Tag Archives: swords and sorcery

Sunday Post – 21st May 2017

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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.

Last Sunday was another major gathering of the clan – my parents, both sisters, along with my brother in law and two nephews met up at The George pub at Burpham for a birthday meal to celebrate my sister’s birthday. It was an additional celebration – she is returning next month to England and will be settling in Littlehampton just up the road. We had a lovely time all catching up with each other with lots of laughter and good food.

This week has been a better one, in that I have started to catch up on my admin backlog from when I was ill and feel that at last I’m regaining my energy levels, although I did miss my Pilates session again this week, as I still felt less than my shiny best. This afternoon, we’ve been invited up to a BBQ at my daughter’s house – and I’m providing the vegan pudding… So I won’t be around to nteract though I’ll catch up later.

This week I have read:

The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.
Jen Williams’ first series, The Copper Cat – see my review of The Copper Promise made a great impression. She has an energy and buzz that has her writing crackling off the the page and this post-apocalytic sci-fi/fantasy swords and sorcery mashup ticks all the boxes for me. The worldbuilding, in particular, is outstanding…

Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…
It’s been longer than I’d planned since I read the first book – see my review of Clean Sweep in this original, quirky fantasy/sci fi portal adventure and it was every bit as enjoyable as I’d hoped. It’s a really nifty trick to be able to effectively portray an multi-world epic from a normally quiet inn in a half-forgotten corner of America, but Andrews pulls it off.

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This takes writing chops to effectively depict a woman warrior who knows nothing about who she is or where she came from, only that she is bound to complete a mysterious quest for the people who summoned her. Marie Brennan pulls it off and I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment, Lightning in the Blood at the end of the month.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 14th May 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of the Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

Teaser Tuesday featuring Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan

Review of Goldfish from Beyond the Grave – Book 4 of the Undead Pets series by Sam Hay

Shoot for the Moon 2017 Challenge – April Roundup

Friday Face-off – Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo – featuring No Highway by Nevil Shute

Review of The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams

 

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

John Fogerty, Johnny Winter & James Burton hit that Riff! : Susie Q! https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/05/20/john-fogerty-johnny-winter-james-burton-hit-that-riff-oh-susie-q-oh-susie-q-susie-q/  Thom’s wonderful, indepth articles about music are always worth reading. And this one is a delight – the Johnny Winter version is my favourite, for what it’s worth…

10 of the Best Poems About Gardens  https://interestingliterature.com/2017/05/19/10-of-the-best-poems-about-gardens/ The day when all the marvellous BBC coverage from Chelsea Flower Show starts seems apt to consider poems about the garden.

Thoughts on writing and publishing, from me and others  http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2586 Juliet McKenna’s blog is always worth reading, but this article also includes links to other interesting, articulate authors

Seven Steps to Honoring Your Reality  https://diymfa.com/writing/seven-steps-to-honoring-your-reality#disqus_thread This excellent article by Sara Letourneau certainly arrived at my Inbox in time to remind me not to panic as I’m trying to catch up after a spell of not feeling my best…

Oceans of Life? The Solar System and beyond  http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/05/17/oceans-life-solar-system-beyond/ Another superb roundup about what is going on in the scientific community – and it has never been more exciting…

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams

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Williams is already a go-to author whom I love – her Copper Cat trilogy saw to that – see my review of The Copper Promise. But this time around, I think she’s excelled herself…

The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.

For starters, this isn’t a straight swords and sorcery. The city of Ebora might be a faded version of its former self, driving Tormalin to seek his fortune elsewhere, but it isn’t the only place enduring sustained and catastrophic deterioration. Sarn and the other surrounding countries are still suffering the ravages of the last invasion by the lethal aliens, the Jure’lia. Wildlife and vegetation have been mutated wherever the huge spaceships have crashed, which also attracts the very dangerous parasite spirits that turns their unfortunate victims inside out if they so much brush against them. Where the huge maggots crashed through, they excrete a thick transparent sludge that hardens to an impervious block of varnish, trapping people inside like flies in an amber. In short, the world is still reeling from an apocalyptic attack several generations earlier.

As you must have gathered, William’s depiction of her ruined world made a deep impression – I’ve even dreamed about it. This could have been a completely bleak tale, but it’s not because the main protagonists, particularly the wonderful Lady de Grazon, ping off the page with a fine disregard for local customs as she insists on investigating every aspect of the alien wreckage, instead of trying to ignore it like most of the population. There is a fair amount of humour scattered through this story, which makes it far easier to read, though that doesn’t mean it’s innately funny – it isn’t.

Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. I also loved the young fell-witch, Noon, kept in a horrible prison called the Winnowry, where others like her who involuntarily summon fell-flame, are incarcerated – apparently so they can atone for their innate wickedness and to protect the rest of society from their fell-fire. Though the fact that their flaming energy is harvested and used to craft a number of exclusive, highly expensive artefacts is also a major factor.

Each one of the three protagonists have their own journey through the book which involves different aspects of this shattered place and unlike a number of epic fantasy tales, I didn’t find myself wanting to know more about one of them such that I skimmed through the others to get back to it. For this rich world sank its hooks into me and since I have finished reading it, I still find myself thinking of it. And I’ll be on the lookout for the sequel as I’m looking forward to revisiting this unusual world.

While I obtained the arc of The Ninth Rain from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

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When I spotted this offering as part of a special Netgalley omnibus edition, I was delighted as the first book, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, is one of those which lodged in my head and hasn’t gone away – see my review.

Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…

I had enjoyed the first book, but this second one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. I’d forgotten how punchy and readable the prose was, for starters. I love Rudden’s writing with his quirky imagery and desert-dry irony – and the way he nocks it up to gothic proportions when necessary. The descriptions of the Croits’ family home, the castle Eloquence, just pings off the page with its wrongness. While Denizen’s struggle to come to terms with his new family circumstances had me both grinning and feeling desperately sorry for him.

This one is a dual narrative – alongside Denizen’s storyline is another young teen – Uriel Croit, who is singled out by Grandfather for great things, alongside his twin sister. They train constantly and are being honed for the coming war, happy to pay the price for using their inner fire as they are set against cousins amongst the insane obstacle course that is the Croit family cemetery.

The two plotlines unfold with twists and turns in abundance and unlike most children’s books, there is very little ‘tell’ in this one and far more plunging forward with the story. I started off reading it with a view to its suitability for my granddaughter and by the end of the second chapter all that went out of the window. I was completely immersed in this grim world where everyone has an agenda and living alongside violence leaves scars – not just the physical sort, either. I love the fact that Rudden has created a world where killing is a big deal and we also get to see that monsters grieve for those they lose, too.

Of course when there are two storylines running alongside each other, there comes a time when they intersect – and this time around they didn’t so much meet as explode in the climactic crisispoint… The history of the Croit family is also caught up with the Knights in a fascinating manner – I loved the clever plotting, the gritty entrancing world and the spiky, memorable characters. And I cannot wait to read the next book. If you are fans of well-written fantasy, don’t be put off by the fact the marketing is aiming this series at children – for my money Rudden falls into the same category as Gaiman and Pratchett, whose writing appeals to both adults and children alike.

While my arc copy of The Forever Court Dark was provided by the publishers via Netgalley, this has not influenced or biased my review.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 4th April, 2017

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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 Forever Court – Book 2 of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden
47% The ancestral home of the Croits was called Eloquence, and it was a ruin. The island on which it stood was only a few kilometres across, split in two by an axe-wound of a valley, sheer and bare and brutal, as if someone had tried to murder the world and this was where the blade had fallen. Straggly, desiccated trees half-heartedly dotted its flanks. The air smelled of dust and the distant sea, and it was so cold that the weak sunlight felt like ice water on Uriel’s skin. This wasn’t the kind of landscape that was content to be photographed by tourists or painted by nice men with beards. This was the kind of landscape that made poets fall in love with it and then drove them steadily mad.

BLURB: Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…

Don’t pay any attention to the percentage indicator – I’ve only just started this one as the nice publishers have produced an omnibus version as an arc. But the reason why I snapped this one up in a heartbeat was that I read and reviewed Knights of the Borrowed Dark last year and loved it. So when I saw the sequel was available, it was a no-brainer. This sharp, witty writing in this children’s dark fantasy punches well above its weight as can be seen from the above description.

Top Ten Spring Reads

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This was the theme on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish and I thought it was such a lovely one, I decided to join in – albeit two days late!

1. Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Songs of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
When Çeda and Emre are drawn into a plot of the blood mage, Hamzakiir, they sail across the desert to learn the truth, and a devastating secret is revealed, one that may very well shatter the power of the hated kings.
During this winter, I’ve developed a real taste for desert-based fantasy and the first book in this series – Twelve Kings – was a gripping read. I’m really looking forward to getting lost once more in this complex, well written world full of heat, sand and intrigue…

 

2. Mira’s Last Dance – Book 4 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.
I’ve really enjoyed this series of novellas as Penric learns to adapt to the twelve demons riding him. There is plenty of action and I have particularly grown to love the unintended consequences that spring up around a good man coping with a host of chaos demons. Wonderful stuff!

 

3. The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine.
After the storming series The Copper Cat, I was delighted to be able to get hold of this latest offering by such a talented author. Her swashbuckling energy will nicely chime with warmer days and lots of greenery appearing in the garden.

 

4. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire. And then the Emperox dies just as a cataclysmic change threatens the stability of everything…
Scalzi is always worth reading – I particularly loved his futuristic crime thriller Lock In – so I fell upon this start to a new epic space opera when I spotted it on Netgalley. It should be full of thrills and spills, along with some interesting ideas along the way.

 

5. Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis
Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Immediately drawn to Logan Chandler, Sadie is captivated by the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes. Logan seems to embody everything that has been forbidden, but he isn’t all he appears to be.
While visiting other book blogs, this series kept popping up with lots of good things being said about it, so when I had the opportunity to get hold of the first book in the series and see what all the fuss was about – I grabbed it. I’m looking forward to tucking into this one and maybe getting hold of some more of the books in due course.

 

6. The Operator – Book 2 of The Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt.
I’ve recently finished the first book in this series, The Drafter, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Harrison delivers a twisting plot, foot to the floor action and some thought provoking questions along the way – the staple of excellent science fiction. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how this next slice of the adventure plays out.

 

7. My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Parents by Pete Johnson
Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC. Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!
I read the first book in this series, How To Train Your Parents, to my granddaughter, who thoroughly enjoyed it – and so did I. We got hold of the rest of the series and I need to read it in advance, as otherwise I’m tempted to skim ahead as I’m reading aloud to find out what happens next…

 

8. A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi
Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen. Chokshi’s rich lush prose and mythological story gave this tale an epic feel that reminded me of the Arabian Nights’ stories of my youth. I’m looking forward to being transported back to a land full of wonders and danger – as well as meeting up again with a certain meat-eating horse…

 

9. The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennon
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
I loved the first slice of this adventure and have left it far too long before revisiting this enjoyable Victorian-like world where an intrepid young woman is determined to continue studying dragons in the wild, despite the dangers and discomfort…

 

10. Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world…
When I saw this, I had to scoop it off the shelves and bring it home. Sullivan is always worth reading, here is my review of Lightborn. Her stories are invariably peopled by complex, interesting characters and her worlds always reverberate with me, to the extent that I nearly always dream about them… So I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into this one.

 

And that’s part of my reading list this Spring. Are there any books here that you are also intending to read, or have already read?

Review of KINDLE Edition of Judged – Book 3 of The Blackhart Legacy Trilogy by Liz de Jagar

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This is the next slice of the adventure featuring Kit Blackhart in this UK-based urban fantasy. Would I enjoy Judged as much as Banished and Vowed?

judgedKit’s job description includes solving crimes – the supernatural kind . . . Glow, a fae-created drug, is rapidly going viral and the suppliers have to be shut down. Teaming up with Aiden and Dante, Kit follows leads across London, tracking down dealers. They stir up trouble, making themselves a target for the gang they’re trying to stop. In the Otherwhere, Thorn stumbles across a secret that could destroy both the human and Fae worlds. The Veil that separates our human world from the fae realms is weakening and the goddess is dying. And if she dies and the Veil fails, madness and chaos will wreak unstoppable havoc upon both lands.

My firm advice is not to start this one – if you have mistakenly picked it up thinking it is a stand-alone, then go back and track down Banished. The overarching story arc stretches across all three books and what happened previously is still having consequences such that your reading enperience will be significantly compromised, which would be a shame with such an enjoyable series.

Kit’s first person viewpoint continues to bounce off the page as she is teamed up with werewolf Aiden and fae Dante. I really like the fact that de Jagar doesn’t have these two fit young men vying for her attention, but instead they are busy flirting with each other. Aiden, in particular, is very drawn to Dante, yet unsure whether his feelings are returned so is reluctant to endanger their friendship and working relationship by declaring his attraction. This dynamic, frequently used when heterosexual couples are working together, is given an even stronger impetus here that I thoroughly enjoyed and felt de Jagar handled the situation very well. Not that they have all that much time to gaze into each others’ eyes to exchange unspoken desire – the relentless spread of Glow is causing death and misery so that Kit, Aiden and Dante are desperate to track down the suppliers and put a stop to their activities.

Meanwhile Prince Thorn is also dealing with a gnarly problem as the Veil is failing with disastrous consequences particularly for humanity if hordes of lethal creatures are free to flood into their world. The two main plotpoints are nicely balanced as the narrative steadily gathers pace throughout the book. There are some interesting twists along the way that provided some surprises – I enjoyed the unfolding story around Dante’s origins and one of the consequences which appears to be happening before it isn’t…

The climax provides plenty of action and yet another shock I hadn’t seen coming. All the plotpoints are satisfactorily tidied away, bringing this book and series to a triumphant conclusion. If you are looking for an escapist fantasy adventure during the holiday season, then I can recommend this series.
9/10

Favourite Completed Series of 2016

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For a variety of reasons, 2016 has been my best reading year for a long time, and as the year is drawing to a close, it’s time to share my favourite series. I’m going to split these into two groups – series I completed during the year and series I look forward to reading more of in 2017. Today, I’m featuring those series I completed during the year.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE TRILOGY BY LAINI TAYLOR

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understoodaysofbloodandstarlightd Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

This one started the year with a bang – Taylor’s lush prose and emotional intendreamsofgodsandmonsterssity, along with her very gritty approach blew me away. I read this series during January and February and now, over a 100 books later, I still regularly find myself thinking of Karou and this savage, beautiful world. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this series.

 

 

 

THE RED RISING TRILOGY BY PIERCE BROWNredrising

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood golden sonand sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.

This dystopian science fiction adventure, charting the progress of Darrow, a lowly Red, who determines to bring about change in a very rigid society was another roller-coaster ride. There are elements that put me in minmorning stard of The Hunger Games series – but Darrow’s exploits encompass both triumph and disaster and Brown’s pacey, action-packed prose had wrung me out by the end. An unforgettable reading experience I highly recommend.

 

 

 

THE THESSALY TRILOGY BY JO WALTON

thejustcityCreated as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future–all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and thephilosopherkings1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome–and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo–stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does–has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of necessitythe children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives–the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself–to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Unusually, I’ve included the whole blurb, because the big challenge is to couch this beguiling, unusual series in terms that make people want to track it down. And saying that Walton has written a tale where Pallas Athene decides to found a society based on the precepts of Plato’s Republic doesn’t guarantee you’ll all go rushing off to read it in your hordes. And of all the series I’ve read this year, this is the one that has lodged in the back of my brain like a burr and won’t leave me alone. Walton throws in all sorts of interesting, gnarly ideas along with an engrossing story such that I’m left with lots to ponder. I finished Necessity enormously moved and uplifted and if I had to recommend only one of these series – it would be this one.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

ME BEFORE YOU DUOLOGY BY JOJO MOYESmebeforeyou

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . . Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master afteryouof the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Me Before You is an extraordinary read, with a funny, offbeat heroine, who needs a job in austerity Britain and ends up looking after Will… It’s also heart-rending and beautiful. The sequel takes the story on after the shocking, climactic ending of the first book and although it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights (which is an almighty ask, anyhow) it nevertheless continues to amuse, shock and engross. My favourite contemporary series of the year.

THE COPPER CAT SERIES BY JEN WILLIAMSthecopperpromise

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…
Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.
theironghostFor Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.thesilvertide

If you like your swords and sorcery with plenty of gung-ho attitude, foot-to-the-floor action and lots of mayhem with some really hardcore antagonists, then this is the series for you. Even the final book doesn’t lose the chirpy humour that often disappears as events and backstory stack up sufficiently to wipe the grin off the face of the most hardened protagonist – but then they aren’t madcap adrenaline junkie Wydrin of Crosshaven, known as Cat…

And these are the series I completed and loved during 2016. What about you – which are your favourite series you completed this year?

Review of The Silver Tide – Book 3 of The Copper Cat series by Jen Williams

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This is the third book in a very successful series where I’ve loved the first two books, The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost. Can Williams sustain the action-fuelled energy that characterised the adventures of this intrepid trio?

thesilvertideTales of the Black Feather Three and their exploits abound far and wide, and Wydrin of Crosshaven, Lord Aaron Frith and Sir Sebastian have become sell swords in demand. Having foiled powerful mages and evil magic, they now face a challenge unlike any before – in the form of Wydrin’s mother. Devinia the Red, notorious pirate and captain of the Poison Chalice, is intent on finding the fabled treasure hidden within the jungles of the cursed island of Euriale. She needs the skills of her daughter Wydrin and her companions to get there, and our heroes cannot resist the lure of coin and adventure. But no explorer has returned from the heart of the island, and it’s not long before the Three find themselves in the clutches of peril. Deep within the island of the gods, there are remnants of forces best left undisturbed…

We pick up the story as the three heroes are still recovering from their previous exploits – and when we encounter Wydrin’s mother, Devinia the Red, an awful lot about the way Wydrin behaves suddenly makes sense. Not there is too much time to analyse the mother/daughter relationship as events once more overtake our hardy group and they are whisked up in a series of adventures that include cursed treasure, vengeful gods, helpful demons, dragons, seers, world-destroying fanatics… It should be a brain-aching mess, but instead rolls into a wonderful escapist read with enjoyable, sympathetic characters.

While there is plenty of death, disaster and mayhem where the stakes become insanely high, Williams’ writing is infused with a joie de vivre that has me labelling this series as gleedark rather than grimdark. I’m delighted to say that vitality is still evident in this the third book at a stage where a series is normally becoming darker as the main characters are starting to count the cost of all those death-defying adventures. Though I wouldn’t want you going away with the idea that Williams’ protagonists are the Teflon-coated type where at the start of each book they spring back into the start of the next adventure totally unscathed by all that has gone before. Wydrin, Frith and Sebastian are all struggling to come to terms with the fallout from The Iron Ghost, though if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading of their previous adventures, you shouldn’t flounder too much. But Williams manages to depict their trauma without losing pace or energy – something harder to achieve than she makes it look.

Despite the plot sprouting off in all directions, there was no stage where I found myself skimming one storyline to try to return to another – something that regularly happens in multi-viewpoint tales and a reason why I often don’t like them. Williams’ smooth, technically accomplished writing and regular dollops of humour keeps the pace whisking along at a fair clip, with the story constantly producing yet another confrontation with some exotic nastiness.

I also enjoyed the fact that the main antagonist who is the chief cause of all this mayhem is not some pantomime villain. While she is madder than a box of frogs, there are sound reasons for her mania and we get to see the unfolding story in her viewpoint, so while I regularly wanted to shake her till her teeth rattled, I did understand her motives. For those of us who have read The Iron Ghost there is an additional bonus. One of the main antagonists is reincarnated in a time-travelling twist so we get to see him before he becomes the power-hungry, twitchy individual that nearly does for our heroes.

You may have gathered I am still fizzing after completing this book, which I highly recommend.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

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I requested this book from Netgalley far too long ago with the intention of reading and reviewing it – but got a tad overwhelmed. Better late than never…

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan, and his life is, well, normal. Sure, in storybooks orphans are rescued from drudgery when they discover they are a wizard or a warrior or a prophesied king. But this is real life—orphans are just kids without parents. At least that’s what Denizen thought. . . On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. And on the journey Denizen discovers there are things out there that by rights should only exist in storybooks – except they’re all too real.

knightsoftheborroweddarkThat’s the slightly tweaked blurb – the original version gave away nearly a quarter of the plot, which is a shame because this tightly constructed, page-turner doesn’t deserve to be to be compromised by spoilers. Denizen is a cagey, awkward character who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve – unsurprising, given the orphanage doesn’t come across as a place where much nurturing takes place. But I thoroughly enjoyed him as a protagonist.

His reaction to all the danger and the worn warriors he finds himself alongside is realistic and understandable. I really liked the fact that while he admires them, he is also resentful and grumpy at times, particularly with his elusive aunt who makes a point of avoiding him. This particular order of knights wear armour, wield swords and practice battle skills and aggressive spells ceaselessly. But they are also to some extent traumatised and exhausted, expecting to die in battle at some stage and while Denizen stays with them, several of the order try to persuade him to leave and lead an ordinary, safe life.
This is a very gritty fantasy, with some genuinely terrifying creatures oozing out of the woodwork and terrorising folks simply because they like inflicting fear and hurt. This enjoyable book may ping with tension and be full of adventure and action – but this isn’t some blithe swords and sorcery romp. Alongside all the mayhem and danger, the notion of loyalty is explored, as well as the ultimate cost of violence and revenge, which is shown to be very high. Everyone who takes part in this struggle pays a price and Rudden isn’t afraid to damage and kill some of the supporting cast.

As a result, I wasn’t really sure how this was going to end, despite the fact it is a children’s book and was gripped right to the end, which was both satisfying and provided a couple of major twists I didn’t see coming. This offering will appeal to early teens who enjoy gritty fantasy with an appealing, believable protagonist.

My arc copy of Knights of the Borrowed Dark provided by the publishers via Netgalley has not influenced or biased my review.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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Those of you who are regular visitors will know that I am a real fan of Hall’s writing – see my review of Spark and Carousel here. Would this latest offering also please?

thesummergoddessWhen Asta’s nephew is taken by slavers, she pledges to her brother that she will find him, or die trying. Her search takes her from the fading islands of the Scattering, a nation in thrall to a powerful enemy, to the port city of Abonnae. There she finds a people dominated by a sinister cult, thirsty for blood to feed their hungry god. Haunted by the spirit of her brother, forced into an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, Asta faces a deadly choice – save the people of two nations, or save her brother’s only son.

I love Asta’s character. She is plunged into the middle of a horrific situation and copes brilliantly, without turning into a Mary Sue, which is a far harder balancing act than Hall makes it look. As she is pulled into the middle of the politics of two colliding societies she knows very little about, she has to exist on her wits to cope. Fortunately, Asta is intelligent and resourceful – and she also has her brother’s spirit to aid her. However, this proves to be a mixed blessing… One of the things I really enjoy about Hall’s writing is the sharp-edged reality to her writing. While this isn’t the type of grimdark where every other word is an expletive and the overall tone is sharply sarcastic and bleak, it doesn’t give any quarter. So Finn, Asta’s brother, has sibling issues that now have far greater resonance given that he’s inside her head and they regularly squabble. While sometimes there is affectionate humour in their exchanges which helps Asta cope, there are also occasions when their quarrels get in the way of her ability to deal with her situation.

As the adventure gallops forward and Asta is catapulted into the middle of a complicated political situation, I appreciated how Hall completely side-steps the inevitable info-dump. Asta discovers the nuances going on around her the hard way – if she gets it wrong, she’ll be beaten or worse, as we learn what is going on alongside her. It’s a nifty trick to pull off  successfully. Her search for her nephew takes her into some dangerous situations and we meet a cast of supporting characters who ping off the page with their vividness and varying attitudes. No one is portrayed as completely good, or all bad, as Asta also makes some major mistakes along the way, too. This nuanced approach particularly applies to the major antagonist, who I found myself pitying even while hoping Asta is able to escape his clutches.

During the fight scenes, I was holding my breath – for Hall isn’t afraid to kill off some of her more major characters and a couple of times the death of a character caught me unawares. So at no point could I predict what would happen next. The story held me right to the end, where it was tied up without being too neat. You don’t get the sense the survivors will live happily ever after in Hall’s world, as Life is too precarious and chancy for any such tidy ending. This story is standalone, although it does loosely connect with Hall’s  The Art of Forgetting duology. For me, this is the best book yet. I loved this adventure and it comes very highly recommended to anyone who enjoys epic Fantasy at its sizzling best.

My copy of The Summer Goddess was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
10/10