Tag Archives: medieval Fantasy

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.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Dreamer’s Pool – Book 1 of Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier #Brainfluffbrainreview #Dreamer’sPoolbookreview

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I love Juliet Marillier’s writing – the Sevenwaters series is outstanding and I also very much enjoyed The Dark Mirror – see my review here. So when I realised Himself had treated himself to this offering, I tucked in.

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

I enjoyed this book, particularly that fantastic opening section. This classic fantasy romance has one major difference – the main protagonist isn’t a princess, or any other member of the royal family. She is an older woman with a terrible past, who now has been freed – on condition that she turns her back on her dreams for vengeance and always provides help if someone asks. In this medieval era fantasy, where clearly women have very limited options – she also has agency as a skilled healer, so she can rebuild her life. It’s made a lot easier by the presence of her companion, the hulking man who had occupied the cell next to hers, called Grim. He also has a dark past and is possessed of great strength and a strong work ethic – and has latched onto Blackthorn, after witnessing her temperament under the most dehumanising conditions. A word of warning – this book starts in a prison where the inmates are treated with brutality and while there is nothing graphic, there are two incidents of rape in this book.

The other protagonist is an unworldly prince, determined to marry for love in an age when dynastic and territorial concerns decide who you walk up the aisle with. He starts writing to a young woman who, it turns out, loves books and poetry as much as he does – and it’s all going swimmingly… until she takes a swim.

The romance bubbles alongside Blackthorn’s far more dramatic storyline, until it gathers momentum and near the end of the book, takes precedence as the conclusion of this story wraps up the whole narrative. Though this isn’t a ‘happily ever after’ tale – there are winners, but there are also significant losers and my sympathy does go out to the major loser. I would also add that I was a bit disturbed that a woman being sexually active was depicted as a negative attribute. It’s not a dealbreaker, and I’m conscious that faithful, chaste womanhood is part of the genre convention in classical fantasy – but this is the 21st century and I am a bit disappointed that this was used as a device to point up the female character’s unsuitability.

However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a well-written, entertaining story and if it didn’t quite deliver the promise of that fabulous opening, it is still an engrossing, page-turning adventure.
7/10

Sunday Post – 21st October, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a week of catching up and becoming ill… I really loved my writing retreat and for the first few days when I returned, I was very good about getting a reasonable amount of sleep. And then my old bad habits surfaced and I found myself working into the early hours again. But this time around, it was an increasing struggle to surface in the morning and my sciatica has been niggling away. And by Thursday my body had had enough. What I initially thought was a stomach bug wasn’t. I felt sick and giddy when I got out of bed and yet once I lay down again, I was feeling a lot better. Friday was still a battle to get showered without being ill.

By the afternoon, I was well enough to sit at the computer and work and do a bit of light housework so long as I wasn’t moving around too much. I think I’ve simply hit the buffers and now urgently need to address my dysfunctional sleep patterns. I’m relieved that I have half term coming up – but I do think that I need to ease back on all my dashing about and just concentrate on resting, rebalancing my life and sorting out my sleep! Sorry – I’m aware this has been a REALLY boring post!

Due to spending some time in bed waiting for the world to stop spinning, I’ve been catching up on my reading:

Together by Julie Cohen
This is not a great love story.
This is a story about great love.
On a morning that seems just like any other, Robbie wakes in his bed, his wife Emily asleep beside him, as always. He rises and dresses, makes his coffee, feeds his dogs, just as he usually does. But then he leaves Emily a letter and does something that will break her heart. As the years go back all the way to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we discover the story of a couple with a terrible secret – one they will do absolutely anything to protect.
This was recommended to me by one of my students and I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it. A haunting, thought-provoking book that raises uncomfortable questions about the importance we place on romantic love in our society…

 

Headlong – a Bill Slider mystery by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
When one of London’s best-known literary agents is found dead in strange circumstances, having fallen headlong from his office window, DCI Slider is under pressure from the Borough Commander to confirm a case of accidental death. But when the evidence points to murder, Slider and his team find themselves uncovering some decidedly scandalous secrets in the suave and successful Ed Wiseman’s past.
I really enjoyed the previous book, Shadow Play, I read in this series and was delighted when I saw this Netgalley arc available. Once again it delivered a cracking whodunit – review to follow in due course.

 

Soulbinder – Book 4 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell
The fourth book in the page-turning SPELLSLINGER fantasy series. Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.
Another wonderful magical adventure featuring Kellen, full of high emotion, sarky humour and lots of high-stakes action. This series is now one of my all-time favourite fantasy treats. Review to follow.

 

 

Caraval – Book 1 of the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber
Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over. But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives.
I loved the twisting plot and sense of never knowing exactly who poor old Scarlett can and cannot trust – and to think that she’s been waiting to take part in this magical madness for seven years!

 

Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mack might be, to all intents and purposes, a normal looking human, but she lives with a pack of shapeshifters in Cornwall in rural England after being dumped there by her mother when she was just a young child. She desperately wants to be accepted by her surrogate family, not least because a lot of them hate her for merely being human, but for some reason her blood just won’t allow the transformation to occur.
This paranormal, shapeshifter adventure is a lot of fun – just what I needed to whisk me away from my sick giddiness, to the extent that I immediately turned to the next book in the series, something I don’t often do.

 

Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.
Yet more shapeshifting mayhem – I do like the character of Mack, though the romance aspect of this story surfaced more strongly in this slice of the adventure, which is fine – though not necessarily what I was looking for.

 

Dreamer’s Pool – Book 1 of the Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier
In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.
I really enjoyed the fact that this medieval high fantasy romantic adventure features a cranky middle-aged woman with agency and a skill that makes her independent. The story pulled me into the book, though on reflection, there were some aspects of the portrayal of women’s sexuality that rather bothered me, which I will discuss further in the review…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 14th October 2018

AUTHOR ANNALS #2 – Writing Retreat

Teaser Tuesday featuring Soulbinder – Book 4 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo

Friday Face-off featuring The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Unwritten by Tara Gilboy

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Thursday Doors https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/thursday-doors-115/ I love this quirky series and this week Jean brings us some delightful examples…

Does It Make Sense? http://chechewinnie.com/does-is-it-make-sense/ Cheche is asking hard questions about the plants chosen for green landscaping around cities in his native Kenya – but it made me look more closely at the plants adorning our local towns. And I realise hardly any of them are indigenous, either…

#lessons learned from #Ray Bradbury: #write #setting details that creep out #characters & #readers alike https://jeanleesworld.com/2018/10/18/lessons-learned-from-raybradbury-write-setting-details-that-creep-out-characters-readers-alike/ Once more, Jean offers up her original take on writing by drawing on one of the great masters of the genre – and a bit of a preview of her own upcoming novel

Five of the Best Poems About the Sky https://interestingliterature.com/2018/10/17/five-of-the-best-poems-about-the-sky/ There are some gems in here – some I knew, while some I didn’t…

Top Five Wednesday – Mythical Creatures of Canada and Korea (and examples in the media) https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.wordpress.com/2018/10/17/top-5-wednesday-mythological-creatures-of-canada-and-korea-and-examples-in-media/ This proved fascinating – there was only one of these that I actually knew. The others are just amazing!

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

Sunday Post – 18th December 2016

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another busy week. Last week-end it was lovely to be grannying again, especially as the children helped out with decorating the house and the Christmas tree. On Monday I was up to Coulsdon to stay with my sister and brother-in-law. As well as catching up with my lovely niece and firming up arrangements for Christmas – we are all meeting up at my mother and father-in-law’s house for the Christmas festivities – I also helped with a bit of editing on some work she is doing, returning home on Wednesday evening. We are still horribly behind with our Christmas preparations – I haven’t written my cards yet. However, I have managed to catch up with writing up book reviews and a couple of extra blogs, hopefully getting a few in hand for the holiday season when I’ll be doing something other than sitting at the computer.

I’m also delighted to report that my writing mojo has returned and I’ve managed to tuck into Miranda’s Tempest, continuing with the major rewrite I started and then got stalled on. While I think it’s unlikely I’ll get it completed before Christmas, if I can at least keep the handles wound on it, I’ll be very pleased.

This week I have read:

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsShe’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from, as she’s destined to wind up “wed or dead”.

There has been a real buzz about this YA desert fantasy offering, and I can see why. Hamilton tips us right into the middle of the action from the first page as Amani’s spiky first person narrative pulled me into the story and didn’t let go. It is a foot to the floor, non-stop adventure where she careens through the vividly depicted landscape that borrows much from eastern influences. It’s a delight and I’m now hoping to be able to hunt down the sequel.

 

Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
everthehuntedSeventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer. However, it’s not so simple. The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart.

It was pure chance that I read two YA fantasy adventures back to back. They both featured teenage female protagonists on the run, both had secrets and issues they knew nothing about at the start of the adventure. Both had a romantic sub-plot. Both are cracking reads.
However, Britta isn’t so carelessly, gloriously reckless as Amani – she is wary and untrusting of everyone. The pace in this one isn’t quite so full-on, either, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale set in a more traditional medieval fantasy setting. There were some pleasing plot twists in this adventure I didn’t see coming – and I certainly didn’t guess who had murdered Britta’s father.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a jsutonedamnedthingdifferent kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

This is time-travelling adventure is a joy. Funny, anarchic with a reckless sense of derring-do, this tale is told in first person viewpoint by Max as we follow her initial introduction to St Mary’s, training and early adventures. That said, the attrition rate is high and a number of folks die in this – some of whom I was really sorry to see go… I think this would make a marvellous TV series, however – not yet. There are a raft of these books out there and I want to read them all, first.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 11th December 2016

Review of A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

Review of How To Train Your Parents by Pete Johnson

Friday Faceoff – Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world… featuring Undead and Unemployed – Book 2 of the Queen Betsy series by Mary Janice Davidson

2016 Discovery Challenge – November Roundup

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

A Short Analysis of T.S. Eliot’s ‘A Journey of the Magi https://interestingliterature.com/2016/12/15/a-short-analysis-of-t-s-eliots-journey-of-the-magi/ Once more this wonderful site comes up with a superb discussion about this beautiful, complicated poem on alienation and loss in amongst the Christmas story…

Great Gifts for Book Lovers https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/gifts-for-book-lovers/ Kristen comes up with some timely ideas for the bookworm in your life…

500 Words You Should Know by Caroline Taggart https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/500-words-you-should-know-by-caroline-taggart/ Those lovely people at the awarding winning library site BallyroadReads have highlighted this entertaining book for the wordsmiths in your life…

The Character Evolution Files, No. 14: Aligning the Protagonist’s Character Arc with the Story’s Plot, Part 1 https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2016/12/15/plot-arc-alignment-part-1/ Sara Letourneau provides a thorough how-to article on how to ensure your character’s journey works within your plot.

Inspirational Bernard Williams’ Quotes http://logicalquotes.com/bernard-williams-quotes/ Some of these are gems – and if you enjoy reading strong, interesting quotes by a range of folks, then swing by this enjoyable site.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Friday Faceoff – Renewed Shall Be the Blade That Was Broken…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s topic is comparing covers featuring sharp, pointy things. It was a no-brainer for me. I think The Traitor Son series is a marvellous read – see my review of The Red Knight. For the purposes of the Friday Face-off cover challenge, however, I’ve selected the second book – The Fell Sword.

fell swordThis first cover was published by Gollancz in January 2014 as the hardcover edition. I really love it – the angle of the cover emphasises just how small the armoured man is. It also reflects some of the experiences described so vividly in the book.

 

thefellsword1This second cover is the paperback edition brought out by Orbit in March 2014. I also love this one. The sense of intensity, with the vivid colouring and the fact the knight is in mid-swing gives a power to this particular cover. I’m really torn this week. I think I’ll have to go with this Orbit cover – but it is only by gnat’s eyelash. Do you agree?

Review of The Sentinel Mage – Book 1 of The Cursed Kingdoms series by Emily Gee

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I had enjoyed Gee’s romantic fantasy offering Thief With No Shadow – see my review here – so was delighted to pick up this book at Fantasycon last year. Would I also like The Sentinel Mage?

thesentinelmageIn a distant corner of the Seven Kingdoms, an ancient curse festers and grows, consuming everything in its path. Only one man can break it: Harkeld of Osgaard, a prince with mage’s blood in his veins. But Prince Harkeld has a bounty on his head and assassins at his heels. Innis is a gifted shapeshifter. Now she must do the forbidden: become a man. She must stand at Prince Harkeld’s side as his armsman, protecting and deceiving him.

This is an enjoyable set up, but also cosily familiar. Something nasty is emerging after being let loose so long ago that everyone who knew how to handle it has long gone… And magic-wielders are both feared and hunted down in most of the cursed kingdoms. So when one of their elite units, including Innis, are sent out to scoop up Harkeld, they have to keep their shape-shifting and magical activities to a minimum. That said, I’m not going to reject a read on the grounds that it isn’t original – I’m far more interested in whether it is well-written, engrossing and enjoyable.

I was surprised to find Harkeld rather a priggish pain. Despite spending a lot of time up close and personal with the band of mages, other than his bodyguard, he refuses to let down his guard. He is determined to find them repellent – even after their courage in saving his life several times. It’s a brave decision to continue to make one of the main protagonists so unappealing. However his sister, Brigitta, is far more engaging and her storyline was the one that drew me in the most. From being the victimised, helpless princess used as a pawn in her father’s power ploys, she transforms into a far more nuanced, intriguing character who makes some interesting choices.

As regards the main storyline – the journey to the first anchor stone to try and break the curse – the narrative is smoothly delivered and Gee handles the fight scenes well, providing plenty of tension and drama. I was sufficiently caught up in the story to power through it to discover what happened next. Any grizzles? Gee is evidently a capable and experienced author – but I do feel she could trust her readers a tad more. There is a lot of repetition. Harkeld spends a lot of time gritting his teeth over having to travel with these nasty old mages… Brigitta’s armsman is either being mocked and taunted by the other guards, or eating his heart out over her… Innis is regularly worrying whether she’s spending too long in one shape… As Gee writes very short chapters, and the viewpoint scenes change regularly, having each character revisit these concerns quite so frequently starts to grate a little, as well as slow up the overall pace, which otherwise is pleasingly snappy in a genre with often takes more time than it should.

What she doesn’t do, is spend pages and pages in a lot of complicated exposition about the ancient history going back several generations – a genre convention I’m delighted to see the back of… Will I get hold of The Fire Prince? Probably. If you enjoy a relatively straightforward medieval fantasy read told by an author who knows how to tell the story at a reasonable clip and handles action scenes well, then give this a go.
7/10

Review of Indie KINDLE ebook Bound – Book 1 of The Bound trilogy by Kate Sparkes

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boundI’d uploaded this book onto my Kindle and there it stayed – but two of my targets for this year is to read more books by Indie authors and to read more books by authors I’ve not read before. And this book ticked both boxes…

Welcome to Darmid, where magic is a sin, fairy tales are contraband, and the people live in fear of the Sorcerers on the other side of the mountains. Rowan Greenwood has everything she’s supposed to want from life – a good family, a bright future, and a proposal from a handsome and wealthy magic hunter. She knows she should be content with what she has. If only she could banish the idea that there’s more to life than marriage and children, or let go of the fascination with magic she’s been forced to suppress since childhood.

This is medieval fantasy with a large dollop of romance – and there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you know what you’re getting. It seemed to me the few negative reviews I read were from folks who were expecting something else.

I enjoyed the premise that with the birth rate falling in Darmid, Rowan is being scurried along into marriage far more quickly than she wants. Eyebrows are raised that she hasn’t yet slept with her intended – which makes absolute sense in a world where no one is going to mind if a union results in a child. Rowan’s first person narration of her side of the story is engaging and I found myself rooting for her, particularly at the start. As the story progressed, inevitably the momentum moved away from her and towards the other main protagonist, our troubled hero, Aren. His backstory and magical ability means that he isn’t initially all that sympathetic, but I really enjoyed the early start of this story and found the beginning of their relationship engrossing.

The world is well described and as they moved around, we got a ringside seat to a variety of backdrops and an interesting cast of characters that helped bring it to life. Sparkes manages to convincingly portray a sense of tension around both the problem binding Rowen and the fact they are being pursued. I’m hoping some of the characters will make a reappearance later in the series – I particularly liked Ruby the dragon, and would appreciate seeing more of her.

Did the story reach a satisfactory conclusion, given it is the first in a trilogy. Oh yes – this particular story arc came to an appropriate ending, with several major plotpoints left waving in the wind, ready to be resumed in the next book book, Torn, which has recently been released as an ebook. I’m certainly going to be tracking it down.
8/10

Review of Kindle EBOOK Rider – Book 1 of The Art of Forgetting series by Joanne Hall

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I’ve seen Joanne Hall around at various Fantasycons, but met her properly for the first time this year at Bristolcon. She is a lovely person with a keen sense of humour and a warm personality – which doesn’t necessarily mean that she can write… But when I sampled the book on Amazon, I immediately downloaded the rest of it, as I was hooked by the beginning.

riderA young boy leaves his village to become a cavalryman with the famous King’s Third regiment; in doing so he discovers both his past and his destiny. Gifted and cursed with a unique memory, the foundling son of a notorious traitor, Rhodri joins an elite cavalry unit stationed in the harbour town of Northpoint.

Rhodri bounces off the page right from the opening sequence and his grip wouldn’t let me go until I reached the final paragraph. Although I was in for a whole lot than I initially realised. I thought I was in for a coming-of-age adventure story along the lines of L.E. Modesitt’s first book in his Imager Portfolio series. But this is a lot grittier and sexually explicit – if you have youngsters interested in your reading matter, I’d advise you vet this one first.

I was initially slightly caught off-balance. Having expected a particular type of book, it was something of a shock to find what I was reading was a lot more demanding. The easy, readable writing style, action-packed narrative pace, strong characterisation and familiar feel to the world initially had me sure of what I would continue to experience. And then Hall started delivering some smart surprises. I’m allergic to spoilers, so I’m not going to divulge the nuts and bolts of those surprises. However, the elite nature of the troops didn’t stop many of them being fairly unpleasant characters with a tendency to violence… This is fine on the battlefield, of course. But what if they are quartered in a town? And what happens when a large number of very fit, active young men want some female company? Without being remotely moralistic, Hall thoroughly explores this dynamic with uncomfortable consequences for all concerned.

And the curved balls kept coming… Aston’s narrative arc had my jaw dropping. While I was still reeling from the fallout to that shocker – Rhodri finds himself heading into action. But that action ends up taking a form that he could never have predicted – I certainly didn’t see it coming. Throughout all this, Rhodri is completely convincing. He yearns to find his father to help him sort out his own identity and while he may be the protagonist of the story, with a talent for calming horses and total recall, what he isn’t is a classical hero. He makes a multitude of mistakes – some of them are catastrophic. So many young main characters written by older authors show a chippy surefootedness that anyone who has spent time around real teenagers knows is not remotely realistic. Real teenagers are a mess of moody contradictions, poor impulse control, while capable of judgement errors that would have their ten-year-old selves rolling their eyes in disgust. Which is exactly how Rhodri and his fellow cadets behave a lot of the time.

Does it work? Oh, absolutely. This storming start to the series is an unusual, challenging read for all the right reasons and I shall definitely be tracking down the second book, Nomad.
10/10

Review of Taste of Darkness – Book 3 of the Avry of Kazan series by Maria V. Snyder

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I’ve read the first two books in this series – read my review of Scent of Magic here – and while it doesn’t pack the same punch as the Poison Study series, I’ve enjoyed it. So does Snyder manage to satisfactorily tie up the loose ends and provide all the necessary information to make the magic system work?

tasteofdarknessPowerful healer Avry knows hardship and trouble. She fought a plague and survived. She took on corrupt King Tohon and defeated him. But now her true love Kerrick is missing and Avry fears he’s gone forever. Yet she faces a more immediate – and deadly – threat. The Skeleton King plots to claim the Fifteen Realms for his own. With the territories’ armies in disarray and the dead not staying dead, Avry’s powers are needed more than ever.

So that’s the blurb. And once again, the lovelorn couple are yanked apart by circumstance and foul deed, as Kerrick disappears right at the start of the book. It wasn’t all that long ago I read the second in the series, which was a great advantage. While I rarely read a series straight off – once I start spotting an author’s foibles I find it really interferes with my reading enjoyment – the fact I could clearly recall the plot of the second book, Scent of Magic, stood me in good stead and I’d recommend that you don’t leave an overly long gap between these books if you want to get the best out of them.

Snyder has an entertaining cast of supporting characters which I enjoyed throughout the series and liked how she gave most of them their own story arc within the tale – no mean feat in a trilogy of average-sized books. Avry’s bossiness has grated at times, but in this slice of her adventures she wasn’t so much at the hub of all the action as in the last book, which I’d begun to find annoying and on the edge of believability.

The action rolls forward at full tilt from the start of Taste of Darkness and the pace doesn’t let up until right at the end. Indeed, there is a great deal of stealthy sneaking through the forest as fast as possible… But it all hangs together and I found this book grabbed me more firmly than the other two as I genuinely wanted to know what happened to the characters.

As for the final denouement, yes, it worked. What I really liked about this particular magic system, was that no one really knew all the consequences of the plants’ magical properties. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be. I get a tad tired of books where the magic behaves like a well-trained dog. Magic should be difficult to control and never fully predictable – and this is an aspect that has run through this readable, entertaining series. If you enjoy strong heroines rushing around woods in medieval fantasy settings full of incident and adventure, you could do a lot worse to banish those winter blues by getting hold of these books – starting at the beginning of the series with Touch of Power.
8/10

Review of The Shadow Seer – Book 1 of Ellenessia’s Curse by Fran Jacobs

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I picked this book up from Bristolcon last year after chatting to the author, who is an intriguing and strong personality. Question is – would I enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed our discussion?

shadowseerFor generations prophets have foreseen the birth of the Shadow Seer, the oracle of dark visions and fallen kingdoms. But by the time of Sorron, King of Carnia, their warnings have mostly been forgotten and his name is known only to a handful of scholars.

When disaster threatens the royal family, the Seer’s legends are brought to light once again by a witch named Mayrila. She believes that Candale is the fulfilment of those long forgotten prophecies. She believes that he is the Shadow Seer…

I’ve tweaked the back cover blurb slightly, as there is a spoiler there – and it was the unusual way the book started that snagged my attention and drew me right in. Jacobs is an experienced and skilful writer. I found the character of Candale immediately believable – it was a pleasant change to find a teenage boy actually behaving like a teenager, rather than a particularly self-assured twenty-something. He is riven by self-doubt, occasionally makes some silly decisions and spends a great deal of time obsessing about himself. Typical teenage behaviour, in other words.

However, Jacobs also manages to make him sufficiently sympathetic, so that I didn’t toss the book in disgust, as he also has a highly developed sense of responsibility and tries hard to live up to his grandfather’s high expectations. It was also refreshing to find a book about this age group that isn’t completely fixated on his relationship with the opposite sex. Because Candale has far more pressing problems…

The claustrophobic atmosphere of court life is well depicted, without Jacobs giving us pages of description about balls and council meetings. I liked the sense that Candale is never completely sure exactly who he can trust or not – a constant consideration for someone in his position. This isn’t a story with lots of swashbuckling action, rather a slow-burn, tension-tightening tale as Candale very quickly finds that he is flailing around way out of his comfort zone, and very reliant on a select circle of close friends and companions.
A lot of epic fantasy rapidly ramps the action up, so that the impact on the main protagonists sometimes gets lost in amongst the plethora of sub-plots, constant scene changes and large cast of characters. It was a real pleasure to read a classic Fantasy tale set in a medieval world that focused completely on a single protagonist right at the heart of the problem. Especially when in the hands of such a capable writer.

Inevitably, the book leaves our slightly clueless hero on the edge of a major dangling plotpoint – do I want to get hold of the next book and discover exactly is going to happen next? For sure – Candale and his problems have spun their spell over me… Track down this book and see if you, too, become ensnared in Jacobs’ engrossing fantasy.
8/10