Tag Archives: fantasy

Sunday Post – 17th March, 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.

This last week has feel more like normality – I am now, finally, feeling more like my old self which is such a relief as I’d begun to feel that I’d never regain my former energy. The Creative Writing sessions all went well and were, as ever, highly enjoyable, though attendance was hit by folks not wanting to battle through Storm Graham on Tuesday afternoon to get to college. Quite right, too.

On Wednesday, my writing buddy Mhairi spent the day with me – we are treasuring our time together, given that she is on the brink of moving to Lincolnshire, instead of just 20 minutes down the road… As ever, lots of talk and mutual advice about writing – I’m delighted that her sales have taken off and as ever, I find her help invaluable. My lesson with Tim on Thursday was a break from preparing for his exam and instead, we worked on the lyrics to his latest song composition, which is amazing.

This weekend, we’ve had the grandchildren to stay, which means that the weather on Saturday was atrocious. Throughout this winter, whenever they’ve come to stay – that’s when the wind and rain has struck. So Oscar and I tucked into a fabulous 3-D sticker book together, while Frances was working on a painting project for homework. I played the Frozen in Time audiobook while we were working. In the mornings, Oscar started the day by reading extracts from the seventh book in Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which he is loving – it’s a real treat listening to him read so fluently. Last night, we went to our favourite Chinese restaurant with my sister to celebrate the start of her new job next year.

Last week I read:
Castaway Planet – Book 4 of the Boundary series by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor
Lost in the dark, half a year into their journey to the colony world of Tantalus, Sakura Kimei, her family, and her best friend, the alien “Bemmie” nicknamed Whips, are torn from the safety of their colony ship. In a crippled lifeboat, they had one chance to find a habitable world. But even then, they would find that their apparent salvation was a world of a thousand secrets.
I thoroughly enjoyed this futuristic take on Swiss Family Robinson – a real page-turning adventure that gripped me throughout and the added pleasure is the knowledge that I’ve now discovered another cracking sci fi space opera series.

 

The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
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.
It’s been a wonderful reading week – two cracking reads from authors I hadn’t previously known. I absolutely loved this one – the strong characterisation, tense situation and I was also invested in the romance that bubbled away in the background. I also liked the alternate history where Christianity hadn’t taken hold. Review in due course.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 10th March 2019

Review of Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

Review of Survivor in Death – Book 20 of the In Death series by R.D. Robb

Friday Face-Off featuring World’s End – Book 1 of the Age of Misrule series by Mark Chadbourn

Review of Dreamer’s Pool – Book 1 of Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier

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

12 Things You Have To Give Up to Be a Successful Writer https://writerunboxed.com/2019/03/16/12-things-you-have-to-give-up-to-be-a-successful-writer/ I love the series of articles written by Bill Ferris – funny and all too near the knuckle…

#writer, your body does not define your #writing voice: a response to the #YA #cancelculture among #readers and #authors https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/03/14/writer-your-body-does-not-define-your-writing-voice-a-response-to-the-ya-cancelculture-among-readers-and-authors/ Jean Lee raises the issues around this current controversary that is causing major concern, given where it is going.

NINTH STEP STATION – Episode 10: The Foreign Mischief by Malka Older & Series Wrap-up http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2019/03/13/ninth-step-station-episode-10-the-foreign-mischief-by-malka-older-and-series-wrapup/ I generally don’t include reviews in this round-up – so why this one? Because this excellent article is the last in a series following this different way of accessing fiction.

Café del Pintor~ https://cindyknoke.com/2019/03/13/cafe-de-pintor/ Just check out this amazing artwork…

Finding Time for Important Things http://melfka.com/archives/3521 This lovely, well-written article happened to come along at a crucial time for me. I found its message enormously comforting. Thank you Joanna😊

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I still trying to catch up – thank you for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

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Review of The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKingdomofCopperbookreview

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I was delighted when I was approved to read this one – I have a real weakness for sand and sorcery adventures…

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabadand quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her familyand one misstep will doom her tribe.

I hadn’t read the first book and I’m sorry about that – not because I was floundering at any stage – but because this one was such a thumping good read, I wish that I had started the adventure in the right place in order to get the maximum enjoyment from it. As it was, crashing into the series in the wrong place wasn’t a problem. Chakraborty not only ensured that any previous details necessary to make sense of the story were already included, there is also a very helpful glossary and cast of characters at the back, giving helpful details of the world and the complicated rivalries that run it.

I really liked Nahri, which was important. But what particularly impressed me in this sweeping story were the inclusion of the history of bloodshed and atrocities on both sides that powered everyone’s current mindset. It was a grimly realistic take on the politics and gave an explanation for the violence perpetrated, if not the justification.

I’m aware that I have given the impression that this is a gritty book full of anger and angst. While there is plenty of tension and plotting going on, there are also lovely descriptions of the world, and plenty of light and colour in amongst the excellent action scenes. I can now see what all the fuss was about regarding the first book, The City of Brass, which I will definitely be getting hold of and I look forward to also reading the final book, The Empire of Gold, in this excellent trilogy. Highly recommended for fans of sword and sorcery stories.

While I obtained an arc of The Kingdom of Copper from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Six of Crows – Book 1 of the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo #Brainfluffbookreview #SixofCrowsbookreview

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Yeah – I know, I know… Everyone in the galaxy has read this book and most of them – except the aliens lurking on Io – absolutely loved it. So I hesitated – partly because I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it and partly because I wasn’t sure I’d have anything meaningful to say about it when I came to review it, given all those folks in the galaxy got there before me…

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

I’ll be honest – criminal underworld fantasy heist adventures aren’t my go-to genre. I’ve enjoyed the likes of Scott Lynch’s The Gentleman Bastards Sequence – the first three and a bit, anyhow – and Daniel Polansky’s Low Town series is one of my all-time favourites – see my review of The Straight Razor Cure here. But I’ve begun too many books in this genre, only to abandon them when the filth, abject poverty and violence got too much. However, something about this one – including that amazing cover – was calling to me and I’m so very glad I gave in and eventually listened. It takes technical skill to keep this number of protagonists as viewpoint characters without one of them being skimmed, yet Bardugo pulls off this feat, so that we get to know each main member of the gang – why they’ve ended up as part of Ketterdam’s criminal underclass and what their particular role is supposed to be.

Inevitably, the plan put in place by the cold, calculating Kaz doesn’t run all that smoothly and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have cared all that much, but I fell for Inej, or the Wraith, which is her gang nickname. I wanted her to be able to move on and resume a better life for herself. And then, once we are pulled right into the heart of the story, Bardugo reveals hidden layers of the main character in the middle of plot – ‘Dirtyhands’ Kaz, himself. It’s very well done. The character development throughout the story is masterfully handled – you only have to read a handful of reviews to realise these characters matter to readers.

And I haven’t even started on the plot, yet. Because for a book in this sub-genre to really work, we need to have a clear idea of what’s at stake, what the plan actually is, how it goes wrong and what happens next… There are any number of places where an author can slip up during the delivery of a novel in a criminal underworld fantasy adventure – and I’m not particularly forgiving of a lot of them. I don’t like it when the plot wanders, or one character takes over, or a romance blossoms right in the middle of what should be an action adventure story, or the major climax isn’t so major after all. So I regularly abandon books which have committed these crimes, unfinished and of course, unreviewed.

Six of Crows deftly skips around all these potential pitfalls as if they don’t exist. Every single requirement is triumphantly nailed such that this one became increasingly difficult to put down. And once I finally finished it, I suffered from book hangover so that I struggled to find something else I wanted to read – this hardly ever happens to me! So, at the risk of sounding like everyone else in the universe, except for those embittered, six-legged critters on Io, this is an excellent read and very highly recommended to… well – anyone with a pulse, really.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Every great story seems to begin with a snake… #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 the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SNAKES, so I’ve selected a book from one of my favourite series, Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in July 2010 and features two snakelike dragons entwined around a porthole showing a ship. I really like the rippled sand as a backdrop, but I do think the fonts are very boring, given what an amazing premise this series offers.

 

Published in June 2011 by Voyager, this is the cover of the book that I read. I confess to loving this series with the black and white etched illustrations relating to incidents within the book and featuring amazing dragons. I also like the coloured font that is in keeping with the strong period feel of the cover and nicely pops against the black and white. This is my favourite.

 

Produced by Pocket in March 2013, this French edition follows the theme of the dragon coiled around a porthole or some sort of orb. I love the font – I think it works beautifully and picks up the gilding around the porthole very effectively. However, the stormy backdrop isn’t sufficient foil to the dark crimson/brown dragon and while those half-furled wings are wonderful, I’d rather the head was more of a feature. I’m also rather distracted by the shadow of the dragon against the clouds – surely that shouldn’t be happening?

 

This German edition, published by Penhaligon Verlag in 2010, is my favourite of all the similar designs where a dragon is coiled around some sort of globe. For starters, this dragon looks properly fierce and I love the way it has grasped the patterned globe, which is also beautifully patterned in colours that contrast very well with the hot reds and oranges of the dragon and the scaled background – another nice feature. It was so nearly my favourite, but I found the font both plain and a poor contrast to the rest of the cover.

 

This Polish edition, published by Rebis in October 2010 is the cover that gave me the chance to actually choose this book. Instead of dragons, we have two snakes battling on this cover. While it all looks very dramatic, I’m not sure the snakes are all fully in proportion – it seems one of them is rather on the short side, but perhaps the hidden part of the body conceals several coils… Once again, that rippled sand effect is a great backdrop, but disappointingly this Polish cover has gone down the route of also duplicating the very dreary, if clear, font from the Del Rey cover. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ebook NOVELLA Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKnifeChildrenbookreview

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Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog know that Himself and I are huge fans of Bujold. So it was a given that we had pre-ordered this novella in The Sharing Knife series, which was completed a number of years ago.

Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush returns from two years of patrolling the bitter wilds of Luthlia against the enigmatic, destructive entities called malices, only to find that the secret daughter he’d left behind in the hinterland of Oleana has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of Barr’s mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.

Bujold’s claim that this novella can be read as a stand-alone is correct. While I suddenly recalled exactly who Barr was about a quarter of the way in, it really didn’t matter. As ever, Bujold absolutely nails the story. She has written a series of successful novellas, getting the story progression, characterisation and pacing spot on – something the majority of authors who attempt this writing form don’t often achieve in my experience.

I have always had a soft spot for this particular world, where mages a long time ago let loose terrible magical creatures who feast on living energy, growing stronger and evermore powerful with every victim they consume. Theses malices can only be stopped by the death energy of a Lakewalker, who are the descendants of those irresponsible magic-users. Unsurprisingly, there is a gulf between the non-magical community, mostly farmers, who are at major risk from the malices and the Lakewalkers, who are the only people able to kill the malices – but at a very high cost to themselves.

This story, where Barr is forced to confront the consequences of his wild past and try to fix things, drew me in from the first line and wouldn’t let me go until the final full stop. Like most of the other people who have reviewed this book, my main regret was that it ended. However, it was brought to a fitting conclusion that I found unexpectedly emotional. This is Bujold at her awesome best and is highly recommended for any reader with a pulse, particularly if they enjoy well written fantasy.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Endgames – Book 12 of the Imager Portfolio series by L.E. Modesitt Jr #Brainfluffbookreview #Endgamesbookreview

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When I saw this offering on NetGalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved – see my review of the first book, Imager. No… I haven’t read all eleven of the previous books in this series – I think I got as far as eighth book. However, although I have a few issues with this book the fact that I hadn’t read the previous two in this particular story arc wasn’t a problem.

Solidar is in chaos. Charyn, the young and untested ruler of Solidar, has survived assassination, and he struggles to gain control of a realm in the grip of social upheaval, war, and rioting. Solidar cannot be allowed to slide into social and political turmoil that will leave the High Holders with their ancient power and privilege, and the common people with nothing. But the stakes are even higher than he realizes.

I always enjoy Modesitt’s protagonists and Charyn is no exception. He has the steady good sense and even temperament that is the hallmark of many of this author’s main characters. As ever in a Modesitt book, we get a progression of everyday details alongside the ongoing drama which tends to build slowly. I don’t know anyone else who writes fantasy in quite so much detail and gets away with it. However, the question has to be with this particular offering – is there just too much detail silting up the pace?

Unfortunately, I would have to say yes. While there were still many elements that I enjoyed and I found it difficult to put this book down, I also found myself skipping the love letters that passed between two of the main characters, along with the long-winded philosophical questions they discussed. I don’t dive into a high fantasy adventure to read several pages about the nature of evil being discussed between the protagonists – I would rather it was played out within the action. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and at no time was I tempted to DNF the book because I still cared about the characters and I really wanted to know how it was going to work out.

I was surprised at where the story went, with real poignancy during the aftermath of the action. This is one of the aspects that Modesitt handles really well – because we are pulled into his stories by following the day to day routines of his characters, it matters when bad things happen to them. Overall though I enjoyed this one and know that the next time I have an opportunity to get hold of another Modesitt book, I will jump at it. He may not always get the balance absolutely right, but he remains one of my favourite authors.

While I obtained an arc of Endgames from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

Sunday Post – 20th January, 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.

It’s been another very busy week and now that I’ve finally got around to setting myself a daily wordcount for the rewrite of Mantivore Prey, I turned around to discover that I’ve now written 5,000 words in the last eight days. It’s not brilliant – but it’s a great deal better than I’d been doing before Christmas. I also wrote and submitted the blurb, acknowledgements and dedication for Netted, my post-apocalyptic novel set in Maine which is being released by Grimbold Publishing. I also have received the edits for my Roman steampunk short story, ‘The Last Journey of Vulcan’s Breath’ which is appearing in an anthology due to be published sometime during the year.

I woke up on Thursday morning feeling rather sorry for myself – I’d a terrible sore throat and stiff neck and felt it wasn’t appropriate to hand whatever had smitten me onto Tim, who I was due to teach that afternoon, so I cancelled our lesson and spent the day dosing myself with lots of water and vitamin C.

It did the trick, which is just as well because I surfaced to my phone pinging. It was my daughter who’d been up all night with a stomach bug and was now worried about carrying the baby up and down the stairs, changing her nappy etc while feeling so sick and giddy. I arrived just after 10 am to find the baby wide awake alongside my sleeping daughter. As I quietly made friends with little Eliza, she beamed up at me. And that set the tone for the day. I was in sole charge of coping with all her needs, having to quickly brush up on my rather rusty babycare skills as I changed her nappies, sorted out lunch, amused her and put her down for her naps. She is now six months old, and the sunniest-natured baby I’ve ever encountered since her mother. She didn’t cry at all during the day, except when she let out a single bellow at being put back down in the buggy when she was expecting a feed, instead. Fortunately, Rebecca was able to get a few hours’ solid sleep and her partner did the school run, so that by the end of the day she was looking a lot better. I brought the two older children back with me for the weekend, which has been huge fun while I’ve caught up with all their doings since seeing them just before Christmas.

I’m quite stiff and sore after lifting and carrying Eliza around, but it was a joy getting to spend so much time with her. Today we took the children home as the weekend passed in a blur and hopefully, it won’t be so long before we see them again.

Last week I read:

Children of Blood and Bone – Book 1 of Legacy of Orïsha series by Tomi Adeyemi
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
This is an emotional and at times, a harrowing read. But the story of the struggle between those with and without magic is very well depicted, effectively showing both sides of the divide. I loved this adventure and look forward to reading the next slice of the adventure.

Witch Slapped – Book 1 of the Witchless in Seattle series by Dakota Cassidy
What’s a girl to do when she’s a broke, shunned ex-witch with a very tiny, very hungry bat familiar named Belfry to feed? Hello. My name is Stevie Cartwright, and I’ve been witchless for thirty days.
If only there was a support group for down-on-their-luck ex-witches who’ve had their powers slapped right out of them (literally). Just as I was licking my wounds after returning to my hometown of Ebenezer Falls, WA, and navigating my suddenly non-magical existence with the help of my familiar, the only friend I have left in the world–things got sticky. Enter an ex-spy and newly departed spirit named Winterbottom, who’s infiltrated my life with his sexy British accent and a couple of requests…
As you can tell, this cosy murder mystery is a far lighter read. I thoroughly enjoyed the nonsense and will be definitely looking out for more from this entertaining author. Thank you Laura for the recommendation!

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 13th January 2019

My Outstanding Reads of the Year – 2018

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi

Review of An Easy Death – Book 1 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris

Friday Face-Off featuring The Story of the Amulet – Book 3 of the Five Children series by E. Nesbit

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Do you trust bloggers who don’t post negative reviews? https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/do-you-trust-bloggers-who-dont-post-negative-reviews-bookblogger-bookbloggers-blogger-bloggers/ This is an ongoing debate that regularly surfaces – and I really liked Drew’s approach to it.

Writing tip: Using Wordle to highlight overused words https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/writing-tip-using-wordle-to-highlight-overused-words/ It’s always great to get a really useful writing tip I can pass along to my students – it’s even better when it comes from an author I like and admire.

‘My Last Duchess’: A Poem by Robert Browning https://interestingliterature.com/2019/01/15/my-last-duchess-a-poem-by-robert-browning/ This is a wonderful example of a dramatic monologue and reading the final section always makes me shiver.

Elvis Presley, Tom Jones (never forgetting Lonnie Donegan!): It Looks Like I’ll Never Fall in Love Again https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2019/01/15/elvis-presley-tom-jones-never-forgetting-lonnie-donegan-it-looks-like-ill-never-fall-in-love-again/ As ever, Thom gives us all sorts of interesting info nuggets, amongst videos of different performers singing this song – but whatever you do, don’t miss that last clip…

Appreciate A Dragon Day https://bookwyrmshoard.com/uncategorized/appreciate-a-dragon-day/ And now I dream of a lovely little dragon, whose forelegs curl protectively across the spine of one of my favourite books – I waaaaant one!

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – have a wonderful week!

Friday Faceoff – Time travel is possible. Will explain later. #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 the object this week featuring on any of our covers or the story is an AMULET, so I’ve selected a book I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading, The Story of the Amulet – Book 3 of the Five Children series by E. Nesbit.

 

This edition was produced by Penguin Classics in March 1995. I love the artwork and the green-hued backdrop which gives a real sense of the drama and danger of a trip back to Egypt. But that clunky red something doesn’t remotely resemble any amulet I’ve ever seen – what a shame, given the wonderful lighting giving it centre stage. And my other peeve is that dreadful red text box plonked right across all that fabulous detail…

 

Published by Penguin Classics in March 2018, this is a much better effort. The colouring is attractive and I love the scene within a scene, giving a hint of the time travelling theme. The style, along with the children featured in the Egypt makes it clear this is a children’s story. I also love that font – this is my favourite.

 

Produced by Smk Books in March 2009, the amulet featured on the front of this cover is beautiful and draws the eye, while the font is attractive and easy to read. However, my concern is that there is nothing on this cover that informs the reader that this is a children’s book.

 

This Kindle edition is certainly eye-catching. But the golden rule must be that a cover should reflect the content and the etched figures being swallowed up as they enter that brooding gothic building give a sense that it’s a horror story. And it isn’t – it is a lesser-known book in one of the most famous early fantasy tales for children.

 

This is another attractive, striking contender, published by Virago in 2018. The warm yellow backdrop is welcoming and I love all the details on the cover that directly link up to the content. While the title is inoffensively clear, I do feel that Times New Roman is a bit joyless for one of the first time-travelling adventures written for children. It’s the main reason why this one isn’t my favourite – but what do you think?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGildedWolvesbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Chokshi’s writing – see my review of her stunning debut The Star-Touched Queen – and when I requested an arc of this one, I was prepared for more of the same – a rich, lushly told fantasy story shot through with eastern allusions. But this one is completely different…

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much. Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

Yes – this is a fantasy criminal heist adventure and if I’d realised that, I might not have so enthusiastically requested it, as I have DNF’d far too many third-rate copies of Scott Lynch’s gentlemen bastards and their adventures. But I’m very glad I did get my hands on this one. I’ve seen the constant comparison to Six of Crows and while the story has some similarities – a heist adventure featuring a team of misfits – there are also vital differences.

The setting is an alternate Paris where magical artefacts are used to assist the ruling families stay in power. While there is a team involved in a mission-impossible type of heist, the leader and arch-planner is Séverin, who yearns for the future he lost aged seven, when what should have been his induction into the golden circle of ruling families was abruptly snatched from him in a plot that falsely claimed he wasn’t his father’s true heir. After that he was passed around a series of abusive step-fathers, each one mistreating or using him in some nefarious fashion. Along the way, he teamed up with Tristen, who had the misfortune to be the actual son of one of these nasty characters.

Chokshi’s prose style comes into its own as she gives us a vivid insight to each of these characters and what matters to them, which meant that when it all hits the fan I really cared about each one. It also meant that I didn’t ever find myself muddled or confused as to who was who doing what to whom. I like the fact there is real racial and sexual diversity among the characters, which is presented in a nicely matter-of-fact manner as their energies are engaged in trying to track down a magical ‘thing’ which will change everything.

The pacing works well. While this story starts fairly slowly, before winding up to the mayhem that ensues as the adventure goes awry, Chokshi also effectively manages the aftermath, which could have dragged into something a lot more downbeat and depressing. With this story, I get the sense that Chokshi has fully matured as a writer, gaining confidence to set her stories and characters outside the eastern backdrop that fuelled her previous adventures. One of the reasons why I regularly DNF fantasy heist adventures featuring a team of misfits, is that it is very difficult to write well. But when it all comes together, as it does here, it is a powerful, emotional read. I staggered away from this intense story with my head full of Séverin, Tristan, Hypnos, Zofia, Laila and Enrique – and hoping I don’t have to wait too long to discover what happens next…

The ebook arc copy of The Gilded Wolves was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Review of PAPERBACK Caraval – Book 1 of the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber #Brainfluffbookreview #Caravalbookreview

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I’ll admit it – it was the cover of this one that caught my eye – and the premise that a complicated, magical game was at the heart of the story…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over. But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives…

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to include as far too many of the major plotpoints are revealed, so my first piece of advice is to avoid reading the back matter. As for the story – Garber quickly snagged my attention by providing a sympathetic heroine who is desperate to escape her cruel father. She has written every year for seven years before her request to join the game is approved – and she has tickets for her and her sister. However, as she is soon to be married and is desperate to believe the kind, courteous letters that she has been exchanging with her prospective husband means he is caring and at the very least – kinder than her bullying, violent father who has been terrorising her and her sister ever since their mother disappeared.

Caraval – remember it’s only a game – all too quickly turns into a desperate quest, when her sister almost immediately disappears and Scarlett is led to believe that if she doesn’t find her before Caraval ends, then she will die… Scarlett is plunged into a beautiful, varied world where she cannot trust what anyone says or does and her decisions have unexpected and frightening consequences. Accompanying her for at least part of the way, is a young sailor who effected their escape from their family home. Unexpectedly, he joins her and is responsible for saving her life – apparently… But can she really trust him and his advice? Or is he one of the famous Master Legend’s highly trained actors?

This one is a real page-turner as Scarlett struggles to work out how to survive and track down what has happened to her beautiful, wilful sister – and it is the love between the two sisters that is the emotional engine that powers this story, despite the love story also threading through it. I really enjoyed it and found the twisting, often surreal situations that Scarlett was confronted with kept the pages turning late into the night.

Of course, it’s all very well constructing a tension-filled mystery with high stakes – but at the end, the denouement must deliver. I was pleased to find it did. Some of my guesses about what was going on were correct – however, most of them weren’t and I loved the way Garber wrapped this one up. Recommended for those who like their thrillers with a strong paranormal twist, delivered by a sympathetic protagonist.
8/10