit when he and Anna became more than friends.

However there is so much going for this entertaining, action-packed fantasy sea adventure that it wasn’t the dealbreaker it could have been and I’ll happily read the next book to find out what happens next to Anna. With a bit of luck, a sea monster will make away with that wretched captain… Recommended for fans of sea-going fantasy adventure tales. The ebook arc copy of A Jewel Bright Sea was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

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Review of KINDLE Ebook The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidnightQueenbookreview

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I’d like to take credit and claim that I was the one that stumbled across this gem – but it was Himself, once again, who unearthed this enjoyable read, though if I’d come across it, I certainly would have succumbed, given the gorgeousness of that cover…

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented – and highest born – sons of the kingdom are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover . . .

Gray’s Britain is a fragmented kingdom of many tongues, many gods and many magicks. But all that concerns Gray right now is returning as soon as possible to his studies and setting right the nightmare that has seen him disgraced and banished to his tutor’s home – without a trace of his powers. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

That is the start of this story – we’re tipped right into the middle of the disastrous expedition that impacts so badly on Gray’s life, to the extent that I did wonder a couple of times whether this was the second book in the series. I’m conscious that some readers don’t enjoy this approach, but I happen to love it – so long as I’m not left floundering for too long – and I wasn’t. While I enjoyed the characters – Gray’s diffidence and cleverness are well portrayed in third person POV – what particularly enchanted me is the world.

This version of Britain doesn’t have Christianity sweeping through the country and wiping away the variety of pagan religions that proliferated before. So there are mentions of the Roman pantheon, along with several of the old Celtic deities and magic is also tied up with the worship of them. The historical era is Regency and while the story isn’t particularly original, there are plenty of twists and turns that held me right to the ending.

There is a slow-burn romance bubbling away throughout and if the book had been all about that, then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but as the viewpoints swing between the two main protagonists, Sophie and Gray, with a few extra characters giving their points of view from time to time – we get to see their relationship mature. This is a main subplot to the narrative driving the story – that of a shadowy conspiracy against the Master of Merlin College, that, perhaps goes even higher than that…

I found this one difficult to put down as the sense of tension held me throughout and while many elements of the plot were familiar, I enjoyed how Hunter played with our expectations and tweaked some of them. The climax of the story was suitably exciting and all the dangling plotpoints were all tidied away very neatly – a tad too neatly for the first book in a series, I felt. Because there is no way that I believe His Majesty is going to be content to let things lie as they’ve been arranged – but I’ll have to read the next book to see if I’m right, which I’m looking forward to doing. Recommended for fans of British-based fantasy with a splash of romance.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Know Your Rites – Book 2 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series by Andy Redsmith #Brainfluffbookreview #KnowYourRitesbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Breaking the Lore, so immediately requested the arc when I saw this sequel come up on Netgalley – and was delighted to be approved.

Inspector Nick Paris, now also known as ‘the one who stopped the demons’, has become an unlikely celebrity in the magical world. He is desperate to return to tackling more ordinary crimes on his home turf of Manchester. However, the fates aren’t in his favour when he is called upon again by his more unusual police colleagues to solve a gruesome killing. The only suspect is a dwarf trying to make it in the rap business. But are there more mysterious matters afoot? Paris is thrust back into the world of magic and murder – but who will face the music?

I remembered the first book clearly so it was a pleasure to be reunited with Nick Paris, his magical girlfriend Cassandra, Bonetti his rather thick sergeant, and the team who helped him in the last desperate adventure. Once again, I found the contrast between Nick’s worldweary, rather cynical outlook and the world of elves, dwarves and talking crows an enjoyable one. The storyline carries on from the adventures in the previous book, so my firm advice would be to read Breaking the Lore first, otherwise you will be missing too much of the backstory to make sense of what is going on.

Humour is highly subjective. What has one person roaring with laughter will leave someone else blank-faced and yawning, so do be aware of that with regard to my following comments. While I initially enjoyed the humorous aspect of the story, I quickly decided that Redsmith is trying too hard to make me laugh, rather than immerse me in an engrossing portal fantasy whodunit. There are too many times when scenes are included or extended for the sole purpose of yet another pun or wordplay, rather than for the sake of deepening the characterisation or advancing the storyline. Consequently I felt that the jokes got in the way of the story, rather than embellishing it.

That said, I still had no trouble turning the pages and finishing this murder mystery and will be very happy to read another slice in Nick Paris’s adventures. Recommended for those who enjoy paranormal murder mysteries – but please be aware that this series is nothing like Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant mysteries. The ebook arc copy of Know Your Rites was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #GodsofJadeandShadowbookreview

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This was a no-brainer for me as I love Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my review of Certain Dark Things, which also gives the links for my reviews of The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room – and opens it…

I have yet again shortened and tweaked the rather chatty blurb as the story arc is far too well crafted to be spoilt by prior knowledge of one of the main plotpoints. Suffice to say that once more, this remarkable writer has pulled me into her colourful world. I really liked and sympathised with Casiopea, who is the Cinderella-type character – however, don’t go away with the impression that she is anything like the Disneyfied saccharine character who coos over mice and trills to birds. Casiopea is much too coolly self-possessed to do such a girly thing. Indeed, it is her unspoken defiance and evident intelligence that nettles her unpleasant cousin, Martin – how dare the poverty-stricken drudge be their grandfather’s favourite? He is only too aware that if she’d been born a boy, she would have inherited the family fortune and even now, she forgets her place to answer back when he taunts her. So when a particular event takes place after she opens the box and she is offered a new life away from the family home, Casiopea is happy to leave without a backward look.

The character who she follows requires really good writing to portray effectively – he isn’t innately sympathetic, being aloof, cold and not particularly concerned with humanity, other than how the species can best serve him. He certainly isn’t someone I would generally care about – but then it is all about context. Moreno-Garcia is clever in setting him and his interests in opposition to someone much, much worse.

But one of the strengths of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – and one of the main themes she explores throughout this delightful adventure, is one of change. Casiopea and her companion affect each other. She is less angry and bitter away from the long list of dead-end chores she was forced to perform and finds a softer, kinder version of herself who isn’t afraid to intervene to stop someone being harmed. She also finds herself experiencing the world in ways she could only have dreamt of, which forces her to examine what she actually wants, as opposed to what she doesn’t want.

As for her companion, this remote, icily hostile character is shocked to find himself increasingly drawn to the girl, her mortal charm and her kindness, even though he is aware that his evident attraction to her is a sign that all is not well. The other character who undergoes a major change throughout the book is obnoxious Martin. I’m a fan of writers who give us a real insight into what makes their baddies behave so nastily – and Moreno-Garcia gives us a ringside seat to Martin’s plight when he is sent out by his grandfather to coax Casiopea to return home.

The Mexican setting, the 1920s era and above all, the increasingly dangerous tasks faced by these two mortals unwittingly caught up in a power struggle between two immortals who hate each other with a passion only reserved for sibling rivalry. I was fascinated as to how it was going to play out – and I have to say that the ending worked really well. I have found myself thinking about this one since I finished it – always the mark of a book that has sunk its claws into me.

Just a quick word, however – this retelling is a sophisticated, nuanced read designed for adults and is not suitable for youngsters, a detail that Moreno-Garcia is keen to make clear as it has been advertised as a YA read in certain quarters. Very highly recommended for fans of well written fantasy adventure. The ebook arc copy of Gods of Jade and Shadow was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Sunday Post – 21st July, 2019 #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.

I feel like a cracked record – but this has been yet another really busy week. Last Monday I completed my Creative Writing course. It was a lovely way to end ten wonderful years of teaching with two beautiful bouquets of flowers and a voucher for dinner at my favourite vegan restaurant in Brighton. Being creative types, someone also sang a song they’d written for me and someone else recited a very funny poem about my teaching experiences with them… It’s been an emotional time, saying good-bye.

However, I didn’t have too much time to brood as Tuesday saw us sorting out three kitchen cupboards, me catching up with book reviews and and paperwork, then packing in readiness for my trip up to Lincolnshire to visit my friend Mhairi. On early Wednesday morning. Himself accompanied me as far as St Pancras station in London, and then I completed the rest of the journey on my own. Although I’d taken my Kindle, I spent most of my time looking out of the window at the lovely rural scenery. Mhairi was there to meet me after an uneventful journey that took some five and a half hours. We had a lovely time together catching up with Mhairi and her lovely mum and I was made to feel very welcome, especially by their gorgeous Alsatian, Jake, who very quickly was treating me like one of the family. In the middle of all the laughter and chatter – and one of the most delicious Indian dinners I’ve ever eaten at the local restaurant in Spilsby – we managed to complete our tax returns together. We’ve been doing this now for several years and it is so much better tackling such a horrible, stressful job alongside someone else. So I now feel very virtuous that I have that grotty chore out of the way for another year.

All too soon Friday morning came around and it was time to set off for home again – next time I visit Mhairi I will stay longer. Himself was waiting for me on the platform at King’s Cross and it was lovely to see him again, even though he’d scarcely had time to miss me… Yesterday we did an inventory of the freezer before going shopping, so this month we are going to be mostly eating frozen food (suitably defrosted, of course) to help eke out the pennies as tomorrow the builders arrive to start tackling the dangerous concrete canopy over the back door. Wish us luck!

Last week I read:

Witch-Hunt – Book 1 of Lodestone by Wendy Scott
Sabrina is thrust out of her sheltered life at Mistress Florisah’s healing school after the destruction of the witch-ancestor portraits and the appearance of Lauren the Destroyer’s ghost. An anti-witchcraft regime is poised on Karthalon’s borders threatening full scale genocide, unless Sabrina, the last of Lauren’s bloodline, can destroy the Lodestone and restore magic to Valloaria. Hundreds of years before Lauren had wrought the cataclysmic demise of the Council of Witches by unleashing the Lodestone and now Sabrina is the only one who can undo Lauren’s legacy.
This is a story about an act of desperate vengeance and the ongoing consequences that Sabrina is now trying to undo.

 

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
When Aladdin discovers Zahra’s jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn’t seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra’s very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.
I recalled the buzz around this retelling of the Aladdin story from the viewpoint of the jinn when it first came out, but somehow hadn’t got around to reading it. I’m glad I did so now, as I’d hit something of a slump. This was so much more than a romance – and I will be reviewing this one in due course.

 

Changeling – Book 1 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper
If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell’s. Except Cassandra Reed’s real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical “Snipes” are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter’s favorite vase in the parlor…
I enjoy magical school stories and this one is an engrossing read with a young, upbeat character who mostly prevails without becoming too smart or clever. Review to follow.

 

The House at Sea’s End – Book 3 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
Ruth Galloway has just returned from maternity leave and is struggling to juggle work and motherhood. When a team from the University of North Norfolk, investigating coastal erosion, finds six bodies at the foot of the cliff, she is immediately put on the case.
This is a series I started a long time ago and am now catching up on. I mostly enjoyed this one, though there are times when Ruth’s hit and miss mothering annoys me. But it is a refreshing change to find a protagonist trying to juggle a working life with the role of a mother and having to make all those hard decisions that confront so many women caught in the same situation.

 

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Friday Faceoff featuring Dichronauts by Greg Egan

Review of INDIE Ebook Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick

Review of AUDIOBOOK Mythos – written and narrated by Stephen Fry

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

Review of ARC Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freak Show by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Sunday Post – 14th July 2019

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

Morningstar’s Thoughts on Reading https://literacyletters.wordpress.com/2019/07/18/morningstars-thoughts-on-reading/ What a fabulous definition of why we all read…

Down the Rabbit Hole… to a Book Cover! https://ailishsinclair.com/2019/07/book-cover/ These pics are so much fun – especially if you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland.

About that ‘Writing Vacation’ https://writerunboxed.com/2019/07/19/about-that-writing-vacation/ I read this feeling really nicely smug that I hadn’t fallen into these traps on my writing retreats – and managing to get a great deal written.

Is Our Company Enough for Pets? https://chechewinnie.com/is-our-company-enough-for-our-pets/ Cheche raises an uncomfortable question here for those of us who are or who have been pet owners…

5 oddly specific storylines I like in books https://thisislitblog.com/2019/07/16/5-oddly-specific-storylines-i-love-in-books/ Shruti shares with us her top five favourite storylines – which had me wondering about mine. What about you?

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

Friday Faceoff – Wrap your mind around my thoughts as I wrap my soul around your heart… #BrainfluffFridayFaceoff #FridayFaceoffWraparound

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week is a WRAPAROUND cover, so I have selected Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling because it’s just lovely. I hope you like it, too😊

 

Sunday Post – 9th June, 2019 #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.

Weekly Roundup

The sharp-eyed among you will notice that it’s actually Monday – however I spent most of yesterday with my sister – and then the evening found me up a ladder, staring at a ceiling. It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve been quite busy with not a lot to show for it. We started decorating the bathroom, so I spent long, unlovely hours cleaning the tile grout before applying whitener. It’s been hard work, but the bathroom is already looking a lot better – and yesterday I put the first coat of paint on the ceiling. It’s going to be quite dark, but as the whole room is fully tiled with white tiles with a white suite, I wanted a splash of warm colour (terracotta) so it doesn’t end up looking like a mini-morgue…

Elsewhere (I seem to be spending a LOT of time in the smallest room in the house…) I was back to Northbrook for my last term running my Creative Writing course, enjoying spending more time with my lovely students. On Thursday, Tim ended up at my house for his lesson as reboarding the loft at his home meant everything was upside down – not conducive to concentrating on his English lesson. The work in the garden has halted due to the rain and wind that swept in. Yesterday, I met up with my sister and went for a late breakfast together to put the world to rights – and finally got back home at 4 pm…

Last week I read:

How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale AUDIOBOOK – Book 5 of How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?
I read this with Oscar a while ago, but listening to the audio version with David Tennant’s wonderful narration is such a treat and makes working in the bathroom so much more fun…

 

Children No More – Book 4 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
No child should ever be a soldier. Jon Moore knew that better than most, having learned to fight to survive before he’d hit puberty. So when a former comrade, Alissa Lim, asks for his help in rescuing a group of children pressed into service by rebels on a planet no one cares to save, he agrees. Only later does he realize he’s signed up to do far more than he’d ever imagined.
Unsurprisingly, this slice of the Jon and Lobo series is quite a bit darker than the other books – but that didn’t stop me yet again, really enjoying the adventures befalling this quirky team of an ex-mercenary soldier and a AI sentient warship.

 

Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magical knowledge can finally be nourished. But soon, Sophie must put her newly learned skills to the test. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Queen of Midnight, particularly the alternate history where pagan religions still prosper in a Regency period, where the UK is still divided into small kingdoms. This adventure took the story forward in an intriguing way and I look forward to discovering how the consequences play out in the next book.

 

Truckers AUDIOBOOK– Book 1 of the Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett
Under the floorboards of the Store is a world of four-inch-tall nomes that humans never see. It is commonly known among these nomes that Arnold Bros. created the Store for them to live in, and he declared: “Everything Under One Roof.” Therefore there can be no such thing as Outside. It just makes sense. That is, until the day a group of nomes arrives on a truck, claiming to be from Outside, talking about Day and Night and Snow and other crazy legends…
This was one I’d read to my own children another lifetime ago – so was delighted to catch up once again with Masklin and the intrepid nomes who take on a world so much bigger than the one they were designed for…

 

Just William: William’s Treasure Trove AUDIOBOOK by Richmal Crompton
It’s the beginning of the summer holidays and William and the Outlaws see an endless expanse of gloriously carefree days stretching ahead – but how to fill them …? The six classic adventures contained in this unabridged reading are: “William and the Holiday Centre”; “William’s Treasure Trove”; “William and the Cottage”; “William Tackles the Job”; “William and Detective Journalism”; and, “William and the Parsons’ Guy”.
I used to love listening to Martin Jarvis read the Just William series on Radio 4, so this collection of short stories was a real bonus as I scrubbed away at the grout…

 

 

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Rough Magic: Riding the world’s wildest horse race by Lara Prior-Palmer

Friday Faceoff featuring The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn

Review of The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Sunday Post – 2nd June 2019

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

Joe Orton’s LOOT Opens Odyssey’s 50th Anniversary ‘Circa ʼ69’ Season
https://www.broadwayworld.com/los-angeles/article/Joe-Ortons-LOOT-Opens-Odysseys-50th-Anniversary-Circa-69-Season-20190516 I have been following this one with great interest – seeing as my son is playing Hal – and would love to be able to see it. It’s going well and he is thoroughly enjoying himself.

5 New Poetry Books to Watch Out For https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2019/06/05/5-new-poetry-books-to-watch-out-for/ As ever, this award-winning library site is providing informative information on the latest books to hit their shelves…

Inevitability of Science Fiction Movements https://rosieoliver.wordpress.com/2019/06/07/inevitability-of-science-fiction-movements/ Scientist and science fiction author often has thought-provoking articles on what is happening with science fiction…

A Snapshot of my Writing Process https://writerunboxed.com/2019/06/07/a-snapshot-of-my-writing-process/ As a writer, I’m always fascinated by other writers’ writing processes – and I would think readers are also intrigued to discover how their favourite books are crafted…

Book Addiction Tag https://comfortreads13.wordpress.com/2019/06/07/book-addiction-tag/ While I was interested in reading what Jess had to say in response to these excellent questions – I also found myself putting in my own answers, too. How did you get on?

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

Friday Faceoff – …like a garden needs a flower, like a castle needs a tower… #FridayFaceoff #Brainfluffbookblog

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we get to feature our FAVOURITE FANTASY covers, so I’ve selected a series of covers which I consider to be awesome by DAW for the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain.

 

This edition of Green Rider was produced by DAW on 4th November, 2008. Isn’t it breathtaking? It gives me goosebumps and a zing of pleasure every time I look at it… And yes… I’m sure the title and author fonts get lost in thumbnail – in fact I know they do. But I really don’t care – because… look at that fabulous horse. Just look…

 

Published in on 3rd April 2004 by DAW, First Rider’s Call is the second book in this series which has again another fabulous cover, featuring another stunning piece of artwork featuring another beautiful winged horse.

 

This edition of the third book in the series, The High King’s Tomb, published by DAW on 6th November 2007 is another beautiful effort. Enough said, really…

 

Produced by DAW on 1st February 2011, this is their cover design for Blackveil – the fourth book in the series. And no – I’m not going to choose between these. I love them all…

 

This edition of the fifth book in the series, Mirror Sight, this time published by Gollancz on 14th March 2015, continues with more Pegasus wondrousness. I’m a bit sad that DAW, who began these awesome covers at this point reverted to something more ordinary, leaving Gollancz to continue to be the standard-bearer for these stunning examples.

 

And last, but by no means least, is the final book in the series, Firebrand, produced by Gollancz on 9th March 2017. Yet again, just a joy to look at… What do you think of my all-time favourite fantasy covers?

 

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheUnboundEmpirebookreview

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I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Tethered Mage, – see my review here – I thought the premise was a really smart one. The idea that lethal magic-users need to have their power curtailed from the time their talent becomes evident makes complete sense – as do the inevitable consequences following from that necessity… I recently read and reviewed the second book, The Defiant Heir, and liked it even more, so was delighted to be approved to read and review The Unbound Empire

While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.

As with the second book, the political and personal stakes in this book continue to ramp up. Amalia continues to grow from the shy academic, whose real passion was studying magical practices, to a political player in her own right, determined to push through a piece of legislation that will impact every magic-user in the Empire. I love her character progression – along with the changes that every other major character undergoes. Caruso makes that aspect of writing a series look a lot easier than it is.

All the characters work well, but two in particular stand out – Ruven is a particularly satisfying villain, who I loved to hate. His arrogant dismissal of anyone non-magical and his tendency to inflict horrible tortures just because he can – as well as his targeting of our protagonist – makes him creepy and revolting. The cleverness in the writing is that Caruso manages also make the reader aware of what is powering his nastiness, so that he doesn’t come across as a pantomime villain. The other character I became a little in love with is one of those enigmatic, dangerous Witch Lords, Kathe. His entourage of crows, his courage, his love of games and his gradually emerging more vulnerable side made him very endearing. His odd courtship of Amalia made the romantic thread running through this series thoroughly entertaining.
Caruso’s other superpower is the pacing – I found The Unbound Empire almost impossible to put down because the narrative arc works so well. I quickly became caught up in her political fight – which then turned into something else far more challenging. Caruso’s ability to ramp up the stakes compelled me to keep reading far longer than I should. The final denouement in a series needs to be able to wrap everything up and give each of the major characters an ongoing path, so the reader gets a sense of their probable future, given the life-changing events they have undergone. Caruso manages to achieve this, making this trilogy one of my favourite, most memorable fantasy series I’ve read in recent years.

Please read these books in the correct order, though – it would a real shame to mess up such a well-crafted progression by crashing midway into this outstanding series. The ebook arc copy of The Unbound Empire was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of Library book The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDefiantHeirbookreview #LibraryLoveChallenge

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This is the sequel to The Tethered Mage – see my review – which so very nearly made my Outstanding Reads list for last year – I loved the idea that mages with their magical power needed to be contained. While it isn’t a new idea, this version where each mage has a minder who can release their power or shut it down works very well.

Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction. Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

Thoughout the book, we stay in the viewpoint of Lady Amalia, whose mother, La Contessa, rules Raverra with a canny intelligence. Right from the beginning, Amalia knew she was destined for a life in politics, despite her interest in studying forms of magic as an academic subject. And then she inadvertently ends up in a situation where that academic interest suddenly becomes far more practical when she crosses paths with a mage with a rare but lethal talent. I think it’s a clever move to make Amalia bookish and rather shy at the start of the series – her character progression is noticeable from The Tethered Mage through to this book.

However the political crisis, where Raverra is threatened by the terrifying Witch Lords who rule Vaskandar, now needs her to represent her mother on a diplomatic mission where thousands of lives are at stake. The gathering sense of danger and sense of fear at what the Witch Lords are capable of doing, with the hideous beasts they are able to enchant, is palpable. From the first page, I was snagged by this one and found it difficult to put down. While I thoroughly enjoyed The Tethered Mage, I think The Defiant Heir is even better. The supporting cast are all well written and nicely three-dimensional – particularly Zaire and the unpredictable Kathe, who controls the crows…

The pacing is beautifully judged throughout, so that by the end I stayed up waaay later than I should to discover what happens at the end and found the conclusion completely satisfying – though leaving me with a real hankering for more from this world. Thank goodness I shan’t have to wait too long for the next book, The Unbound Empire. Highly recommended for fans of well written swords and sorcery with a splash of romance.
10/10