Reviews

Review: The Scroll, K.B. Hoyle

The ScrollThe Scroll (Goodreads)
Author:   K.B. Hoyle (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Darcy Pennington may once have been an average teenager, but not anymore. Living each year twice, once in her world and once in Alitheia, has made her into someone who cares little for normal teenage activities. She’s got more important things to do, like save the mythical, magical world of Alitheia. But this time, Darcy can’t save Alitheia until she saves Tellius, the love of her life.

A window between the worlds allows Darcy to see Tellius from her home in Chicago. But, far from being reassured, she plunges into despair when she sees Tellius captured, imprisoned, and tortured. All her plans for her future life in Alitheia are put on hold as Darcy faces a singular goal: save Tellius, even if it means giving Tselloch something in return.

Details

Series: The Gateway Chronicles #5
Genre: Teen/YA Fantasy
Published: The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, October 17, 2013
My copy: From the publisher via Netgalley

Paper copies: Writer’s Coffee Shop
E-copies: Writer’s Coffee Shop

Review

Please note: The Scroll is the fifth in this series so this review may contain spoilers for earlier books. You’re welcome to check out my reviews for The Six,  The Oracle, The White Thread and The Enchanted first, if you’re interested!


It has been almost a whole year since the last time I visited the world of Alitheia with Darcy and her friends, but I was very pleased to rejoin them in this, the penultimate book in the Gateway Chronicles series.

A while before Darcy and her friends are due to travel to summer camp and then back to the parallel world of Alitheia, Darcy is missing Tellius dreadfully. A magic mirror from Alitheia allows her to catch glimpses of her love from time to time, but when one day she looks in the mirror and sees Tellius captured and later tortured, she is desperate to get back to Alitheia as soon as possible. But there are more secrets, lies and adventures waiting for them in that other world than there ever have been before.

Some stories are told with events taking place over a few days. Not so in the Gateway Chronicles, where each instalment covers a whole year in Alitheia, as well as whatever portions of real-world events happen on either side of that. For this reason, great sections of the story (and in this book in particular) involve down-time – the six companions from our world spend a lot of time training or sitting around studying in the library, and the actual action parts are kind of spaced out. It was rather frustrating, for the characters as well as the reader – they know that Tellius is being tortured, why can’t they do something about it sooner?!

If there’s one thing that disappointed me slightly about this book in the series is that the characters are still repeating the same mistakes as they have previously. Secrets are being kept from Darcy and she doesn’t like it, so she takes things into her own hands and wanders off into trouble again. I don’t blame her, really, but I’d be more inclined (in my imagination, at least) to demand answers from someone before I went running off into danger. In any case, she manages to uncover some secrets on her own and eventually the reason for the lack of information is revealed.

Despite Darcy’s (and my) impatience, the interactions between characters in these books are really very well written and make the story really enjoyable. Darcy is essentially now an early-twenty-year-old living in a seventeen year old’s body, and her maturity shines through. It was really nice to see her come into her own as a mage, even if Rubidius wouldn’t help with training. The other characters have matured nicely as well, except for Percy, perhaps. I did want to slap him occasionally! Tellius, as usual, is adorable and wasn’t in this one enough.

The Scroll‘s cliffhanger ending really sets things up for the finale – I’m really looking forward to seeing what KB Hoyle could possibly have left to throw at her long-suffering characters!

Once again, I’d recommend the Gateway Chronicles series to those who enjoy fantasy aimed at a young-YA crowd.

Warnings: Violence

The Gateway Chronicles

The Scroll Book 6: ?2014

 

Review: The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas

The Burning SkyThe Burning Sky (Goodreads)
Author:  Sherry Thomas (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he’s also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

Details

Series: The Elemental Trilogy #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, in a historical setting
Published: Balzer & Bray, September 2013
Pages: 464
My copy: The publisher via Edelweiss

Paper copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (ePub)

Review

The Burning Sky is a story about Elemental Mages set partially in Victorian England. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this one after hearing about it! I was even more delighted to discover that the English setting is none other than Eton College, just up the road from where I used to live in the UK. Any book that mentions Windsor Castle is a winner for me, and as it turns out, this is a very enjoyable story as well.

Iolanthe Seabourne is a gifted Elemental Mage. When trying to fix a light elixir, she calls down a bolt of lightning, which draws attention to her from a variety of directions. Suddenly she is The Realm’s most wanted person, hunted by the mages of Atlantis and nearly captured. Much to her surprise, she is instead whisked away to the non-mage realm of mid-1800s England with Prince Titus of Elberon, the rather attractive but cold and driven sixteen-year-old ruler of the Realm. Realising her potential from visions by his seer mother, Titus hides Iolanthe within his school disguised as Archer Fairfax – a fictional student who has supposedly been on a leave of sickness. Can Iolanthe pull off the public school boy masquerade, while training her magic abilities and avoiding the notice of the agents of Atlantis?

In preparing for this review I discovered that not only is Sherry Thomas an acclaimed Romance author, but she also writes in English as her second language. The romance part I can see in the way Titus and Iolanthe interact, but wow, she really writes in English like a native speaker. This is a beautifully written story, told in the slightly formal style of classical literature – a style that fits very well with the Victorian English setting.

The story is told from both Titus’ and Iolanthe’s points of view, sometimes switching after just a few paragraphs. At first, this jumping between heads was quite distracting and a little confusing at times, but it draws out the tension well and gradually becomes less annoying as the story goes on.

The world building here is amazing, although not everywhere. We don’t hear a lot about the Realm or Atlantis, but we do get a good sense of the interior of the magical construct of the Crucible, and also of the Eton School and surrounds (although perhaps that’s because I’ve been there!). What wasn’t made particularly clear was how the mage realms relate geographically to the non-mage world. Are they just integrated into each other as in Harry Potter, or are they actual separate countries? There was quite an information dump at the start that made the whole Atlantis situation unclear. I’m hoping that will be explained a little more as the story progresses.

My only real disappointment with the story was the magic system – magic performed by uttering a few words, with or without a wand and no energy expended. To make a spell more potent you just add “forte!” to the end of your command! As I’ve said before, magic without consequences or price is just not my cup of tea.

Despite my magical concerns, the story is action-packed and exciting all the way through. The romantic aspect was really quite predictable but ended up being subtle enough not to be annoying. Titus was a bit of a flirt all the way through which went against his aloof public persona a bit, but I loved Iolanthe’s rebuffs and the way she gradually warmed to him again.

I’d highly recommend this story to young adult fantasy readers – while perhaps not as gritty as Throne of Glass or Graceling, The Burning Sky has the same epic feeling about it. Bring on book two!

What did others think of The Burning Sky?

  • “With strong world-building, a rich magical infrastructure, consistent characters, and a touch of romance, The Burning Sky is exactly the sort of book that effortlessly pushes the rest of the world to one side.” – Realm of Fiction
  • “This beautiful story, and especially the romance, had me flailing around on my bed, seriously stifling sobs and squeals. It struck me in the heart like Cupid’s arrow.” – Snuggly Oranges
  • “Oh Titus, you adorable princeling. Let me love you.” – Writer of Wrongs

Review: Crystal Venom, Steve Wheeler

crystalvenomCrystal Venom (Goodreads)
Author: nz_flag Steve Wheeler (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

What will you do when the hand that nourishes you starts choking you? 

The crew of Basalt, the interstellar frigate, are major media heroes, famous beyond their wildest dreams. The various factions of the Administration, the Games Board, the Haulers and the corporate Gjomviks all want a piece of their action, and will go to any lengths to manipulate the famous ship and crew to make more money and gain more influence, even if it means savaging Basalt beyond recognition.

Details

Series: A Fury of Aces #2
Genre: Science fiction
Published: Harper Voyager, September 2013
Pages: 465

Paper copies:  Bookworld • Booktopia
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk Barnes & Noble

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Fury of Aces series and so contains spoilers for the first, Burnt Ice. You might prefer to read my review of that book instead!


Review

In Burnt Ice, the veteran crew of the Basalt were sent to investigate a far-away planet where they uncover a few different strange, new and rather dangerous life forms. They are effectively abandoned there by the Games Board but become instant celebrities once they limp their way back into the Sphere. Now, after a recuperation period the crew head out on a new salvage mission, along with their new crewmates, Stephine and Veg.

At the start of this book we are thrown back into the action with the crew of the Basalt without any real re-introductions. If, like me,  it’s been a while since you read Burnt Ice, here’s a short summary.

The Human Sphere of influence in space is controlled by the Administration. The Basalt is an Administration ship, tasked with carrying out security missions around the the Sphere. The Games Board is a group under the Administration providing reality audiovisual entertainment to the general population. They sanction conflicts and send in their monitors and producers to record everything, edit it and broadcast it to the hungry public.

As with Burnt Ice, Crystal Venom consists of a series of episodes – adventures where the Basalt is sent on various missions and runs into different kinds of baddies at the behest of the Games Board. I did wonder at several points why on earth they keep signing up for these missions as it’s become rather obvious that the Games Board is pretty much out to kill them, but they continue to jump in head-first. They are being well-paid for the footage they provide, but surely the cost to their sanity and general health is starting to get a bit overwhelming?

In general, the dialogue and character interactions were better written in this one than in Burnt Ice, although still rather cold and a little awkward at times. I enjoyed reading about Marko’s development and his new abilities, as well as the rest of the crew and their technical wizardry.

There also seems to be a fair bit of gratuitous sex in this one – there’s very little romance in this universe. Marko’s sheets are barely cold before he’s jumping into bed with someone else, and despite this being the future where there may well be different etiquette for this sort of thing, it jarred a little bit.

Once again, the ACEs (Artificially Created Entities) steal the show and get up to lots of mischief – it’s like having a bunch of highly intelligent children in charge of some high-tech weaponry. What could possibly go wrong?

These books are designed as a series of episodes, threaded together by plenty of amazing technical creations and strange alien life forms. The writing may not be the most brilliant I’ve seen but the imagination and world building is just amazing. I’ll be interested to see how things develop next.

Warnings: Graphic violence, sexual references

A Fury of Aces

Burnt Ice, Steve Wheeler crystalvenom 3: Obsidian MaulTBR 2014

Review: City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare

City of AshesCity of Ashes (Goodreads)
Author:   Cassandra Clare

Rating: ★★★★☆

Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

Details

Series: The Mortal Instruments #2
Genre: YA Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008
Pages: 453

Paper copies: Amazon.com Amazon.co.ukBook Depository
E-copies: Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukBarnes & Noble • Bookworld (ePub)

Please note: This review is for the second in the Mortal Instruments series and so contains spoilers for the first book, City of Bones. You may wish to read my review of that book instead!


Review

It’s been quite a while since I read City of Bones, but after I saw the film recently I was keen to get back into Jace, Clary and Simon’s world to see what happens next. I didn’t think the movie was done very well, but that’s another story I’ll rant about another time…

At the end of City of Bones, (spoiler incoming) View Spoiler ». There’s no time to clean up the mess before Alec and Isabelle’s mother, Maryse turns up with the Shadowhunter Inquisitor, charged with finding out what is going on. Meanwhile, “Downworlder” children are being murdered in New York City and the Shadowhunters must find out who is behind it before they strike again.

In my City of Bones review, I mentioned I was disappointed by the cheesy one-liners that are everywhere in the dialogue (and I mean, everywhere). In City of Ashes the cheesiness is still there, but I think after having seen the movie and got used to the slightly toungue-in-cheek nature of Cassie Clare’s storytelling style, I’ll admit I didn’t find it quite so annoying.

There are still some annoying things about the characters in this story, mind you. Jace, for one, was just so whiny and brooding all the time. I mean, he does have quite a lot to be brooding about, but he’s always so grumpy, I’m not really sure what Clary sees in him! (my blogging buddy Philippa is going to kill me at this point, she loves Jace! Sorry!).

I did, however, enjoy the development in almost all the characters in this story – Simon’s transformation, the development of Clary’s powers, and the fact that we’re never quite sure which side Jace is actually on until the very end. Also, there is an almost exquisite awkwardness about Clary and Jace’s relationship. I’m going to hide this behind spoilers because really, if you haven’t read City of Bones, you don’t want to know yet! If you’re in a feed reader, click through to see the spoiler.

View Spoiler »

This series is written in such an engaging style – I struggled to put it down at all. I thought the storyline was a little thin, but it was the character interaction that kept me turning the pages all the way through.

Despite most of the plot threads being tidied away, City of Ashes ends on such a cliffhanger that I am almost having to jump right into the next book immediately!

Fans of YA Urban Fantasy, what are you waiting for? The Shadowhunters’ world is waiting for you.

The Mortal Instruments

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare City of Ashes City of Glass
 cityoffallenangels  cityoflostsouls

#6: City of Heavenly Fire

TBP May 2014

Review: Happy Hour in Hell, Tad Williams

Happy Hour in HellHappy Hour in Hell (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Tad Williams (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me – I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld – Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pandemonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

Details

Series: Bobby Dollar #2
Genre: Paranormal fantasy
Published: Hodder & Stoughton, 26 September 2013
Pages: 400

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository 
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk Barnes & Noble

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Bobby Dollar series and so contains spoilers for the first, The Dirty Streets of Heaven. You might prefer to read my review of that book instead!


Review

Hell is a pretty horrible place, designed to be eternal punishment. Somewhere you’d ideally avoid, right? Bobby Dollar, angel and advocate is heading down there, though, to rescue his girlfriend.

Trouble is, Bobby has no idea how to get there, let alone how to steal Caz from Grand Duke Eligor and get out again. Then there’s the strange business with the Third Way and the investigation by the Archangels Bobby is embroiled in. It’s a mess, and it’s only about to get messier.

I’m having trouble putting words together for this review. On one hand, the detail, depth and imagination in this book is amazing, as I always expect from Tad Williams. On the other hand, the story didn’t quite flow as well as I would have liked and I got the feeling that not much actually happened, even though Bobby goes through a hell of a lot (pardon the expression).

Williams’ Hell is Dante’s Inferno gone mad – a cylindrical piston tube with each level designed for progressively worse levels of punishment. At times, places Bobby visits almost seem like really nasty parts the real world – the inhabitants still need to eat and drink, but everything is designed to keep everyone as miserable as possible, for eternity. Here’s where Bobby finds some interesting aspects to Hell – do the damned really deserve to rot in Hell for ever?

There’s not just horror and pain in this story, although grisly torture and humiliation is a major part of it. There is also hope, redemption and loyalty down there. I’m actually really looking forward to reading more about how the penitent inhabitants of Hell can redeem themselves. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading it while eating your lunch (from personal experience).

I didn’t like Bobby as much as I did in The Dirty Streets – time and again he reiterates that it’s his love for Caz that is getting him through this, but it seemed to me more like its his lust for her that drives him. Casimira herself is portrayed as less of the bad-ass Countess of Cold Hands and more like a helpless victim of Eligor, which I thought was a bit of a shame. Anyway poor Bobby gets taken to some very dark places in this story, both in Hell and within himself. I got the feeling several times that Mr Williams seemed to be enjoying his torture a little too much.

Because most of this book is spent with Bobby moving from one horrific situation to the next, being chased or dragged or sneaking about, there’s not a lot of dialogue. The constant descriptions of travel are great, but after a while they tend to slow the story down a bit. There is plenty of action, but it happens in chunks in-between narrated scenes.

I did enjoy the descriptions of locations in this story, even if I didn’t particularly what was happening to the characters. There are some very interesting concepts explored but, frustratingly, nothing resolved. I will be grabbing the third book though – Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is due during 2014.

Warnings: Graphic violence including plenty of torture, explicit sex scenes, some abusive.

Bobby Dollar series

The Dirty Streets of Heaven Happy Hour in Hell 3: Sleeping Late on Judgement DayTBR 2014

What did others think of Happy Hour in Hell?

  • “… it’s scary in here in Tad’s imagination!” – Letters and Leaves
  • “The Dirty Streets of Heaven showed that Tad Williams was on top of his game, Happy Hour in Hell proves this even more the Bobby Dollar series is utterly brilliant.” – The Book Plank
  • “Of course if you’ve read any of Tad Williams’ work prior to the Bobby Dollar series then you probably weren’t surprised to hear that he gets a little, ah, descriptive in this book. The difference between the exposition in this book and, say, his Otherland series is that HAPPY HOUR IN HELL is way shorter.” – All Things Urban Fantasy

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red SkiesRed Seas Under Red Skies (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Scott Lynch (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Thief and con-man extraordinaire, Locke Lamora, and the ever lethal Jean Tannen have fled their home city and the wreckage of their lives. But they can’t run forever and when they stop they decide to head for the richest, and most difficult, target on the horizon. The city state of Tal Verarr. And the Sinspire.

The Sinspire is the ultimate gambling house. No-one has stolen so much as a single coin from it and lived. It’s the sort of challenge Locke simply can’t resist…

…but Locke’s perfect crime is going to have to wait.

Someone else in Tal Verarr wants the Gentleman Bastards’ expertise and is quite prepared to kill them to get it. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy. Fine work for thieves who don’t know one end of a galley from another.

Details

Series: Gentleman Bastards #2
Genre: Steampunkish Fantasy Adventure with Pirates!
Published: Gollancz, 2007
Pages: 630 (and tiny print in this edition)

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (ePub)

Please note: This is a review for the second book in the Gentleman Bastard series, and so contains spoilers for the first in the series, The Lies of Locke Lamora. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

Red Seas Under Red Skies had all the adventure, danger and excitement of The Lies of Locke Lamora, but with even more detail and intricate plot twisting. At times it felt more like a snarl of tangled wool than a coherent story, but if you’re familiar with the first book you’ll know that’s what the Gentleman Bastards are all about.

Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have escaped from Camorr with their lives, their battle scars and little else. After a couple of years, the setup of a new major heist in the city of Tal Verrar seems to be going well until they run into some old friends from the Magi of Karthain. Suddenly, things start to unravel and Locke and Jean find themselves working against their wishes for several different masters – not only the master of their original target, the Sinspire, but also the Archon of Tel Verrar himself, not to mention the other random attempts on their lives.

In order to preserve his rule, the Archon sends Jean and Locke out to sea to stir up the pirates of the area – something that turns out to be much more easily said than done. Throughout this part of the story, Locke and Jean are tested to the limits of their friendship, their resourcefulness and their courage as they try to fulfil their obligations and keep themselves alive, while still pulling off their planned heist.

There are two things I think Scott Lynch is absolutely brilliant at. The first: convoluted storylines with intricate detail. In fact, sometimes the story got so complicated that I lost track of the characters and aliases involved and had to go back to pick up the threads again. There is also the overwhelming detail relating to ships and their anatomy and operation. If you don’t know your craplines from your binnacle then you might be a bit confused by the plethora of nautical terms used in this story, but for the most part it doesn’t hurt to have no clue what’s being discussed.

Secondly, Lynch is a master of insults. One of my pet peeves in books is the use of the phrase, “So and so cursed under his breath” or “uttered a few choice words” or similar. It is infinitely more satisfying to me as a reader when the character simply says, “Shit.” when something bad happens – I’m not sure why, and I understand why the swear words are omitted, but I like it better when they’re in. It’s why I don’t usually mention swearing in book warnings – if you’re old enough to read these books, you’re old enough to know what swear words are, in my opinion. Anyway, I digress.

In Red Seas Under Red Skies, there is no such holding back with swearing. Locke and Jean themselves have a colourful vocabulary – in fact their banter with each other is the absolute highlight of this book for me. The rest of the cast of characters are not shy with their insults either. I won’t repeat any examples here but rest assured there are plenty of occasions that had me laughing with delight.

Locke and Jean are just slightly too honourable to be believable thieves – they aren’t shy of picking random pockets but they are loyal to each other and their allies to a fault and won’t allow the vulnerable be hurt. Gentlemen, indeed! I love them.

The other characters are interestingly cast as well, from the Majordomo of the Sinspire, Selendri, who was tragically burned all over exactly one half of her body, to Captain Drakasha, a badass mum of two small children who charges into battle without fear. There’s plenty of intrigue, romance, betrayal and tragedy in the pages of this second volume, and even though the story threads are neatly tied up at the end, the story is by no means over for Locke and Jean. This book has been out for quite a while now, but the third in the series, The Republic of Thieves, is due out in a few weeks time and I am quite looking forward to seeing how Locke and Jean cope with the new trials in their lives.

Highly recommended to fans of fantasy adventure, pirate tales and casino heists, in no particular order. Just be prepared for slow points with elaborate detail.

Warnings: Graphic violence and torture, sexual situations

The Gentleman Bastards

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora, 2006
  2. Red Seas Under Red Skies, 2007
  3. The Republic of Thieves, October 2013
  4. The Thorn of Emberlain
  5. The Ministry of Necessity
  6. The Mage and the Master Spy
  7. Inherit the Night

 

Review: Kinslayer, Jay Kristoff

KinslayerKinslayer (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Jay Kristoff (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

Details

Series: The Lotus War #2
Genre: Japanese-inspired Steampunk, Fantasy
Published: Tor/Pan Macmillan, September 1 2013 in Australia, (Tor – Sept 12 in the UK, Thomas Dunne – September 17 in the USA)
Pages: 618
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble

Please note: This is a review for the second book in the Lotus War series, and so contains spoilers for the first in the series, Stormdancer. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

Stormdancer was one of my favourite books of 2012. I’m happy to report that Kinslayer not only lived up to the first epic story but completely surpassed it in awesome. Excuse me while I have a bit of a gushy moment! I’ll try to describe what I love about this book without actually talking about what happens – you need to read that for yourself.

It’s been a few months since Yukiko and Buruu killed Shogun Yoritomo, losing her father and kick-starting a massive rebellion in the process. The Stormdancer and her arashitora have been travelling around to various cities, stirring up unrest and generating sympathy for the Kagé rebels. Since the fateful killing, Yukiko has struggled with crippling headaches brought on by the sudden flood of power through the Kenning, her ability to sense and communicate with life around her.  At the Kagé base in the Iishi mountains, the erstwhile Guildsman Kin is struggling to fit in with the other rebels – they don’t trust him at all and the feeling is mutual. How can their common interest in bringing the Shima Empire and Guild down progress if they cannot work together?

Meanwhile, the Guild is plotting to put a new Shogun on the Imperial throne. Can they bring the four clans together when their loyalties lie on a katana edge?

How to describe my enjoyment of this book? Passion, hatred, heartbreak and determination combine to create a truly epic tale. I couldn’t get enough of it. Don’t get me wrong, this is in essence a very dark story – desperate people doing horrible things to each other to try to free their land from tyranny or bring it back under peaceful rule. I read it mostly through a crack in my fingers and missed my stop on the train while engrossed in it.

I was hooked right from the start – the action just keeps coming and the way the paths of each group are threaded together makes it almost impossible to put the book down. There’s an almost ASoIaF-style structure to it – there are several characters telling their story throughout the book and each chapter is devoted to one character. Occasionally I found myself wishing sections would hurry up because I enjoyed some of the story threads more than others, but mostly the action is passed between the threads so the tension stays high all the way through, dodging through all the unexpected twists in the story.

The overwhelming highlight of this story for me continues to be Buruu and Yukiko’s relationship. Their often-hilarious banter lightens up what is otherwise a pretty grim tale, especially since poor Yukiko spends the entire time in agony with crippling migraines and blood pouring out of her nose. Not the most glamorous way to save the world.

There are new characters to get to know and some that were in the background become integral parts of the action. Kin’s part in this story is quite unexpected – I have no idea what’s coming for him! Also, Michi – while the consummate rebel bad-ass, she’s pretty much a psychopath. She makes me shudder, and not in a good way!

Then there’s Jay Kristoff’s writing style. I love his lyrical descriptions and settings – the action in Kigen City makes me feel all gritty and dirty, and the scenes at sea or in the Iishi Mountains are almost a relief. Although the characters tend towards the melodramatic at times, they have realistic reactions and my heart broke or rejoiced right along with them. I may have said this in my Stormdancer review, but Kristoff is not afraid to torture his darlings. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted!

I’d recommend this series to those who enjoy gritty, raw and completely brilliant fantasy. The fact that this is described as Japanese-style Steampunk is just an added bonus, right? I cannot wait for the final instalment – in fact it is likely to be my most anticipated release of 2014. Bring it on!

 

The Lotus War

Stormdancer Kinslayer  Book 3 tbr: 2014

 

What did others think of Kinslayer?

  • “It is a brilliantly written, emotionally-packed book. But I must warn you, it’s going to break your heart. ” – Kat @ Cuddlebuggery
  • “Kinslayer is the second book in the Lotus War trilogy and Jay Kristoff Empire-Strikes-Backed the hell out of it.” – Dan Schwent @ Goodreads
  • “With his signature prose, elegant and descriptive, and an extended cast of characters to follow and learn about, to love and to hate, as well as the beginnings of an all-out war, Kristoff has here a sequel that you’ll wish you had read it slower, breathed in every word and every moment that lingered on every page.” – Braiden @ Book Probe

 

Review: Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo

siegeandstormSiege and Storm (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Leigh Bardugo (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

Darkness never dies.

Alina and Mal are on the run. Hunted and haunted, but together at last, they can’t outrun Alina’s past or her destiny forever. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and he needs Alina to realise his dangerous plan. There are others who would like to use Alina’s gift too. And as her power grows, somehow, she must choose between her country, her power, and her love – or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Details

Series: The Grisha #2
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Published: Indigo, June 2013
Pages: 381

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This is a review for the second book in the Grisha series, and so contains spoilers for the first in the series, Shadow and Bone (Published in Australia and the UK as The Gathering Dark). You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

I really enjoyed reading The Gathering Dark at the start of this year so I was keen to get a copy of Siege and Storm as soon as it was released. Unfortunately, my original copy didn’t quite make it to me even after a month, but the lovely folks at The Book Depository sent me another copy! I was so happy that I had got a hard copy in the end, because this little blog is one of many mentioned as helping with the promotion of The Gathering Dark. Thanks, and you’re welcome!

Anyway, to the book. As second books go, this one delivered plenty of action right from the first page. Alina and Mal are heading off to make a life for themselves on the other side of the Unsea away from Ravka and the Darkling. Before they get far though, they meet up with a charming but eccentric privateer called Sturmhond, and are back in the Darkling’s clutches once again. Alina must come to terms with her powers if she is to unite the remaining Grisha and defeat the Darkling.

I have to say, I loved Sturmhond. It’s always fun when a new and lovable character is introduced in a sequel, and Sturmhond fits into the story perfectly. I’ll admit to thinking he was a little too Captain Jack Sparrow early on, but later… well, I loved him.

Alina and Mal’s relationship develops in interesting ways and while Alina struggles to be the leader she doesn’t want to be, Mal is also struggling to keep his place in her world. Their story is breaking my heart! I did want to give Alina a stern talking to when she starts thinking she’s losing her mind, but doesn’t actually tell anyone about it! Apart from that she is a very strong character, who I feel can only develop into a great leader in the next part of the story.

I can’t help wondering what has been going on with the Darkling all the way through this book – he was such a major part of The Gathering Dark but for most of Siege and Storm, he’s absent. I guess this is the price paid for having Alina’s as the sole point of view.

The pace slows a little through the middle as the group are journeying back to Os Alta, but once they’re there it’s all action. And yes, there is another huge cliff-hanger ending. Siege and Storm was an enjoyable middle instalment in this series with some very funny as well as some rather epic moments. Bring on Ruin and Rising!

 

The Grisha Trilogy

Shadow and Bone siegeandstorm ruinandrising Tbr: June 2014

 

What did others think of Siege and Storm?

  • “High fantasy.  High stakes.  Highly entertaining.” – The Starry-Eyed Revue
  • “The story and writing and characters all just feel so comfy in my brain and make me smile just thinking about them. ” – On Starships and Dragonwings
  • “It just felt the entire storyline focused on politics or romantic troubles, neither of which appeal to me.” – A Bookish Heart

 

Review: The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

The Bone SeasonThe Bone Season (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk Samantha Shannon (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

Details

Series: The Bone Season #1
Genre: Dystopia/Paranormal Fantasy/Sci-fi
Published: Bloomsbury, August 20 2013
Pages: 480
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

With a fast paced story, a strong heroine and a world described with exquisite detail, I enjoyed The Bone Season from beginning to end. I had heard a lot about how this was to be the next Hunger Games, the next big hit. While I’m not sure it quite hit that mark, I thought it was a brilliantly written debut that fans of the Hunger Games should certainly enjoy.

Paige is a clairvoyant – living in hiding in the criminal underworld from those in Scion London who believe her to be “Unnatural”. Her gift is to be able to sense other people’s dreamscapes and can influence others, even hurt them. She discovers that her abilities can even be deadly when she is discovered on the underground and kills two guards in self-defence. For that crime, she is arrested and sent to the penal colony of Sheol I, in the mysterious lost city of Oxford. There, she is introduced to the Rephaim – a strange race of humanoid beings who are living alongside voyant humans as their masters. All Paige wants to do is get away from her cold and aloof keeper, Warden, but as the weeks unfold it seems that the Rephaim are up to more than just keeping the world safe from the flesh-eating Emite beasts.

The Bone Season isn’t actually publicised as Young Adult, but it reads a lot like a YA Dystopia with its young protagonist, fighting to release other young people from an repressive society. This is not a new story – in fact I can think of several books I’ve read recently that have quite a similar high-level storyline, but in the Bone Season we are treated to quite a unique take on it. The world that Samantha Shannon has created here is rich and incredibly detailed, not just the corporeal world of the Scion citadel of London and of Oxford’s Sheol I, but also the etheral world – that of dreamscapes, spirits, soothsayers and guardian angels.

The world of Scion is a sort of alternative future, where the United Kingdom was rocked by some kind of event in the early nineteenth century. The Rephaim appeared from the aether and clairvoyants started appearing in the population. Fast forward to 2059 and London is now a Scion citadel, providing young voyants for the use of the Rephaim of Sheol I, or Oxford. It all has a slightly steam-punkish feel to it, although history seems to have continued in a similar fashion to the real world with Frank Sinatra music, computers and high heels still around.

The first few chapters of the story felt rather overwhelming at times, as the reader is thrown right into the thick of this world and its vernacular. There is a glossary at the back of some commonly used slang which might come in handy if you know about it before you get to the end! We only gradually learn about what has happened in the past and what the Rephaim actually are, and by the end of this first book in the series I still have a lot of questions about all manner of things in this world. The Rephaim themselves actually confused me a little as in another series I’ve read recently by Paula Weston, the Rephaim are half-angels and quite different from the beings in this book.

Information overload aside, Samantha Shannon has done an amazing job of keeping the pace up in this debut work. I had a hard time stopping at the end of each chapter, especially towards the end! The action grabbed me more than the characters did – while some of the characters were charmingly unique, I felt that most of the Dials group were a little nondescript and even the Rephaim themselves were hard to visualise. I did love Paige though – she was incredibly determined to hate everyone she perceived as an enemy and that made her a very strong character. The progression of her relationship with Warden was slightly predictable but subtle enough that I loved how it evolved.

I found The Bone Season to be a fantastic debut from Samantha Shannon who at only 22 years of age, with a seven-book publishing deal and upcoming film production under her belt certainly has a bright career ahead of her. Bring on the next in the series!

Warnings: Graphic violence, some sexual situations

What did others think of The Bone Season?

  • “If you like urban fantasy at all, please read this, you won’t regret it.” – Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  • “Shannon has created so much strange and peculiar mythology that provided so much depth to the novel. This book is just something so odd and yet so special at the same time. ” – Scott Reads It
  • “The world in The Bone Season was very in depth and well thought out, with its own language and a uniqueness unlike anything I’ve ever read before. But … sometimes it got a bit confusing and hard to grasp.” – Auntie Spinelli Reads

 

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Review: Crown of Midnight, Sarah J Maas

Crown of MidnightCrown of Midnight (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Sarah J Maas (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien is bold, daring and beautiful – the perfect seductress and the greatest assassin her world has ever known. But though she won the King’s contest and became his champion, Celaena has been granted neither her liberty nor the freedom to follow her heart. The slavery of the suffocating salt mines of Endovier that scarred her past is nothing compared to a life bound to her darkest enemy, a king whose rule is so dark and evil it is near impossible to defy. Celaena faces a choice that is tearing her heart to pieces: kill in cold blood for a man she hates, or risk sentencing those she loves to death.

Celaena must decide what she will fight for: survival, love or the future of a kingdom. Because an assassin cannot have it all . . . And trying to may just destroy her.

Details

Series: Throne of Glass #2
Genre: YA high fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury Childrens, August 15 2013
Pages: 417
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This is my review for the second book in this series, and so contains spoilers for the first, Throne of Glass. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

I loved Throne of Glass when I read it last year, so I was desperate to get my hands on Crown of Midnight. I am so, so glad that it not only didn’t disappoint as the second book in the series, but in fact was even more awesome than the first!

Calaena Sardothien has won the contest and been named the King’s Champion. Her job is to carry out the King’s Justice, to kill those who displease him, but Calaena secretly refuses to kill at the King’s order. She must find out about a secret plot against the crown before time runs out. Meanwhile, strange things are happening at the glass castle of Rifthold – dark hooded strangers stalk the library and bronze doorknockers take on a life of their own. What new terror is lurking in the dark places of the castle?

This second book shows great polish with its perfectly constructed pacing – quiet yet steady in the creepy parts, building up to some fantastic action scenes later in the book.  There are the sort of swoony passages that make you want to re-read sections over and over. I loved Chaol in the first book and wow, do I love him even more in this one. Dorian also has interesting developments throughout this story and I’ll look forward to seeing how his story plays out from here, however for his father the King, I am beginning to have Joffrey-esque levels of dislike.

In some ways, there are two distinct sections to this book. The first half is almost like a continuation of Throne of Glass – plenty of gorgeous romantic scenes and mysterious intrigue, then BAM – right in the middle, murder, betrayal and chaos reign for pretty much the rest of the story. Without spoiling anything, I was really surprised and a little upset by the unexpected turns but I couldn’t put the book down until I’d got right to the end. Fantastic writing and such heartbreaking scenes, even if I did want to slap Calaena at times for keeping everything to herself and not sharing any of her burdens. And oh, my god, the twists right at the end – I had my suspicions but wow, what a set up for the next book!

There are currently six books planned in this series (according to Goodreads), not to mention the several novellas that have been released featuring Celaena’s adventures (which, I have just discovered, are now available in Australia – *yoink!*). It’s going to be a long, impatient wait for the book three.

I’d recommend these books to those (not just young adults) who love a slightly eccentric, kick-arse heroine, swoon-worthy romance and some fast-paced and occasionally rather creepy action. If you haven’t read Throne of Glass yet, I’d encourage you to give it a go!

Warnings: Sexual situations, torture and violence

What did others think of Crown of Midnight?

  • Crown of Midnight, for me, is exactly what a good sequel should be. It’s a clever continuation of the first instalment (yet a story in its own right), with higher stakes and an enhanced framework for character progression.” – Realm of Fiction
  • “Crown of Midnight is fast paced, action packed, with great characters and an entertaining story.” – Book’d Out
  • “This series continues to make me completely happy even as it is tearing me apart. I keep falling in love with these characters and even when they’re breaking my heart I still root for them.” – In The Best Worlds

 

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