Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m featuring some of Naomi Novik’s covers, in honour of her recent release of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series. If you are interested in reading reviews of some of her books: – Victory of Eagles – Book 5 of the Temeraire series, Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series, Crucible of Gold – Book 7 of the Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants – Book 8 of the Temeraire series, League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series, Uprooted, and Spinning Silver. Which ones do you particularly like?
I was keenly anticipating this book – to the extent that I pre-ordered it on Amazon and we don’t do that all that often. So did it live up to expectations?
Diviner Alex Verus finally made one too many enemies on the Council of Mages, and now one of them is angry enough to have him executed. Fighting for his life is nothing new, but this kill order also calls for the death of Alex’s dependents—and there’s no way that he’ll let Luna, Anne, and Vari take the heat. With only a week before he’s history, Alex will have to figure out how to disassociate himself from his friends, scrounge up allies on the Council, and hopefully keep his head attached to his body.
No hanging about with this slice of the Alex Verus storyline – we are immediately confronted with the death sentence that has been passed by the Council of Mages. This single act turns Alex’s life upside down and we get a ringside seat in first person viewpoint as he battles to cope with the consequences of this latest problem. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Jacka’s take on Alex’s divination gift. He is not a particularly powerful mage, but with focus born of years of practice, during a fight he can sort through a variety of possible futures and find the few where he survives. Of course, it’s all well and good setting up this dynamic, but it only really works if it is effectively written, which is a lot harder to do than Jacka makes it look. He has to keep up the pace and tension during the action scenes, as well as giving us Alex’s desperate attempts to sift through the various options allowing him to stay alive. Fortunately, he is very successful at managing this trick.
There are times when I read a fantasy world and wish I were there, however I surface from an Alex Verus novel profoundly relieved I am me, living right here. While there are Dark and Light mages, the difference between them is not as wide as you might imagine. The Light mages are not all about sprinkles, unicorns and doing the Right Thing – they are about keeping more or less a status quo where magic-users have a measure of independence and trying to work together. However powerful magic-users have about as much team spirit as a clowder of cats, so they spend a great deal of time negotiating and squabbling with each other. While the Dark mages are all about acquiring power. So the majority of people within the magical community align themselves to one or other in order to survive. Verus, after escaping his abusive apprenticeship with one of the most lethal Dark mages, vows never to join any faction. And in doing so, immediately sets himself against a range of powerful, vested interests.
I love the intricacies of this world and as with any successful long-running fantasy series, there is also a strong supporting cast of characters. My current favourites are Luna, Alex’s chance-cursed apprentice and Anne, a life mage. There is also an impressive range of lethally inventive and powerful enemies ranged against Alex, and this is the book where they all seem to finally gain momentum to thoroughly upset his current existence.
As for the ending… well, I didn’t see THAT coming! Without encroaching into Spoiler territory, suffice to say it is a major gamechanger that will test Alex in ways he has never been tested before. So the Higbee household are now eagerly anticipating the release of the next book. In the meantime, don’t rush out and get hold of Burned if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the previous six books – instead tuck into the first book, Fated. This enjoyable series deserves to be read in order as it goes on delivering.
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 wizard 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…