Tag Archives: swords and sorcery

Series I Completed in 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedin2019

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The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of Malessar’s Curse duology by Stephen Poore
The duology takes the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy, gives them a jolly good shake and tips them out… I loved the way we find the protagonist is as much the most convenient fool in the neighbourhood as the special chosen one. And that she discovers in the second book that most of the assumptions she’d made in The Heir to the North were wrong. Disastrously so, as it happens. Both The Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are highly recommended – despite the dodgy covers.

 

The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
This epic fantasy comprises The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm, A Plague of Swords and this concluding book – The Fall of Dragons. This high fantasy swords and sorcery adventure is chockfull of action with the battle scenes being particularly outstanding. Cameron wears armour and takes part in historical martial arts – and his own experience means he writes those aspects very well. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy and brilliant battle scenes.

 

 

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
This gave the whole series an enjoyable twist as a huge development occurs in this particular book that is a complete gamechanger. I’ve loved following the feisty Lady Trent through all her adventures, comprising A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – as well as this final instalment. This is historical fantasy adventure is completely original take on dragons and is very highly recommended.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
You’re going to think I mostly read five-book series… But once I finished this military sci fi thriller, where a mercenary teams up with a discarded sentient warship, published in 2012 by Baen, I was really sad to see there were no other books featuring these two likeable, battle-scarred characters. The series comprises Jump Twist Gate, an omnibus edition of the first two books – One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back – review to follow. Highly recommended if you like your military sci fi on the quirky, thoughtful side.

 

 

The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve always enjoyed the sheer mapcap energy that pings off the page with Williams’ writing, but this trilogy is where she showed what she could really do in this genre mash-up, where science fiction and fantasy collide in a magnificent shower of sparks… This series comprises  The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, in addition to The Poison Song. Very highly recommended.

 

 

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso
I loved these books right from the first line onwards. Caruso pulled me right into the middle of her delightful world, where each magic-user needed to be bound to a controller. So what happens when this happens by accident, rather than by design? The intense, assured writing won me over, and it was with real pain that I took the decision that this one couldn’t make the final cut in my 2019 Outstanding Reads list. This series comprises The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir as well as The Unbound Empire. This YA fantasy is very highly recommended.

 

 

AUDIO The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This outstanding children’s alternate fantasy, where people who have died in troubled circumstances turn into feral ghosts who are capable of appearing at night and killing the living. And only children are able to see and fight them… Lucy tells her gripping tale throughout these books, which are funny, poignant and genuinely frightening in places. This series comprises The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow as well as The Empty Grave. This outstanding series is very highly recommended.

 

 

A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
It’s the world that Hunter has created here that makes this one stand out. I’ll be honest – I think the first book is the best one. But I’m glad I also read the other two, as they added breadth and depth to this intriguing and complex version of Regency Britain, where Christianity never prevailed, Roman gods are acknowledged and the country is still a patchwork of smaller kingdoms loosely united by treaties. This series comprises The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick in addition to A Season of Spells – review to follow.

 

 

AUDIO How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Written for reluctant readers, this children’s epic fantasy adventure featuring a small, very ordinary-looking Viking boy, who isn’t all that good at most of the Viking pasttimes. And whose hunting dragon is very small and very, very naughty drew me in from the first by the sheer quality of the characterisation and plotting. I have read these adventures to both children, until they both decided they wanted to complete the books on their own. So I finally finished listening to the last handful of books on my own. Hiccup’s exploits were funny, gripping and ultimately absolutely heart-breaking, so I wept as I listened to the epilogue of this instalment, feeling like I’d lost a cherished friend. This series comprises How To Train Your Dragon, How To Be a Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero as well as How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. Very highly recommended for children of all ages, who believe in dragons ages…

 

The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog recommended this series – and I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky urban fantasy adventure with a difference. Letty the foul-mouthed fairy who bounces right back became a solid favourite with me. This trilogy comprises Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel as well as The Violent Fae. Recommended for urban fantasy fans who are looking for something different.

 

 

 

AUDIO The Last Olympian – Book 5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This children’s re-telling of the Greek myths, updated and made fresh when told through the eyes of young dyslexic half-blood, Percy Jackson. Frankie absolutely loved this series and so I thought I’d better discover what all the fuss was about. This clever, entertaining series comprises Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth as well as The Last Olympian. Highly recommended for those who enjoy teenage coming-of-age fantasy adventures. I didn’t review any of these books on my blog, as I felt most of what I had to say had already been covered about this very popular series.

 

 

AUDIO Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, with forewords written and narrated by Stephen Fry
This marvellous collection of the four novels and all the short stories provided over seventy hours of quality listening as I was decorating the bathroom during the summer. I broke it up, listening to other books in between each of the six sections, stretching it out as long as I could – so it was with a real sense of loss that I finally arrived at the last section. Overall, I was impressed at how well much of Conan Doyle’s canon stood the test of time, although there were a handful of horribly racist stories I simply skipped.

These were the series I completed during 2019. I’ll be posting another article charting those I’m intending to continue throughout 2020. What about you – have you read any of these and did you enjoy them, too?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyHotspurbookreview

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It was the blurb that attracted me – a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV sold this one. I studied the play at school and it sank into my soul. What I hadn’t realised is that this is the second book set in this world of Innis Lear as neither Goodreads or Amazon mention it. However, I think reading The Queens of Innis Lear would have helped enormously. So before picking this one up, go and track down the first book.

BLURB: Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost. Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy. Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire. These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

Unusually, I’ve included the full blurb as it neatly sums up the dynamic of the plot about three young women who were once firm friends, as their relationships change into a more complex dynamic that has consequences not just for them, but for two kingdoms. This long book (600+ pages) is very ambitious, given it claims to be a retelling of one of the Shakespeare history plays. While there are echoes of that dynamic, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that thread, as there are also important differences that occur very quickly.

It took me a bit of time to really bond with the characters, but then I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book and I recommend you read the first one before tackling Lady Hotspur. The title is actually misleading as the book equally deals with Prince Hal and Bana Mora just as much as Hotspur. It covers their joint and individual journeys extremely well. Gratton is an accomplished author who drew me into a world of complex magic and layered characterisation so that despite the heftiness of the read, I was held throughout. I was all set to give this one a ten, before I got to the final act and that crucial defining battle…

As I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, you’ll have to bear with me if I’m a tad vague. But the trajectory of the book charts the relationships and competing claims, both personal and societal, upon three young women who already had high expectations thrust upon them. I felt Gratton did an outstanding job in making those genuinely gripping and very poignant – the relationship between Hotspur and Hal was particularly well done, I felt. But I was very dissatisfied with the manner in which the story was tied up. I think Gratton committed the unpardonable sin of raising reader expectations for one type of outcome, only to pull a switch that didn’t convince me at all. The conclusion was far too tidy for such a tortuous journey – by the end, I wasn’t even sure why they went to war at all, given the outcome.

The other issue I had was the role of women in the story. This magical tale is set in a late medieval setting when political marriages secured dynasties and land and Might is Right. Why we suddenly have a cadre of highborn, marriageable women, able to fight in battle alongside their male counterparts, is never fully explained. And I mind. It seems to me that you cannot sweep away all the impediments to women’s full equality within a story without addressing these obstacles, or factoring in a different dynamic that will give these women some tangible advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. Because their ability to prevail against fully armoured men due to their unique skill never convinced me. And I’m not prepared to go with the flow on this one – what sort of message does that give generations of us who watched our male work colleagues sail past us simply because of their genitalia? That we’re not strong enough? That we need magic? Or that just reading about a cosy world where it’s all just different is going to make me feel better? Systemic inequality of opportunity for women is far too widespread to be treated in such a flippant manner.

Furthermore, it’s supposed to be a retelling of a Shakespearean play. He might have been the greatest playwright that ever lived, but he was still a product of his time – so women were never found on the battlefield fighting alongside their men in his stories. If Gratton had wanted to change that aspect after specifically referencing Shakespeare in her worldbuilding, then she needed to spend at least some time and effort demonstrating what made it possible for these women to be able to learn the martial arts and take part in the bloodletting alongside the men. And she doesn’t.

The really aggravating aspect is that it wouldn’t have taken much to have turned this well-written, but slightly flawed effort into an outstanding read, as far as I’m concerned. And despite my real gripes with the book, I am still awarding it a solid eight. But it could have been a ten with just a little bit more thought… The ebook arc copy of Lady Hotspur was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Sunday Post – 22nd December, 2019 #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 madly busy and great fun… We finally completed putting up the Christmas decorations on Monday and Mhairi and I went out for lunch together – I have missed her! It was lovely being able to catch up with each other as she stayed over for a few days, happy to spend evenings writing while I gadded about. On Tuesday evening, I picked up Sally and we went to a local pub for an excellent meal with some former teaching colleagues. While there, I ran into a couple of former students and caught up on what they are now doing, which was lovely. One works for the police and the other for the ambulance service… They were the hardest-working girls I’ve ever taught. On Wednesday evening, I was out with my writing group – we went to a tapas bar, which was a new gastronomic experience and one I’d like to repeat as it was absolutely delicious.

On Thursday, Himself and I drove to Ringwood to visit his parents and give his mother her birthday presents and drop off Christmas pressies. It started raining on the way there, and then properly set in, absolutely pouring throughout our visit, so we set off early as we didn’t fancy doing the journey back along the motorway in the torrential rain in the dark. It was a good call, as the rain was pelting down and fields either side of the road were flooding. On Friday morning, Sally and I had a meeting to determine the new direction that Tim’s syllabus should take now we have finished with external exams. It was very productive and we got a lot done.

We were due to spend Saturday and today at my daughter’s looking after the grandchildren as she and her partner had planned a night away to celebrate her birthday, but the flooding put paid to that. They decided not to go, as they didn’t want to get trapped away from the family. I felt so sorry for her… So I am popping up to see her tomorrow with her cards, presents and a cake I’ve iced for her. In the meantime, I’ve now sent out cards, bought nearly all the presents, wrapped most of them, and organised a couple of games for Boxing Day. I haven’t yet started on the cooking I want to get done in advance for Christmas Day, but hopefully I’ll manage to get most of that sorted out on Christmas Eve.

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK A Hat Full of Sky – Book 32 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
No real witch would casually step out of their body, leaving it empty. Tiffany Aching does. And there’s something just waiting for a handy body to take over. Something ancient and horrible, which can’t die.

To deal with it, Tiffany has to go to the very heart of what makes her a witch . . .

This audio version is a delight. I’d read this one a couple of times – but still ended up laughing aloud at the humour. I just LOVE Granny Weatherwax, who is now definitely going to be my role model in dealing with people from now on. Though I may pass on the ratty hat, scruffy black dress and hobnail boots. Review to follow.

 

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Lady Hotspur continues the saga of Innis Lear, centuries later, as revolution, love, and a betrayal corrupt the descendants of two warring kingdoms.

Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost.

Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy.

Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire.

These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

This brick of a book took a while to get through and I’m rather conflicted. Part of it was very well done. I liked the world and I loved the character interaction most of the way through – but I reckon Gratton messed up the ending… Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Friday Faceoff featuring Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Review of Navigating the Stars – Book 1 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder

Teaser Tuesday featuring Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Sunday Monday Post 16th December 2019

Huge apologies – with a visitor staying for a chunk of the week and being out and about the rest of the time, I simply haven’t been online enough to interact, comment or be able to recommend any articles. Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Friday Faceoff – Beware the jabberwock, my son… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is FANTASY BEASTS, so I’ve selected The Red Knight – Book 1 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron – see my review here.

 

This edition was produced by Gollancz in October 2012 and is my favourite. It didn’t hurt that this is the cover of the edition that I read. I love the simplicity of the fully armoured knight fighting the wyvern – and how his foot is on the top of the title font, which is stylish and feels part of the overall design. The artwork is beautiful and detailed and it’s no surprise that this cover is the one that appears on most editions.

 

Published in January 2013 by Orbit, while this cover is clearly dramatic with the flames licking the sword – I find it rather generic. This could be any knight clutching any sword, though why anyone would want to roast their precious weapon is a puzzle. I do like the font, however, which works well within the design.

 

This German edition, published by Heyne in June 2013, is another strong offering. I really like the weathered parchment effect, with the slight blurring of the author and title fonts, as if this precious document has become wet at some stage. The engraving of the sword gives a sense of the medieval era, albeit an alternate timeline where wyverns and dark magic menaces the land.

 

Produced by Bragelonne in January 2017, this French edition once again features a hand holding the sword, but I think it is far more successful than Orbit’s effort. For starters, the detailing on the sleeve and the blood-spattered gauntlet feels more connected to the book than some random character holding a sword in a fire. I also love the background, which also had been given some serious consideration. The ornate lettering capitalising the title font manages to give it a period feel without compromising the clarity. This classy effort is a close contender, but for the fact that I’m a sucker for that wyvern.

 

This Russian edition, published by Фантастика Книжный Клуб in December 2016 uses the original cover as its inspiration, going back to the battle between the red knight and the wyvern. I’d expected this to be my second favourite, but I find the figures – particularly the fabulous beast – lacking in the fluid lines that add to the drama of the original. This stilted version simply isn’t as well executed, however I do like the addition of that red border which works really well against the grey background. Which is your favourite?

 

Sunday Post – 28th April, 2019 #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 another busy week. On Tuesday I returned to Northbrook to start the last course I’ll be teaching there – even as I type the words, it doesn’t quite seem real… I was delighted to be able to run all three classes again and meet up with my lovely students.

My friend, Mhairi also drove down from Lincolnshire and came to stay, so after arriving when I returned from college at around 9.30 pm, we stayed up until about 3 am in the wee small hours of Wednesday to catch up. Much later on Wednesday morning, we went out for breakfast to Morrisons and she joined in our Pilates session in the afternoon. After hobbling away, we both agreed we needed to go more often! On Thursday, I resumed teaching Tim, though last week I accompanied him and his mother when we went to the music college that has offered him a place on their songwriting course – the same course attended by Tom Odell… There are still a few issues to address, but whether he actually goes or not – it’s a massive achievement to have been offered the place.

Yesterday I went shopping with my sister in Worthing. Her 60th birthday is looming and we’re off to an all-expenses paid spa break together so some serious shopping needed doing… We were shattered by the time we finished and decided that it’s something we need to do more often! I was doing the driving so once I took her home, I stayed and we had a takeaway Chinese – yum – before I returned home.

Last week I read:

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso
While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.
It’s always something of a risk, plunging into the final book of a much-loved series and I won’t deny that I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have been – Caruso brought this outstanding series to a magnificent conclusion. This is one of my favourite series of the last few years…

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection – Collected Short Stories
Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
If I don’t listen to anything else – ever, this gem has made my foray into the world of audiobooks worth it and represents fantastic value as it cost me all of one credit for 72 hours of fabulous listening. While I wouldn’t want to read through this – listening to it while cleaning the bathroom transforms a miserable chore into a wonderful pleasure. It has been split into six sections and I am prolonging the joy by listening to something else in between.

My posts last week:

Review of The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

Teaser Tuesday featuring Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Friday Faceoff featuring A Hat Full of Sky – Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

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

I don’t believe in diabetes https://writerunboxed.com/2019/04/26/i-dont-believe-in-diabetes/ This thoughtful, passionate article on writers’ block is something I also feel strongly about, having taught a number of students whose writing mojo suddenly deserted them.

Monday Musing: Fangirling https://randombookmuses.com/2019/04/22/monday-musing-fangirling/ This moving article highlights just how important books and the imaginative worlds they create can become to readers…

The International Extinction Rebellion https://acstark.net/2019/04/19/the-international-extinction-rebellion/ I am increasingly dismayed at the tardy, inadequate response to the gathering catastrophic climatic changes around the world and ongoing struggles of our wildlife by all the leading governments – particularly ours which is currently paralysed.

Rainy Day Reads: Top Ten Tuesday https://aquapages.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/rainy-day-reads-top-ten-tuesday/ It’s always useful to have some solid recommendations and this selection particularly caught my eye…

How to Plan Your Protagonist’s Journey https://lorraineambers.com/2019/04/18/how-to-plan-your-protagonists-journey/ I really like the way Lorraine has approached this subject. Whether you are a planner or a pantzer, this can still be an invaluable aid to sorting out your thoughts before plunging into your w.i.p.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheUnboundEmpirebookreview

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I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Tethered Mage, – see my review here – I thought the premise was a really smart one. The idea that lethal magic-users need to have their power curtailed from the time their talent becomes evident makes complete sense – as do the inevitable consequences following from that necessity… I recently read and reviewed the second book, The Defiant Heir, and liked it even more, so was delighted to be approved to read and review The Unbound Empire

While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.

As with the second book, the political and personal stakes in this book continue to ramp up. Amalia continues to grow from the shy academic, whose real passion was studying magical practices, to a political player in her own right, determined to push through a piece of legislation that will impact every magic-user in the Empire. I love her character progression – along with the changes that every other major character undergoes. Caruso makes that aspect of writing a series look a lot easier than it is.

All the characters work well, but two in particular stand out – Ruven is a particularly satisfying villain, who I loved to hate. His arrogant dismissal of anyone non-magical and his tendency to inflict horrible tortures just because he can – as well as his targeting of our protagonist – makes him creepy and revolting. The cleverness in the writing is that Caruso manages also make the reader aware of what is powering his nastiness, so that he doesn’t come across as a pantomime villain. The other character I became a little in love with is one of those enigmatic, dangerous Witch Lords, Kathe. His entourage of crows, his courage, his love of games and his gradually emerging more vulnerable side made him very endearing. His odd courtship of Amalia made the romantic thread running through this series thoroughly entertaining.
Caruso’s other superpower is the pacing – I found The Unbound Empire almost impossible to put down because the narrative arc works so well. I quickly became caught up in her political fight – which then turned into something else far more challenging. Caruso’s ability to ramp up the stakes compelled me to keep reading far longer than I should. The final denouement in a series needs to be able to wrap everything up and give each of the major characters an ongoing path, so the reader gets a sense of their probable future, given the life-changing events they have undergone. Caruso manages to achieve this, making this trilogy one of my favourite, most memorable fantasy series I’ve read in recent years.

Please read these books in the correct order, though – it would a real shame to mess up such a well-crafted progression by crashing midway into this outstanding series. The ebook arc copy of The Unbound Empire was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of Library book The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDefiantHeirbookreview #LibraryLoveChallenge

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This is the sequel to The Tethered Mage – see my review – which so very nearly made my Outstanding Reads list for last year – I loved the idea that mages with their magical power needed to be contained. While it isn’t a new idea, this version where each mage has a minder who can release their power or shut it down works very well.

Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction. Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

Thoughout the book, we stay in the viewpoint of Lady Amalia, whose mother, La Contessa, rules Raverra with a canny intelligence. Right from the beginning, Amalia knew she was destined for a life in politics, despite her interest in studying forms of magic as an academic subject. And then she inadvertently ends up in a situation where that academic interest suddenly becomes far more practical when she crosses paths with a mage with a rare but lethal talent. I think it’s a clever move to make Amalia bookish and rather shy at the start of the series – her character progression is noticeable from The Tethered Mage through to this book.

However the political crisis, where Raverra is threatened by the terrifying Witch Lords who rule Vaskandar, now needs her to represent her mother on a diplomatic mission where thousands of lives are at stake. The gathering sense of danger and sense of fear at what the Witch Lords are capable of doing, with the hideous beasts they are able to enchant, is palpable. From the first page, I was snagged by this one and found it difficult to put down. While I thoroughly enjoyed The Tethered Mage, I think The Defiant Heir is even better. The supporting cast are all well written and nicely three-dimensional – particularly Zaire and the unpredictable Kathe, who controls the crows…

The pacing is beautifully judged throughout, so that by the end I stayed up waaay later than I should to discover what happens at the end and found the conclusion completely satisfying – though leaving me with a real hankering for more from this world. Thank goodness I shan’t have to wait too long for the next book, The Unbound Empire. Highly recommended for fans of well written swords and sorcery with a splash of romance.
10/10

Sunday Post – 17th March, 2019 #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.

This last week has feel more like normality – I am now, finally, feeling more like my old self which is such a relief as I’d begun to feel that I’d never regain my former energy. The Creative Writing sessions all went well and were, as ever, highly enjoyable, though attendance was hit by folks not wanting to battle through Storm Graham on Tuesday afternoon to get to college. Quite right, too.

On Wednesday, my writing buddy Mhairi spent the day with me – we are treasuring our time together, given that she is on the brink of moving to Lincolnshire, instead of just 20 minutes down the road… As ever, lots of talk and mutual advice about writing – I’m delighted that her sales have taken off and as ever, I find her help invaluable. My lesson with Tim on Thursday was a break from preparing for his exam and instead, we worked on the lyrics to his latest song composition, which is amazing.

This weekend, we’ve had the grandchildren to stay, which means that the weather on Saturday was atrocious. Throughout this winter, whenever they’ve come to stay – that’s when the wind and rain has struck. So Oscar and I tucked into a fabulous 3-D sticker book together, while Frances was working on a painting project for homework. I played the Frozen in Time audiobook while we were working. In the mornings, Oscar started the day by reading extracts from the seventh book in Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which he is loving – it’s a real treat listening to him read so fluently. Last night, we went to our favourite Chinese restaurant with my sister to celebrate the start of her new job next year.

Last week I read:
Castaway Planet – Book 4 of the Boundary series by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor
Lost in the dark, half a year into their journey to the colony world of Tantalus, Sakura Kimei, her family, and her best friend, the alien “Bemmie” nicknamed Whips, are torn from the safety of their colony ship. In a crippled lifeboat, they had one chance to find a habitable world. But even then, they would find that their apparent salvation was a world of a thousand secrets.
I thoroughly enjoyed this futuristic take on Swiss Family Robinson – a real page-turning adventure that gripped me throughout and the added pleasure is the knowledge that I’ve now discovered another cracking sci fi space opera series.

 

The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented – and highest born – sons of the kingdom are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover . . .
Gray’s Britain is a fragmented kingdom of many tongues, many gods and many magicks. But all that concerns Gray right now is returning as soon as possible to his studies and setting right the nightmare that has seen him disgraced and banished to his tutor’s home – without a trace of his powers. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.
It’s been a wonderful reading week – two cracking reads from authors I hadn’t previously known. I absolutely loved this one – the strong characterisation, tense situation and I was also invested in the romance that bubbled away in the background. I also liked the alternate history where Christianity hadn’t taken hold. Review in due course.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 10th March 2019

Review of Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

Review of Survivor in Death – Book 20 of the In Death series by R.D. Robb

Friday Face-Off featuring World’s End – Book 1 of the Age of Misrule series by Mark Chadbourn

Review of Dreamer’s Pool – Book 1 of Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier

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

12 Things You Have To Give Up to Be a Successful Writer https://writerunboxed.com/2019/03/16/12-things-you-have-to-give-up-to-be-a-successful-writer/ I love the series of articles written by Bill Ferris – funny and all too near the knuckle…

#writer, your body does not define your #writing voice: a response to the #YA #cancelculture among #readers and #authors https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/03/14/writer-your-body-does-not-define-your-writing-voice-a-response-to-the-ya-cancelculture-among-readers-and-authors/ Jean Lee raises the issues around this current controversary that is causing major concern, given where it is going.

NINTH STEP STATION – Episode 10: The Foreign Mischief by Malka Older & Series Wrap-up http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2019/03/13/ninth-step-station-episode-10-the-foreign-mischief-by-malka-older-and-series-wrapup/ I generally don’t include reviews in this round-up – so why this one? Because this excellent article is the last in a series following this different way of accessing fiction.

Café del Pintor~ https://cindyknoke.com/2019/03/13/cafe-de-pintor/ Just check out this amazing artwork…

Finding Time for Important Things http://melfka.com/archives/3521 This lovely, well-written article happened to come along at a crucial time for me. I found its message enormously comforting. Thank you Joanna😊

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I still trying to catch up – thank you for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Review of The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKingdomofCopperbookreview

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I was delighted when I was approved to read this one – I have a real weakness for sand and sorcery adventures…

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabadand quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her familyand one misstep will doom her tribe.

I hadn’t read the first book and I’m sorry about that – not because I was floundering at any stage – but because this one was such a thumping good read, I wish that I had started the adventure in the right place in order to get the maximum enjoyment from it. As it was, crashing into the series in the wrong place wasn’t a problem. Chakraborty not only ensured that any previous details necessary to make sense of the story were already included, there is also a very helpful glossary and cast of characters at the back, giving helpful details of the world and the complicated rivalries that run it.

I really liked Nahri, which was important. But what particularly impressed me in this sweeping story were the inclusion of the history of bloodshed and atrocities on both sides that powered everyone’s current mindset. It was a grimly realistic take on the politics and gave an explanation for the violence perpetrated, if not the justification.

I’m aware that I have given the impression that this is a gritty book full of anger and angst. While there is plenty of tension and plotting going on, there are also lovely descriptions of the world, and plenty of light and colour in amongst the excellent action scenes. I can now see what all the fuss was about regarding the first book, The City of Brass, which I will definitely be getting hold of and I look forward to also reading the final book, The Empire of Gold, in this excellent trilogy. Highly recommended for fans of sword and sorcery stories.

While I obtained an arc of The Kingdom of Copper from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 27th January, 2019 #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.

The weather has been quite a bit colder this week, with several frosts and then it suddenly warmed up again to nearly 50°F. No wonder several students have been off sick and my writing buddy had to cut short our Friday together. On Wednesday evening, I attended our fortnightly writing group and touched base with everyone, though I didn’t take any writing. On Thursday, I had a planning meeting in the morning for the rest of the teaching year with Tim and then taught him for three hours in the afternoon. It was lovely catching up with him, as I hadn’t seen him since the beginning of December.

On Saturday morning, Himself and I went shopping and I also took a stack of books to the local library, who gratefully received them. It was lovely to catch up with the wonderful lady who reads stories to small children in the library on Saturday mornings – she always asks after Frankie and Oscar, who she regularly used to read to. She was amazed when I told her that Frankie is now taller than I am…

I spent the rest of the day working on Mantivore Prey. The first 1,000 words was like drawing teeth and took a looong time. However, I then got into the swing of the narrative – I’m now in the middle of an unexpected subplot which is going very well, though time will tell if it’s going to work out. Fingers crossed…

Last week I read:
The Warrior – Book 3 of The Immortal Dealers series by Sarah Fine
Ernestine “Ernie” Terwilliger never intended to live among the Immortal Dealers, much less to be party to an ongoing battle where the fate of humanity is in the draw of a card. And the stakes have gotten only higher now that a shady new Forger has been crowned.
Despite crashing into this series by picking up the final book, I enjoyed this world and the magic system, as well as being able to empathise with the sympathetic protagonist. Review to follow.

 

The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso
Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, but I really loved this one. The political situation is gripping and the supporting cast are fabulous. Review to follow.

 

Spacer’s Cinderella by Adria Rose
A broken shoe. A forbidden ball. A sexy cyborg with a secret. Born on an abandoned colony barely held together by sealant tape and hope, Aurora Sato is at the very bottom of the social pecking order. Hard work and brains got her into a coveted spot in the quadrant’s top university… But her new supervisor is a woman who’s not about to let an upstart like Aurora get anything close to a break.
This romance sci fi story has a gripping plotline that drew me in and held me, despite not generally reading this sub-genre.

 

Traveler in the Dark – Book 1 of the Ex Situ series by Deirdre Gould
Sixteen hundred years ago, they fled Earth. Now their long journey may finally be at an end. None of them have ever walked on soil, felt rain, or breathed unrecycled air. Their resources nearly spent, they sent a last exploratory mission to a new planet. It’s ideal… but they are not alone. In the struggle for survival, they must make a choice. Sacrifice another species or accept their own extinction. And time is running out.
This colony exploration tale took an unexpectedly dark turn, which also explored the moral issues of colonisation.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 20th January 2019

Review of Novella The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Friday Face-Off featuring The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Box Set – The Sunblinded Trilogy – Running Out of Space, Dying for Space, Breathing Space

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
The Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse of 2019 http://www.fundinmental.com/the-super-blood-wolf-moon-eclipse-of-2019-bloodwolfmoon-eclipse/#.XE2QhM3grb1 I tend to avoid the news these days with the Brexit nonsense going on – but then I miss events like this. Thank goodness I can comfort myself with these superb pics…

Thursday Doors https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/01/24/thursday-doors-121/ This quirky blog is rarely just about doors – and this week not only do we have pics of the cutest dog in the world, but a grim slice of history, too.

The U.L.S. The Underground Library Society Guest Post by Amanda Cade! https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2019/01/22/the-u-l-s-the-underground-library-society-guest-post-by-amanda-cade/ Academic and indie writer Charles French runs this meme on his excellent blog – and this week I was blown away by Amanda’s contribution.

Let’s get real about the hot mess of spell-check, grammar and editing tools https://redpenofdoom.com/lets-get-real-about-the-hot-mess-of-spell-check-grammar-and-editing-tools/ Given that effective editing is a large chunk of successful writing – I share Guy’s pain in this heartfelt article.

Twisted Conservation Education and Awareness http://chechewinnie.com/twisted-conservation-education-and-awareness/ I enjoy Cheche’s blog, and her insightful observations about conservation in Africa – this disturbing article highlights some of the challenges faced by those trying to make a difference…

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – have a wonderful week!