Tag Archives: swords and sorcery

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Twilight of Dragons – Book 2 of The Blood Dragon Empire by Andy Remic

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Dragon Engine – see my review here. It was a rip-roaring, if often dark and violent adventure where our band of heroes are flawed and all too vulnerable. Remic successfully balanced the grimdark elements with a vibrant charm that made this a memorable read – would Twilight of the Dragons continue the magic?

twilightofthedragonsDuring a recent dwarf civil-war deep under the Karamakkos Mountains, the magick-enslaved dragonlords have broken free from centuries of imprisonment and slaughtered tens of thousands throughout the Five Havens before exploding from the mountain and heading in fire and vengeance for the lands of Vagandrak. Two once-noble war heroes of Vagandrak – Dakeroth and his wife Jonti Tal, an archer and scholar, the Axeman, the White Witch and a Kaalesh combat expert find themselves in a unique position: for they have discovered the ancient dragon city of Wyrmblood, and a thousand unhatched dragon eggs. Dakeroth and his companions must work with their enemies, Skalg and the Church of Hate, in order to bring down the dragonlords and save the world of men and dwarves. But there is no bartering with these ancient dragons; for they seek to hatch their eggs and rebuild the cruel Wyrmblood Empire of legend.

Actually, there are two sets of heroes – our original band of plucky adventurers, roaming around in the underworld domain of the dwarves and another set of equally violent adventurers who find themselves pitted against the lethal dragons. Is it confusing? Yes. The narrative is fractured with a fair amount of flashback as our hapless protagonists ricochet from one nasty situation to another – and Remic has not allowed for any bonding moment, providing a chance for us to reconnect with the protagonists who featured in The Dragon Engine, other than a few scattered recollections. I would have liked more than a hurried nod to the lovely scene at the start of the first book, where the whole hare-brained scheme is hatched out, reminding us why we care about these characters and their initial reasons for getting into this mess. As it was, I struggled to recall my connection with the original band of marauders – apart from anything else, those dragons are far too distracting.

The destructiveness and sheer power of Remic’s dragons is vividly described – to the extent that we are in the head of a small girl moments before she is crunched into small pieces. Far more enjoyable is one of our fighting band’s frantic efforts to injure or at least slow down on of the dragons by engaging her in conversation in an attempt to divert her before launching an attack. For me, that single storyline managed to recapture some of the charisma evident throughout The Dragon Engine. It’s not that this is a bad book – but that was a really exceptional adventure romp. While this one has plenty mayhem and violence, featuring many of the characters established in the first book, the humour and charm isn’t so evident. For me, this meant the constant swearing graunched and I winced at some of the more bloodily graphic battle scenes. The writing isn’t as smooth or accomplished, either.

That said, do I still want to know what happens next? Oh yes – Remic once more manages to take the story off into a completely different direction right at the end, leaving me fascinated as to what happens next. I just hope that in the next book he manages to find the rhythm that made The Dragon Engine such an exciting, memorable read.
7/10

Favourite London Spec Fic Tales – Part 2

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There are a number of science fiction and fantasy – mostly fantasy, it has to be said – which are set in London, an amazing city, thick with history and yet still buzzing and vibrant. I have already suggested a number of well-written, quality series that use London as an effective backdrop in Part 1 and here is now the next section of the article, which would have been far too long had I published it in one go.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another ongoing series that is a solid favourite – I love the way this long-running series has theatrocityarchivesdeveloped to date.

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

The first book in this series is The Atrocity Archives.

 

 

Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod
thesweetscentofbloogThis is a sparkling series with a fantasy PI who pings off the page. I need to get back and catch up with this series!

My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals. My advice is to start with the first book The Sweet Scent of Blood.

 

The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five theamuletofsamarkandand sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This intelligent, well written trilogy may feature a wise-cracking genie, who is the main protagonist – but it is for older children, as the jaw-dropping climax left me wrung out… The first book is The Amulet of Samarkand – see my review here.

 

The Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann
theaffinitybridgeThe entertaining steampunk detective series has also grabbed me as I’ve enjoyed the progression of the characters.

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.

When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.

The first book in the series is The Affinity Bridge.

 

The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock
This gritty, urban fantasy has London singing off the pages as a magical personification that I found thecity'ssonenthralling.
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze. But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.

The first book in the series is The City’s Son – see my review here.

 

 

The Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina
magnificentdevicesThis is a steampunk, alternate history romp, featuring a feisty protagonist – and if you think it starts off reading like a typical period romance, do keep reading because it suddenly turns into something so much more intriguing…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. The first book in the series is Magnificent Devices – see my review here.

 

 

 

The Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
This is an historical genre mash-up, with a dash of science fiction thrown into the alternate world, whichalchemistofsouls gives an intriguing backdrop to the storyline.

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

The first book in this entertaining series is The Alchemist of Souls – see my review here.

 

 

Triumff , Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett
triumffThis is standalone genre mash-up swashbuckler has a premise that doesn’t bear too much close examination – but I found I didn’t really care, because it’s such fun…
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer. Fighter. Drinker. Saviour? Triumff is a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped clockwork-powered version of our present day. A new Elizabethan age, not of Elizabeth II but in the style of the original Virgin Queen. Throughout its rollicking pages, Sir Rupert Triumff drinks, dines and duels his way into a new Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure. Read my review here.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Himself – a real fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing – had pre-ordered this one. I’m so very glad he did…

The Church of Armes of the Light has battled the forces of Darkness for as long as anyone can remember. The great prophecy has foretold that a band of misfits, led by a high priestess will defeat the Dark Lord Darvezian, armed with their wits, the blessing of the Light and an artefact stolen from the merciless Spider Queen. Their journey will be long, hard and fraught with danger. Allies will become enemies; enemies will become allies. And the Dark Lord will be waiting, always waiting…

spiderlightThis epic fantasy tale includes so many of the classic fantasy elements – a band of exceptional misfits, led by the chosen one fulfilling an ancient prophesy. There is said chosen one, a mage of great power, a couple of very capable guards – including the obligatory female warrior – and a thief for those sneaky chores that always need doing. Their quest to attempt to overthrow the Dark Lord is eventful and dangerous, including a violent encounter with a nest of huge spiders. And suddenly this classic fantasy lurches sideways and turns into something quite different.

Tchaikovsky once more takes a major genre, grasps it by the scruff of the neck and gives it thorough shaking, as in his excellent science fiction adventure, Children of Time – see my review here. However, this isn’t merely a parody. The story is too engrossing, the characters and adventure too gripping and genuinely engaging for this to be just used as a vehicle for ironic amusement. But there are some delicious moments that had me chuckling aloud – for instance when Penthos promises himself to magic the brave warrior, Harathes, another week of impotence for snapping at him.

He also thoroughly deconstructs the sexual politics underlying the inclusion of the mandatory female warrior by the inclusion of Cyrene – and her frustration at the way Harathes treats her. In a memorable scene, she rants at Dion that she is sick and tired of being treated as a sexual object by her male counterparts. Her bitter diatribe that she is always judged as a woman first and a warrior second is a scene that will stay with me for a long time. I’ve often thought the notion that fit young women can be given sufficient agency to overcome male dominance by dressing them in leggings and putting a weapon in their hands is far too simplistic a fix for the very complex dynamic that keeps women as second-class citizens around the world. Tchaikovsky rips away any fond illusions fantasy fans might have that bunging a handful of attractive sword-waving young women into the middle of an adventure successfully evens up the gender power imbalance.

But the book is transformed by the inclusion on this quest by the object the group brings away from the Spider Queen. We see the group reflected through an entirely alien, terrified viewpoint, which shifts the dynamic and provides a different, far less cosy viewpoint on our group of brave heroes. I am fond of spiders and thoroughly sympathised with the poor thing – but Himself admitted he also felt repulsed as he has an instinctive dislike of all things spidery. I’m guessing he won’t be the only one experiencing that uncomfortable mix of reactions to Nth’s plight. As a creature of the Dark, he is regarded by the righteous in the group as an abomination and it is interesting that the morally compromised Lief is the one to show Nth most empathy and compassion.

I’m conscious that discussing some of the underlying issues makes this book sound drearily earnest – and it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a rollicking adventure, full of incident and gory encounters to gladden the heart of any epic fantasy fan – and the climax with the Dark Lord will stay in my memory for a very long time.

If you enjoy this genre at any level, then I thoroughly recommend Spiderlight – it’s one of my outstanding novels of 2016 in a year marked by the general excellence of the books I’ve had the pleasure to read.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of the Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

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Once again, I have to thank NetGalley for bringing this gem to my attention. But then, it’s an Angry Robot book and they are always worth another look…

anaccidentofstarsWhen Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest. Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

So, this is a portal story – one of the staples of speculative fiction. What stands out for me in this offering, is Meadows’ strong, unvarnished approach to her worlds and her characters. No one comes away from this adventure without having made some major mistakes. No one bounces around the violence unscathed and brave, clever characters who try to do the right thing can also be mean-minded, sarcastic and over-controlling. The other striking aspect to this tale is that the women have real agency over their lives and the lives of others – which forcibly brings home just how limited most women are in the average medieval fantasy adventure. Unless you are young and peculiarly singled out by some divine/familial/genetic destiny, of course. And while there is a nod to that trope here, it comes with a twist…

Meadows also ensures the violence has real consequences – people get hurt. And while there are magical healing spells, the damage doesn’t take away scarring or grow back limbs, or remove the trauma. I’m conscious that this sounds like some really grimdark, bleak trudge – and it’s nothing of the sort. The action kicks off rapidly with an engaging, sympathetic young protagonist, who finds herself unexpectedly dropped in the middle of another world. There is plenty of sharp humour as egos clash, along with lots of excitement and adventure. I stayed awake into the early morning to discover what would happen next to Saffron, Gwen and young Zech.

The worldbuilding is deftly done through the characterisation and we get a sense of Saffron’s bewilderment as she grapples with different food, different clothing and different standards of hygiene. There are layers in this world that are uncovered as the incipient conflict forces old enemies to band together in the face of the threat that Leoden poses. I like him as an antagonist – he is personable, charming and completely amoral. The women are furious that they were so completely taken in by him and Gwen feels guilty and ashamed.

And then comes the final act – the defining climax that wraps up this tale and moves the story along for the next book in the series to resume… I was stunned at the sudden shift in the tale. I certainly wasn’t expecting THAT. Or the heartbreaking poignancy surrounding Saffron’s storyline that had me blinking back tears – and I don’t cry often over books.

If you enjoy well-written, character driven fantasy with strong women featuring throughout, a cracking plot and beautifully constructed plot, then go looking for this book. I will be eagerly awaiting the sequel.
9/10

Review of Vowed – Book 2 of The Blackhart Legacy series by Liz de Jager

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this urban fantasy series about a family with particular skills who have appointed themselves as guardians to protect humanity from the beings of the Otherworld who make their way into our dimension and cause havoc – see my review of Banished here. Would the second book manage to match the entertaining start to this series?

Kit Blackhart must investigate why children are disappearing from a London estate. However, their parents, police and fae allies claim to know nothing. And as yet more children disappear, the pressure mounts. Luckily, or unluckily, government trainee Dante Alexander is helping Kit with the case. Yet just as her feelings towards him begin to thaw, his life falls apart. As Kit struggles to unravel his problems and dangerous secrets, she meets fae Prince Thorn in her dreams – but their relationship is utterly forbidden.

vowedI immediately caught up with what was going on in Kit’s world, with the strong first person narrative that bounces off the page. Kit’s character is well portrayed and is completely convincing as a strong, opinionated teenager who has had a tough time. It’s a balancing act – too much misery and angst and the pacing would be compromised, while too much action without any consideration of what’s been going on would give Kit all the depth of a pavement puddle. It’s a trickier task to accomplish than de Jager makes it look, as I liked Kit’s moments of introspection.

There are a few scenes where the first person narration is interrupted by third-person viewpoint episodes featuring Thorn, the fae prince who featured in the first book. As Kit’s personality is so strongly established throughout the book, I didn’t find these sections jarring, and was interested to see what is going on with him. As in the first book, I had made some assumptions as to where the storyline would go – only to suddenly find it had peeled off into quite another direction. This certainly was the case with Kit’s investigative partner, Dante, who suddenly finds himself facing a sudden challenge while trying to track down the missing children, that is going to have some long-term ramifications. I am hoping that his relationship with Kit isn’t going to develop into the dreaded triangle, as so far I’ve enjoyed their partnership and would prefer it to stay platonic.

I also very much like the dynamic of Kit’s role within a large, extended family which she doesn’t know very well. While there are times when she enjoys being part of the Blackhart clan, it isn’t all hearts and flowers finding yourself in the middle of a large family. I also very much liked the fact that Kit at times really misses her nan. Far too often within this sub-genre, people die in one book where there is a short grieving section – and then for the rest of the series, the dead character is barely mentioned again.

As for the ending – well… I didn’t see that one coming! However, I thought the case was going to be resolved, the conclusion was quite unexpected and thought-provoking. This gives the series real impetus – and I’m now keen to get hold of the third book, Judged, and find out what happens next.
9/10