adult

Review: Black Sun Light My Way, Jo Spurrier

blacksunlightmywayBlack Sun Light My Way (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Jo Spurrier (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

Sierra has always battled to control her powers, but now her life and Isidro′s depend on keeping her skills hidden from the Akharians as they draw closer to Demon′s Spire. In the relics left by Ricalan′s last great mage, Isidro hopes to find the knowledge Sierra needs to master her powers, but instead uncovers his own long-buried talent for magecraft.

When Sierra′s untrainable powers turn destructive, she has nowhere to turn for help but to the uncertain mercy of an old enemy. What will Rasten do when she returns to his hands at last?

When Isidro believes he has lost all he loves, he finds comfort in the arms of the Akharian mage Delphine. But soon he is called into battle once again to stand against the greatest evil the north has ever known.

Details

Series: Children of the Black Sun #2
Genre: High Fantasy
Published: Harper Voyager, June 1 2013
Pages: 480
My copy: library

Paper copies: Bookworld • Booktopia
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Children of the Black Sun series and so contains spoilers for the first, Winter Be My Shield. You may wish to read my review for that book first!


Review

The second book in the Children of the Black Sun series delivers even more excitement, suffering and sparkly magic than the first book did, in rather unpredictable ways. I had a lot of trouble putting it down – certainly no second-book curse to be found here!

It was a full year ago that I read Winter Be My Shield, so the details of the story were a little hazy. Unfortunately there is no recap at the start of Black Sun Light My Way so I struggled for the first few chapters to remember what had just happened. I’ll try to summarise.

Isidro and Mira have been captured and are now slaves belonging to an Akharian mage scholar, Delphine. She knows Isidro is a “sensitive”, so is using him to help her to find the lost cache of lore left by the great mage Vasant. Sierra has agreed to help her former tormentor, Rasten – to train with him to use her corrupted powers properly and help him bring down their master, the great mage and general psychopath, Kell. She is about to allow herself to be captured by the Akharians to join Isidro and assist him to find the lost mage lore, to expand her powers and hopefully be able to use that over Rasten when next they meet.

This story is certainly not for the faint-hearted. There’s a LOT of torture and rape is frequently mentioned even if it’s not described in explicit terms. I can’t quite remember if the first book was quite as dark as this instalment, but wow, I certainly needed to read something a bit lighter once I got to the end of it all!

Despite the darkness, this is an absolutely enthralling world. The magic system is amazing, with corrupted sympaths drawing power drawn from pain or pleasure – usually through torture and humiliation of others. The system has painstakingly detailed rules and rapidly expanding lore – I hope we get to learn more about the Akharian mages, as well as the lost Ricalani magic.

The characters are what makes this story really come to life. Poor Sierra! With her power draining everyone around her, she is forced to leave her friends. I found it a little off-putting that she would immediately run into the arms of another, but even more strange to me was the path that Isidro took as soon as Sierra left – without spoiling anything, I suppose depression can make people do unexpected things, and Isidro does spend a fair amount of time down in the dumps. Rasten’s growth as a character is brilliant – I was really cheering for him there by the end! Delphine being part of this story lent an interesting cultural contrast between the Akharian and Ricalani cultures, with the Ricalani’s communal living and multiple wives baffling her.

There were so many unexpected turns in this story, I have no idea where it can all go next, but I can’t wait to read more in this cold and cruel world, although I am slightly worried about what more Jo Spurrier can put her characters (and readers) through! Highly recommended to high fantasy fans, but just be forewarned about the grisly nature of the story.

Warnings: Plenty of graphic violence, torture, sexual scenes (some abusive)

What did others think of Black Sun Light My Way?

  • “This series is also perfect for those looking for something outside of the usual sword-and-sorcery of high Fantasy, and it is a great entry point for newcomers to the genre.” – Speculating on SpecFic
  • “The numerous characters really shine in this book. They are full of personality and felt so real. Their bravery and loyality is unshakable, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the people they love are safe.” – R. L. Sharpe

Review: Aurora: Darwin, Amanda Bridgeman

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


Aurora DarwinAurora: Darwin (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Amanda Bridgeman (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

When a distress signal is received from a black-ops space station on the edge of inhabited space, Captain Saul Harris of the UNF Aurora is called in from leave to respond. But the mission is not what it seems. Female members of the United National Forces have not been allowed to travel into the outer zones before, but Harris is ordered to take three new female recruits.

For Corporal Carrie Welles, one of the Aurora‘s new recruits, her first mission in space seems like a dream come true. Determined to achieve the success of her father before her, and suddenly thrust into a terrifying mission, she must work with her new captain and the strained Aurora crew to make it home alive.

When the Aurora arrives at the station Harris and Welles soon find themselves caught up in a desperate fight for survival. Station Darwin is not what they expected. The lights are off. But somebody is home.

Details

Series: Aurora #1
Genre: Science fiction Thriller
Published: Momentum Australia, May 1, 2013
Pages: 532
My copy: the publisher for review, thanks!

E-copies only:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Momentum books

You can read a sample of Aurora: Darwin on the Momentum books site!

Review

It’s been a while since I read a proper hard military sci-fi. Often they are cold, violent stories with few realistic characters, and while Aurora: Darwin doesn’t hold back with the violence, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with the crew of the Aurora before the action starts. I was even a bit disappointed when they arrived at the Darwin because I was quite enjoying reading about how the original crew were reacting to suddenly having three women in their previously all-male domain.

The story is told from two alternating points of view – Captain Saul Harris, who knows something is up with this mission even before he accepts it, and Corporal Carrie Welles, a young Aussie sharpshooter, new to Space Duty but desperate to fit in and prove her usefulness. The rest of the crew are various nationalities and backgrounds, including the two other women sent along with this mission as a supposed PR exercise.

There were a few things about this story that I didn’t really buy. Firstly, several of the crew members of the Aurora question orders, including Captain Harris. Now, I’m no military expert, but I’m fairly sure that orders aren’t there to be questioned and in the real Earthly armed forces you’d get your arse kicked pretty severely if you defied orders as much as Carrie does. Then there was the Darwin. If your crew had just been attacked by vicious hostiles of unknown abilities and you knew they were locked off your ship, why go back in after them? Especially when there’s backup on the way! I just couldn’t understand why they were so keen to get back into the Darwin and find the baddies, when they were pretty obviously out-gunned. I mean I realise it wouldn’t have been such a great story if they’d held back, but it just seemed like a really dumb decision to me. One last thing that I didn’t like so much was the ending – without giving anything away, the story peaks at about the 80% mark and I was rather underwhelmed by such an anticlimactic wrap-up after that.

Plot problems aside, I really enjoyed reading this story. The action scenes were great and although the character-building scenes slowed the pace a little at times, the tension was kept high throughout the story and it’s pretty nail-bitingly scary at times! The characters themselves are interesting and their relationships and banter are what made this story a really enjoyable read.

I’d recommend Aurora: Darwin to anyone who likes their sci-fi to be about realistic people, and not overly technical. There’s a sequel on it’s way later in 2013 – Aurora: Pegasus. I’ll be interested to hear what the Aurora‘s crew get up to next.

Warnings: Graphic violence, sexual situations

About the Author

amandabridgemanBorn and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs.

She lived in ‘Gero’ for 17 years, before moving to Perth (WA) to pursue her dreams and study film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies). Perth has been her home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England).

She is a writer and a film buff. She loves most genres, but is particularly fond of the Spec-Fic realm. She likes action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in, making you want to follow them on their wild, rollercoaster rides.

When she’s not writing, she loves to travel and partake in a little photography.

(Bio and image from Goodreads)

Review: Long Lost Song, Stephen C Ormsby

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


Long Lost SongLong Lost Song (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Stephen C Ormsby (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

A virus is decimating America today and Michael Decker is the culprit. Or is he? Is it the work of a curse recorded into a song by 1930’s blues musician Ricky Jensen?

Long Lost Song tells the story of Ricky and Michael as they battle their personal and real demons while the world reaches end times of biblical proportions. One question remains. How do you stop a devil of a song made to break a crossroads deal?

Details

Series: Stand alone (for now)
Genre: Adult Paranormal Thriller
Published: Mythos Press, 2013
Pages: 244 (large format paperback)

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

Review

Long Lost Song is a modern take on the Faustian “selling one’s soul to the Devil” story. The story starts with the young musician Ricky Jensen, making a deal with the Devil in exchange for musical success. Ricky’s story of the 1930s is woven in and out with other stories from the present day, in which the retired rock musician Michael Decker is pulled from his quiet home in rural Victoria and convinced to travel back into the industry in the USA.

Meanwhile, a terrible pandemic has struck in both the US and Australia, spread by one of Ricky Jensen’s old recordings recently uncovered and spread like a virus via the internet and radio. Listening to the original track will kill outright, but watered-down remixes merely mind-control the listener so that the song can be spread further. Soon the whole world will be infected or dead, ready for the Devil’s final showdown. Michael is the only one who can stop the song’s spread, but he is being framed by the enemy as the instigator of the deadly virus, and he has no idea why he is suddenly America’s Most Wanted.

With plenty of unexpected turns, Long Lost Song is a story of the “end times” with a musical twist. There’s plenty of American and Australian music and pop culture references throughout and it’s clear that Stephen Ormsby must have an extensive playlist!

The pace stays high through the story – Michael gets more and more terrified the deeper he finds himself, and although the reader knows what’s going on with the song and its viral spread, most of the characters have no idea what’s really happening until right at the end of the story. This creates an air of fear and impending doom throughout – it’s very exciting storytelling and I found it difficult to put the book down. The jumping around between points of view (sometimes several times within a chapter) can get a little overwhelming and hard to keep up with at times, but each section helps to flesh out how the song is affecting people around the world.

The final chapter is very exciting and leaves plenty of opportunity for a sequel. Do you like the idea of a  fast-paced thriller with a rockin’ twist? Give Long Lost Song a try.

Warnings: Graphic violence including torture, sexual situations

About the Author

Stephen C OrmsbyStephen C Ormsby was an IT professional for twenty years before deciding to lead a more creative life. He has always loved the idea of writing novels and had written four when Long Lost Song came along, demanding to be published.

2013 looks to be a busy year with potentially three books coming out.

He lives in South Gippsland with his wife, two children and a mad cat named Smudge. He has travelled extensively, is an avid reader and enjoys listening to a wide range of music. He also plays guitar really badly.

(Bio paraphrased from Goodreads)

Review: Soul of Kandrith, Nicole Luiken

Soul of KandrithTitle: Soul of Kandrith (Goodreads)
Author:   Nicole Luiken (@NicoleLuiken)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Lance is a healer and wielder of slave magic, a power that demands sacrifice. He gave up his health to gain the ability to heal others, but he’s powerless to cure his beloved Sara, who sacrificed her soul to save Lance and all of Kandrith. Returning her soul would negate her gift, at the cost of his life and the freedom of his homeland.

Now Sara is but a shell of the noble, spirited woman she once was. All that Lance saw and loved in her is gone, but he refuses to give up on her. Charged by his sister, the ruler of Kandrith, with a mission to encourage a budding rebellion within the aggrandizing Republic of Temboria, he leaves with Sara in tow. But not before Wenda’s soulsight detects a spark within her.

Amidst the escalating dangers in hostile territory, Lance will have to risk both his beloved and his homeland in a final gambit to save them both…

Details

Series: Kandrith #2 of 2
Genre: Adult High Fantasy/Romance
Published: Carina Press, March 18, 2013
My copy: From the publisher via Netgalley, thanks!

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

Review

Please note: This review is for book 2 in the Kandrith series and contains spoilers for the first book. You may wish to read my review of Gate to Kandrith instead!


Soul of Kandrith is the conclusion to the duology that began with Gate to Kandrith. I loved the first book – Loma’s sacrifice magic, the slave nation, Sara and Lance’s romance. All that is there in Soul of Kandrith, but takes a back seat to other events that weren’t quite so enjoyable.

It’s been a year since I read Gate to Kandrith so my memory of what had happened was a bit hazy. The action begins right away without any recap, and it was a bit tricky to get back into what had been happening.

Sara is now a soulless automaton after sacrificing her soul to banish an evil blue devil. Lance brings her back to the nation of Kandrith to see if his sister Wenda, the new leader of the nation, can see any spark of a new soul in Sara.

Before long, Lance is sent off on a mission to the province of Gotia to aid rebels there and encourage them to break free of the Republic. Sara goes with him, absent of any feelings – all she knows is that Lance is important and she should stay with him. She begins to find both pain and pleasure interesting sensations, which leads her into numerous situations of abuse and self-harm. Lance must try to keep her safe until her new soul can develop, while trying to convince the Gotian rebels that slave magic can help them.

What I liked

  • Lance. I love healers (I play them in games as often as I can) and I especially love that Lance has given up his own health to be able to heal others. It would be so annoying to be sick or injured in some way all the time, but Lance puts up with it without a whimper. What a star! 
  • The romantic scenes were few and far between in this book, but when they did happen, wow!
  • The action was non-stop in this story. Lance, Rhain or Sara are always off getting themselves into trouble and needing to be rescued/healed/slapped. The whole thing is very well written and I enjoyed at least the first half of the story a lot.

What I didn’t like so much

  • All the men are nasty. With a few notable exceptions, just about every bloke in this book wants to rape Sara. I mean, I know soldiers aren’t always the most noble of gentlemen but really, both the Republicans and rebels are arseholes to a man.
  • Sara’s reasoning. Surely if she wished to keep herself and her unborn baby safe for several months, she would try to avoid such horrible situations! I just felt the whole slavery portion of the book went way over the top with the levels of abuse. There’s only so many times I want to read about people being raped.
  • The ending felt rushed. Considering how much pain and suffering all the characters go through, I had hoped for a little more detail about the aftermath.

Despite the horrible situations in this book that I felt went a little too far, I did enjoy reading about Sara and Lance’s story and was on the edge of my seat for most of the book. If you read the first book, you won’t be disappointed with the rest of the story.

 Warnings: Plenty of graphic violence and rape.

What did others think of Soul of Kandrith?

  • “So am I glad I read this? Absolutely. I was dying for it and in that sense, I enjoyed the second half of Sara and Lance’s tale. What I just didn’t like were some of the choices that the characters made.” – The Window Seat
  • “Luiken’s latest offering is a tough, long slog. Readers familiar with her previous novel will have no problem immersing themselves in the story, despite unlikable characters and a plot that builds extremely slowly.” – RT Book Reviews

Review: A Storm of Swords, George RR Martin

A Storm of Swords, GRR MartinTitle: A Storm of Swords (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa George R.R. Martin (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King’s Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world.

But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…

Details

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #3 (of 7, 5 published so far)
Genre: High Fantasy
Published: Bantam Books, 2000
Pages: 1128

Paper copies:  Book Depository (pre-order) • Booktopia • Bookworld
E-copies: Amazon.com   Bookworld (epub)

Review

Please note: This review is for book 3 in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers for the earlier books but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

This book is also published in two separate parts – A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow and A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold. My copy and this review is for the combined edition.


Where to begin with such an epic tale? I’m not even going to try to summarise the plot. There are several storylines, all intertwined, some converging, others diverging. Let’s just say that the Lannisters are in control, Stannis is still plotting with his Red lady, Jon is north of the wall and Robb is winning all the battles but losing ground rapidly.

If you haven’t read the first two books in this series then you need to know that this story is told from a rather bewildering number of points of view – no less than ten different characters in this particular book.  The great thing about so many different people telling the story is that a very detailed picture is built up of events all over the world, as they are happening. Occasionally the narrative jumps forward or back in time to cover events happening simultaneously. It sounds a bit overwhelming and at times, it is, but this structure gives an incredible depth to the story. Unfortunately, at times it also means that things get bogged down in the detail.

A Storm of Swords contains less of the gory murder, rape and torture that I disliked in the earlier books, and instead contains rather a lot more character growth. Even though there is a lot of manoeuvring in the first half of the book, there is still enough action in each chapter to make for very compelling reading. At about the two-thirds mark, all hell breaks loose and the rest of the book is one bombshell after another – with about 200 pages remaining I found I couldn’t put it down!

Another thing I really liked about this book over the previous ones was that some of the “baddies” actually got what was coming to them! No spoilers, but if you’ve read it you know who I’m talking about, right?!

It’s important to try not to get too attached to any of GRRM’s characters – you just never know when they might meet a nasty end. That said, I still have my favourite characters – Tyrion and Daenerys, plus I have a soft spot for Jon Snow, although after this book I’m starting to like Jaime more and more.

This story continues to get bigger and more complex at every turn – everyone has their ambitions and most will stop at nothing to get whatever it is they’re after. Knights, kings, war around every corner, magic, dragons, zombies, alchemy, kick-arse heroines and honourable as well as nasty men, this series has pretty much everything except elves. It’s still very dark and heavy going at times, but there are plenty of light-hearted moments sprinkled throughout.

Season 3 of the HBO series is coming very soon and it will be interesting to see what changes they make to this storyline and how much gratuitous sex they can include. In the meantime, I heartily recommend this book, it’s my favourite of the series so far!

Warnings: Graphic violence including towards children.

Game-Of-Thrones-Season-3

 

gameofthrones clashofkings A Storm of Swords, GRR Martin feastforcrows
dancewithdragons 6: The Winds of WinterExpected 2015 7: A Dream of SpringExpected… who knows?

Review: The Wild Girl, Kate Forsyth

wildgirlTitle: The Wild Girl (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Kate Forsyth (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.

Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm. 

It is a time of War, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Six Swans’. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

Details

Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Historical romance, with fairy tales
Published: Vintage Australia (Random House), March 18, 2013
Pages: 530
My copy: From the author as part of a giveaway, thanks!

Paper copies:  Book Depository (pre-order) • Booktopia • Bookworld
E-copies: Amazon.com   Bookworld (epub)

Review

The Wild Girl is a story of the Brothers Grimm and how their book of fairy tales came to be written. It is also a story of two families, growing up in Hessen-Cassel (now central Germany) in the early nineteenth century,  just as Napoléon is starting his conquest to bring all of Europe into his empire. It is sometimes heartbreaking and even disturbing at times, but over all, it is one of the most beautiful, gentle love stories I’ve read in a long time.

Dortchen Wild lives with her five sisters and her parents above her father’s apothecary shop in Cassel. Dortchen’s best friend, Lotte Grimm, lives next door, but when Lotte’s brothers Wilhelm and Jakob return home from their studies in Marburg and Paris, the twelve year old Dortchen falls in love with Wilhelm. In November 1806, Napoléon’s armies marched through and occupied Cassel, freeing the serfs and bringing other freedoms, but putting terrible pressure on the economy of the city. Unable to find work under the new regime, Wilhelm begins to collect folk stories to preserve them. His brother Jakob supports his whole family on his meagre librarian’s wage.

Many people (myself included) think that the Grimm fairytales were told to the brothers by various people all over the country, or written by the brothers themselves. In fact, many of them were told to Wilhelm Grimm by the young Dortchen Wild, of whom very little is written. Others of the stories were told to Wilhelm and Jakob by other well-to-do young ladies of their acquaintance, and in the well-researched The Wild Girl we are introduced to those ladies and to the original, less child-friendly versions of some of the most popular fairy tales of the present day, including Cinderella (Aschenputtel), Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, and many more.

The Wild Girl not only tells the story of the creation of the fairytale collection of the Brothers Grimm, it is also a beautiful love story between Dortchen and Wilhelm, heartbreaking at times but very sweet at others. The tale of the people of Cassel and their suffering at the hands of the French armies is not an overwhelming part of the story but there is just enough historical context to frame the other events of the story. Kate’s telling of dark and dramatic events is interspersed with light-hearted moments which made reading this book an absolute delight.

It wasn’t only the research into historical events that interested me about this story, but also the extensive herb lore Dortchen and her father use as part of their apothecary work. The garden of medicinal plants just fascinated me, much like the herbology also discussed in Bitter Greens!

The real highlight of this story is the characters themselves. Kate Forsyth does such a wonderful job of bringing characters to life that I felt I was sharing their joy, terror or anger. Herr Wild, Dortchen’s father, is such a creepy and at times terrifying man in this story, but at the same time we see his despair at his country being trodden down by the French and his kindnesses to those less fortunate families in the town. Dortchen herself starts out as such a carefree and happy girl, but the hardships throughout her adolescence make her into a much more subdued young lady – something that I’m sure has happened to many women throughout history. That doesn’t stop her from being a selfless and kind person, always putting others well-being before her own, sometimes putting herself in harm’s way instead.

The Wild Girl is not just for historical and romantic fiction readers – those who love fairy tales will also find plenty to fascinate them here. It’s certainly one of my favourite reads so far this year!

Warnings: Violence including towards children, sexual situations (some abusive)

What did others think of The Wild Girl?

  • “An engaging historical novel about fairytales, love, despair and hope that at times reminded me of Little Women- only a little darker.” – The Australian Bookshelf
  • The Wild Girl is about yearning and love, poverty and sacrifice, but it’s also a very dark tale.  Those expecting the same tone as Bitter Greens should prepare themselves for a darker journey, and a greater struggle that lasts almost a lifetime for Dortchen.” – Carpe Librum
  • “A stunning achievement, and a book that I would reccomend to anyone interested in romance, historical fiction or fairy story interpretations.” – InkAshlings

Review: The Serpent Sea, Martha Wells

The Serpent SeaTitle: The Serpent Sea (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Martha Wells (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Moon, once a solitary wanderer, has become consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. Together, they travel with their people on a pair of flying ships in hopes of finding a new home for their colony. Moon finally feels like he’s found a tribe where he belongs. But when the travelers reach the ancestral home of Indigo Cloud, shrouded within the trunk of a mountain-sized tree, they discover a blight infecting its core.

Nearby they find the remains of the invaders who may be responsible, as well as evidence of a devastating theft. This discovery sends Moon and the hunters of Indigo Cloud on a quest for the heartstone of the tree — a quest that will lead them far away, across the Serpent Sea.

Details

Series: Books of the Raksura #2 of 3
Genre: High fantasy
Published: Night Shade Books, January 2012
Pages: 331
My copy: Library

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

Review

Please note: This review is for the second in this series, and so contains spoilers for the first book. You may wish you read my review of The Cloud Roads instead!


Moon and the survivors from Indigo Cloud court have fled their old home after the Fell devastated it. The windships bring them across the lands to their ancestral home – a great mountain tree, but when they arrive they discover that the tree’s seed is missing – the magical artefact that keeps the enormous tree alive and allows the Arbora mentors to control its growth. It is clear that the seed was stolen by groundlings within the past year, but where have they taken it and for what purpose? The quest to recover the seed takes Moon, Jade, Stone and a group of other Raksura to another established court nearby, then across the great sea to a city built on the back of a great leviathan.

The locations and landscapes in this series continue to blow me away – Indigo Cloud’s mountain tree, the Emerald Twilight court and the city on the Leviathan were intricately described and the range of different creatures and beings in this world had me thinking about it long after I had put the book down.

I think the real draw for me with this story is the way the characters interact – Moon, Jade, Stone, Chime and the other Raksura have such a teasing but affectionate way with each other that is a delight to read. Moon and Jade are together in this book, but there’s no annoying love triangle or anything, simply a happy romance.

Moon spent most of The Cloud Roads trying to work out what was going on in the court culture, but even though he has more of an idea in The Serpent Sea, he still spends a lot of the time hoping he’s not getting everything terribly wrong. I can see how this self-doubt and his general grumpiness might annoy some people but to me it was completely endearing, especially as Moon learns more about the position Consorts hold in more established courts and as he gradually decides to be himself rather than conform to what may be expected of him.

The pace is not particularly break-neck, but the adventure continuously moves forward so it never becomes tedious. The story keep developing in odd ways that I wasn’t expecting, and that kept me turning the pages.

I’d highly recommend The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea to anyone who would enjoy a fantasy adventure, set in an alien but beautifully described world. I’ll definitely be looking out for the third book in this series, The Siren Depths – I don’t want to stop reading about these characters!

Warnings: Graphic violence, sexual situations (not graphic)

Books of the Raksura

The Cloud Roads The Serpent Sea The Siren Depths

 

What did others think of The Serpent Sea?

  • “This is well-written fantasy and has an incredibly creative, visual story-telling style.” – Janicu’s Book Blog
  • “(The Serpent Sea) presents one of the most beautifully rendered Fantasy worlds I have ever encountered.” – The Book Smugglers
  • The Serpent Sea is a wonderful continuation of the Books of the Raksura. It is brimming with creativity, adventure, and characters both relatable and endearing.” – Fantasy Cafe

Review: Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth

Bitter GreensTitle: Bitter Greens (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Kate Forsyth (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from court by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of Bitter Greens …

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of greens—parsley, wintercress and rapunzel—from the walled garden of the courtesan, Selena Leonelli, they give up their daughter to save him from having both hands cut off.

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, growing to womanhood, Margherita sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does…

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love.

Details

Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Fantasy/historical romantic fairy tale
Published: Vintage Australia, March 2012, tbp Allison & Busby in the UK, 25 February 2013.
Pages: 576

Paper copies: Amazon.co.uk (pre-order) • Book Depository (pre-order) • Booktopia (AU – available!)
E-copies:
Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk (pre-order) • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

Bitter Greens is partly a heart-breaking retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, and partly historical drama set in 17th-century France. I enjoyed every moment!

Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a writer and great lover of the salon scene in Paris, has been banished to a convent by the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. The past twenty years of her life at court in Versailles has been filled with scandal and rumours of black magic, and during the course of Bitter Greens we hear about these stories through a series of flashbacks.

While working in the garden at the convent, Charlotte-Rose is told a story by one of the nuns. In Venice during the late 16th Century, a young girl, Margherita, is stolen from her parents by Selena (known as La Strega), a beautiful but dangerous witch. Margherita is locked in a high tower on an island and La Strega only comes to visit once a month with supplies, calling for Margherita to let down her long hair so that she may climb up. Each month, La Strega takes nine drops of blood from Margherita’s wrist and bathes in it to keep herself looking young and beautiful. Margherita longs for someone to rescue her.

The lives, loves and losses of Charlotte-Rose, Margherita and Selena are woven together in Bitter Greens. Each character, setting and emotion are described in such gorgeous detail I almost felt like I was watching a drama on TV rather than reading! I found it very compelling and found myself snatching moments to read whenever I could.

The only thing that put me off slightly at times was the way the story jumps back and forth to the different story arcs after many chapters. One moment I was happily absorbed in the story of Margherita and then was jolted back into Charlotte-Rose’s France. By the end of the book I was used to it, but at first it was a little jarring.

There have been some horrible moments in the histories of France and Venice, and some of that horror has been captured in Bitter Greens – the plagues in Venice that decimated the population, the slaughter of the reformée Huguenots in France and other, earlier persecutions.

Reading about how women were treated in times gone by makes me really grateful to those women who fought for equality during the twentieth century. Women like Charlotte-Rose and Selena did their best to survive and then make a difference in a world dominated by men. Nowadays, we modern women should never take our ability to work, vote and speak our minds for granted.

Bitter Greens is a fairy tale wrapped within a historical drama. With the character of Charlotte-Rose based on a real woman and the settings and events taken straight from history, it is obvious that a great deal of research and effort (and fun!) went into the making of this book. Well done, Ms Forsyth, you have created a masterpiece!


Interested in reading more about the creation of this book? All the Books I Can Read hosted a guest post from Kate about Vampire legends of Venice, and the author Elizabeth Storrs posted an interview with Kate on redroom.com, talking about inspiration and the art of Bitter Greens.

Warnings: Violence including towards children, graphic sexual situations (some abusive)

What did others think of Bitter Greens?

  • Bitter Greens is a stunning novel. I was spell bound from beginning to end by the lush prose, magnificent characters and intriguing story.” – Book’d Out
  • “Forsyth demonstrates her skill as a Fantasy writer, with the storytelling every bit as enchanting as fairytales of old.” – Devoted Eclectic
  • “It’s the sort of novel that has so many elements that it will appeal across the board, to historical fiction fans, fantasy fans, even fans who enjoy a bit of the romance. But ultimately if you like a good story no matter what the particular genre, then this book is definitely for you!” – All The Books I Can Read

Review: The Water Witch, Carol Goodman

The Water WitchTitle: Water Witch (Goodreads)
Author:  Carol Goodman (or her pseudonym, Juliet Dark)

Rating: ★★★★☆

“You have only to call my name to bring me back”, he whispered, his breath hot in my ear. “You have only to love me to make me human”.

Callie McFay is the guardian of the last gateway between the world of Faerie and mankind. Seduced by a powerful incubus demon, she has succeeded in banishing Liam to the Borderlands but he still haunts her dreams, tempting her with the knowledge of how to bring him back. But loving an incubus usually ends in death for a human. For her own sake Callie must learn to control her desires and ensure Liam remains trapped for all eternity in his watery prison.

Only there is a more dangerous creature than Liam in the Borderlands. The Water Witch is also looking for a way back…

Details

Series: Fairwick Chronicles #2
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Published: Ebury Press, September 2012 (will be published February 13, 2013 in the USA by Ballantine – Random House)
Pages: 339
My Copy: The publisher via Netgalley

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

Please note: This review is for the second book in this series, so contains spoilers for the first book, Incubus/The Demon Lover. You may wish to go and read my review of that book instead!

Review

Note: The Water Witch was published in the US under Carol Goodman’s pseudonym, Juliet Dark. 

Callie McFay is a doorkeeper – the only one who can open the last remaining door to Faerie in the woods near Fairwick. The society of witches called the Grove have decided that the door is too dangerous to remain open – it has been letting in all manner of creatures including the Incubus who attacked Callie a few months previously. They want it shut, for ever. Callie and the supernatural creatures who call Fairwick home do not agree and decide to do everything within their power to keep the door open.

US cover

US cover

Meanwhile, despite her best intentions, Callie is still desperately missing her Incubus lover, Liam. She travels to faerie and meets up with him there, but when she returns she starts having strange dreams again. Could Liam be back?

Water Witch is an enjoyable sequel to Incubus. We get to see the development of Callie’s powers, but the romantic aspects of the story that were in the forefront of Incubus are not so important in Water Witch. In fact, Callie has less actual sex with anyone and has more imaginary dream sex again. Also she falls for no less than three separate men over the course of this book. I’m starting to think Callie is… how can I put this delicately? Impressionable, perhaps?

The story is once again smart and quite funny at times. The secondary characters really develop well and bring out their interesting personalities.

One of the main problems I had with Incubus was that the story consisted of a few exciting events, interspersed with boring college life. Water Witch has none of that – in fact the entire story plays out within the space of a few weeks during the college vacation, so this book is free to contain pretty much all action. And it does!

Callie’s poor Incubus doesn’t get much of a go in this book, although there is some raunchy action early on in the story. Without giving anything away, Callie really frustrated me with her inability to see the obvious right in front of her. The second half of the story was really quite predictable and I found it a shame. Once again, we’re left on a cliffhanger so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next!

Warnings: Graphic sexual content.

What did others think of Water Witch?

  • “It was an entertaining read, but very high on the cheese factor.” – The Book Stop
  • “I desperately wanted to know what would happen on each page. I was also hoping a heavy branch would fall on Callie’s grandmother.” – Fangs, Wands & Fairy Dust
  • “Callie Callie Callie… what are we going to do with you?? She seems to be a lovely girl, but someone you just want to smack upside the head for all the lousy decisions she makes!” – Book Chick City

Review: Besieged, Rowena Cory Daniells

BesiegedTitle: Besieged (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Rowena Cory Daniells (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★★½

Sorne, the estranged son of a King on the verge of madness, is being raised as a weapon to wield against the mystical Wyrds. Half a continent away, his father is planning to lay siege to the Celestial City, the home of the T En, whose wyrd blood the mundane population have come to despise.

Within the City, Imoshen, the only mystic to be raised by men, is desperately trying to hold her people together. A generations long feud between the men of the Brotherhoods and the women of the sacred Sisterhoods is about to come to a head. With war without and war within, can an entire race survive the hatred of a nation?

Details

Series: The Outcast Chronicles #1 of 3
Genre: High fantasy
Published: Solaris, June 2012
Pages: 670
My copy: For review from the Author, thanks!

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

 

Review

It’s been a while since I read any high fantasy, since a lot of it these days tends to be quite dark and depressing. While still containing some violence and oppression, Besieged isn’t nearly as dark as other books in the genre and I found that made it all the more enjoyable a read. That, and the fact that the author lives in the same city as me. Hooray for local awesome talent!

How to describe this world? Chalcedonia and the nearby kingdoms are peopled by two races, who have lived in peace for the last several hundred years. There are the True-men, who are also called Mieren by the T’En. The other race is the T’En, also called Wyrds by the True-men. Tall and silver-haired, the T’En have violet eyes and six fingers on each hand. They also have strange abilities – while the men are physically stronger and are often gifted warriors, the women are very powerful and are able to segue to the spirit world. Some can see the future, while others are able to heal or read others emotions. All of the women can kill by separating a soul from its body, and for that they are feared.

T’En society is split into sisterhoods and brotherhoods, each with their ambitious leaders and hierarchy below. Men and women live separately, only coming together at festival times to select trysting partners. At other times, each group may take lovers from within their own sisterhood or brotherhood, or among the Malaunje – half-bloods who have the T’En characteristics but none of their power. Usually in servitude with the brotherhoods or sisterhoods, the Malaunje are despised and persecuted by the True-men. Malaunje can be born to True-men or T’En parents and no-one is quite sure why. True T’En babies are prized and carefully cared for, but all T’En babies, true blooded or not, are given up to the sisterhoods in their first year and cared for and trained until they are eighteen. The boys are then returned to their brotherhoods, while the true-blooded girls remain with the sisterhoods for further training and development of their gifts.

There are some, however, who are not happy with the control the sisterhoods and brotherhoods hold over society. All-father Rohaayel, the leader of a brotherhood, smuggles away a child to a secluded island, intent on bringing her up ignorant of the way T’En society works. Imoshen’s powerful true-blooded child would be able to challenge the leaders and bring about change.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Chalcedonia has just given birth to a half-blood Malaunje and the King is furious. Rather than destroy the child, high priest Oskane sneaks Sorne away to raise him and study the half-blood ways, to try to find a weapon that can be used against the T’En and their magic.

Those are just two of the storylines threaded together in this story – spanning a period of about thirty years, the story often jumps forward by several years between chapters. Each story arc follows the events from within the brotherhoods, the sisterhoods and from within Chalcedonia, as well as from Imoshen and Sorne’s points of view. The end result is a rich presentation of life from almost every angle – the mothers giving up their children, the wars ravaging the land, the manoeuvres for power within the T’En society and the loves, prejudices, affairs and betrayals of everyday life.

This is the first book by Rowena Cory Daniells that I’ve read, but I understand that her Last T’en series is set in the same world. I managed to catch up with the magic systems and societies without being completely in the dark, but I wonder whether the information overload at the start of the book might have been a little less overwhelming if I had read the previous series first! A glossary at the end may have helped understanding all the new terms as well.

I found the T’en societies fascinating – the way the Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods are kept separate and in fear and contempt of one another. I found it almost as fascinating that Imoshen, who was kept away all her life from the strict societal laws and expectations of the Celestial City, is able to see all of it and realise that it is wrong – that her people suffer and that there should be a better way to live. Despite all the horrors that are going on around this world, this is still a story of hope – of how just a few people can effect great change in society.

Once I got through the rather lengthy set-up early on in the book, I found all of the different story arcs to be very engaging and by the second half I found it very difficult to put down. Of course, this is only the first part in a massive trilogy so I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the second book, Exile, very soon!

Warnings: Violence including towards children, sexual situations (some abusive)

The Outcast Chronicles

Besieged exile sanctuary

 

What did others think of Besieged?

  • Besieged is a book that I think will appeal to all those fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.” – Ticket to Anywhere
  • “Fantasy adorers will consume this book. Besieged was intriguing in all aspects; it has fantastic characters and a fascinating plot.” – Book Probe Reviews
  • “If you enjoy stories laced with political scheming, you’ll love Besieged… In Besieged Daniells has created a rich and complex world and used it as the stage for an engrossing story.” – A Fantastical Librarian
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