Tag Archives: Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Green Man’s Foe – Book 2 of the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGreenMansFoebookreview

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I absolutely fell in love with the previous book, which was one of my outstanding books last year – see my review of The Green Man’s Heir. This largely follows the genre conventions of urban fantasy where a protagonist with unique gifts helps to fight crime. The difference being that this isn’t in some city centre, it’s in the heart of the English countryside and the paranormal beings are dryads, naiads and nixes – not to mention the Green Man.

When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds.

Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree. The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

I dived back into this world with huge delight and immediately got swept back up into Dan’s problems. You don’t have to read The Green Man’s Heir to appreciate this one as each story is a standalone – but you are denying yourself a wonderful reading experience if you don’t. McKenna has managed to produce something unique – an urban fantasy adventure set in the heart of rural England. This gives the story a flavour all of its own as the countryside around the neglected stately home that Dan is working on is vividly described, along with the characters he encounters.

I liked the real sense of threat evoked by the creepy Aiden, a really well-rounded antagonist who I loved to hate throughout as he manipulates the lost teenagers who have drifted into his orbit because they come from socially deprived backgrounds with no prospects. The poignancy of their trapped existence is vividly depicted without any kind moralising or ‘telling’ by McKenna.

The aspect I also love about this series is the real sense of otherness about the supernatural beings – they are all disconcertingly odd and rather scary and despite the fact he is half-dryad, Dan doesn’t get any inside knowledge about their motivations. I read far later than I should have done as I couldn’t put this one down – but the snag is that I am now suffering from withdrawal symptoms as I am out the other side of this fabulous world and feeling rather bereft as a result. This is one of my outstanding reads of the year.
Highly recommended for anyone who has a pulse…
10/10

Sunday Post – 25th August, 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 an intensely busy week as I have been organising the upcoming release of my new book Mantivore Dreams. I’m also working on a major editing project, as well as now editing the next book in the series, Mantivore Prey. On Friday, Himself and I went for a coffee and cake at the Look and Sea Centre, which has now reopened, thank goodness. So we were able to sit at our favourite spot, have a natter while enjoying views of the river as the weather has suddenly become warmer and sunnier again in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. Yay!

Today we will be driving over the Brighton to pick up the children and have them stay over for a few days. It’s a long time since we had Oscar to stay, so we are really looking forward to catching up with them both.

Last week I read:

The Green Man’s Foe – Book 1 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds. Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree. The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

I loved the first book in the series and the sequel is every bit as good. It’s a joy to read a cracking contemporary adventure set in the heart of the English countryside, featuring magical creatures from our own long, colourful history.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had sworn off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined.

Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

Another fabulous read – this has been a wonderful reading week! I treated myself to this one, once I realised how well Mantivore Prey has turned out as a reward from me to me😊

 

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This African-inspired epic fantasy is an impressive debut, given it’s ambition and scope and Barron has triumphantly succeeded in depicting a vivid, dangerous world rife with vengeful seers and lethal magic. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Know Your Rites – Book 2 of the Inspector Paris Mysteries

Friday Faceoff featuring Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Mantivore Dreams Cover reveal and available arcs

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Novacene by James Lovelock

Teaser Tuesday featuring Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Old Bones – A DCI Bill Slider Case by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Sunday Post – 18th August 2019

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

#writers, what #writinginspiration can be found in your #homestate? In #Winsconsin, one #setting to spark your #storytelling is #theHouseontheRock https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/08/22/writers-what-writinginspiration-can-be-found-in-your-homestate-in-wisconsin-one-setting-to-spark-your-storytelling-is-thehouseontherock/ She’s not kidding… This place is UNBELIEVABLE! I’d love, love, love to visit!

Monday Musings https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-musings-5/ Rae is a remarkable lady who has a passion for books and teaching – I loved this article she posted…

Sparoi 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/08/18/spraoi-2019/ Once again, Inessa’s camera takes me to another place far, far away from my own desk in the corner of my lounge and I love her for it.

Friends Do Lie: Normalization of Lies in Fiction http://melfka.com/archives/16489 Joanna raises a really interesting issue in this thoughtful article…

Monday Chatter: Why Plagiarizing Reviews is Bad (Because Apparently It Needs to be Said)
https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-chatter-why-plagiarizing-reviews-is-bad-because-apparently-it-needs-to-be-said/ I was shaken to read this – fortunately I’m aware it’s rare, but it is a real shame that anyone thinks it is acceptable to steal anyone else’s writing – especially when discussing your personal reaction to a book!

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

My Outstanding Reads of the Year – 2018 #Brainfluffbookblogger #MyOutstandingReadsoftheYear2018

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It’s been another great reading year with loads of choice within my favourite genres, so I ended up reading 162 books with 125 reviews published and another 23 in hand. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out from the rest in the best way. Some of them might not even have garnered a 10 from me at the time – but all those included have lodged in my head and won’t go away. And none of this nonsense about a top 10 – I can’t possibly cope with a limit like that.

The Stone Sky – Book 3 The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
The whole trilogy is an extraordinary read – a mash-up between fantasy and science fiction and sections of it written in second person pov. It shouldn’t work, but it does because her imagination and prose fuses together to make this more than a sum of its parts. See my review.

 

Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
I like this author’s writing anyway and I’m a sucker for a well-told space opera adventure, so I read a fair few. However, something about this one has stuck – I often find myself thinking about those passengers on the space liner and the crew looking after them, while marooned by a malign presence. See my review.

 

The Cold Between – A Central Corps novel by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This is the start of a gripping space opera adventure with interestingly nuanced characters, whose reactions to the unfolding situation around them just bounces off the page. I love it when space opera gets all intelligent and grown-up… See my review.

 

The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet E. McKenna
This fantasy adventure is set in contemporary Britain with the protagonist very much hampered by his fae ancestry and trying to discover more about that side of his family. It gripped me from the first page and wouldn’t let go until the end, when I sulked for days afterwards because I wanted more. See my review.

 

Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by John Scalzi
This is such a smart, clever premise. The paralysed young protagonist is able to live a nearly-normal life because his consciousness is uploaded into a robot, when he pursues a career fighting crime. Science fiction murder mysteries are one of my favourite genres, when it’s done well – and this is a great example. See my review.

 

Before Mars – Book 3 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been an outstanding series – and this tight-wound thriller is no exception. I love the fact that Newman tackles the subject of motherhood, which isn’t a subject that comes up all that often in science fiction. See my review.

 

Child I by Steve Tasane
I’ve been haunted by this book ever since I read it. It’s not long and the language is very simple. The little boy telling the story is bright and funny and not remotely self pitying. When I started reading it, I assumed it was set in a post-apocalyptic future – and then discovered that it was set right now and is the distilled experience of children from all over the world. And I wept. See my review.

 

The Wild Dead – Book 2 of The Bannerless Saga by Carrie Vaughn
This was the most delightful surprise. This is another murder mystery set in the future – this time in post-apocalyptic America once law and order has been re-established. I loved the atmosphere, the society and the above all, I fell in love with Enid, the no-nonsense, practical lawgiver sent to sort out the puzzle of a body of a girl that nobody appears to know. See my review.

 

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
As well as being a story of a family, this is also a homage to Alaska and a time when it was a wilder, less organised place. It isn’t one of my normal reads, but my mother sent me this one as she thought I’d love it – and, being my mum, she was right. See my review.

 

Fallen Princeborn: Stolen by Jean Lee
I’ve come to know the author from her amazing blog and was happy to read a review copy of her book – what I wasn’t prepared for was the way her powerful, immersive style sucked me right into the skin of the main character. This contemporary fantasy is sharp-edged, punchy and very memorable. See my review.

 

Eye Can Write: a memoir of a child’s silent soul emerging by Jonathan Bryan
This is another amazing read, courtesy of my lovely mum. And again, she was right. This is a non-fiction book, partly written by Jonathan’s mother and partly written by Jonathan himself, whose severe cerebral palsy locked him into his body, until he found a way to communicate with the outside world using one letter at a time. See my review.

 

Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
This remarkable colony world adventure is about a girl yearning to break into the closed community of flyers – and what happens when she does. I love a book all about unintended consequences and this intelligent, thought-provoking read thoroughly explores the problems, as well as the advantages of throwing open this elite corps to others. See my review.

 

Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 of Strange the Dreamer duology by Laini Taylor
I loved her first trilogy – but this particular book has her writing coming of age. The lyrical quality of her prose and her amazing imagination has her odd protagonist pinging off the page. See my review.

 

Battle Cruiser – Book 1 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson
This is just such fun. William Sparhawk is a rigidly proper young captain trying to make his way in the face of enmity from his superiors due to his family connections, when he’s pitchforked right into the middle of a ‘situation’ and after that, the tale takes off and buckets along with all sorts of twists and turns that has William becoming less rigid and proper… See my review.

 

Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
That this author is a huge talent is a given – and what she does with a tale about a vampire on the run in a city that has declared it is a no-go area for the destructive creatures is extraordinary. Review to follow.

 

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
I’ll be honest – I liked and appreciated the skill of this book as I read it, but I didn’t love it. The characters were too flawed and unappealing. But it won’t leave me alone. I find myself thinking about the premise and the consequences – and just how right the setup is. And a book that goes on doing that has to make the list, because it doesn’t happen all that often. Review to follow.

Are there any books here that you’ve read? And if so, do you agree with me? What are your outstanding reads for last year?

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 2

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I posted my first five Favourite Fantasy Worlds a few weeks ago, so here are the next group. All of these worlds are well developed, nicely complex and provide satisfying backdrops for the stories. It’s no accident they are all series. One of the reasons I really enjoy multi-book story arcs is the extra layers of detail that can be built into the worldbuilding.

The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
This original, remarkable series is set in the equivalent age of the Tudors, with horse-drawn conveyances Touchstoneand charts the fortunes of a magical travelling theatre company. In the first book, Touchstone, they form their group and the next three books in the series records their highs and lows as they steadily get more prosperous and successful. Though that brings its own pressures. The glass thorns of the series title, are the drugs the actors dose themselves with, in order to heighten their emotions – or help them relax after the excitement of performance. I eagerly await each book and so far, have not been disappointed at the unfolding drama of these enormously talented, difficult people battling to produce their best work in less than ideal circumstances.

The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones
This series of books covers the adventures of the state-appointed enchanter Chrestomanci, who is taskedCharmedLife with keeping law and order amongst the magical community. I have read most of these books to my granddaughter, after having devoured them myself several decades ago – my favourite is Charmed Life. And rereading them aloud has not only proved they can stand the test of time, but increased my respect at the quality of the writing, the crafting of the story arcs and the sheer quirky genius of Jones’ imagination. Yes – I know they are supposed to be for children, but give them a go if you appreciate magical mayhem. They are a joy for any age group.

The Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
nohumansinvolvedThis world is extensively portrayed in the thirteen-book series, with a number of accompanying novellas and short stories. It all kicks off with Bitten, where werewolf Clay accidentally bites his girlfriend – and her life is never the same again. But don’t go away with the idea that the series is all about werewolves – it also encompasses witches, necromancers and vampires. In short, anyone who dabbles with the paranormal or magic. Read my review of No Humans Involved. The world is enjoyable – I love the way Armstrong manages to slide from everyday normality into something else.

Einarinn by Juliet E. McKenna
Again, this extensive, detailed world has been produced over a long period of time through several series dangerous watersof books – there are five books within The Tales of Einarinn; four books in The Aldabreshin Compass; three books and a novella in The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution and her latest trilogy, still set within the same world – The Hadrumal Crisis. Juliet provides an excellent explanation of her world on her blog. They are all great reads – but my personal favourites are The Aldabreshin Compass series and The Hadrumal Crisis – see my review of Dangerous Waters.

The Inheritance trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
thehundredthousandkingdomsThis is an extraordinary series – particularly the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which is set in the city Sky where gods and mortal co-exist. See my review here. The book is pervaded by the sense of threat and a feeling that a set of rules apply here that our protagonist needs to know, but doesn’t fully understand. The second book, The Broken Kingdoms had me in tears at the end – and that doesn’t happen all that often, these days. If you like remarkable fantasy on an epic scale focusing on gods, then give it a go.

And there you have it… a few of my favourite fantasy worlds to date. What are your favourite fantastic worlds?

Fantasycon 2015

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nottingham_venue_headerThis year Fantasycon was held on the outskirts of Nottingham at a spiffy Conference Centre with the adjoining Orchard Hotel available for those attendees wanting to stay for the duration.
As ever, the event was well organised, with plenty going on during all three days so that I found myself yearning, once more, for that clone to be able to attend more than one panel/reading/discussion.

Highlights
The overall quality of the panels was very high, with moderators well prepared and the contributors knowledgeable and articulate. I’m a sucker for this aspect of cons, as I love listening to good discussions. The standout panels I attended were:-

Blades, Wands & Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight-Scene
Clifford Beal, Juliet McKenna, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jo Thomas and Dani Ware, moderated by James Barclay Fantasycon-bannerdiscussed all aspects of fighting, using magic, sharp pointy things and techie gismos. It was a wide-ranging, often funny and insightful exchange, ably facilitated by James Barclay. This was the gold standard of panels…

Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History
Moderated by Susan Bartholomew, the panel of Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle, Juliet E. McKenna and Toby Venables discussed how they use history or historical events within their writing. Again, this was an excellent panel where the contributors were knowledgeable and entertaining.

Sounds Like a Great Story: the Science and Psychology of Audio Fiction
Alisdair Stuart moderated and the contributors were Emma Newman, Chris Barnes and James Goss. This was a gem, and uncovered a whole world of podcasts that so far had completely eluded me… I came along because I spend a chunk of my hard earned dosh on audio books, principally for my dyslexic granddaughter, and was intrigued to learn how they are produced. But as with the best of panels, I came away with a whole lot more than I’d expected. Awesome stuff.

Round Robin Poetry Slam
Once more the wonderful Allen Ashley organised this event, which this year was held on Friday evening. The standard was higher than ever, with a great range of material and some amazing deliveries – I’m not going to forget the Moby Dick rap in a hurry… I read my poems ‘Sunspots’ and ‘Desertification’.

Readings
It’s always a pleasure to hear authors read their own work. This year I managed to hear Adrian Tchaikovsky read an111_4650 extract from a new shapeshifting fantasy series which sounds fantastic; Janet Edwards read from Earthgirl, which reminded me how awesome it is all over again – read my review of it here. Joanne Hall read from her latest novel Spark and Carousel which is next on my TBR list. And Frances Kay read extracts from her books Micka and Dollywaggler – a clearly accomplished and interesting writer. I also read an extract from Running Out of Space, my space opera adventure novel due to come out soon. Many thanks for those kind souls who turned up to support me during my reading. I was ridiculously nervous, but very glad to get it over with. Hopefully next time won’t be such an ordeal.

Conferences are all about meeting friends and making new ones. It was great to meet up with Janet and John Edwards again, catch up with Susan Bartholomew who was the very first person I spoke to at my first conference back in 2011, and talk to the actual versions of Joanne Hall and Sophie Tallis who I regularly chat with in bloggerland. It was a delight to make new friends, too, such as the awesome Carlie Cullen.

The Dealers’ Room
Packed with gorgeous books to drool over – and buy. Himself and I peeped in promising each other that we wouldn’t weaken and acquire anymore. After all, we ran out of places to put new books sometime last year. Until we came across several we couldn’t resist… It was something of a shock to find we’d come home with 35 additions to our book piles.

Regrets
There were, inevitably events I missed that I wish I hadn’t. The Atrocity Exhibition sadly clashed with the Poetry Round Robin – a shame, it sounded just up my alley. I am also more than a tad devastated to have missed teaandjeopardythe live edition of Tea and Jeopardy with Brandon Sanderson, after checking out the podcasts – marvellous geeky fun. If, like me, you were visiting the Moon when Emma Newman’s wonderful tea lair and her guests were being given crazy things to do, then do track it down. Beats Radio 1 hands down.
Also deeply saddened to have missed Adrian Cole’s lecture on Zombie Sky Sharks and the Fantasycon version of Just A Minute. Ah well, maybe next year…

Many, many thanks to all those hardworking folks who make Fantasycon possible – the organisers, the contributors, the panellists and other attendees. In particularI’d like to give the redcloaks a special mention – those willing souls were always on hand to help out in any way. Fantasycon 2015 was, as ever, a fabulous, friendly event for SSF fans that has come to be one of the high spots of my year.

Review of Darkening Skies – Book 2 of The Hadrumal Crisis by Juliet E. McKenna

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So we were on our way to Fantasycon 2014 and as we were arriving a day early, which book would I take with me to tuck into, before all those new offerings tempted us once more to wallow in our book addiction? It was a no-brainer – a collapsing TBR pile uncovered this offering I’d intended to read during the Christmas break…

In Halferan, Captain Corrain is hailed as a hero, but he knows all praise would turn to anger if the Calalhrians knew the truth. The darkeningskieswizard who supposedly saved them has merely claimed the corsair island for his own, and no one knows what his next move will be. Corrain has good reason to fear the worst, as he confides in Lady Zurenne. He knows he can trust her, now that still more perilous secrets bind them together. But what will the Archmage do now, once he discovers Corrain’s part in the mess? And what of his claim as Baron Corrain to secure Halferan? Will the Parliament ratify his title – or will the widowed Zurenne find her family and holding once more at the mercy of greedy neighbours?

That is, more or less, the blurb on the back of the book. While it is the second book in this series, it could also be described as the fourteenth book as all her books are sited in the same wonderfully complex, vibrant world – see my review of Dangerous Waters here. Again, we have a variety of viewpoints – Lady Zurenne, Captain Corrain and the mage Jileth feature heavily – while poor desperate Hosh, left behind to the mercy of the corsairs while his comrades managed to escape, particularly tugged at my heartstrings.

As ever, McKenna’s clever, nuanced writing drew me in and wouldn’t let go until the tale was over. She wasn’t on the Worldbuilding panels at Fantasycon 2014 (see my writeup here) but she easily could have been, given her books are a masterclass in how to denote the political and social norms in differing societies without holding up the action or boring the reader. It’s a far trickier feat to pull off than McKenna makes it look…

I particularly like her magic system. There is a price to pay for having such power, which will regularly kill the unwary or untrained magic-user, and the ability is far more widespread in the general population than is officially recognised. However, when the likes of the Aldabreshi brutally murder anyone showing the smallest sign of magical talent, it won’t be a surprise to learn that those with magical ability tend to completely supress that aspect of their personality. Even the magical community of Hadrumal are at pains to keep any scrying into Aldabreshi affairs secret for fear of retribution – for all their power, mages can still be torn apart by a mob…

It was a treat to watch Corrain continue to mature and adapt in the light of his experiences. His tendency to act first and think later has cost him dearly in the series so far – and it was enjoyable and interesting to see him develop. Whereas Jileth paid a high price for her intervention during the first book – and is still counting the cost at the start of this volume. As ever, mage politics features heavily in the story – and I enjoyed the twists McKenna introduced that kept me engrossed. If you are a Robin Hobb fan and enjoy intelligent, well-crafted fantasy that doesn’t revert to elves and goblins, then track down McKenna’s writing – each series is standalone – I’m betting you won’t be able to resist a return visit…
9/10

Review of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of The Hadrumal Crisis by Juliet E. McKenna

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Anyone who reads my reviews will know that I have a particular fondness for politically nuanced Fantasy written by intelligent, talented writers. Her canon of work to date firmly puts McKenna in this category – in fact, I’m frustrated that she isn’t a lot better known. So – would I find this first offering in her latest trilogy up to the mark? After all, this will be her thirteenth book set in this world – can McKenna sustain the originality and range of different situations necessary to keep and extend her readership?

The Archmage rules the island of wizards and has banned the use of magecraft in warfare, but there are corsairs raiding the Caladhrian Coast, enslaving villagers and devastating trade. Barons and merchants beg for magical aid, but all help has been refused so far.

Lady Zurenne’s husband has been murdered by the corsairs. Now a man she doesn’t even know stands as guardian over her and her daughters. Corrain, former captain and now slave, knows that the man is a rogue wizard, illegally selling his skills to the corsairs. If Corrain can escape, he’ll see justice done. Unless the Archmage’s magewoman, Jilseth, can catch the renegade first, before his disobedience is revealed and the scandal shatters the ruler’s hold on power…

The three main protagonists who tell the story are Corrain, the enslaved Caladhrian captain; Lady Zurenne, recently widowed and dangerous waterssuffering the depredations of an insolent steward on behalf of the hated and powerful Minelas; and Jilseth, who is Archmage Planir’s favourite fixer. They all face difficult odds – arguably, Jilseth has the hardest, if not the most desperate task. For it falls to her to try and keep the exploits of the outlaw mage from reaching the ears of the Caladhrian nobility – for the Archmage and his Council are only too aware that for all their power, mages are vulnerable to infuriated mobs with pitchforks.

I loved this book, which grabbed me from the moment I read the first page and held me right up until the end. It’s a long book, but at no point did I feel the action sagged – because this book has it all… slavery, magic, political plotting, overbearing nobility and desperate widows… The contrast of characters is perfect – Corrain’s vengeful fury battling with his need to remain suitably submissive as a slave is deftly portrayed. What I like about McKenna, is that she doesn’t see the need to paint her heroes and heroines as faultless or completely likeable. So Corrain makes some significant mistakes – but given the circumstances and his background, it is entirely realistic that he would underestimate anyone physically weaker.

Jilseth is the most capable of the protagonists – and yet, she cannot sustain her stance of disinterestedness, despite her best efforts. I particularly enjoyed the friction between the magewoman and Lady Zurenne, when Jilseth is trying to discover exactly what is going on. I’ve read a couple of reviewers who were frustrated that Lady Zurenne seemed unable to break free of the rules stifling her ability to act as a free agent. Apparently, they were waiting for her to arm her feisty eldest daughter with a sword and turn her into some female warrior… McKenna has managed to resist the modern trend in historical fantasy of abruptly emancipating her female characters, thank goodness. It is a trend that intensely annoys me.

It suggests that our female forebears merely needed to pull themselves together, learn a few defensive moves, grab a handy weapon and they would be able to operate just fine alongside their menfolk. But as Lady Zurenne’s reactions and instincts clearly demonstrate – no matter how outrageously unfair the law may be to women, it is a far harder business to defy legal and social conventions. If it wasn’t, millions of women wouldn’t be still struggling across the planet in the face of daily injustice and discrimination. I think she rises to the challenge of keeping herself and her daughters safe magnificently and one of the reasons why Jilseth can no longer remain completely impartial, is witnessing Lady Zurenne’s plight – and her gritted courage in coping with it.

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this book. McKenna’s nuanced, smart writing presents her world as every bit as messy and complicated as ours – and though this book and series is nested within a very well established setting, at no time does the author rely on a reader’s prior knowledge of her previous output in order to make sense of this one. Which is a harder trick to pull off than you might think – or maybe not, given how few writers really manage to do it.

So, though I would recommend that you dive into McKenna’s world if you are looking for intelligently written, three dimensional fantasy, there is no reason why you shouldn’t start with this particular series. In fact, I strongly recommend you do so – you’ll be thanking me if you do.
9/10

Review of Banners in the Wind – Book 3 of Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution by Juliet E. McKenna

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This is the final instalment in this intriguing series where McKenna decided to see what would happen if the downtrodden masses and squeezed middle men revolted. And, no, I’m not guessing about this – I happened to be at Bristolcon this year when McKenna gave a fascinating talk on her world. She is an articulate, intelligent speaker and if you get a chance to meet her, take it. You won’t be disappointed.

A few stones falling in the right place can set a landslide in motion. That’s what Lescari exiles told themselves in Vanam as they plottedbanners to overthrow the warring dukes. But who can predict the chaos that follows such a cataclysm? Some will survive against all the odds; friends and foes alike. Hope and alliances will be shattered beyond repair. Unforeseen consequences bring undeserved grief as well as unexpected rewards. Necessity forces uneasy compromise as well as perilous defiance. Wreaking havoc is swift and easy. Building a lasting peace may yet prove an insuperable challenge.

And there you have the blurb – congratulations on whoever wrote it, by the way. It’s a relief to read a back-of-the-book taster that doesn’t feel obligated to give away half the plot… So, the question has to be – after the tumult of the pitched battles, does McKenna manage to convincingly tie up the host of loose ends still waving in the wind along with those banners? Well for my money, this book is the best of the trilogy. This was always an astoundingly ambitious project – to depict a full blown revolution through the viewpoints of six characters.  McKenna succeeded so well because she is an experienced, skilled writer whose epic Fantasy has always been character-driven.

However, this series is not something a reader can skim through. McKenna has taken care to ensure all six characters are widely differing, but several of them are constantly on the move – as would be the case in a war. So that means, with a couple of exceptions, the backdrop to much of the action, especially the battles, is also changing.  In addition,  there is a host of other characters constantly processing through the story. It really took me until halfway through Blood in the Water, the second book in the series, to slow up my reading pace sufficiently to ensure I was able to fully absorb what was happening. The advantage of immediately picking up Banners in the Wind straight afterwards was that I was already in Lescari mode from the start and fully in touch with all the characters.

This is the book where the stakes are at their highest. As the death toll has steadily mounted, I really cared whether the revolutionaries managed to bring about any peace in Lescar. Because if they haven’t managed to do so, then a lot of lives have been ruined and lost in vain. It wasn’t a surprise to learn that McKenna studied history – the political powerplays and unintended consequences of apparently good ideas rang all too true. And her depiction of the damage to all those involved in the revolution also feels very realistic – this is no romp where everyone gets to swash their buckles with a witty chortle on their lips. This is a gritted, desperate business brought about by a group of individuals who simply felt they had no choice.

The themes that were started in Irons in the Fire are still being played out here – the nature of power, who has it and who is desperate to hold onto it; as the struggle continues, what rules of engagement get broken – this particularly applies to magic. The Archmage has expressly forbidden the use of magic in warfare – however, the speed and convenience that magic can provide proves to be far too tempting for this edict to be obeyed by either side. And it is this aspect of her world that McKenna continues to explore in her latest trilogy.

Meantime, she manages to bring this trilogy to a satisfactory, if not wholly tidy conclusion – which is just fine. Revolution is a messy, bloodsoaked business that hurts both the innocent and guilty, and it is a measure of McKenna’s writing skill that this final book is such a gripping, engrossing read.
10/10

Review of Blood in the Water – Book 2 of The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution by Juliet E. McKenna

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Following on from Irons in the Fire, this is the second book in this interesting fantasy series, where McKenna attempts to chart a revolution from its inception through to the consequences in a more realistic, nuanced manner than the typical high fantasy – bad, evil Emperor/undead King has arisen after centuries of having been forgotten and the current, good populace and Ruling Family have to scramble to catch up, etc, etc….

Those exiles and rebels determined to bring peace to Lescar discover the true cost of war. Courage and friendships are tested to breaking point. Who will pay such heartbreaking penalties for their boldness? Who will pay the ultimate price? The dukes of Lescar aren’t about to give up their wealth and power without a fight. Nor will they pass up some chance to advance their own interests, if one of their rivals suffers in all this upheaval. The duchesses have their own part to play, more subtle but no less deadly.

blood_in_the_water_250x384That’s the blurb – and for starters, congratulations on all involved for not muddling the term ‘blurb’ with ‘synopsis’. I’ve become really fed up with the slew of books I’ve read recently that have given away major plot spoilers on the back cover – nothing of the sort going on here, I’m delighted to report.  So, the first question has to be – has McKenna succeeded in accurately depicting an uprising organised and funded by a handful of well-meaning people in a politically complex situation? The answer is ‘yes’. McKenna’s strength is world-building. She manages to produce a character-led story about a world with a labyrinthine historical and political backstory. While in the various viewpoints of her cast of characters, McKenna manages to lay out the various factions, each with a divergent set of loyalties driven by feuding, ambition and fear. We see how the conspirators begin to quarrel as events roll forward – and, importantly, we also see how the war affects protagonists on both sides of the conflict.

The story structure works well as the initial scene setting inevitably takes some time – something that didn’t bother me. What I did enjoy was the way the narrative pace steadily built to the series of gripping, well written battle scenes, which in no way glorified the business of warfare and its consequences. I particularly liked the premise that as the campaign wore on and the stakes became higher, those involved became ever more willing to consider less honourable tactics. The use of magic in the book was well handled. I liked the sense of discomfort shown when a scryer learnt intimate personal information leaked by his fellow magic user – it was also a handy device for keeping the plot moving along and giving the reader different takes on the same situation.

In a cast of characters of this size, there is inevitably going to be one or more who stand out from the crowd. I really enjoyed Litasse and her gutsy reaction to her numerous reverses of fortune. The other character particularly well drawn, is Ameril. It is always difficult to portray a character who has a severe disability and McKenna conveys his physical frailty and pain convincingly without holding up the plotline.

Any niggles? Given the scope of the book and the number of protagonists, it is a very big ask for all to work equally well. While McKenna has all the military and political machinations impressively nailed, I felt less convinced about some of her characters’ private lives. The relationship between Tathrin and Failla seemed rather lifeless in an environment where personal feelings tend to be heightened by the danger. I was also rather confused as to the scope and severity of Branca’s injuries at the end of the story. But, taken as a whole, these are minor concerns set against what the book is trying to achieve. It is an ambitious series that largely succeeds and I’m looking forward to reading the final instalment.
9/10

Review of Irons in the Fire by Juliet E. McKenna – Book 1 of The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution

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I am a major fan of McKenna’s outstanding canon, The Tales of Einarinn, which comprises five books starting with The Thief’s Gamble and the next series set in the same world – even better – in my opinion, The Aldabreshin Compass which starts with Southern Fire. These books are bursting with memorable, exciting characters, fast-paced action and wonderful scenery. If you like intelligent, well written Fantasy, set in complex world and haven’t yet come across these books, then you are in for a treat.
ironsinthefireAnd why am I enthusing over her former nine books? Because Irons in the Fire is something of a disappointment in comparison. In my opinion, McKenna commits an unforgivable sin by treating us to a major info-dump, masquerading under the name of a Prologue. There are several pages of details including place names, ruling families and politics, along with their potted histories, without any attempt to nuance this information through character viewpoint. If I hadn’t read her earlier work, the book would have gone flying across the room at that point, along with a few choice words about the laziness of world building by dressing it up as some kind of Almanac… What further upsets me, is that the rest of the book is sufficiently well written that such a Prologue is actually unnecessary. Or – if she felt that she needed to help readers absorb her undoubtedly complicated world, this lump of information could have been offered as an Appendix.

The country of Lescar was carved out of the collapsing Tormalin Empire by ambitious men who all felt entitled to seize power for themselves. Now six rival dukedoms are ruled by their descendants, who all lay claim to the crown of the High King. Dukes pursue their ambitions through strategic alliances and strength of arms while their duchesses plot marriages and discrete pacts.
Meanwhile, ordinary people struggle to raise crops and families amid constant turmoil. Now a mismatched band of exiles are agreed that the time has come for a change. Can a small group put an end to generations of intractable misery? Perhaps. After all, a few stones falling in the right place can set a landslide in motion. But who can predict what the consequences will be, when all the dust has settled?

It is an intriguing proposition, charting the gradual rise of a revolution within a fantasy world. And when I got into the story, it is an entertaining, enjoyable read. The characters are well-rounded with good development, the world is complex and realistic and the plot progresses at a reasonable pace. But her outstanding achievement in this book – for me – is her treatment of magic. The best fantasy always ensures that magic users don’t just wave around some kind of ensorcelled artefact with an accompanying puff of coloured smoke… However, McKenna’s magical system is completely embedded within the political structure, which seems utterly believable to me. And it takes long, painful effort to fine-tune the mental disciplines necessary to use it, while profoundly changing the practioners.

While the book completes the story arc, like many fantasy series, it finishes at a point where we are set up for the next instalment. And – yes – I will be reading it. McKenna’s fantasy is too well-written and thought provoking to ignore. I just wish she had left out that darned Prologue!
7/10