Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he contacted me and asked if I’d like the opportunity to read and review his latest book, I jumped at the chance.
BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows. Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?
On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?
REVIEW: While this book is a spinoff from the Ordshaw series and set in the same world – it deals with a separate threat. So you don’t have to have read any of Phil’s previous books to enjoy this one. There are two main narrative threads – those of the Cutjaw gang, who encounter Zip while on the run from successfully pulling off a heist; and the exploits of Sean Tasker, who teams up with unhinged desperado Katryzna while trying to find answers to a series of horrible and mysterious killings taking place across the globe. While I enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series, this one impressed me with the sheer intensity and skill of the writing.
It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Normally action-led adventures tend to be a tad lighter on scene setting and characterisation, which is fair enough, given that a narrative that powers forward at full tilt simply cannot hang around for too much description or nuanced, complex characters. Not so in this case. Reece, Leigh-Anne and Zip ping off the page, full of personality. As for Sean and Katryzna – those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the Ordshaw series can see definite similarities between Katryzna and the psychotic fairy Lettie… Phil writes damaged characters with tenderness and passion so that folks whose behaviour would normally repel me, instead pull me in and make me care. It’s harder to achieve than Phil makes it look. The same dynamic applies to the scene setting – it was a pleasure to be taken across the US, or a certain village in Norway and then into the swamps of Louisiana and the jungle of the Congo.
But what really impressed me was the gothic slant that Phil gave to a mill in the heart of the English countryside. It should have been a quaint, cosy setting – and proved to be nothing of the sort. While this story isn’t full-on horror, it is definitely on the dark side of urban fantasy and once again, Williams gives it his particular spin. I’m delighted there is more to come with these characters – they get under the skin and won’t let go. Recommended for fans of high-octane, contemporary fantasy with strong characters and a swift-moving story. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Most of the first half of the week was dominated by the launch of Mantivore Warrior on Monday, which went really well. Thank you to everyone who retweeted and mentioned that Warrior is now live and let loose on the world.
The weather was a lot better – though not good enough for our Writing Group to get together on Wednesday evening, which was a real shame. It had been bright and warm all day, until the evening when it started raining, so we were Zooming once more. Though it was a really productive meeting, where several of us shared our work and I got some valuable feedback on the beginning of Picky Eaters 2.
Unfortunately, I am now struggling with a very sore back and my usual strategies for dealing with it aren’t working, so I’ve a physio appointment on Tuesday. I was supposed to travel down to Ringwood yesterday to see my in-laws with my husband – but I woke up feeling too sore and car journeys are never my friend, anyway. I’d travelled to Brighton on Thursday to see my daughter and the children and brought back the boys to stay overnight – a last sleepover before they go back to school. It was lovely to see them and their stay was rounded off by going out for a meal together at a local pub restaurant with a vegan menu, where my daughter and little Eliza joined us on Friday afternoon. Today is my husband’s birthday, and today’s photos are from the big wheel which was recently installed on Littlehampton foreshore. We are planning to have a lazy day together and go out for a meal with my sister tonight.
Last week I read an astonishingly strong selection of books:
Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae. But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It was so refreshing to read of a sixty-something protagonist, who isn’t magically enhanced or rejuvenated and Hearne’s trademark humour is evident in this series, too. Recommended, particularly for fans of the Iron Druid series.
AUDIOBOOK – The Delirium Brief – Book 8 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross Bob Howard’s career in the Laundry, the secret British government agency dedicated to protecting the world from unspeakable horrors from beyond spacetime, has entailed high combat, brilliant hacking, ancient magic, and combat with indescribably repellent creatures of pure evil. It has also involved a wearying amount of paperwork and office politics, and his expense reports are still a mess. Now, following the invasion of Yorkshire by the Host of Air and Darkness, the Laundry’s existence has become public, and Bob is being trotted out on TV to answer pointed questions about elven asylum seekers. What neither Bob nor his managers have foreseen is that their organization has earned the attention of a horror far more terrifying than any demon: a British government looking for public services to privatize. This was huge fun to listen to – and has made me determined to get hold of the next one in the series sooner, rather than later as this one ended on something of a cliffhanger. I’d forgotten just how smart and darkly funny Charles Stross’s writing can be. Review to follow.
The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of the Rampart Trilogy by M.R. Carey Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind. Carey keeps the tension up and expands the story by giving us an insight into what is going on in the village that exiled Koli in the first place, as well as taking Koli’s adventures further. The world is brilliantly depicted and I enjoyed the characters.
The Green Man’s Silence – Book 3 of the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.
But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago? A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles. I thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s latest adventure, which takes place in a corner of England that is rich with history and folklore. I loved that Finele was once again part of the story and found this one impossible to put down. Review to follow.
Lockdown is slowly easing and right at the end of the month, we actually went to a café together and had a cup of tea and cake. It’s been lovely to meet up with my daughter and the grandchildren and have them over to stay, again. But most of the time, I’m still at home reading and writing, while Himself has continued to go out to work.
Reading I read fifteen books in July, which used to be an outstanding number for me, but isn’t anymore. No DNF’s and once again, it’s been a great reading month – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. My Outstanding Book of the Month was The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Deep Roots – Book 2 of the Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. My reads during June were:
Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell – Book 1 of the Embers of War series. Review to follow
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. Review to follow
Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi. See my review
Skin Game – Book 15 of the Harry Dresden files by Jim Butcher – reread
AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Review to follow
Velocity Weapon – Book 1 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review
End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker. Review to follow
Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. See my review
Chaos Vector – Book 2 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH
Seven Devils – Book 1 of the Seven Devils series by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May. See my review
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron. Review to follow
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING BOOK OF THE MONTH
The Outcast Dead – Book 6 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Mini-review to follow
AUDIOBOOK The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – Book 28 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Review to follow
Writing and Editing I had intended for Picky Eaters 2 to be a novella, but though I’ve written a reasonably comprehensive outline, the writing has fallen into the rhythm and pacing of a longer piece of work. Oh well. So rather than polishing off the first draft during the first fortnight of July, I found it has been something I’ve been picking up and putting down between the final two editing passes of Mantivore Warrior. Mhairi has now produced the cover, which I’m very happy with – and I’m on track to publish it at the end of August, as planned. Again, due to all the editing I’ve been doing, my writing wordcount is way down in comparison to the beginning of the year.
Overall, I wrote just over 35,500 words in July, with just over 20,500 on the blog, and just over 15,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just over 288,500 words – which completely justifies my decision to step away from my regular Creative Writing stints at Northbrook, because that is over 92,000 more words than this time last year.
Blogging I am more or less back on track with commenting, though I still struggle to get around and visit as much as I’d like – sorry to those of you who I’ve neglected! But again, I’m finding it such a lifeline to be able to chat about books to other folks – it certainly cuts down the sense of isolation. Take care and stay safe.x
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Most of the week slid by routinely – until Friday. I was due to meet up with my sister for the first time in a while. But while getting ready, I had news from my father that my mother had been taken to hospital after becoming ill early in the morning. After an anxious wait, it transpired that she has very high blood pressure. I spent part of that wait with my sister, who has been enjoying a week’s holiday, catching up over a sticky bun and cup of tea. And on returning home, my lovely daughter had just arrived with a bunch of roses for me, knowing that I’d be worried about Mum, after hearing the news that she’d been taken ill. We sat in the garden together for a while, enjoying the sunshine before she drove back to Brighton.
On the blogging front – I’m still stubbing my toes on block editor and its irritating limitations, which I’ve found time consuming and unsatisfactory. Writing-wise, I’ve been updating the front matter on my books, which has taken a surprising amount of time, as well as continuing the editing process of Mantivore Warrior. Mhairi has now completed the cover design, needless to say I’m delighted with it. I’m aiming to have the book ready for publication by the end of August.
The pics this week are featuring the different types of foliage I have in the garden. While I’ve been snapping the flowers, I love plants with coloured leaves, ranging from my black-leaved elderflower, the red-leaved robinia, the little black-leaved grass and my lovely tradescantia.
Last week I read:
Velocity Weapon – Book 1 of the Protectorate series by Megan E O’Keefe
Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. She awakens later on a ship to find herself in an unimaginable situation… Whatever you do, don’t read the blurb which ruins the amazing opening in this entertaining space opera. I’m currently reading the second book in this series.
End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. It was with some sadness that I picked this one up – my ongoing adventure with Alisa and her eccentric crew was coming to an end. And I was also a bit worried in case the ending was a letdown – but Buroker nailed it. I’ll definitely be reading more of her books. Review to follow.
Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear? I was very glad that I’d read Skin Game last week, as this one hits the ground running. My firm advice is that if you haven’t read Skin Game recently, then refamiliarize yourself with it before you pick this one up. Review to follow.
Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger duology by Marie Brennan Created by the merging of witch and doppelganger, Mirei is a unique being. Her extraordinary magic makes her the most poweful witch alive—and a notorious social outcast. While Satomi, the leader of the witches’ ruling Primes, hails Mirei as a miracle, rival Primes proclaim that Mirei is an evil abomination… and that those who champion her must be destroyed. Now the different witch factions engage in a bloody war with magic, treachery, and murder. But both sides may be fighting for nothing. For the power that the rebel Primes fear, the magic that Mirei alone possesses, is killing her.
Thoroughly enjoyed this one. This is a series that deserves to be better known.
Bone Silence – Book 3 of the Revenger series by Alastair Reynolds Two sisters ran away from home to join the crew of a spaceship. They took on pirates, faced down monsters and survived massacres . . . and now they’re in charge. Captaining a fearsome ship of their own, adventures are theirs for the taking. But Captain Bosa’s fearsome reputation still dogs their heels, and they’re about to discover that, out in space, no one forgives, and no one forgets . . .
This was quite a gritty, creepy read that took some of the established tropes for this sub-genre – and twisted them into something completely different. Enjoyable and unpredictable.
Crownbreaker – Book 6 of the Spellslinger series by Sebatien de Castell Kellen and Reichis are settling into their new lives as protectors of the young queen and dealing with the constantly shifting threats to her reign and to her life. For the first time in his life, Kellen feels as if he’s becoming the kind of man that his mentor Ferius had wanted him to be. Even Reichis has come to appreciate having a noble purpose – so long as no one minds him committing the occasional act of theft from the royal treasury. But what seems to be a simple card game between Kellen and an old man is soon revealed to be a deadly game of wits in which a powerful mage has trapped the queen’s spellslinger in order to kill him.
I really enjoyed this series. Kellen is an engaging protagonist and his relationship with the savage little squirrel cat, Reichis, prevented the tone getting too darkly dismal, despite the stakes being raised ever higher.
Sacred Bride – Book 3 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair & Cath Mayo Prince Odysseus and the daemon Bria must penetrate the haunted caverns beneath Dodona, seeking a way to save their doomed nation, Achaea, from the might of Troy. The startling revelation that follows will set Odysseus on his most daunting mission yet, as he seeks to reunite the divided Achaean kingdoms before the rapacious Trojans strike. His journey will pit him against wrathful gods and legendary heroes, in a deadly contest for the hand of Helen of Sparta, the daughter of Zeus, upon whose choice the fate of Achaea rests…
I am a real sucker for Greek myth retellings and 2019 was an outstanding year for this genre, what with this series and Madeline Miller’s wonderful tales. So it was a real treat to revisit this world to complete the series, which is highly recommended for fans of this sub-genre.
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction… and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people from impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization… or the last emperox to wear the crown?
I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual space opera adventure – but I did find the ending jarring. And as time goes by, my feeling about it haven’t grown any less raw, which is unusual. I’m not going to claim that Scalzi short-changed his readers, because I don’t think he did – but he came mightily close…
The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.
I’ve such a soft spot for sand and sorcery books – and this series is outstanding. I loved each book and despite the fact that I found Dara’s actions shocking, Chakraborty managed to make me really care for him.
End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, Tymoteusz hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs. Finding him will be difficult, and even if they’re successful, facing him could be suicidal. To have a chance of surviving, Alisa will have to come up with her greatest scheme yet.
This was so much fun! I loved that the dynamic with this entertaining space opera adventure was a desperate mother looking for her kidnapped daughter. But while that may sound rather bleak – this was nothing of the sort. Full of battles and all sorts of exciting action, including blowing up illegal laboratories and hunting savage dinosaurs – I completed this one with a real sense of loss.
It was one of my targets for 2020 to roll up my sleeves and complete more of the ongoing series I’ve been reading. Though I rather lost my head and requested faaar too many new shiny arcs during March and April, which derailed my good intentions, somewhat. However, I’m reasonably happy that I’ve managed to finish seven series so far. Have you read any of these?
Record of a Spaceborn Few – Book 3 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
BLURB: Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat. Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened. Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it. Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong. When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?
I did find the accent of the narrator just a bit difficult to get to grips with at the beginning. But I love the different narratives as we go on learning about the daily lives of people still living on the generational ships. In multiple viewpoints we get to discover yet another pocket of the highly detailed world she has created, where humanity is now out among the stars, after having destroyed Earth.
While I’m aware there has been some criticism over the lack of a plot, I found the unfolding stories of each of the main protagonists was sufficiently engrossing to hold me to the end – and there were a couple of shocks along the way, too. The ending was beautiful – very poignant and left me with a lump in my throat. Highly recommended for those who enjoy reading and/or listening to stories of everyday happenings, rather than large conflicts.
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
BLURB: With the man who kidnapped her daughter imprisoned aboard her ship, Captain Alisa Marchenko is closer than ever to reuniting her family. But her new guest has been in a coma for weeks, with the secret to her daughter’s location locked away in his mind. She must find a way to sneak him into a state-of-the-art hospital on Arkadius, a planet in the heart of Alliance territory. Not an easy task when she and the cyborg Leonidas, her most trusted ally, are wanted by the Alliance army.
As if that mission weren’t daunting enough, the Staff of Lore has appeared on the planet. As has the man who stole it: Alisa’s father.
I enjoyed jumping back aboard the Nomad for another action-packed adventure with Captain Alisa Marchenko and her quirky crew. Though the ship seems to be filling up with all sorts of unexpected passengers in this eventful instalment of the series…
Still trying to track down her missing daughter, Alisa is yet again diverted up another cul-de-sac. The romance with Leonidas does seem to provide rather too much distraction from her main aim of tracking down the missing child. That said, as ever the action is well depicted, the characters are nicely snarky and convincing, with some enjoyable layers and there are moments of real tension and danger that makes this yet another successful page-turner. I’m glad to have got back in touch with the series and it won’t be too long before I’ll be tracking down the next book.
Skyward – Book 1 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father’s—a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa the daughter of a coward, her chances of attending Flight School slim to none.
I really enjoyed this action-packed adventure, featuring a gutsy teen brought up on tales of derring-do by her grandmother while having to daily face the disgrace of her father’s supposed cowardice. I felt she was both sympathetic and plausible, which isn’t as easy to achieve as Sanderson makes it look. While the initial premise wasn’t particularly original, Sanderson throws in sufficient twists so that I couldn’t predict exactly what would happen next, so this became a real page-turner I could get lost in. The beautiful drawings of the space fighters were a bonus that I’m sure would have been easier to appreciate on a newer, spiffier Kindle.
I really liked how the puzzle of exactly why a human enclave ended up on this shattered world was addressed and unravelled, alongside Spensa’s adventures. I’m delighted to have acquired the Audible version of the sequel, which I’m looking forward to tucking into very shortly.
I’ve loved this author’s writing – her series The Griffin Mage is one of my all-time favourites and still stands out in my memory – see my review – and Black Dog. So I was delighted when the author contacted me and asked if I would provide an honest review, in return for a copy of the book.
BLURB: Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined. Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?
REVIEW: Right from the start of this engrossing story, I was pulled right into the middle of Ryo’s plight. He has been left as a sacrifice in the hopes that their enemy will exact his revenge upon the young warrior, allowing the rest of the warband to escape into the wilds of the forest. So we start with Ryo waiting for his fate and wishing he could take back his angry words to his older brother, who’d made the painful decision to leave him. While also hoping that he doesn’t disgrace himself by buckling in the face of torture and trying to prepare himself for the upcoming encounter. However, in the event, he isn’t remotely ready for who he ends up facing…
This thoughtful, beautifully written fantasy adventure explores a clash of cultures and does a fabulous job of fully unpacking what it actually means to be in the hands of a sorcerer capable of going into your mind and altering your mental landscape, seeding false memories and changing your loyalties. While I’ve seen this form of magic used before – I cannot recall such a clever and thorough examination of the consequences of it. I was completely convinced of the threat and genuinely gripped as the stakes continued to be raised. Neumeier’s pacing and handling of her cast of characters, in addition to her wonderful worldbuilding – something she excels at – held me throughout. Very highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well written fantasy that is genuinely different. 10/10
I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book – see my review of First Flyght. So I took the opportunity to dive into the second book to find out what happens next to Vivian.
BLURB: With her ship secure and her old boyfriend back in good graces, Vivian Kawabata only needs one thing to move forward: money. Money, though, is hard to come by when you’re an infamous disgraced heiress. Vivian’s only move is to enlist the help of her matchmaker, Marcelo, and find another wealthy man to add to her relationship network. He not only has to be a master in the bedroom, but he must be a pro with ships, too. Her ship needs a mechanic before they start taking on real clients for Flyght, the lucrative ship-sharing startup…
REVIEW: There is more blurb, but it gets a bit chatty. This book picks up where the first book left off, so if you haven’t yet read First Flyght then go and track it down, because especially at the start of this story, you’ll not necessarily appreciate how high the stakes are if you don’t. I very much like Vivian, who is fundamentally a good person with a keen sense of responsibility. There is plenty going on in this next slice of the adventure, as Vivian struggles to get back the family farm, go after her brother and accrue a relationship network of wealthy men – all at the same time. No wonder she is struggling to sleep…
Pajonas has a smooth writing style and in the middle of all the mayhem, there is a thread of wry humour that manages to keep the story enjoyably entertaining as well as nicely escapist – just what we all need in these increasingly grim times… I like the worldbuilding, which is vivid and well described as Vivian bounces through it – a disaster magnet, as sheer bad luck and circumstance conspire to multiply the ongoing problems she’s been dealing with. I’m hoping, however, that the next book in the series, High Flyght, will bring some sort of resolution to at least one of the issues Vivian is confronting – I am uncomfortable with the idea that she becomes a permanent fall guy throughout this series, as I like her too much.
Overall, though, this was an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable space opera adventure. While it is marketed as a reverse harem romance – something that made me initially hesitate to read it – I would just add that the romance so far has been of the slow burn variety and not the plot thread powering the narrative. I don’t have a problem with that, but do bear it in mind. 8/10
BLURB: Caitlyn Aguirre is no magician … But that doesn’t make her useless. After discovering her true talent and uncovering the long-lost secret behind Objects of Power, Cat returns to school – intent on showing everyone what she can do. But her mere existence is a threat to the balance of power, convincing some to befriend her, some to try to use her … and some to remove her. And when she and her closest friends become the target of a deadly plot, she must use all her wits to save them and escape before she becomes the first casualty in a deadly war.
I thoroughly enjoy well-told fantasy school adventures and Nuttall’s first book in this series, The Zero Blessing, was an excellent start. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you go back and pick that one up before going any further, as there is a chunk of important backstory you’re missing. Caitlyn won’t make much sense to you if you don’t do so… Given the major twist at the end of the first book, I really liked the direction in which this one went – compared to the Molly Harper series, I think the sudden change in the dynamic is far more adroitly handled here.
While I wasn’t completely surprised when the shoe dropped and the stakes were abruptly raised, but I was impressed and gripped by the way the adventure then got a whole lot darker. I’m aware Nuttall is capable of killing off important supporting characters, so was on my toes throughout. As ever, I found it difficult to put this one down until it was over. I will definitely be continuing with this series during the year. He is an accomplished author, whose books are excellent value and this one is highly recommended for fans of exciting magical school adventures.
I read the first book in this delightful series, Nice Dragons Finish Last – see my review longer ago than I care to think, fully intending to pick up the rest of them. But somehow Life and other books got in the way. But I’m back here now – and delighted to see the whole series is available on KU. I am linking this review with Wyrd and Wonder 2020.
BLURB: After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being a useful one, and now that he’s got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker’s gamble to put her clan on top.
This is a real delight. I love the partnership and unfolding romance developing between Julius and Marci – not that they have too much time to dwell on their feelings for one another. Julius belongs to one of the most ambitious Dragon clans on the planet. When one of his higher ranked siblings decides that he is somehow crucial to the crisis Estella is creating, he finds a steady stream of his brothers and sisters dropping in to complicate matters further.
One of the complicating matters is his mortal partner and mage, Marci, has not just got a nifty set of spells at her disposal, her otherworldly familiar, a ghost cat creatively named Ghost is more than he seems. In fact, this is one of the delights of this enjoyable series, Aaron is very good at delivering a cracking plot where you think one thing is happening, when it actually transpires that there was something else going on all the time. I do love it when authors successfully pull off this technique – and Aaron is a whizz at it.
Julius is an interesting protagonist. In a genre where power and talent are always highly prized and opens doors for our plucky heroes and heroines – all Julius has to offer is… niceness. Dragons are not nice. They are greedy, ambitious, ruthless, cunning and devoted to gaining more power at the expense of their competitors, who quickly transform into their enemies. It takes strong writing to make such a weak protagonist prevail against the might of far more powerful peers – and allow us to continue finding him interesting. Fortunately, Marci isn’t quite so nice, although her edges appear to be almost cosy in comparison to your average dragon.
The pages turned by themselves and I found myself facing the final page far too quickly. This is a classy, well executed urban fantasy full of my favourite creatures magnificently portrayed. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Highly recommended for fans of quality urban fantasy. 9/10