Tag Archives: feisty heroine

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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I love Sullivan’s writing – read my review of Lightborn here – and it doesn’t hurt that she is a lovely person. I met her fleetingly at Eastercon a few years ago during a Kaffeeklatsch session (which is when you can sign up for a session where numbers are restricted so you get to have a chance to talk to your favourite author over coffee and biscuits) and she came across as charming, clever and very modest. So I was delighted when I came across this offering.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. It starts with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

Yes… I know it sounds mad and a complete mess. But Sullivan’s superpower is that her writing is so solid and strong, she immerses you in her worlds alongside her amazing characters doing amazing things and it seems utterly normal. Pearl is a fantastic character – it’s never easy to write from an alien or ‘other’ viewpoint, because if they are sufficiently different, it is often difficult to sufficiently care for them. But Sullivan manages to make Pearl vulnerable enough that we do bond with her.

Initially I thought she was some sort of fallen angel – but that is far too predictable for Sullivan’s fervid imagination. She writes the unusual brilliantly with wonderful descriptions that are punchy and to the point. Just as importantly, there is a strong structure and causality underpinning her original take on what powers the universe. Wild it may be, but there is nothing loose or wafty about the theory behind her worldbuilding.

As for the main players in this story – while Pearl, the main protagonist, was my favourite by a long country mile, the cast of supporting characters also leap off the page. There is Dr Sorle, conflicted and suffering, who is literally pulled in two directions; the corrupt dying plutocrat; and Alison, a stroppy vet. And in the midst of all this amazing story are regular shafts of humour – not jokes or comedy set pieces, but the kind of manic funniness that often occurs when we are pushed to our extreme.

This story grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t get go – I was beguiled, challenged, amused and thoroughly entertained. Another outstanding read of 2017.
10/10

Review of The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison

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Last month, I read and reviewed the first book, The Drafter, in this fascinating series where a black ops agent can shift small amounts of time to avoid being killed/captured or to overpower and take out their opponent. There is only a small window where the drafter recalls both timelines, before the brain promptly forgets the previous one. And any lingering memory of another timeline has to be expunged by a handler – the drafter’s anchor – as recollection of two opposing timelines rapidly leads to shock, mental breakdown and catatonic coma before death. As you can see, this scenario leads to some really interesting questions, which Harrison explores effectively in the first book. Can she sustain the action and wider ramifications in this sequel?

Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt. But when a highly addictive drug promises to end her dependency on those who’d use her as a tool for their own success, she must choose to remain broken and vulnerable, or return to the above-the-law power and prestige she once left: strong but without will—for whoever holds her next fix, will hold her loyalty.

The short answer is yes. I really like the fact that despite Peri is aware she has done terrible things to some people who didn’t deserve their fate at her hands – after she has walked away from that lifestyle, she still yearns for the excitement, power and money. To the extent that she essentially stalks her more monied customers in the coffee shop she now runs. And it is into this humdrum life, she is presented with a new development. A drug has been developed by her former boss, Bill, now disgraced and on the run from the CIA. And this drug means that she can cope with the aftermath of timeshifts to the extent that her memory doesn’t need to be wiped.

However, Bill has ensured said drug is lethally addictive. Will Peri return to the life she feels she is best suited to? The life she still yearns for? I really enjoyed the fact that she really struggles with the lure of the excitement, adrenaline-rush and money she used to earn. Meanwhile, events keep moving forward and it won’t come as an almighty shock that other people around her are in the process of making the decision on her behalf. Once again, this fast-paced thriller not only offerings us an action-packed adventure, but some more thought-provoking situations for us to ponder.

Harrison’s characterisation is excellent – it’s what motivated me to track down this series, after thoroughly enjoying The Turn, the superb prequel to her popular post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Hollows. Peri is a complex, spiky character who loves fast cars and expensive clothes. She can be selfish, demanding, materialistic and overly violent. She can also be loyal, generous with a highly developed sense of what is right. The near-future world has some nice touches and the supporting cast also work well. Another cracking read that delivered from a writer who is clearly at the top of her game.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

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After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.

For those of you who don’t recognise the references, Winter Tide is set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, the famous horror and dark fantasy short story writer and novelist. Though he died unknown and poverty-stricken, Lovecraft is popularly regarded as the father of dark fantasy due to his vivid and disturbing world where creatures from another dimension inimical to humans are on the verge of breaking through to our world. Emrys manages to give us an insight in the life of one of the two survivors of the Government attack on Innsmouth in 1928, which is reported and written about in Lovecraft’s writing.

I fell in love with this spare, gripping tale within a couple of pages – the character and premise immediately pulled me into the story where a paranoid and jittery US Government are seeing threats from anyone who looks different, back in 1949. Of course, part of the power of this story is that that febrile fearstoked political atmosphere so well depicted in this thriller also uncomfortably reflects the same mindset pervading mainstream thinking now in the 21st century.

Aphra is a marvellous character and the first person viewpoint (I) gives the reader a ringside seat into her sense of isolation, her anger at the loss of all her family with the exception of her brother and her constant, prickling feeling of danger whenever in a new situation, given her odd appearance. This could have so easily descended into a bleak trudge – but her spiky determination not to be overwhelmed by her grim circumstances gives us a clue as to why she survived while so many others died.

The story, without any apparent headlong rush, nonetheless steadily unspools, gathering momentum as this odd, compulsive world continues to beguile. The parent race, the Yith, are also represented and there are some welcome shafts of humour in amongst the turmoil and danger. I read way longer than I should have done to find out what happens next and climactic scene on the beach when Aphra meets her grandfather fully displays Emrys’s impressive talent. When I finally finished, I was dazed and excited in equal measure. And I cannot stop thinking about this one… In short, another outstanding read that has me humming with pleasure and excitement. Ruthanna Emrys. Remember the name – she is a talent to be reckoned with and this is a series that shouldn’t be missed by science fiction and fantasy fans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

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Last year I was blown away by The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy with a strong eastern flavour that swept me away to another place and time. Indeed, it made my top twenty reads of the year – see here. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request to read and review the sequel.

Second books are often tricky to write – particularly if the first book is a runaway success. But if Chokshi was feeling the pressure, there is no hint of it in her confident prose. Perhaps there is not quite so much lush description of the fantastical magic landscapes she takes us to in her story of thwarted kings, slighted and angry princesses and tricky magical beings who enjoy playing with human desires.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…

Once more, I have given a potted version of the chatty blurb, but I will just mention that Gauri and Vikram end up taking part in The Tournament of Wishes together. This book is structured as mainly a dual narrative, with Gauri’s story told in first person (I) and Vikram’s narrative written in third person (he). Inevitably, this gives us a more intimate and immediate experience of Gauri’s character. She is a warrior princess, skilled in warfare and emotionally wounded by her abusive, tyrannical brother who has constantly managed to outwit her. As a result she finds herself at odds with those she cares most about – and when she tries to help or ameliorate her brother’s sadistic impulses, her interventions are frequently used against her. Small wonder she is a bundle of fury with absolutely no tolerance for Vikram’s wordplay.

While Vikram’s kindly, animal-loving father has been comprehensively outwitted by the ruling council who have essentially grabbed all the power and as Vikram attempts to impose some brakes on their corruption, he finds himself continually thwarted. He retreats into an academic persona, not remotely interested in the violence and warrior mentality that gives Gauri such comfort. They are truly an oil and water mix.

And that isn’t taking into account the fact that politically they have no business exchanging anything other than blows – their respective countries are long-time enemies. So they make an unlikely team. But teamwork is what they need as they are confronted with a series of tricky magical feats they have to overcome. Essentially this is a classic quest story.

What makes it such a rich, enjoyable feast is Chokshi’s engaging prose and vivid worldbuilding. She writes with such sensual conviction, we can taste and smell her magical landscapes and once more I was enchanted and beguiled. But there is no use spinning us a wonderful feast of delights unless the ending is equally satisfying – and there is no problem with that, either. Chokshi manages to bring this story to a triumphant conclusion that had me sighing with pleasure. If you haven’t encountered her writing, then give yourself a treat. Very highly recommended.
10/10

Sunday Post – 26th March 2017

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

It’s been another momentous week for us. Himself has been going through a rough patch, recently with lapses of concentration at work. He often comes back from a shift very tired, though the good thing is that he never has any problem going to sleep, when his snoring is spectacular – the grandchildren call it, ‘Papa’s rumbles…’

I have often wondered just how refreshing his quality of sleep can be, especially as the snoring often suddenly stops, only to start up again with a gasp as he thrashes around, without waking. Good old Google told us it’s a condition called sleep apnea and can be very serious, leading to the increased risk of stroke or heart attack and the onset of type 2 diabetes. So a fortnight ago he made an appointment for the Dr and we went along together, which seemed a good idea as he has no idea what happens during these episodes, because he’s asleep. I cannot fault the NHS for the speed of their response and level of care – it’s been brilliant. Our Dr referred us to the Sleep Clinic at our local hospital and we were seen within a week when Himself came away with a monitor to measure his breathing, pulse rate and oxygen levels last week-end. On Thursday, he had a follow-up appointment back at the Sleep Clinic where he got the results. Five to ten episodes of interrupted breathing an hour is regarded as mild; between ten and thirty is regarded as moderate, needing some kind of intervention; while anything over thirty episodes of interrupted breathing is severe. Himself was averaging at fifty-one episodes of interrupted breathing an hour. She showed us the printout. I was staring at the jagged line in disbelief – and at the fact that it only calmed down during the periods when he woke up. She also explained that he was getting hardly any REM sleep. No wonder he’s making concentration errors! The blood test has also come back positive for pre-diabetes, so he’s also going to be attending a clinic for that, too.

And the reason why I’m telling you this? Because we’ve coped with his snoring for years – he’s repeatedly tried losing weight with limited success although he doesn’t drink or or smoke – but we’d no idea it could be part of such a serious underlying condition. If you or your partner are dealing with similar issues, please do get it checked out. We are both conscious that if this had been left much longer, as well having problems at work, Himself could have suffered a stroke or heart attack. He’s currently wearing a sleep mask and I keep jerking awake at night terrified because he’s so quiet beside me – though hopefully that will soon pass. It’s early days yet, but he already he feels better.

This week I have read:

Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Song of the Shattered Sands series by Bradley Beaulieu
Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it – will Çeda manage to keep their dark drives under control?
This sequel to the highly enjoyable sand and sorcery adventure Twelve Kings proved to be every bit as good as I’d hoped and I shall be posting my review here in due course. Great stuff!

 

From Ice to Ashes by Rhett C. Bruno

Kale Drayton knows his place. As a Ringer, he’s used to keeping his head down and his mouth shut—no matter how much the Earthers abuse him or his own kind berate him. So when he’s caught stealing from a wealthy merchant, he’s lucky to be sentenced to low-paying maintenance work on a gas-harvesting ship instead of life in a cell . . . or worse. But when his mother is quarantined, Kale finds himself backed into a corner. To pay for her medicine, he needs money—the kind of money he’ll never make sweeping floors and cleaning ships. So when he receives a mysterious offer asking him to do a simple job in exchange for his mother’s treatment, Kale takes a chance once more.
This space opera adventure is set in the same world as his excellent novel Titanborn – see my review here – and is due to be released this coming week, so I’ll be posting the review on Wednesday. Another really strong, thought-provoking story that I’ve been pondering about since I finished reading it.

 

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Parents series by Pete Johnson

Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review here – and so was delighted to be able to track down this next slice of Louis’s adventures. I find Johnson’s commentary on modern family life to be funny and perceptive.

 

The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt. But when a highly addictive drug promises to end her dependency on those who’d use her as a tool for their own success, she must choose to remain broken and vulnerable, or return to the above-the-law power and prestige she once left: strong but without will—for whoever holds her next fix, will hold her loyalty.
This is a cracking premise and Harrison doesn’t disappoint in delivering yet another twisting, action-packed plot underpinned by some interesting and disturbing moral questions. Read my review of the first book in the series, The Drafter.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 19th March 2017

Review of The Drafter by Kim Harrison

Teaser Tuesday featuring My Parents Are Out of Control by Pete Johnson

Tim Tag

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

Friday Face-off – Seems like, streets lights glowin… featuring The Cuckoo’s Calling – Book 1 of the Comoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna series by Ian McDonald

 

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

A typical day in the life of a #BookBlogger (in this instance ME!) https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/a-typical-day-in-the-life-of-a-bookblogger-in-this-instance-me/ This wonderful article is a response to some of the ill-founded allegations that book bloggers are somehow playing the system for financial gain, instead of being ‘real readers’.

Cover Characteristics: Book Covers Featuring New York City http://blog.kristenburns.com/book-covers-featuring-new-york-city/ Kristen regularly features a series of book covers on a particular subject and I particularly enjoyed this one.

10 of the best poems about Mothers https://interestingliterature.com/2017/03/22/10-of-the-best-poems-about-mothers/ In honour of Mothering Sunday today, I thought this enjoyable selection would be worth reading.

Useful Sites for the Novice Writer https://richardankers.com/2017/03/24/useful-sites-for-the-novice-writer/ This excellent article lists some of the databases where you can submit your written gems.

A Graphic Novel about the iTunes Terms and Conditions. Yes. Really. https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/a-graphic-novel-about-the-itunes-terms-and-conditions-yes-really/ Kristen makes a point of unearthing the quirky and off the wall relating to books and writing. This is yet another great example of the interesting articles she posts.

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

Review of The Drafter – Book 1 of the Peri Reed series by Kim Harrison

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After recently reading and reviewing The Turn I was reminded just what a good storyteller Harrison is – and once I discovered this covert science fiction thriller, I couldn’t resist getting hold of this one…

Detroit 2030: Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run. Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote.

I picked up this one expecting a cracking adventure story full of action and mayhem, featuring a strong, well depicted heroine. And the story delivered that, alright. Peri Reed is an astonishing protagonist, capable of superhuman feats as she can shift time to either attack or evade her attackers. But she is also so very brittle. And desperately fragile. For this ability comes at a terrible cost. The human brain cannot cope with processing two competing timelines and if that starts to happen, the victim tips into a complete breakdown that progresses into catatonic shock and ultimate raving madness… To stop that happening, each drafter has an anchor, a trained minder who is taught relaxation and mind control techniques so they can go into the drafter’s mind and erase the conflicting timeline by wiping out their memories.

And if there is any risk of a breakthrough – the drafter is recalled to headquarters, Opti, to have a complete mindwipe. But of course, that entails losing chunks of her memory… That is a price Peri is prepared to pay if it means she gets to take out the bad guys, because she is on the side of the angels, right? But what if she isn’t? What if something else is going on? Despite the loving support of her anchor and her talismans – Peri feels that something isn’t right…

This book at times is a highly uncomfortable read where we watch a strong, uniquely gifted woman used and abused as she becomes a pawn in a high-stakes power struggle. Along the way Harrison is asking questions about the notion of self. Who are we? What happens to us if our memories are not the sum total of our life experiences? Peri over-compensates by becoming increasingly obsessed by the material things in her life – her clothing, her car, her food. She is frequently offhand and arrogant to those around her. But given her increasingly shaky grasp of who she is, that would be exactly what would be going on, wouldn’t it?

This is so much more than an escapist, futuristic romp. It is also a warning that in our increasing explorations into how our minds work, there should be no-go areas. Those places that Opti have gone, for instance. My respect for Harrison’s writing has hugely increased after reading this complex, intelligent thriller and if you, too, are interested in these questions then track down this offering. I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I finished reading it.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Amunet by Robert Harkess

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I attended the launch of this book at Bristolcon – my favourite con of the year for its sheer friendliness – back in October and had always promised myself to get hold of it. And then saw it on Netgalley…

Amunet has a unique talent; she can talk to the dead. She had been told all her life that this is the key to rescuing her mother, who has been taken by mysterious and powerful forces. To unlock her mother’s prison, all she has to do is find the Locksmith. Posing as a Medium, she scours Europe for the one person who can help her. Harry and his father are investigators, employed by the Church to hunt down Mediums and hand them over to the mercies of the Inquisition. Harry has always believed he, and the Church, were doing the right thing. Until now.

This one immediately pulled me in – the writing style is punchy and readable and I really enjoyed Amunet. She is at once entitled and vulnerable, clever and very unworldly with an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on a dog, along with a burning drive to track down her mother, thanks to the person in her head guiding her. Harry has a parallel life in many ways, given he also lost his mother early in his life, but whereas Amunet’s guide and mentor is a voice in her head, Harry’s role model is his own father.

But what Harkess manages to do is depict two detailed, interesting characters while it is busy kicking off around them – because this book hits the ground running and wherever Amunet goes, violence and mayhem follows. But this book really bounces to life when she reaches London – a Victorian-type setting but with some important differences. There are all sorts of nice steampunk touches that garnish this adventure action novel.

Alongside Amunet and Harry, there is also a rich cast of characters who weave through the story – some of them unexpectedly popping up again when I had thought we’d seen the last of them. Harkess is clearly an experienced, able writer who manages to keep the momentum for this interesting alternate historical genre mash-up plunging forward without losing character focus or skimping on the vivid backdrop – which is a whole lot harder to achieve than Harkess makes it look.

While the book is concluded entirely satisfactorily, I got to the end and immediately looked around to see if there is likely to be a sequel as I would welcome the chance to revisit this beguiling world. This one comes recommended, particularly for steampunk/alternate history fans.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Twelve Kings – Book 1 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

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I’ve absolutely loved the Rebel of the Sands series – see my review of The Rebel of the Sands and after the thrilling ending to Traitor to the Throne, I became a bit desperate for some more desert fantasy to whisk me away from cold, dreary old February, so turned to this likely looking candidate for more sand and heat…

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

Bradley is clearly an experienced and capable writer. He introduces his main protagonist – an orphan with a terrible backstory – and little by little, we understand exactly who she is and why she is so driven. Çeda is a really interesting character – initially, she seems yet another sword-waving heroine, who manages to somehow overcome normal female behaviour to give us an unlikely-yet-equally-badass-protag that is rapidly becoming the norm in fantasy novels. I do get a tad exasperated at times by the ease with which these girls get access to expensive weaponry and the training to go with it – but, hey, this is fantasy, right?

However, Bradley then devotes a large chunk of this long novel – nearly 600 pages long, though it doesn’t feel like it – to showing us exactly how she has got to where she is. And a hard old road it’s been… Alongside Çeda’s amazing journey, we also follow the fortunes of the young street kid who befriended her and was her partner in mischief for most of their childhood. Emre doesn’t have Çeda’s reckless streak and often feels inadequate that his instinct is to back off just when she surges forward to get stuck in. Though as far as I can see, his is the more intelligent move… He is also on a journey throughout the book, which is mostly dual narrative, charting the different paths these young people take in a brutal society forged by the demands of the desert.

Bradley’s world is intricate, vivid and engrossing. I love the layers of society and power he has built against this unforgiving backdrop – and the magical elements are woven in with skill to provide plenty of impact when we finally get to learn what exactly is going on during the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. While there are frequent flashbacks, I didn’t find them jarring, as they helped us to understand the motivation of our two main protagonists, who I became very fond of throughout the book and am looking forward to getting reacquainted with in With Blood upon the Sand. If you enjoy quality epic fantasy set in the heat and drama of a desert backdrop, then this one comes highly recommended.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

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Himself had picked up this one up as a Recommended Read and loaded it up on our Kindles – and after reading it, enthusiastically suggested I also read it. And I generally listen to Himself on the subject of books…

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

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

As for this particular threat – she quickly finds she has met her match and needs some help. Once again, this urban fantasy adventure delivers in giving us an interesting take on both vampires and werewolves. The science fiction twist is a delight and I liked the supporting cast – Sean, the touchy alpha werewolf and her one and only permanent guest, Caldenia, the aristocrat in hiding. There is plenty of sharp dialogue with a fair amount of humour.

Meanwhile, I cared about the main plotline – Andrews puts her young innkeeper in real jeopardy and I stayed awake reading far longer than I should have in order to discover how the final climactic battle would resolve itself. For fans of urban fantasy, this is a well written, enjoyable take on the genre with some refreshing touches. No wonder Himself recommended it – I do, too.
9/10