Tag Archives: magic

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer #Brainfluffbookreview #Brightfallbookreview

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I can’t lie – it was that cover which prompted me to request this one as much as the intriguing blurb that promised a Robin Hood retelling featuring Maid Marion several years on when she was clearly no longer a maid…

BLURB: It’s been a mostly quiet life since Robin Hood denounced Marian, his pregnant wife, and his former life and retreated to a monastery to repent his sins . . . although no one knows what he did that was so heinous he would leave behind Sherwood Forest and those he loved most. But when friends from their outlaw days start dying, Father Tuck, now the Abbott of St. Mary’s, suspects a curse and begs Marian to use her magic to break it. A grieving Marian bargains for protection for her children before she sets out with a soldier who’s lost his faith, a trickster Fey lord and a sullen Robin Hood, angry at being drawn back into the real world. Marian soon finds herself enmeshed in a maze of betrayals, tangled relationships and a vicious struggle for the Fey throne . . . and if she can’t find and stop the spell-caster, no protection in Sherwood Forest will be enough to save her children.

I loved this set-up. Robin has retreated to a monastery, deserting his wife and children after mysteriously going missing. Marion manages to provide a living for herself and the twins by selling her salves and potions, as well as doing a bit of healing as a respected witch. In fact it’s this reputation that brings Abbot Tuck to her door, urgently requesting her help with reports that much-loved friends have died in mysterious circumstances.

Moyer effectively establishes Marion’s character so that I quickly bonded with her, feeling her anger and pain over Robin’s desertion, alongside her gritted determination to go on providing a good life for her children. The medieval world is well depicted and provides a strong backdrop for the magical shenanigans that are going on. The stakes steadily rise as it becomes apparent that this enemy attacking and destroying Robin’s former comrades, or those dearest to them, is using dark, powerful magic. I liked the fact that Marion isn’t some super-powerful practitioner, but also needs extra help from one of the Fae court, determined to uncover who is prepared to murder children to garner yet more twisted power.

Marion is forced to leave her own children behind as she goes on a desperate quest to hunt down this shadowy magic-user – and is also forced to spend time alongside Robin… Will the danger they are in give them a chance to get together once again? I was intrigued to see if this would happen – and you’ll have to read the book to find out.

There was plenty of action and danger in this gripping read. But alongside all the adventure, there was a strong poignant sadness for a brave band of young men fired up by the wicked injustice of King John’s rule to help those poorer than themselves, accompanied by an equally brave young woman whose craft kept them out of the hands of the Kings men more than once… Life hasn’t been kind to the main protagonists in those tales – and while I rolled my eyes at Robin’s behaviour, I was also aware that the terrible situation he found himself in required a different form of bravery. The kind that those endowed with lots of physical courage often lack…

This one has stayed with me since I finished reading it and while there are a couple of minor niggles – which I don’t want to discuss as they drift into Spoiler territory – it wasn’t a dealbreaker. This is a gripping adventure with a haunting backstory which I hope will lead to a second book in this intriguing world. The ebook arc copy of Brightfall was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Jewel Bright Sea – Book 1 of the Mage and Empire series by Claire O’Dell #Brainfluffbookreview #AJewelBrightSeabookreview

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Yep – I’ve done it again… Seen a beautiful cover and scampered across to Netgalley to see if it’s available. And it was. Would my love of pretty cover art deliver yet another winner – or a dud?

BLURB: It was her talent for tracking magic that got Anna Zhdanov sent to catch a thief. A scholar’s daughter sold as a bond servant, she has no desire to recover the Emperor’s jewel for herself. But a chance to earn her freedom has driven her to the untamed Eddalyon province, awash with warm breezes, lapping waves, and more danger than she could possibly guess.

I’ll be honest – I did check a couple of times to make sure that I was reading the first book as O’Dell tips us in the middle of this adventure and for a variety of reasons, I do think this one would have been even more effective if we’d seen at first hand Anna’s life with the unpleasant man who she finds herself in bondage to. However, once I sorted out exactly who was doing what to whom, I thoroughly enjoyed being swept up into the swashbuckling adventure and various twists and turns of this story. It’s always a challenge to keep the characterisation suitably three-dimensional when so much is going on, but overall O’Dell rose to that challenge and I really liked Anna in all her guises.

O’Dell’s writing works particularly during the magical scenes where her prose nocks up a notch to vividly portray what is happening to Anna, so that we are kept in touch with her as she is confronted with a powerful magic capable of ripping her away from her soul and killing her. I also like the fact that we, the reader, realise the extent of her abuse in a way that Anna isn’t fully able to process – it’s nicely done. And while it arouses our sympathy, it means that our heroine doesn’t come across as too much of a victim.

I also liked the variety of people she met and in amongst the violence and double-dealing, I enjoyed the fact that she also met a number of kindly folks who are prepared to help her. Most of these characters worked well, but I have to say, this book would have had another mark if I had been wholly convinced by a certain captain. Sadly, I wasn’t. I’m not sure why – but I’ll admit to my heart sinking a bit when he and Anna became more than friends.

However there is so much going for this entertaining, action-packed fantasy sea adventure that it wasn’t the dealbreaker it could have been and I’ll happily read the next book to find out what happens next to Anna. With a bit of luck, a sea monster will make away with that wretched captain… Recommended for fans of sea-going fantasy adventure tales. The ebook arc copy of A Jewel Bright Sea was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidnightQueenbookreview

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I’d like to take credit and claim that I was the one that stumbled across this gem – but it was Himself, once again, who unearthed this enjoyable read, though if I’d come across it, I certainly would have succumbed, given the gorgeousness of that cover…

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented – and highest born – sons of the kingdom are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover . . .

Gray’s Britain is a fragmented kingdom of many tongues, many gods and many magicks. But all that concerns Gray right now is returning as soon as possible to his studies and setting right the nightmare that has seen him disgraced and banished to his tutor’s home – without a trace of his powers. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

That is the start of this story – we’re tipped right into the middle of the disastrous expedition that impacts so badly on Gray’s life, to the extent that I did wonder a couple of times whether this was the second book in the series. I’m conscious that some readers don’t enjoy this approach, but I happen to love it – so long as I’m not left floundering for too long – and I wasn’t. While I enjoyed the characters – Gray’s diffidence and cleverness are well portrayed in third person POV – what particularly enchanted me is the world.

This version of Britain doesn’t have Christianity sweeping through the country and wiping away the variety of pagan religions that proliferated before. So there are mentions of the Roman pantheon, along with several of the old Celtic deities and magic is also tied up with the worship of them. The historical era is Regency and while the story isn’t particularly original, there are plenty of twists and turns that held me right to the ending.

There is a slow-burn romance bubbling away throughout and if the book had been all about that, then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but as the viewpoints swing between the two main protagonists, Sophie and Gray, with a few extra characters giving their points of view from time to time – we get to see their relationship mature. This is a main subplot to the narrative driving the story – that of a shadowy conspiracy against the Master of Merlin College, that, perhaps goes even higher than that…

I found this one difficult to put down as the sense of tension held me throughout and while many elements of the plot were familiar, I enjoyed how Hunter played with our expectations and tweaked some of them. The climax of the story was suitably exciting and all the dangling plotpoints were all tidied away very neatly – a tad too neatly for the first book in a series, I felt. Because there is no way that I believe His Majesty is going to be content to let things lie as they’ve been arranged – but I’ll have to read the next book to see if I’m right, which I’m looking forward to doing. Recommended for fans of British-based fantasy with a splash of romance.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 28th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

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 – Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer

#Medieval fantasy #Robin Hood retelling #Murder mystery

It’s been a mostly quiet life since Robin Hood denounced Marian, his pregnant wife, and his former life and retreated to a monastery to repent his sins . . . although no one knows what he did that was so heinous he would leave behind Sherwood Forest and those he loved most.

But when friends from their outlaw days start dying, Father Tuck, now the Abbott of St. Mary’s, suspects a curse and begs Marian to use her magic to break it. A grieving Marian bargains for protection for her children before she sets out with a soldier who’s lost his faith, a trickster Fey lord and a sullen Robin Hood, angry at being drawn back into the real world.

Marian soon finds herself enmeshed in a maze of betrayals, tangled relationships and a vicious struggle for the Fey throne . . . and if she can’t find and stop the spell-caster, no protection in Sherwood Forest will be enough to save her children.

I can’t lie – though I was intrigued by the blurb, once again it was allll about the delightful cover… This one is due out on 5th September and I will be reviewing it in due course.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHeartoftheCirclebookreview

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This one was recommended by one of my book blogging friends, so I scampered across to Netgalley and requested it. I’m so sorry I can’t recall who exactly it was who suggested it – but do please let me know and claim the glory – so I can heartily thank you…

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

This book is set in Tel Aviv – Landsman is an Israeli author – and the different setting is just one of a range of aspects that sets this book apart. It is set in an alternate dystopian setting where magic-users around the world face a variety of measures designed to limit their freedom. In the US, they are forced to live in ghettos and while apparently Israeli society is more liberal, it doesn’t prevent many attacks on sorcerers, with most police turning a blind eye to such crimes. Reed is one of those fighting for equal rights for the magical community, putting himself at risk as he serves in a coffee bar. I found his edgy character, with his ability to read and diffuse people’s moods, appealing and sympathetic – even when he was being a bit of a prat, which is when you know the author has nailed her protagonist.

There is also a strong cast of supporting characters, notably his flatmate, Daphne, who is a seer. I like the gritty detail that people who can see into the future or become assailed with other people’s strong emotions are prone to depression and mental illness with a high suicide rate among them – it makes sense. I felt that Landsman had thought through carefully what would be the ongoing consequences for someone cursed with such a gift. In the middle of all this turbulence, Reed falls desperately, helplessly in love with another empath. His same-sex relationship with Lee, an American, grows steadily more intense throughout the book and described with passion and tenderness and while this isn’t principally a romance, this relationship plays a pivotal role in the narrative.

I burned through this book in just over two days, staying awake faaar too long to find out what happens next. I like Landsman’s layered characterisation and trick of writing a situation from the inside out – and would happily read anything else she has written. This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and is highly recommended for anyone who likes reading about magical worlds with a difference. The ebook arc copy of The Heart of the Circle was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDarkLordofDerkholmaudiobookreview

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I had bought this one for my dyslexic grandson back in the day when he relied on his Audible reads to keep in touch with the world of books – but I didn’t have a kindle back then that could cope with audiobooks. I have now…

Everyone – wizards, soldiers, farmers, elves, dragons, kings and queens alike – is fed up with Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties: groups of tourists from the world next door who descend en masse every year to take the Grand Tour. What they expect are all the trappings of a grand fantasy adventure, including the Evil Enchantress, Wizard Guides, the Dark Lord, Winged Minions, and all. And every year different people are chosen to play these parts. But now they’ve had enough: Mr Chesney may be backed by a very powerful demon, but the Oracles have spoken. Now it’s up to the Wizard Derk and his son Blade, this year’s Dark Lord and Wizard Guide, not to mention Blade’s griffin brothers and sisters, to save the world from Mr Chesney’s depredations.

I know this one is advertised as a children’s read – but it certainly didn’t feel that way to me. Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties are portalled in from another, non-magical world (which sounds very much like our own…) where the pilgrims are promised – and expect – the full fantasy experience. Each group has a wizard guide as they are ushered around to take part in various skirmishes with pirates, avian monsters and a final full-scale battle against the forces of the Dark Lord, who they help overthrow. However, all these tours are taking their toll on the fabric and people exposed to this series of tourist incursions. While this is characterised as hilarious, and I found it both clever and witty – I wasn’t all that amused. I kept thinking of how the locals must feel on the Greek islands when they are overrun by hordes of British youngsters looking for loud music and drunken revelry… And they don’t have a Derk to deliver them from the constant, ongoing invasion. That’s only one example – I’m also aware of places like Indonesia where alongside five-star hotels are staff working long, thankless hours for a pittance as most of the income is hoovered up by the large multinational companies exploiting the natural beauty of the location.

Derk struggles to deal with numerous nit-picking organisational problems and as I continued painting the bathroom, I listened to the unfolding muddle, excellently narrated by Jonathan Broadbent. It was yet another joy – I am so enjoying my audiobook experience! This one is very highly recommended for anyone who enjoys intelligent fantasy adventures – but I shan’t be introducing it to my younger nine-year-old grandson, yet. Clever and precocious though he is, he simply won’t be able to fully appreciate the issues Wynne Jones is addressing in this clever, thoughtful book for another of handful of years.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 6th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman
52% I shrugged. “All I’ve been hearing is ‘Reed’s going to die according to their plan so that…’” And I stopped. They had chosen me because I wasn’t significant enough, and yet I wasn’t just a random choice. I was someone who put himself in the line of fire, like Sherry said, but only for friends. Or for a worthy cause. And someone on the Sons of Simeon’s side knew this and intended to take advantage of it.

BLURB: Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

I am absolutely loving this one! I THINK someone recommended it – and me, having the memory of a goldfish cannot recall who. But if you did – let me know and I’ll happily let you take the credit.

Because unless it all slides away in the second half – this is set to be one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Clever, layered characterisation, a grimly convincing world and growing tension as Reed becomes aware that the risk to his ending up a shredded ruin after being blown up by terrorists is getting ever greater… All the more poignant as he also is falling in love with Lee, his ex’s ex.

Teaser Tuesday – 30th July, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

A Jewel Bright Sea – Book 1 of the Mage and Empire series by Claire O’Dell
86% A long and heavy silence, so long she felt her pulse beating like the waves upon the shore. She was on the point of speaking again when she felt a shift in the world, a sudden gap and a cold sensation, as though the void had opened to her touch. Anna uncurled her fingers. A small dark jewel lay in the palm of her hand. When she turned toward Andreas, it winked with a blood-red light, so dark and vivid it was as though it had absorbed all the light from the torches and campfire.

BLURB: It was her talent for tracking magic that got Anna Zhdanov sent to catch a thief. A scholar’s daughter sold as a bond servant, she has no desire to recover the Emperor’s jewel for herself. But a chance to earn her freedom has driven her to the untamed Eddalyon province, awash with warm breezes, lapping waves, and more danger than she could possibly guess.

This is a real swash-buckler, with pirates, spies and powerful creepy magic that Anna needs to continue to master if she is going to complete her quest and get back the jewel. I am enjoying all the action and keen to see just how this adventure is going to be tied up at the end of this first book. Fingers crossed it isn’t a cliffhanger…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE NOVELLA The Orphans of Raspay – Book 7 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #TheOrphansofRaspaybookreview

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This series is one of our auto-buys as Lois McMaster Bujold is one of those handful of authors that we both absolutely love. But as the series wears on, will I continue to find it as engrossing as it was when it first started?

When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold. This novella follows about a year after the events of The Prisoner of Limnos.

Penric, now happily married, is an increasingly reluctant traveller but is once more sent off on a mission – and during a sea voyage the ship he’s on falls prey to pirates, looking for passengers to sell into slavery. I really like the dynamic between Penric and the main demon living inside him, who he has named Desdemona. Recalling how horrified he initially was when the demon leapt into his body in the first book – Penric’s Demon, it is enjoyable to see just how well they now work as a team. In order to get the best from this one, you really need to have at least read the first book, although it is sufficiently well paced and constructed that if you do happen to crash midway into this series, I don’t think you would flounder all that much.

This is a world where the gods actually intercede in the affairs of humans, despite there being an ongoing war over a theological schism where one group believe there are five gods (the sect Penric belongs to) and those who don’t accept or believe in the Bastard God. This is important to remember when a particular plotpoint occurs, so that you don’t feel it is too convenient.

I like the fact that Bujold has managed not to make Penric too overwhelmingly powerful, despite his formidable talent – and there is a cost to his magic. What also seriously hampers him in this story is that he has taken two young girls under his wing. While getting off the island as a fit, determined young man possessed of serious magic would present an achievable challenge, it becomes a far more difficult task when he has to take into account the limitations posed by two malnourished young children.

As ever, the pacing and plotting is excellently judged. Bujold is completely in charge of this shorter form in the way that many authors aren’t and though I was sorry when the story came to an end, the conclusion was entirely satisfactory and expected. I do hate it when a novella-length adventure scurries to an abrupt end leaving me off-balance and expecting something more. This whole series is highly recommended for fans of well written character-led novella-length adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #GodsofJadeandShadowbookreview

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This was a no-brainer for me as I love Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my review of Certain Dark Things, which also gives the links for my reviews of The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room – and opens it…

I have yet again shortened and tweaked the rather chatty blurb as the story arc is far too well crafted to be spoilt by prior knowledge of one of the main plotpoints. Suffice to say that once more, this remarkable writer has pulled me into her colourful world. I really liked and sympathised with Casiopea, who is the Cinderella-type character – however, don’t go away with the impression that she is anything like the Disneyfied saccharine character who coos over mice and trills to birds. Casiopea is much too coolly self-possessed to do such a girly thing. Indeed, it is her unspoken defiance and evident intelligence that nettles her unpleasant cousin, Martin – how dare the poverty-stricken drudge be their grandfather’s favourite? He is only too aware that if she’d been born a boy, she would have inherited the family fortune and even now, she forgets her place to answer back when he taunts her. So when a particular event takes place after she opens the box and she is offered a new life away from the family home, Casiopea is happy to leave without a backward look.

The character who she follows requires really good writing to portray effectively – he isn’t innately sympathetic, being aloof, cold and not particularly concerned with humanity, other than how the species can best serve him. He certainly isn’t someone I would generally care about – but then it is all about context. Moreno-Garcia is clever in setting him and his interests in opposition to someone much, much worse.

But one of the strengths of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – and one of the main themes she explores throughout this delightful adventure, is one of change. Casiopea and her companion affect each other. She is less angry and bitter away from the long list of dead-end chores she was forced to perform and finds a softer, kinder version of herself who isn’t afraid to intervene to stop someone being harmed. She also finds herself experiencing the world in ways she could only have dreamt of, which forces her to examine what she actually wants, as opposed to what she doesn’t want.

As for her companion, this remote, icily hostile character is shocked to find himself increasingly drawn to the girl, her mortal charm and her kindness, even though he is aware that his evident attraction to her is a sign that all is not well. The other character who undergoes a major change throughout the book is obnoxious Martin. I’m a fan of writers who give us a real insight into what makes their baddies behave so nastily – and Moreno-Garcia gives us a ringside seat to Martin’s plight when he is sent out by his grandfather to coax Casiopea to return home.

The Mexican setting, the 1920s era and above all, the increasingly dangerous tasks faced by these two mortals unwittingly caught up in a power struggle between two immortals who hate each other with a passion only reserved for sibling rivalry. I was fascinated as to how it was going to play out – and I have to say that the ending worked really well. I have found myself thinking about this one since I finished it – always the mark of a book that has sunk its claws into me.

Just a quick word, however – this retelling is a sophisticated, nuanced read designed for adults and is not suitable for youngsters, a detail that Moreno-Garcia is keen to make clear as it has been advertised as a YA read in certain quarters. Very highly recommended for fans of well written fantasy adventure. The ebook arc copy of Gods of Jade and Shadow was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10