It was the comparison with The Goblin Emperor that snagged my attention to this particular offering. It’s one of my favourite fantasy political intrigue reads of all time, so I was very happy to dive into anything else that might strum that vibe. Would I be disappointed?
BLURB: Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.
To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.
REVIEW: This one immediately jumps into the story, to the extent that I wondered if there was a previous book in the series that I’d missed. There wasn’t, so I settled in and before long I was utterly hooked. Kadou is an interesting male protagonist. Highly strung and prone to fits of nervous prostration that leave him with devastating self-loathing, he is all too aware that he doesn’t deal effectively with the cadre of elite bodyguards trained to tend to his every need. In fact, he doesn’t feel that he does anything all that effectively. And that’s a real problem right now, because there has been a worrying break-in that unaccountably isn’t being properly dealt with. It doesn’t help that his sister, the ruling matriarch of their land, has recently given birth to a daughter, so she passes the task for looking into this problem to Kadou. During a hunting trip, there is a disastrous event that leads to the death of two of his guards and the disgrace of his captain. So there is a vacancy for the newly qualified and utterly dedicated over-achiever, Evermer.
I’ll be honest – the growing relationship between Evermer and Kadou wasn’t the main reason for picking this one up and I was far more interested in the conspiracy and Kadou’s interestingly conflicted personality. That said, the romance is skilfully handled. While there is the inevitable misunderstanding that characterises their early relationship, the growing attraction between them is portrayed with tenderness and humour that won me over to the extent that by the end of the book I was thoroughly rooting for the couple to overcome the hurdles ranged against them.
I enjoyed the magic, where some adepts are able to trace the purity of metals they touch while some are gifted, or cursed, with the ability to know if someone is lying. However, I did feel the intricacies of the magic system was a bit under-developed and I would have liked to know more about how many of the population had magic, for instance. And whether Kadou’s synesthetic experience regarding his magical talent is the norm. The book also ended rather abruptly – I strongly feel there should be a second book in the offing to complete the narrative arc, though there isn’t any sign that this is a series on Goodreads or Amazon. And for both these reasons, I have knocked a point off what would have been a ten for me, with a compelling, complicated character and a lushly written backdrop that doesn’t hold up the action. This author is One to Watch and comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of A Taste of Gold and Iron from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is the final book in this tumultuous and action-filled military space opera adventure – and I’m so very glad that I took the time to read the first two books before embarking on this one. Indeed, I listened to the first book on audio, which is very well done and I’m hoping the publishers will produce the next two books in this entertaining trilogy. I’ll definitely be keeping a lookout for Johnston’s next offering.
BLURB: As the Zhen Empire descends into civil war, Tajen, Liam, and Katherine each have their own part to play in the final conflict between the human race and the Zhen Empire. As Tajen searches the outer regions in an attempt to find and recruit Zhen deserters to his side, Katherine heads for Marauder space to seek out technology their Tabran allies need.
Liam, believing his two best friends dead, must keep the human fleet alive as it is pursued across the Empire by Zhen forces. As the final battle approaches, each of them will be tested to their limits.
REVIEW: First things first – if you have picked up this one without reading the previous two books in this trilogy, instead seek out The Widening Gyre, which is the first book. While Johnston provides an excellent ‘Story So Far’ roundup at the beginning, you necessarily won’t get anything other than the bare bones of the story. And one of the main strengths of the narrative is how the main characters grow and change in the face of the challenges confronting them.
Secondly, for those of you who, like me, are interested in such things, I was intrigued by the titles – not least because they rang annoying bells that I know I’d have recalled before being smitten with Long Covid. And sure enough, Johnston helpfully provides a copy of the poem ‘The Second Coming’ by W.B. Yeats from where all his titles originate. It’s a fabulous piece of writing and nicely chimes with the overarching menace facing humanity in this adventure.
I’m not going to claim that this adventure is anything particularly original – the scenario of nasty aliens threatening to expunge humanity from the universe is as cosily familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa. However, the manner in which our hapless species has been done over by the Zhen Empire is particularly nasty. And yet makes absolute sense in a way that the reasoning behind alien hostility all too often doesn’t. I also appreciated the way that Johnston doesn’t simply lump all the nasty aliens together as ‘the baddies’, while put-upon humans are elevated to a minor sainthood. Nope – in his world there are human agents who believe the species can only ultimately survive by being in thrall to the Zhen and work against the fight to free humanity every bit as passionately as the most committed Zhen supremacist. Meanwhile, one of Tajen’s most loyal supporters is one of his former Zhen comrades. It’s enjoyable to see such nuances in play, as it keeps the reader wondering who is truly trustworthy, as well as feeling more believable.
Tajen is the main protagonist and his storyline is the overarching narrative arc. While he is the classic adrenaline-junkie hero who flings himself into risky scenarios, I was interested to note that he is also gay. His relationship with his husband is written with tenderness and conviction, giving it importance in the story, yet without any graphic sex scenes or a sense that Johnston is trying to make a point. So it works really well. Though in this book, Tajen doesn’t get much opportunity to spend time with his friends and family, as our plucky band are scattered throughout the galaxy as they desperately try to prevail against overwhelming odds. Indeed, it’s foot-to-the-floor action throughout and the pages turned themselves as I wanted to discover who was doing what to whom – and whether they would all survive. Space opera is difficult to write well and I enjoy it when I can simply relax and let the author do his thing, because he’s nailed the conventions and knows how to transfer from one scene to another without jarring or annoying the reader – which is a skill far too many don’t manage effectively.
All in all, this book was a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to an entertaining, well-written space opera trilogy, and comes recommended to fans of the genre. I’m hoping Johnston is going to revisit this world in due course, as there is lots of scope for more adventures with some of the other characters we encountered. While I obtained an arc of The Veiled Masters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
REVIEW: First of all, if you happened to pick this one up without first reading A Memory Called Empire, then put it down and go looking for the first book. This one picks up more or less immediately after the first book finishes, featuring the same characters and continuing the same narrative arc. So you’ll probably flounder and given that the writing style is dense, layered and challenging, you won’t enjoy or appreciate it as you should.
I liked that we got more of Mahit and Three Seagrass, though at the start I was worried in case Three Seagrass wouldn’t feature so much. I love the fact that they are both human, separated by differing cultures that make it very difficult to understand each other. Though at times, it’s easy to forget that – until they are confronted by an alien presence whose thinking and values is utterly different. And devastatingly lethal… That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as I don’t want to venture into Spoiler territory.
It was interesting to further explore some of the characters who had only walk-on parts in A Memory Called Empire – particularly Eight Antidote, the young emperor-in-waiting. Seeing this eleven-year-old desperately trying to live up the expectations of his tutors and the empress Nineteen Adze was both poignant and gave us a ringside seat to the machinations of Teixcalaan politics, which is truly a shark tank of conflicting loyalties and ambitions. I also enjoyed following Nine Hibiscus, now promoted to be the ultimate warleader in charge of the armada of the fleet sent out to engage the alien threat. Her relationship with Twenty Cicada, her loyal No. Two who went through training alongside her is strikingly close – he is probably the only person she completely trusts… Which made the ending bittersweet and left me with a lump in my throat.
The aliens were very well depicted – it’s a big ask to successfully give an effective sense of ‘other’, but Martine triumphantly succeeds in doing so. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, action-packed story, as the writing is too dense and layered to move the story along at the usual brisk clip we’re accustomed to seeing with space opera adventures. But I think it works, nonetheless. For me, there was one jarring note that caused me to knock off a point – the steamy sex scene. There were a couple of details too much. I don’t know why we were treated to such a graphic scene, as the first book didn’t tend to linger on the sexuality of the characters in general and it was an unwelcome surprise. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m aware that although it is only February, this is probably going to be one of the best books I’ll read in 2021. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading space opera featuring beautifully depicted, complicated characters and an amazing world. While I obtained an arc of A Desolation Called Peace from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
January has slipped by quietly without very much going on, given that we are now back in full lockdown, again, while the Government grapples with this new, highly infectious variant. Meanwhile the vaccination programme is proceeding apace. Both sets of parents have had their first vaccination and my sister, who works in a pharmacy has had both her jabs. I’m hoping Himself will be getting his sooner, rather than later as he is a key worker who has to go out every day and regularly travels to London.
We have had the grandchildren staying over several times – including little Eliza, again. It was another successful visit where she seemed very happy to be with us. Right now, we are still coping with some hefty family issues, not improved by COVID and the lockdown. Thank goodness we are part of my daughter’s support bubble, so we can be there to help out when needed.
Reading I read fifteen books in January, and again, I can’t fault the quality of the books. I did DNF The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell, but that was because it was too dark for me to cope with – the writing was excellent. My Outstanding Book of the Month was The Night Parade of 100 Demons – A Legend of the Five Rings World novel by Marie Brennan, and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.
My reads during January were:
Spirited by Julie Cohen – review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK I Shall Wear Midnight – Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – review to follow.
The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster – review to follow.
Writing and Editing
I’ve made steady progress with Trouble with Dwarves, which is the second book in my Picky Eaters series, featuring grumpy old dragon, Castellan. I’ve now written the opening adventure featuring the ice giants and am now working on the closing chapters of the book, which I hope to have completed by the middle of February. I’ve also completed several editing projects and am continuing to work with my father-in-law on his memoirs.
Overall, I wrote just under 44,000 words in January, with just under 26,000 on the blog, just over 1,200 on lesson reports for Tim, and just over 16,000 on my writing projects.
Blogging January was a better month for the blog, as I wasn’t going anywhere and managed to get back into the rhythm. I’m still not doing very well at visiting other bloggers – and I will try to do better! In the meantime, I very much hope you are all able to continue to stay safe, while waiting for your vaccination. Take care.x
Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy gave this one a mention – and when I saw the cover and read the premise, I immediately requested it. And I’m so very glad I did…
BLURB:Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.
While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control. But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.
REVIEW: Well, this is great fun! I was immediately drawn into the story by the immersive writing, and my sympathy for happy-go-lucky Kiem went up several notches at his evident horror in being married off to someone so recently bereaved. Jainan, the Thean representative is far more difficult to get to know, but again, is likeable and sympathetic. Given the romance strand in this story runs alongside the wider ramifications of what will happen if the coming Treaty isn’t successfully ratified, it is very important that we bond with the two main protagonists.
I’ve read several other reviews that regard this story as mostly about the romance, with the rest of the storyline dealing with the tangle over the Treaty and growing suspicions regarding Taam’s death providing a convenient backdrop. I disagree. While I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding romance, which is of the slow-burn variety fraught with misunderstandings all around, my attention was mostly drawn to the political situation developing within the Court. If it was written merely as a cardboard setting for the romance, I would have spotted it in a heartbeat and while I wouldn’t have necessarily DNF’d the book – the overall dynamic between them worked far too well for that – I certainly wouldn’t be giving it a nine.
I was impressed at the depth of the worldbuilding and how much I enjoyed the dynamic of the Iskat Empire, though in control of a solar system of seven planets, needing wider protection from bigger, more rapacious neighbours. I also liked the plurality on display – some Theans want to break away from Iskat, while others are clearly loyal to the Empire, such as Jainan, and within the Court there are also a number of factions. I also like the way same-sex relationships are treated. Not so much as an eyebrow is raised, demonstrating that it is clearly completely normalised within both Thean and Iskat societies.
I loved the actions scenes and the way the tension grew, making it all but impossible to put this one down until the end – and then I crashed quite hard once I finished it. All in all, this has been a wonderful start to my science fiction reads of 2021, and Everina Maxwell is clearly One To Watch. While I obtained an arc of Winter’s Orbit from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
BLURB: A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery
Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Sebo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.
REVIEW: What is speedily apparent by the blurb alone, is that this swords and sorcery adventure takes place within a Japanese setting, using their pantheon of demons and otherworldly creatures. While the trained samurai dealing with the outbreak are two very different young men from completely different backgrounds. What might not be quite so apparent – I certainly hadn’t realised it while reading the book – is that the world is also part of a very popular role-playing game. To be honest, I offer that info-nugget more as a matter of interest. If it encourages you to go and out and get hold of a copy, then I’m delighted – what I don’t want it to do is discourage you from doing so. Because you’ll be missing out on a wonderful story.
This tale drew me in from the first. Told in third person viewpoint through the characters of the two samurai who end up in the village trying to help this desperate state of affairs, I loved the setup right from the start. Brennan’s brilliant characterisation and scene setting came to the fore – and then the plot grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I’m a tad tired this morning as I stayed up far too late into the wee hours of the morning, unable to put this one down. And I dreamt of it as I slept…
The plot is also a joy – I didn’t see any of the twists coming, and the growing relationship between the two young men is beautifully and tenderly handled. I’m not the most romantic soul – but from halfway into this book, I was willing both these likeable characters to get together. There is plenty of action and lots of tension as the stakes go on growing ever higher – so the appearance of a very sassy cat in the last third of the book was a welcome slice of humour, in amongst the threat and battle. All in all, this is an absolutely cracking read and comes very highly recommended to all fans of excellent fantasy – whether you’ve heard of The Legend of the Five Rings game, or not… While I obtained an arc of The Night Parade of 100 Demons from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It was a quiet week. Frank stayed over until Monday evening which was a joy. He is always such very good company. We had a lazy morning in our PJ’s chatting about Life, the World and everything – as you do with a sixteen-year-old and then went for a walk along Littlehampton beach.
Once he went home, the rest of the week has been all about reading, working with my father-in-law on his memoir and getting the first draft of Trouble With Dwarves sorted out. Himself is now on his long weekend, so we went for a walk this morning along the beach. We are allowed to leave home to exercise, but we are being strongly encouraged to stay as close as home as possible for said exercise, hence the pics – once again – of Littlehampton beach and our bracing walk. As you can see, the sea was quite rough…
Last week I read:
Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder Year 2522. Oh. My. Stars. Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…
Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun. With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today… This is a wonderful finale to a very entertaining, action-packed space opera series. I’ve rarely seen subjects like quantum entanglement and time dilation dealt with so entertainingly, yet effectively. And Ara’s character simply bounces off the page. But whatever you do, read the other two books first… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos… The king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. Radical Protestants are conducting all out war on the old religion, stirring discontent among the people. The Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.
Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of John Boleyn, a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth – brings Shardlake and his young assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as more murders are committed. During their investigation, a peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Yeoman Robert Kett establishes a vast camp outside Norwich and leads a force of thousands to overthow the landlords. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest. This monster of a book (800+ pages) was wonderfully narrated and has held me throughout most of January. I have been a fan of this series for years – and I’m so glad that one of my reading targets last year was to catch up with those series that somehow slipped through the cracks. For this book is a tour de force and already, I have one of the books that will make my Outstanding Reads of 2021… Review to follow.
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut. While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.
But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other. This was a lovely surprise! I’m not sure what I was expecting – but it wasn’t this lovely adventure, coupled with a slow-burn same-sex romance that was handled beautifully. Which didn’t swamp the fascinating political dynamic and I’m very much hoping that this is the first in a series. Review to follow.
The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.
The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life.
At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul. Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret. A delightfully quirky read with a nice line in humour that prevents this being a bleak read. As a huge fan of the MASH TV series, I was pleased to see that this fantasy homage got the tone more or less spot on. Review to follow.
NOVELLA The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts.
Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line. But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace. When I didn’t get a review copy of this one, I pre-ordered it, being a solid Tchaikovsky fan. And I’ve still to write the review of this one, as my feelings about it are a tad tangled. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and it didn’t quite live up to my very high expectations of it – though that didn’t prevent it being a solidly good book. Review to follow.
The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.
Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?
Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave. But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with. Another solid delight! Himself strongly recommended this one and I read waaay into the night as I found it impossible to put down. I’ve a couple of Netgalley reads to get through – but just as soon as I can, I’ll be tucking into the next book in the series! Review to follow.
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Black Sun – Book 1 of the Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse – release date 21st January, 2021.
BLURB:A god will return When the earth and sky converge Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
I thoroughly enjoyed Trail of Lightning – read my review – so when I saw this one available on Netgalley UK, I immediately requested it and was thrilled to be approved for an arc – yippee! So I’m looking forward to tucking into this one very soon😊.
I cannot recall quite why this one turned up on my TBR pile, but the cover is rather gorgeous and I liked the sound of a PoC protagonist with a same-sex romance…
BLURB: In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
REVIEW: Do be aware – this book has an abduction, with the theme of non-consensual sex running through it and there is a rape scene, though it isn’t detailed.
The gripping opening scene, where Lei is snatched from her village immediately drew me in. It had lots of drama and I think that at point, the character jumps off the page and works well as a protagonist. However, although it is a gradual process, from the moment Lei arrives at the Palace, I began to have doubts about her characterisation. She seems to spend too much time making a point of being different. I wasn’t convinced that I was in the head of the first person pov, who is genuinely terrified of the consequences, despite those dire consequences being set out very clearly. She certainly creates a whole nest of problems for herself by behaving more like a bored schoolgirl, than a slave. And the trance scene, which is supposed to foreshadow Lei’s special role in coming events, felt as if it had been added to persuade the reader that she is, indeed, important.
It was a shame, because Ngan writes with passion and commitment. I thought the growing romance between the two girls was tender, but again – far too reckless and obvious, given the circumstances. And about two-thirds of the way into the story, I had the growing conviction that the wrong girl was the main protagonist – that should have been Wren, whose backstory was far more intriguing. And Ngan’s efforts to depict it via Lei grew increasingly clumsy.
That said, there is still a lot I enjoyed. At no point was I tempted to put the book down as the descriptions of the Court life and the beautiful costumes were well depicted and I liked the political undercurrents and sense of control slipping away. I also liked the fact that all the girls trapped as concubines had varying reactions to what was going on around them. But my overall enjoyment was hampered by my misgivings around the main character. 6/10
This one kept coming up on other book blogging sites – that it was a beast of a book… that it was a single-book epic fantasy adventure featuring dragons and pirates… that it was beautifully written… So I scooped it up to lighten those boring household chores I hate doing. I can’t deny the pull of that cover, either.
BLURB: A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens. The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
REVIEW: This is a hugely ambitious book and hats off to Shannon for even attempting it. In many ways, it follows many of the classic tropes within epic fantasy – political fragility at a time of increasing threat… historical accretion that messes with the people and objects destined to help deal with said threat… a handful of chosen heroes whose lives have been given over to step up and deal with this threat, when it finally emerges… So good, so familiar. But Shannon nicely shakes it up – I particularly enjoyed the storyline around Queen Sabran, which was the most successful narrative throughout the book, both in terms of coherence and pacing. I also liked how Shannon plays with reader expectations, and then upends them. The romance was particularly well developed, with a convincing depth of emotion – yet there were still edges as two powerful women specifically raised to fulfil entirely different roles grappled to try and come to terms with their responsibilities without also sacrificing their personal happiness. But I was also very relieved to see that Shannon didn’t push the facile trope that true lurve solves everything – the storyline of one of the main characters is a vivid demonstration of what happens when someone loves too hard and cannot let go.
The characterisation was the main strength of this wide-ranging story and certainly held me, when the pacing – the weakest aspect – either flagged, suddenly dropping away, or speeded up and rushed through a scene which had been given a big build-up. My other irritation is that Shannon clearly felt, or was told, some of her major supporting cast, should die. She also clearly hated doing it. This manifested itself in these deaths either occurring off-stage, or being glossed over. And while their nearest and dearest did mourn their going, there wasn’t really a sufficient sense of loss, which given how effective Shannon’s writing is in depicting her main characters’ emotions, I found rather frustrating.
However, neither of these niggles are dealbreakers. Nor is the fact that while Liyah Summers’ narration very ably depicted the wide cast of characters with an impressive range of different voices – she also misprounced the word bow throughout, along with one or two odd examples that momentarily yanked me out of the story. Overall, I loved the world and the complex, nuanced story Shannon laid out for me and would recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy, who appreciates reading the whole story in one large volume, rather than having it broken up into instalments spanning years. 9/10