Tag Archives: magic

Review of INDIE Ebook Shadows Over Kaighal – Book 3 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #ShadowsOverKaighalbookreview

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I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery adventure – see my reviews of By the Pact and Scars of Stone. So I was delighted to discover that Shadows of Kaighal is now available.

BLURB: To finally have a chance at freeing Veranesh, Kamira had made some risky decisions, surrendering herself to the mercy of the archmages and trusting that her companions, Veelk and Koshmarnyk, would carry out other essential parts of their plan.

In her wildest dreams she hadn’t expected that her actions would leave her with more trouble than less. Now she has a whole city on her shoulders, two demons around—one shrewder than the other, and plenty of enemies to pick from. Even with the demon invasion imminent, Gildya is fussing about Koshmarnyk’s presence in the city, the kingdom of Tivarashan is making its moves to conquer Kaighal, and Kamira would love to toss it all out for a lone journey to find out whether Veelk is still alive. But first, she will need to clean up her mess, one way or another.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t pick up this one until you’ve at least read Scars of Stone and preferably also By the Pact. This is essentially a single story that has been broken into different volumes, so you’ll miss far too much of the vital backstory and character development if you plunge straight into this one. Indeed, before I tucked into this book – I went back and reread Scars of Stone to ensure that the major plotpoints and characters were sufficiently fresh in my head in order to fully enjoy this one.
Maciejewska’s world is delightfully complex.

The archmages spend as much time (maybe even more) infighting among themselves, as well as studying the high art of magic, unsullied by demonology. So they say, anyway. While the demonologists obtain their magic by forming a pact with a demon in order to share their magic, so are generally treated with contempt by the archmages. It very much depends on the power and importance of the demon as to how effective their magic will be – so understandably, demonologists generally aren’t all that chatty about who they’ve traded promises with. Then there are the political divisions within Kaighal among the non-magical community. And – best of all, in my opinion, we also get a ringside seat into the machinations of the various demons who have managed to gain entry and are currently roaming Earth. They also have schemes to increase their power and wealth, not just at the expense of the puny humans – but also to put a dent in each other’s powerbase.

In amongst this cauldron of scheming and counter-scheming, we follow the fortunes of a handful of main characters – Kamira, Veelk and Koshmarnyk feature most heavily, but there are also another three supporting characters that I’ve also come to care about. It would have been all too easy for this slice of the story to have become a snarl of cris-crossing storylines with a welter of characters. The fact that it hasn’t and I’m still pondering some Kamira’s slightly sketchy decisions several books after I finished this, is a testament to the author’s skill in plotting and characterisation. I was glad that Veelk made an appearance before the end of the book, as I really missed the snarky yet affectionate relationship he has with Kamira.

And I’m very much looking forward to reading the next instalment. Because the one thing I can guarantee with this entertaining series – is that there will be more plotting and twisty surprises that will keep me turning the pages late into the night. Highly recommended for fans of well-plotted Sand and Sorcery adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Matter of Death and Life – Book 2 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMatterofDeathandLifebookreview

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I’m a fan of Green’s writing. See my reviews of his Ishmael Jones series, featuring an alien dark ops agent and his alluring sidekick, Penny, in Buried Memories, The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and his paranormal James Bond hero in The Man With the Golden Torc. I also thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this fantasy heist series, The Best Thing You Can Steal – so I was delighted when this offering appeared on the Netgalley dashboard.

BLURB: Judi Rifkin is one of the world’s most successful collectors of the weird and unnatural. In a London underworld filled with criminals with very special talents, Judi is a force to be reckoned with. And Gideon Sable—thief, rogue and chancer—owes her a very large favour.

Judi makes him an offer he can’t refuse: steal her the legendary Masque of Ra, tucked up safe in a Las Vegas casino, and she’ll wipe the slate clean. This isn’t Gideon’s first heist by a long shot. But with old grudges threatening to cloud his judgment, an unpredictable crew who don’t entirely trust each other and a formidable supernatural security team guarding his target, this job might be a gamble too far….

REVIEW: While I’m sure you would better appreciate some of the references about Gideon’s previous adventure if you have had the pleasure of first picking up The Best Thing You Can Steal – it isn’t necessary to thoroughly enjoy this entertaining fantasy heist tale.

Green’s writing is always full of energy and a certain darkness that is frequently alleviated by his humour. But this series dials up the humour and his sense of the fantastic and while there is plenty of tension and action – there wasn’t the underlying grimness that I’ve come to associate with the Ishmael Jones books. Right now, this lighter approach is very welcome as I’m currently reading to escape my own year-long battle with Long Covid – and it was lovely to be able to grin – and in places laugh aloud at the madcap antics of Sable and his band of rogues.

I thoroughly enjoyed Green’s flights of imagination regarding his characters, such as The Damned, Johnny The Wild Card and Annie Anybody – and what an impressive array of magically imbued artefacts can do. Without resorting to parody, or diminishing the story, Green’s cadre of ruffians manage to create mayhem wherever they went. And of course, it’s the deeply unpleasant and viciously bad who ultimately get their just deserts. All in all, this adventure is a delightful escapist read, providing plenty of surprises along with the humour – and my only grizzle is that I wanted it to go on longer. Recommended for fantasy fans who enjoy a dash of humour with their adventure. While I obtained an arc of A Matter of Death and Life from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #12

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been over a year since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

This last fortnight has been up and down again. I gave myself a couple of rest days after the busyness of the week when my sister-in-law and niece visited. And was a bit fed up to discover that once I was ready to do more, I once again felt shaky and fragile. There are no words to describe just how MUCH I hate that feeling. Constant tiredness that sleep doesn’t fix and legs that wobble as if I’ve just run a race. Often it’s accompanied by mental exhaustion that means if I try to concentrate on anything, my brain just turns to mush.

The up-side is that the feeling was only with me for a couple of days, before it started to lift again. I haven’t yet put my February figures from my activity journal into a graph yet – but I’m expecting to see more good days and an uptick in my activity figures. And we are also seeing more sun and it’s lovely the way the days are now lengthening – Spring is really beginning to spring, thank goodness😊. When our grandson visited this week, we were able to go to the local garden centre and visit their café where we shared a pot of loose-leaf English Breakfast tea which is a real favourite.

What is worrying is how the infection rates for Covid are climbing again. And now we’re supposed to be ‘learning to live with Covid’ there is no imperative to wear a mask when shopping, though we always do.

This week I’ve read:-

Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky
It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.
This is one of the reading highlights of the week. Tchaikovsky is back to his disturbing best in this thought-provoking novella that packs an almighty punch and has had me thinking about it since I put it down. Review posted. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.

It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle…
I saw this one on Audible and bought it as I read the print edition back when Noah was knee-high to a hen and while I recalled that I loved the story – I had completely forgotten it. It was a joy to listen to. And while it is listed as part a series, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete standalone. Outstanding and utterly gripping. 10/10

The Good Troll Detective – Book 1 of the Mantle and Key Paranormal Agency series by Ramy Vance
Half-troll. Half-human. All badass. Maine doesn’t like her father. It doesn’t help that he’s a troll. As in a literal, lives-under-a-bridge troll. When her father is killed, Maine returns home to settle his estate and learns that he wasn’t any ordinary troll, but the town hero. Seems trolls can be superheroes, too.

When Maine inherited her father’s Mantle, she got more than a demonically possessed magical cape that reveals one’s weakness. She also inherited several busloads of mythical adversaries. Thanks, Dad! Now that she’s inherited the Mantle, her father’s assassins are coming after her. With powerful supernatural beings gunning for her and the Mantle, Maine doesn’t have much time to learn about her magical inheritance. She has a choice to make. Give up her father’s Mantle and return to her mundane, human life, or stay and fight.

With the help of a chihuahua-sized dire wolf, a very sexy wizard, and her father’s Mantle, Maine enters a maze of supernatural mysteries. Will Maine uncover the truth of who her father was and why he was killed? Can she avoid her quest for that truth risking the lives of her and her friends along the way?
I liked the title and thought the blurb sounded quirky and enjoyable. And… it is. But while all the ingredients are there and the story is well-paced and nicely twisty, I kept waiting for the characters to really come to life, but somehow they slightly missed me. It’s not a bad book, however I didn’t like it as much as I expected. 7/10

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…

I have only included the first half of the blurb, as it then goes on to be far too chatty in my opinion. This is huge fun, while still managing to make the science sufficiently believable. And I loved the protagonist, Jamie, who lifts heavy things. Review to follow. 9/10

Betrayed – Book 3 of the Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson

Settling into her new life in the human world, the last thing Arrow expects is a request for aid from the Erith. The Erith’s favourite war mage is missing and Arrow is asked to investigate.
For the first time in her life, she is allowed into the Erith’s fabled heartland. It does not take long for Arrow to realise that the heartland is like the Erith themselves. Full of wonder, breathtakingly beautiful, and deadly.

Arrow is drawn into investigating a death at the very heart of the Erith’s homeland with the growing sense that there is far more wrong and far more at stake than a simple murder and missing mage.
I’m loving this enjoyable and gripping series. Imagine the High Elves in Warhammar – beautiful, martial and quarrelsome – and you have the Erith. I love the concept that a half-breed is treated with disdain as an abomination. And the whodunit this time around is every bit as twisty and clever as I’ve come to expect from Nelson’s excellent writing. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny
The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!

This is the first audiobook I’ve downloaded from Netgalley and it was really easy to do. I’ve never read Zelazny before, but kept meaning to do so. And I can see what all the fuss is about – the man certainly could write. This fractured narrative kept me wondering all the way through. Review to follow. 8/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of NOVELLA Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*RE-RELEASE* Review of Bad Gods – Book 1 of the Babylon Steel series by Gaie Sebold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BadGodsbookreview

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I hadn’t appreciated that Bad Gods was actually the same book as Babylon Steel see my first review. This oversight was entirely my fault as when I went back to check, it was clearly signposted on Netgalley. However, it was a long time since I’d read and enjoyed the story and so I was quite happy to tuck into it again as I like Sebold’s punchy prose style and dry humour. Instead of re-posting my original review, I decided to give my impressions this time around.

BLURB: You can find anything in Scalentine, the city of portals, but you won’t find a better brothel than the Red Lantern. And its proprietor, Babylon Steel (ex-mercenary, ex-priestess, ex… lots of things), means to keep it that way.

But a prurient cult are protesting in the streets, sex workers are disappearing, and Babylon has bills to pay. When the powerful Diplomatic Section hires her – off the books – to find a missing heiress, she has to take the job. And then her past starts to catch up with her…

REVIEW: I enjoyed revisiting this book – more so this time around, I think, because right now I thoroughly appreciate reading a story with a humorous element. That said – this isn’t some rollicking farcical adventure played solely for laughs. There are some really gnarly subjects covered in this adventure, including kidnapping, sexual and mental abuse, religious intolerance and a series of very grisly deaths. What keeps this story bubbling along is the first person narrative from Babylon’s viewpoint. I really like her tough, no-nonsense attitude. And the found family of strays who work together at the Red Lantern are a joy – their everyday activities provide a lot of the humour that runs through the story.

Despite the story being told from one viewpoint, it is also dual narrative. Alongside events unfolding in Scalentine, Babylon also tells her backstory in interludes. It’s a difficult technique to successfully pull off. Far too often I get caught up with one plotline and feel frustrated when narrative flips across to the other one, so start skim-reading to get back to the storyline I prefer. Not so this time around. The story of how Babylon comes to be in Scalentine and running a brothel is every bit as riveting as the events unfolding in the bustling portal town.

I was impressed all over again with the quality of Sebold’s writing and was sorry to reach the end of this adventure. So I was pleased to discover there is another Babylon Steel story, Dangerous Gifts. I’ll be tracking it down very soon, as I’ve really missed Babylon’s character and the dangerous, layered society that makes up Scalentine. Very highly recommended for fantasy fans. The sharp-eyed among you will be aware that the first time I reviewed this book, I gave it a 9, while this time it’s a 10. I originally knocked off a point because I was unhappy that the cover featured a white protagonist when the book repeatedly mentioned her darker, copper skin. The new cover is a huge improvement and I commend the publishers for deciding to fix this issue. While I obtained an arc of Bad Gods from Netgalley via the publishers, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #8

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

It’s been a week of two halves, but as I’m now able to write this Sunday Post just a week after my previous effort, you’ll be right in thinking that overall my energy levels are still reasonably good. So long as I don’t think of trying to do any housework! While I know it is definitely positive that my emotional and mental energy have improved so much – it’s very much a two-edged sword… The first half of the week was grim. I woke up on Monday feeling angry and miserable and while I can generally throw off those feelings – this time around, I couldn’t. It was the anger I found impossible to shift. And of course, given there is just the two of us – the person who bore the brunt of it is the one person in my life who is completely undeserving of my snarling criticisms on what he hadn’t managed to do around the house. It’s rather chastening to realise that I’m far less nice when I’m more like me, than when I was too ill and exhausted to care… And even that reflection didn’t manage to lift my black fury at how bloody helpless and useless I am.

However, thank goodness I had a reflexology appointment on Thursday afternoon. Laura listened sympathetically to my teary rant about how much I hated being so vilely furious – and how it was poisoning my life at a time when I really cannot afford the energy to be so negative. So she set to work, promising to concentrate on my emotional energies. At one point, while she was working on my hormonal energy, which she said was allll over the place, my leg was twitching uncontrollably. Whatever she did certainly worked. I always feel very tired after a consultation. But I woke up on Friday morning feeling reasonably happy again. I’m still sleeping badly, and the constant high-pitched screaming in my ears is still something of an ongoing struggle. But I’m back to believing I can get through this – that I haven’t finally run out of stamina and courage. And that there will come a time when I will regain sufficient energy to write my books again so that my grumpy black dragon, Castellan, will once again soar through my life.

This week I’ve read:-


Blood Politics – Book 4 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
You’d think that life would finally be dealing Mack Smith a kind hand. Living in London, and with the opening of the new improved city version of Clava Books mere days away, things appear to be settling down. Other than the terrible nightmares about dragons, that is. Or the fact that she’s being constantly tailed by a string of mages, shifters and faeries, all of whom are constantly demanding her attention. And that’s without even bringing the temptation of Corrigan, Lord Alpha of the Brethren, into the equation.

Then, when a local dryad asks her for some help, things really start to fire up. There are some long hot summer days ahead…
I thoroughly enjoy Harper’s gutsy, short-fused heroine. Mack is a shapeshifter with a difference and this urban fantasy is full of twists and turns that kept me reading throughout a wretched night and into the small hours. Be warned, Mack tends to get very sweary when she loses her rag, so there is a lot of bad language – but I’ll forgive that. And there is also a doozy of cliffhanger at the end that had me reaching for the next book in the series – which is something that I hardly ever do. 9/10

Blood Lust – Book 5 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Life’s no fun being a dragon, especially when you are forced into responsibilities that involve trying to keep the peace between an array of shifters, mages and faeries in order to bring down the scariest and deadliest foe the Otherworld has ever seen. And that’s not to mention the fact that your own soul mate hates your guts…

Mack Smith, a fiery Draco Wyr, is battling to come to terms with her emotions, her heritage and her true capabilities. All she has to do is defeat Endor, win back Corrigan and live happily ever after. From the streets of London and Russia, to the beaches of Cornwall, will she be able to ever win the day?
Not only does this book deliver yet another engrossing adventure featuring short-tempered Mack, our foul-mouthed yet endearing heroine – it also has to produce a convincing and satisfactory conclusion to this series. I’ll be honest – given the narrative dynamic Harper had set up, I couldn’t see how she would pull this one off. And then she did… I completed this one with a lump in my throat and a smile on my face. Very highly recommended. 10/10

The Gathering – Book 1 of The Hundred series by Vanessa Nelson
As one of the Hundred, Yvonne cannot ignore a plea for help, even if all she wants is a quiet life, somewhere safe for her adopted children to grow into adulthood. Safety is in short supply. Young people, some of them children, are going missing in large numbers, leaving bewildered and grieving families behind. It’s not something she can ignore.

She finds an unexpected ally in an arrogant goblin lord, who seems intent on following her from place to place. With her skills in magic, and his resources, can they track down the kidnappers and return the children home?
I’ve been reading her Ageless Mysteries series and been very impressed, so when I saw this series I immediately tucked into the first one and was very glad I did. Nelson’s worldbuilding is superb – a layered realistic world that gradually is revealed through the eyes of a nuanced, three-dimensional character. The relationship between Guise and Yvonne is beautifully done and I look forward to reading the next one. 9/10

Witch Hunt – Book 3 of the Secondhand Magic series by Lori Drake
Magic Crimes Consultant Emily Davenport’s prestigious family coven may have been disappointed in her lack of magical talent, but they never took issue with how she lived her life—until she registered as a witch. Now the gloves are off, and she’s under investigation by the Circle, a powerful alliance of ancient covens.

But with an important case three months in the making finally starting to bear fruit, she can’t just stop and walk away. The witches of Santa Fe need her. A mysterious, illicit drug that only affects witches is gaining more traction by the day, and every minute she spends worrying about her own future is an opportunity for another witch to die. Can Emily stop the flow of the deadly narcotic and prove herself before her clock runs out, or will she be carted off to face tribunal in chains?
This urban fantasy whodunit has a strong heroine, who used to be an emergency nurse who is dismissed once she registers as a witch. Now she ekes out a living as a consultant on magical cases with the local police department. I really enjoyed Emily’s backstory – she is a strong, sympathetic protagonist who has been put in a convincingly difficult position. I’m delighted there are more books in this smart, well written series. 9/10

The Dragon and Mrs Muir by Connie Suttle
The wedding was an outdoor affair, on a beach with the Gulf of Mexico in the background. In all, seventy-two were injured, and the body count rose to seventeen. Local hospitals were filled with bleeding attendees, and, at one point, the bride, her bloodied white wedding dress cut away and spilling onto the emergency room floor, went into cardiac arrest. Her groom died at the scene.

Philomena Muir became a widow on her wedding day. Three years later, she found herself bumping into the strangest man she’d ever met–except he wasn’t a man. More specifically, he wasn’t human. That brief meeting became the catalyst for a brewing war, pitting one human witch against the might of a supernatural race. The cards are stacked, and Philomena needs a winning hand…
This is an unusual book and despite the slight unevenness of the story-telling and the ease with which some of the conflicts are overcome, I enjoyed the dynamic. The dramatic backstory is very well handled and I really liked Phil. Overall, an intriguing and memorable read. 8/10

Little Witches – Book 21 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Laughter Academy is in trouble. The student witches are growing increasingly reckless, preying on the mundanes below the mountains as their tutors plot and scheme to take advantage of the chaos. And no one seems to know why.

Emily is in no condition to intervene. But she cannot refuse. Heading to Laughter, Emily finds herself dragged into a world of schoolgirl games, staffroom politics and a deadly plot aimed at the heart of the Allied Lands themselves…
As I’ve been reading this entertaining and unpredictable fantasy series, I’ve often imagined Nuttall having a conversation in a bar with a couple of writing buddies. “So… what do you think would happen if a girl got transported from our world, back to a medieval society? And then triggers a major change by introducing some key inventions – what would happen then? I think I’m going to write it. Just to see where it goes.” Because that’s exactly the dynamic of this fascinating series story arc and Emily – the protagonist and catalyst of so much of the upheaval that occurs – has become a firm favourite of mine. There are three more books to go in this series and I’d intended to space them out – but I immediately got hold of the next one, because of that amazing cliffhanger ending. 8/10

The Right Side of History – Book 22 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall

A brutal uprising in the Kingdom of Alluvia has shaken the Allied Lands – and Emily finds herself accused of starting it. Desperate, all too aware the kingdom is on the verge of becoming a vortex of chaos, Emily travels to Alluvia in the hopes of calming both sides long enough to secure peace…

…Unaware that the uprising is merely the first step in a plan to shatter the Allied Lands beyond repair.
I pretty much inhaled this one – the beginning is fraught and full of danger. And the tension doesn’t ease up. But the climactic final battle at the end left me reeling as we lose a major character – and Emily suffers a terrible betrayal that I didn’t see coming. Oh my goodness. I’m trying to be good and not immediately reach for the penultimate book in the series as I want to cling onto this world for just a bit longer… this series has seen me through so many wretched nights and difficult days during the worst of my illness. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Hard Time – Book 2 of The Time Police series by Jodi Taylor
Team Weird are back causing havoc in the Time Police in this irresistible spin-off series by international bestseller Jodi Taylor, author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s. A time slip in Versailles, problems in the Ice Age and illegal time travellers in need of rescue. Must be a job for the Time Police.

Luke, Jane and Matthew are back and ready to cause havoc – inadvertently or otherwise – in their latest adventures.
This time travelling adventure hasn’t quite the rollicking, no-holds-barred flavour of the St Mary’s books, but it is still full of humour. In typical Taylor style, there are also deeply moving and emotional moments, too. It was a joy to listen to. 9/10

This week I have posted:


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore by Mary Miley

Sunday Post – Living with Long Covid #7

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheIvoryKeybookreview

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That gorgeous cover drew me in – and then when I read the blurb I grew even more intrigued. It’s relatively rare that it’s the conflict between four siblings that powers the narrative, so I was delighted when I was approved to read this arc.

BLURB: Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power. They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.

REVIEW: This fantasy adventure, set in an Eastern-style country, takes a while to really get going. That didn’t bother me overmuch, as the narrative swings between all four siblings and we gradually learn about them and their motivations. I think I would have struggled more if I hadn’t grown to like each of them and understand their actions – even when I could see them making horrible mistakes. On the face of it, they are all pampered princes and princesses. But when we get to see exactly what has happened to each of them, then it becomes clear they are all essentially trapped in lives they didn’t choose and they are all desperately trying to break free, or make things better. The conflict rises as each of them approaches their problem in very different ways…

It takes deft writing and very clear characterisation skills to give us four such rounded and sympathetic protagonists within a relatively short time, before they finally embark on a major adventure together. And as it all starts kicking off, I simply couldn’t put this one down. Be warned – it ends on something of a cliff-hanger, but I loved it and have found myself thinking a lot about this one after I finished, which is a sure sign that it’s something a bit special. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like an Eastern setting, strong characters and lots of adventure.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ScarsofStonebookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery fantasy adventure – see my review of By the Pact. So I was delighted when I belatedly realised that Joanna had published the second book in the series, giving me the opportunity to scoop it up and read it.

BLURB: Discovering the truth about magic is one thing. Doing something about it will require bloodletting, backstabbing, and a bunch of lies.

The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.” When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading By the Pact, then put this offering back on the shelf and grab a copy. Initially these two books were written as a single volume, so the opening action in Scars of Stone follows on immediately from the final scene in By the Pact. While I think most experienced readers would eventually pick up what is going on – it’s a shame to compromise such an entertaining read by initially floundering.

I have a real weakness for this Sand and Sorcery sub-genre, where demons or djinn frequently feature with some kind of magical possession in a desert world. Kamira and Veelk are interesting, nuanced protagonists who have their own edges as they have spent years working together and trying to survive against formidable odds. I also like the fact that their partnership isn’t a romantic one, despite the fact that they spend weeks and months relying on each other to the extent that they have saved each other’s lives on a number of occasions.

While there is a romantic thread running through the book, it’s not straightforward. Joanna has provided Kamira with a couple of prospective partners – but she is wary of committing to any kind of long-term anything. Which, given the huge task ahead of her, is a wise move. Right now, it’s debatable as to whether she’ll survive what lies ahead. I love the degree of plotting and politicking going on in amongst the action scenes, both by the demons and the high mages. There is also the complicating factor of the refugees, who are all getting steadily sicker as their addiction to magical essence starts to bite, while trying to resettle in a city where there is no magic freely available.

All in all, it provides plenty of tension and excitement that meant the pages flew by. Once again, this one ends on the cliff-hanger. So I’m very much looking forward to reading the third book, Shadows of Kaighal, which is hitting the shelves in March 2022. Highly recommended for fans of enjoyable fantasy adventures, where characters are nuanced and the stakes are high.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ASpellofRowansbookreview

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I saw this one on Netgalley and liked the look of the cover and it didn’t hurt that I’d also thoroughly enjoyed Nash’s romantic retelling of Cinderella. So would this fantasy offering set in the small town of Grimsby have the same fairytale vibe?

BLURB – truncated: As children Mother twisted our magic as part of her games.

My talent for reading other people’s feelings, my sister who could charm men, and my brother who knows with a touch the history of any object.

But when I returned to Grimsby to settle the estate, the police hauled in my autistic brother for questioning. And that hometown boy I dumped way back after high school? He’s in Grimsby and thinks he knows the truth about me.

REVIEW: As you might have gathered from the blurb, this one is told in first person viewpoint by Vic, the middle of the three siblings. And as for their mother, she has to be one of the nastiest villains I’ve encountered for a while. It’s heinous enough when baddies do horrible things to relative strangers – but evil is taken to a whole new level when it’s perpetrated against their own children.

So be warned – there is physical and emotional child abuse in this story, which could have turned this one into a really dark story. But despite all three siblings having been damaged by their mother’s treatment, and without in any way diminishing what happened to them – Nash manages to avoid this becoming overwhelmingly bleak. Indeed, there are moments of farce and humour as Pip, Vic and Liam try to untangle the trail of mayhem that follows their mother’s death. They are well equipped to discover who has done what to whom, given their specific talents.

But I also liked how these so-called gifts are also far more of a hindrance in modern life – particularly poor Vic, whose ability to read people’s feelings means that her love life in non-existent. Just imagine a first date, when you immediately know what your prospective partner is thinking… And Pip’s talent for charming men doesn’t necessarily mean that her choices are ideal, either. Nash’s smart, witty writing quickly turns this paranormal whodunit into something more memorably special than your usual urban fantasy. The characters are all layered and complex, the setting utterly convincing and the writing sufficiently edgy that I wasn’t convinced that the very appealing protagonists were going to prevail.

I read far long than I should have to discover what happens, as the plot twists kept coming, bodies started piling up and exactly what the Rowan’s horrible mother was actually up to gradually becomes clear. I also really enjoyed how Nash handled the denouement and wrapped up the story. All in all, I’m congratulating myself on having discovered yet another talented writer and highly recommend this one to fans of contemporary, paranormal crime. While I obtained an arc of A Spell of Rowans from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fall of the Argosi – Book 2 of the Ferius Parfax series by Sebastien de Castell #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #FalloftheArgosibookreview

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I absolutely loved the Spellslinger series – see my reviews of Spellslinger, Shadowblack, Charmcaster, Soulbinder, Queenslayer and Crownbreaker. So I jumped at the opportunity to catch up with crafty old Ferius Parfax in this second slice of her adventures, in this spinoff of the original series, where we discover where Ferius comes from and what happened to her, before she encountered young Kellen.

BLURB: New to the ways of the Argosi, the tribe of wandering philosophers who seek to defeat evil by wit and guile, Ferius Parfax encounters a hideous plague – the Red Scream. Highly contagious, caught by the hearing of a deadly verse, it turns its victims into mindless monsters that destroy all human life they come into contact with. With the help of a deaf boy whom she has saved from two horrifying victims of the plague, she sets out to find the source of the Red Scream and overcome it’s terrifying power. Along the way she is joined by another Argosi, Rosie, who purports to be so much wiser and more adept than Ferius, but who turns out to have her own dark secrets.

REVIEW: It turns out that I’ve missed out on the first book charting Ferius’s adventures – Way of the Argosi – something I’ll need to rectify soon, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the Spellslinger novels so far. But I didn’t flounder too much as Ferius is an old friend. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Spellingslinger books, I don’t really think it matters. As this adventure takes place well before Kellen comes onto the scene, you certainly won’t have any trouble working out what is going on. And for those of you who do know the series, then there are all sorts of little gifts along the way – mostly to do with Ferius’s mannerisms that drive her pupil crazy a lot later on.

Back to this adventure – I absolutely loved it. The author knows the protagonist inside and out and it shows. There is a heady mix of major danger, huge emotional stakes and snarky humorous dialogue to lighten the load. I also enjoyed the constant references to the principles of the Argosi way of life, as well as the difficulty in attaining them. It provided an interesting philosophical backdrop to the ongoing drama – where someone who thinks they’re doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, up until they fall off a moral ledge and plunge into terrible evil. Given the stakes, I enjoyed the ongoing discussion throughout the book as to what is the right way to cope with evil.

I’m conscious that I may have given the impression that this book gets caught up in major questions of Right and Wrong – but there’s so much more going on. The story cracks along at a fair pace, so that I kept waiting for the action to ease up a tad, allowing me to put it down and get some sleep. And I didn’t… One of the main reasons why this book is such a page turner, is that we don’t just have one strong female character, but two. Given what a vivid, arresting personality Ferius is, I was also impressed at just how much Rose jumped off the page. She could so easily have been a thoroughly wicked character, instead of the interestingly nuanced, flawed personality that was depicted. Add to the cast list a mute child who only signs in an archaic language, and a stubborn horse – and the adventure has the same quirky humour that I’d come to expect from de Castell’s Spellslinger series, despite the very high body count and bloody action.

I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Ferius and learning more about this infuriating, enigmatic character who dominated so much of the early Spellslinger books. And whether you’ve read them or not – this fantasy adventure comes highly recommended. While I obtained the arc of Fall of the Argosi from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheQuicksilverCourtbookreview

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I love Caruso’s writing – see my reviews of her Sword and Fire series – The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Mage and The Unbound Empire. So last year, lockdown in June became less fraught when I got hold of the first book in this spinoff series – The Obsidian Tower. Would I enjoy The Quicksilver Court too?

BLURB: Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.

REVIEW: First things first – if you happen to pick up this offering without having read The Obsidian Tower, then put it back on the shelf and track down the first book. This one follows immediately on from the climactic ending, and you’ll struggle far too long trying to work who is doing what to who – and the plot doesn’t hang around.

I love this world. Caruso’s vivid depiction of this extraordinary place, where beauty is all too often lethal and people regularly die in horrible ways drew me in and held me entranced throughout. At 480 pages, it’s not a short book – but I tore through it as I was unable to put it down. I fell deeply in love with Ryx from the first time I encountered her and her heartbreakingly terrible magic – if she comes into contact with any living thing, it dies. Ways are found to halter her magical power, so that eventually she is able to touch plants, animals and people without harming them. But those long years when she couldn’t has left scars. At the end of The Obsidian Tower, I was left with some mighty big questions – and I’m delighted to say The Quicksilver Court answers them.

Ryx’s desperate gratitude that at last she has friends and allies who really care for her makes her wonderfully vulnerable, which works well in a character with such powerful magic. And the magical group she belongs to – the Rookery – all have complicated and desperate backstories that we learn about in amongst the plotting, politicking and mayhem that ensues. But… oh my goodness – I didn’t begin to guess the big plot twist that comes about three-quarters into the book. What a doozy! I was tempted to rush back to reread The Obsidian Tower and look for the clues and see what I’d missed. Though of course, I didn’t. But it literally changes the whole dynamic, ramping up the stakes and danger to the world – and of course, to Ryx. Caruso writes with power and commitment that makes all her main characters larger than life – particularly her antagonists. The demon, Nightmare, is really a satisfying villain I loved to hate.

This was one of the most intense, emotional reads of the year and I finished it with a sigh – because there is also a whopping big cliff-hanger right at the end. You may have gathered that I enjoyed this one – indeed, it’s made my Outstandings Reads of the Year list. Very highly recommended for those who like their fantasy swathed in mystery, vivid settings and charismatic characters possessed with murderous magic. While I obtained an arc of The Quicksilver Court from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10