I’ve followed the increasingly dire fortunes of poor old Alex Verus since the beginning – see my reviews of Fated (Book 1), Veiled (Book 6), Burned (Book 7), Bound (Book 8), Fallen (Book 10) and Forged (Book 11). So I was delighted to be able to get a Netgalley arc for this, the final book in the series, Risen.
BLURB: Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack. Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves?
REVIEW: In addition to being the twelfth book in the series, this is also the final instalment of Alex’s adventures. So as well as providing yet another gripping adventure, Risen has to provide a fitting and satisfactory ending to this popular, long-running series. I would add that if for any reason you haven’t read any of the books, or have missed out a few – please don’t tuck into this one unless you’ve at least read Fallen and Forged, or you won’t fully appreciate the enormity of what Alex has gone through. Unlike many books in a series, I cannot claim that you won’t understand what is happening – Jacka is very adept at ensuring the reader does know some of the backstory to what is going on. And as a result, this one took a bit of time to get going.
I didn’t find this a problem, as I felt this was also in line with Alex’s character development. After all, he is facing his imminent death due to a lethal magical infection – so it makes sense that he is thinking about how he got to this stage and who is responsible for the mess he’s in. I’ve always been impressed with Jacka’s characterisation of Alex as a divination mage – the way his ability to see into the future very rapidly wanes as the possibilities multiply is spot on. And while it does give him some advantages in a fight, given he often has lacked the weaponry of other mages, avoidance and nudging others into making mistakes has generally been his only way to survive. So how can this play out in a massive pitched battle against some truly terrifying beings – his former girlfriend being one of the most lethal adversaries?
By now, Alex has become equipped with some mighty tools of his own. And his first-person narration as someone who now has the ability to wreak revenge upon the disturbingly long list of people who have badly twisted his life in the past, is masterful. Alex has never been the cuddliest of protagonists – and this time around, his aloof persona that tries to keep everyone at a distance rings absolutely true. So that by the time it all kicked off, I was completely invested in the story and desperate for Alex to be able to succeed – though that seemed to be an impossible dream.
I was also very aware that Jacka doesn’t flinch from killing off established characters, if it serves the story – and there are losses during the battle that made me wince. So in addition to providing a gripping, action-filled plot – does Jacka also bring this series to a fitting conclusion? Yep. It completely works for me. I’m sorry to see the end of this classy, well-written urban fantasy series – but so glad to see the story safely landed. Very highly recommended for fans of the series. While I obtained an arc of Risen from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 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 rough couple of weeks. My energy levels have plummeted, meaning that I am now once again spending much of the day in bed. Getting up and showering feels like a huge mountain to climb and there are days when I simply cannot do it. The night-time sweats have also returned and as my inner ear is still draining, my tinnitus is very loud – which means I’m struggling to sleep at night. Several times I haven’t managed to fall asleep until dawn. This time around, I’m not finding it as easy to remain calm and positive – particularly as Himself has also been struggling. It was recently his father’s birthday, which has been hard as he died in May and the family home is in the process of being sold, so he has also been involved in helping to clear the house. And I’m too ill to be able to help in any way.
My reflexologist thinks my downturn is still the consequence of the flu jab that I had a fortnight ago. As my system is very stressed, she thinks the vaccine has hammered my energy levels and healing and warned me that it could go on causing problems for at least another week. That said, I’d still rather deal with the fallout from the vaccine than a full-blown attack of flu. I vividly recall suffering from the illness when I was a fit young woman in my 20s – and there is no way I want to cope with that on top of dealing with Long Covid.
Needless to say, my editing and the work I was doing on my manuscripts has come to a screeching halt. And as you’ll already realise, I haven’t had the energy to post anything on my blog, either. Hopefully if I continue to rest as much as possible and go on taking the supplements, eating sensibly and meditating, things will start to swing back round again. At least I’m still able to walk without a stick. I’ve also been reading and listening to audiobooks. It’s been a lifesaver, particularly on nights when I’m bathed in perspiration and the continual high-pitched whine in my ears won’t let me sleep.
This week I’ve read:- World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.
Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation? This epic fantasy series continues to deliver wonderful action scenes and fascinating plot twists as two cultures crash together in very difficult circumstances. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and it’s definitely making my Outstanding Reads list this year. Review to follow 10/10
Double, Double, Tart and Trouble – Book 2 of the Spellford Cove Mystery series by Samantha Silver
Just when Robin thought things were settling down a bit in Spellford Cove, she finds herself mired in a murder investigation once more when a customer of hers is poisoned. Then just to make matters worse, a photo of Queen of Tarts cheesecake in front of the body is printed on the front page of the local paper.
Robin soon realizes that once again she has no choice but to try and find the killer, this time to save her business. But with the main reporter in town deciding to tank Robin’s bakery, and that strange woman making another reappearance, Robin feels like a woman juggling too many muffins. Can she find the killer and save her business? Or has Robin baked her last batch of brownies? I wasn’t quite as invested in this murder mystery as I was in the first book. Partly because I found the victim rather unconvincing. That didn’t prevent it from helping me to pass a long, difficult night when the shafts of snarky humour were very welcome. 7/10
AUDIOBOOK Asylum – Book 9 of the Star Kingdom series by Lindsay Buroker
A young woman with cybernetic upgrades, Mari Moonrazor has decided to flee the restrictive machine-worshipping cult she was raised in. She longs to know what it’s like to live among normal humans and experience simple biological pleasures like consuming alcohol, kissing a boy, and—most importantly—eating chocolate.
But her mother, the infamous astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor, is determined to get her back, even if it means sending a bounty hunter after her. Mari’s only hope for freedom is to be granted asylum from the leaders of the powerful Star Kingdom. First, she must prove that she has knowledge and resources she can offer them. Second, she has to earn their trust. This all would have been easier if her people hadn’t bombed their planet… This book is a standalone, as it occurs after all Casmir’s adventures are over and features one of the intriguing astroshamans. I did miss dear Casmir’s viewpoint – but it was fun seeing how other characters regarded him. And as I now feel like all the regular Star Kingdom characters are old friends, revisiting this world was huge fun. Buroker is now one of my favourite authors. 9/10
Death’s Rival – Book 5 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.
Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war. This series just goes from strength to strength. I’m loving the quality of the writing and the ongoing development of Jane as she emerges from yet another devastating adventure. 9/10
The Queen’s Pardon – Book 6 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland Trapped on a hostile world, hunted by pirate bands and abandoned by her fellow captains, Alexis Carew must lead her small band to safety, even though it seems every hand is set against her.
Stalked by pirates in the skies above and shadowy, alien figures on the planet below, Alexis must convince former enemies to trust her even as she discovers where the tendrils of her true enemies lead. This is the final book in this entertaining Hornblower-in-space adventure series. I thought Sutherland handled this twisting action-packed plot particularly well and while I’m sad to get to the end of Alexis’s story, I was very happy with how the whole thing ended. 10/10
Licence to Howl – Book 2 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper Devereau Webb is riding high. He’s a powerful werewolf with a killer combination of intelligence, wits and strength and he’s learning more and more about his abilities every day. He isn’t usually the type to take orders, however, and that has to change with his new role as a supernatural spy within the British security services.
Tasked with heading to Rome to infiltrate a mysterious gang with terrorist links, Devereau has to call on all his newfound skills to prevent disaster from happening. That might be prove to be the easy part. He’s also determined to convince a certain sexy vampire that he’s the man for her. What could possibly go wrong? Helen Harper is another favourite author – and this spinoff series featuring Devereau is a bundle of fun. While there is plenty of action and danger – there is also a lot of humour. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between the adrenaline-junkie, alpha male and his former Vampire girlfriend. After their fling, it’s Devereau who has been left heartsick and pining – and determined to woo her back, which is a nice change. 9/10
Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack.
Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves? This is the final book in this classy, well-written series. I haven’t read another author who so effectively portrays the issues facing a divination mage – and Alex’s character development, particularly in this book, is outstanding. Jacka also manages to bring this popular, long-running series safely home. Review to follow. 10/10
I haven’t published any blog posts since 7th November. 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.
BLURB: Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.
But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.
REVIEW: First things first – whatever you do, don’t pick this one up if you haven’t already at least read Peace Talks and preferably Skin Game before that. All three books run straight on from one another, with no recap or handy reminders about what happened before. So if you just happen to pick up this one on the grounds that you recall Harry with fondness from some of the earlier books, put it back on the shelf until you’ve read the other two.
Book titles generally relate to the contents in some way, although that can often be metaphorical, or slightly oblique. But in this case, Butcher has been literal as the whole book revolves around a single major battle in the middle of Harry’s home turf, Chicago. The earlier chapters cover the battle preparations, with Harry desperately trying to prepare for the worst – and the second half of the book, which isn’t short, covering that battle. I’ve read one other book that covered a single battle in a similar fashion – Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron and overall, I think that one is more successful than Battle Ground.
Butcher is hampered by Battle Ground being narrated in limited first-person viewpoint, which means that Harry has to be in the middle of whatever action is going down. While we have the advantage of seeing everything through the filter of his laconic, dryly amusing characterisation, it also means that every encounter has his trademark fighting style, along with whoever is accompanying him. And although he has a number of different companions battling beside him throughout the night, inevitably a pattern develops. That said, almost anyone who has featured throughout the series puts in an appearance during this vital encounter. I was particularly delighted to see dear old Butters acquitting himself with such distinction as he’s a huge favourite of mine. There are major losses, too. A key character dies during one of the opening skirmishes – and I was more than a bit rocked to see them go. It rocked poor old Harry, too.
Having a full-on battle throughout the book also means there isn’t an opportunity for the reader to get a breather. I frequently put the book down simply because I needed a break from the bloody action and emotional intensity that came with it. And during the latter stages, I became a bit numbed by it all, so that I ended up rereading the ending just to get a more accurate sense of the emotional tenor around the ending.
That said, I don’t want you to go away with the impression that this is a poor book. The action scenes are gripping and immersive. Butcher portrays Harry’s experiences during the battle with vividness and emotion that packs a punch. And I’m fascinated to discover exactly how he’ll take the series forward from here. It was a calculated risk to split the original book in two, which I think Butcher has mostly pulled off. Recommended for fans of the Harry Dresden series who have at least read the previous two books. The ebook arc copy of Battle Ground was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 8/10
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…