Categories
Dystopian Fantasy

Book Review: Tears of Alphega by W.N. Cleckler

  • Title: Tears of Alphega
  • Series: The Wisprian World, #1
  • Author: W.N. Cleckler
  • Release date & Publisher: July 2018 from Whisper Press
  • Length: 354 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫 yes

Hi everyone! I have no excuse for taking so long so post this particular review on the blog! The author sent me the gorgeous foil edition a while back in exchange for an Instagram feature and review.  Anyway, with my apologies, here we go!  Let me first say that even though I read this weeks ago, I remember is fairly vividly which is saying a LOT already!

Here is the longer description from Goodreads, which helps summarize a book that is quite difficult to summarize:

The Wisprian World is set in the era before the Ice and Stone Age, before the fall of Adam, before “the beginning”. The earth became formless and empty…meaning it previously had form and wasn’t empty. Before Eden was spoken into existence, Wispria was whispered into being. This series is certain to make it’s mark and impact on your life- whether you love daring adventure, alternative-histories, theological viewpoints, stories of hope, new heroes & villains, or tales of redemption, The Wisprian World book series is for you. With intriguing characters that are sure to touch your heart and challenge your spirit, also locations and insights of a world forgotten that’s paving the way for an entirely new viewpoint and theory as to whom may have preceded us, then you are in for an other-worldly gift.

Meet people who are just like us, the likes of whom may have lived long before us, who had extraordinary circumstances arrive at their doorstep while living out their simple, daily activities. Read about the sixteen year-old Cantiq sisters, Harmody and Melony, who are fishing for their dinner when a mysterious solar eclipse-like event changes the very nature of their existence. Join a young man, Sage, grieving the loss of a father he accidentally murdered who meets that strangest pair of travelers who will in turn save his life from himself and those who oppose him. All of this is seen and told from the viewpoint of Alphega watching over his beloved creation and crying tears of divine empowerment to sustain his people against overwhelming and grave dangers and foul creatures out to obliterate them.

This book really does truly have a little bit of something for everyone.  Yes it is alternate theology but it is also an epic fantasy.  Good vs evil prototypes and a false idol starting a war against Alphega/heaven.  This book is the start of that adventure – what caused that eclipse? A group of highly unique characters come together under extreme circumstances to learn about the imposter, rally a group of seven blessed adventurers, and hopefully book two will start the war.

What I liked the most is how much Cleckler obviously loves these characters.  He puts them through hell, their villages  pillaged by violent rapey demons, death of family in front of their eyes, devastation of forces, and other very dark things, but also gives them courage, the will to fight, interesting back stories, help from the animal world, and the support structure they need to move forward.  There is a magical horse turned unicorn, a bear who’s loyalty knows no bounds, and then Alphega who sees the pain of the characters and grants them a tear, or they find a piece of the magical stone gate that shattered that gives them an additional ability.  Each character has carefully drawn artwork as well and it’s obvious that each one was written with great thought.  They aren’t perfect characters, they are flawed but learn from their mistakes and are also given time to grieve appropriately for said mistakes, and tend to go forward stronger.

Speaking of the art, it is absolutely lovely.  The map, chapter head letters, and character artwork is all exquisitely well done.  Here is a direct link to the authors Instagram for an example of the character art!  https://www.instagram.com/p/B9j3GVzgTEy/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

At first it was a bit hard to tell where the book was heading, and then I realized that we were meeting the characters.  I wasn’t sure if it was more a collection of short stories or what, as the opening chapters lacked a tad bit of cohesion, and that is where my star rating came in.  Once the characters some together the quest is quite awesome and I love how they all have to do their part and keep pulling for each other.

Potential Easter Eggs: There may be a nod to Star Trek: TNG, because Lore is Data’s evil archetype.  I didn’t see any specific references but when I hear “Lore” in an archetypal sense, I think of the androids, especially when he was trying to play the real Data.  Also a potential nod to a book in Skyrim (my character has a library) where tears formed an artifact, but I will never find it or recall the name.   Lastly there is some secret message hidden in the pages but I have NO idea where it is or what I’m looking for, if anyone reads this and finds it, please tell me!!

I do definitely recommend this to fans of anything from theology to epic fantasy, you will LOVE the magic and lore and I definitely prefer the religious over/undertones to some of the other messages I get these days!

Thank you so much again to the author for the book, I am anxiously awaiting the next installment!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Book Tour! Review: Trial by Obsidian by Naomi Kelly

  • Title: Trial by Obsidian
  • Author: Naomi Kelley
  • Length: 242 pages
  • Pub date: August 2019
  • Publisher: Independent
  • Rate & Rec ⭐⭐ – hear me out though

Today is my stop on the Instagram book tour for Trial by Obsidian, and here as well is my full review! Despite my rating just hear me out on this one and make your own decision.

Here is the description from Amazon:

The poverty-stricken southern lands of Deshure have kept Juniper Obsidian hidden all her life. Her concealed identity kept her safe. Until now. The northern lands of Sinlara are home to the Chambers. Here rules are enforced and wars are waged, but since the end of the War fifteen years ago things have been quiet. That is until they get their hands on Juniper.

When an enemy who has an uncertain a past as she does a future offers her help, Juniper must question what really makes us who we are? Can she trust the man before her? Is there more to loyalty than a boarder? More to family than a blood-line? The time has come where she must learn to stand and fight.

Hiding is no longer an option.

In brief, the summary of the story is that the Sinlaran faction systematically eradicated the mage clans, of which a few individuals remain. One of them, the main character Juniper, is captured. A handsome defector from the “bad guys” helps her escape and then the plotting begins.

It really isn’t a bad story. I will bluntly say that my rating is because I have a hard time with books that have poor editing; even a friend proofreading would have made this much more readable. It had missing words, wrong words, punctuation, mixed tenses, a few spelling errors, it was not one small thing but a vastly unedited book. As a disclaimer: I read the Kindle Unlimited version, and there may be editions out with further editing as I haven’t seen this mentioned in many other reviews.

Putting the editing aside, the world building had a good start but was underdeveloped. I now think this is a standalone?  Still, aspects of the political structure, history of the clans, mood of the citizenry, even architecture, a little more fleshing of certain events at the beginning would have helped. While reading, I could kind of figure out the political structure as I went, but if this is geared towards young readers will they know the basic Greek alphabet? What about Sinlaran geography? Are we in the mountains or forest or plains? I just like a little more general world immersion in a novel where this was mostly character and action based.  Also on the immersion note, in a high fantasy world it’s not quite appropriate to bring in popular mythology, in this case Greek – lots of Greek themes but still, this is a made up fantasy world and they won’t believe in our myths.

About the pacing, this is a short book and the action did keep coming. It kept a decent pace once I pieced the world together from the choppy beginning, and never felt bored reading. The magic system is fairly basic, each clan had a specific gem or rock (Obsidian, garnet, etc) that they drew their powers from. The abilities varied as some could be healers, garnets had fire affinity, one clan seemed to be metal workers/crafters, and together they could feed off each other and be stronger which was a concept that I liked – bloodline vs element being present

As a romance heavy novel, the two main characters did a rather quick enemies to lovers. They bonded over proximity and shared experiences, which is great but why did Reuben practically worship Juniper? I did appreciate the aspect of feeling SEEN, and liked Reuben because his matter-of-fact-isms almost felt like a nod to Star Trek’s android Data, but it could be total coincidence. He was the only character who spoke like that so I wondered.

Reuben had a heck of a betrayal pulled over on him though, which was a curious and rude choice on the Alpha’s part. (The political structure looked like Brave New World, with alpha through delta in descending rank). The characters were definitely individually the best and most developed part of the book. Their motivations made sense if nothing else and I liked Juniper well enough too as the main character.

Long story short: if you are able to just read and let your mind wander over the editing mishaps and fill in a few plot points, this is a quick romp into a light fantasy world. I would compare the reading experience to early Morgan Rice (she got an editor at some point, I think) or Melissa de la Cruz (romance heavy with questionable development.) There is lots of kissing and off page sex but nothing too intense. There is again a chance that I managed to read an early version, as other reviews are stating that the book has great development so I might have missed something.

I would probably recommend for fantasy romance readers that are not hardcore fantasy buffs.

The author can be found on Instagram @NaomiKellyWriting

Here is the link to the book on Amazon: 

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

  • Title: Kingdom of Liars
  • Author: Nick Martell
  • Pub: Simon & Schuster
  • Length: 608p
  • Release: July 23rd 2020 (new date)
  • Rating & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ maybe

Thank you to Bookish First and Simon & Schuster for my ARC of The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell.  Book was claimed in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.

Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

(If you’re here for the Sanderson commentary, it’s towards the bottom)

So there is obviously a lot going on in the book, and it is a whopper at 608 pages.  The book is told in first person, as Michael relates his story to a certain Archivist before his execution.

This is fantasy, so lets start with the world building.  My biggest gripe with the book was a certain lack thereof, despite the length.  Words like Tweeker, Skeleton, Sacrifice, the entire political and military structure, religion, and even the purpose of the Kingmans are thrown out in name or title but never elaborated on.  It makes sense to a certain point since Michael wouldn’t have explained things to the Archivist that he already knew, but I don’t think these explanations would have hurt the story.

The action and pacing is decent. The plot starts out a little slowly then picks up around the half way point, holding my attention until the end.  There was enough action throughout to keep me fairly interested – immersion is where the book struggles.  Guns are a big controversy in fantasy novels but I can understand how the non magical countries developed firearms to level battle fields against the fabricators REAL quick, although foreign wars weren’t the focus. In fact the entire plot only takes place over a few days. I like a good bit of political maneuvering in the plot too but readers didn’t see it; another character was facilitating things off page.

Besides the guns, the language and names hurt immersion a LOT.  Come on, Treyvon and Jamal, dark colored guys from the wrong side of the river turning into disillusioned villains? I feel like he took a bit from Batman or Mistborn and an American political commentary.  Bring down the nobility! Also most of the character names were decidedly American.  In a world with magic wielders and broken, prophetic moons, the swearing is an issue too – a great fantasy world will invent it’s own slang, but Martell settled for the nine thousand uses of the word Fuck.  The only swear/curse in Hollow is apparently Fuck, and that’s just not good in high fantasy. The lack of world building specifics also hurt immersion, as described above it just hurts the story when I don’t know what is being talked about and have to try to guess.

The most well described bit of the world was probably the Royals vs high vs low nobles vs those in poverty, but only in the sense of rich vs poor and poverty.  Actually that might be a lie too because no one seemed to really support or care about the rebels, so I don’t know what’s going on with the mood of the city other than that the poor are poor and the rich are rich, and most not rich people are afraid.

Speaking of nobles with power and rich vs poor pit workers … The big elephant in the room is that Sanderson blurbed the book.  I am not a fan of his writing after reading Mistborn but I see similarities especially in the magic system – mostly that it’s lazy.  Everyone gets one specialty (or rarely two) and they range from “light” to “dark” to “nullify” to “lightning” fabrications … You get the idea.  The magic just happens too, it’s innate and the nobles have to train to use it or they can destroy their memories.  Maybe Sanderson saw some of himself and his early writing in the book but I also wonder if he actually read it.

Most of the characters are not excellent at all.  Michael is so caught up in his family legacy that he’s just stupid, getting himself nearly killed frequently. He is near sighted and seems to have no concept of thinking things through or finishing any plans that he starts.  He whines, changes his mind frequently, hurts people because he never thinks, and I thought it was great when the Mercenary called him out on being spineless. Even at the end Michael couldn’t stop repeating the family broken legacy record.  Oh yeah I hate books that repeat themselves and he spent way too much time pining over his father and the legacy, we got it already.  No one wants to be forgotten/Forgotten but this is an adult fantasy, we don’t need the repetition.

Kai (blind) was my favorite character other than Dark, the badass mercenary.  I also liked Gwen, Michael’s sister, for unexplained spoilery reasons, and Dawn. The title of the series, “The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings,” makes sense only at the end when we have an idea where the series might go.  Really though if Kingdom of Liars is just a long introduction and exposition to Michael’s story going forward, the world-building needed to be there.

Random bits: I thought I spotted a nod to Glen Cook’s The Black Company, which is great if it wasn’t coincidental.  I also like when Hanging Gardens hang people, not just flowers.

Honestly I will probably at least try to read the second book.  The new set of characters might be more interesting going forward and events should be taking place in the present.  I am at a solid ⭐⭐⭐ for this one, for poor immersion and lazy magic with enough action to keep me reading.  Would recommend for fans of Sanderson and lower/middle fantasy.

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Ranger of Marzanna by Jon Skovron

  • Title: The Ranger of Marzanna
  • Author: Jon Skovron
  • Publisher: Orbit Books
  • Length: 528 pages
  • Release: April 21, 2020
  • Rate & recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ probably

Thank you so much to Orbit Books via NetGalley for the e-ARC!! The book was provided in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own.

I was looking for some awesome new fantasy books to review this spring and summer and couldn’t resist this title based off of my favorite thing ever…horses on the cover. An other-worldly looking woman on a gorgeous horse, plus a description based off Russian and Polish legends did it for me. I also love sibling rivalries and was not disappointed.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.

Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.

When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.

But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.

The plot is interesting and the story is well paced. It may be 528 pages but did not feel that long and at times it was hard to put down. The chapters mostly alternated between Sonya and Sebastian, the siblings on either side of this war, and the chapters from other characters advanced things as well. I like books that don’t repeat themselves.

The world building was fantastic with architecture, climate, food, morale, and religion of both the conquerors and the conquered described in fine detail. The nobility and the peasants both had their turn and I understood the larger motivations of the citizenry. I also loved the Uaine as a bunch of partying war bands – fucking and alcohol and necromancers, Oh my!!! The army of the dead was also a very cool, well done concept.

The entire plot seemed………too easy though. Like an obvious set up. All of it.  I expect utter intrigue and insanity in book two.

I liked the family relationships described throughout the book. Each main character gets to examine their relationship with their parents while finding their own footing. Yes parents have lives, yes they have sex lives and friends and personalities and I think it was great that this theme kept coming out. Above all else the young characters may have made some bad decisions but they were always encouraged to do what THEY thought was right.

I also liked the characters well enough, Sonya is funny and awkward but also a Ranger, ready to whip around and murder a crew of soldiers. Jorge is funny too and I liked that while the other characters picked at his religion, he stood strong on his morals. Sebastian is just a little duped twit. See next paragraph for my discourse on motives. Elgin Mordha and Blaine might have been my favorite side characters. Galina and Sebastien’s mom seemed like hollow shells… I just didn’t understand their motives.

Most of my issues with this book were that I didn’t think the character’s motivations made sense. Things were too easy. Why would Jorge just drop his life’s work? Why would Sebastian just run off and turn into a murderous twit under the tutelage of the man who killed his father? Even Sonja seemed misguided at times, like trusting Elgin Mordha seemed like a questionable choice without really knowing anything about his tribes. I think a lot of the young naivete here is setting the stage for a ton of intrigue and betrayal in book 2, which I am ready for. The end of the book pointed to a lot of tables turning and I think these characters are going to have a lot of hard lessons to learn.

I did enjoy the book and would recommend to fantasy fans. It’s not an amazing stand out novel, but I’m calling it a solid one. I am on board for the second book due to the massive amount of set up that came at the end of this novel, I just see a lot of room for plot improvement and am basing this review on my level of entertainment, which was high.

Thank you again to Orbit Books for the review copy, all opinions are my own.

The book releases 4/21 so check it out if it sounds up your alley!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Ruthless Gods by Emily Duncan

I have been sitting on this review for weeks and with the release now imminent, I should probably post it.  I believe the review is spoiler free for both books.

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.

I read Wicked Saints as an ARC last year and enjoyed the basis of the story, but if you all remember I just absolutely hate her writing style. I found Duncan’s writing repetitive to the nauseatingly “I need to skim” point of being terrible.  A good author would take that significant round of criticism from Wicked Saints and build a better novel in Ruthless Gods….but OH god was I wrong in thinking it would happen.  (My review of Wicked Saints

Here is the description for Ruthless Gods:

Darkness never works alone…

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

The first thing to note is that book one was supposed to be Nadya’s (HAHAH), this is  Serefin’s (got it, he was no hero though) and book three is to be Malachiasz’s.  I don’t think Duncan is doing a great job of clarifying this but Serefin did have a very large, if not incidentally passive at times role in this book.  I will come back to him later on but do appreciate the title character having a firmer role.

So. Duncan’s writing. If I had to read “*one of 5 adjectives* + boy” one more time I would have DNF’d, and almost did. Again.  Duncan has the continent’s ENTIRE future political leadership trekking across the country together in this book and all they do is continue to pine and chase each other’s tails. Maybe the hunter couldn’t have done much politically but can we treat Serefin like the actual king of Tranavia? The entire trek could have been EPIC and brilliant and all we got was more of “blah blah I was betrayed blah and now I’m afraid but let’s kiss again…” and Nadya’s broken record just played, and played, and played.  The plot and mechanisms did advance but it took a lot of weeding through nonsense to get there.

Oh yeah, Nadya thinks that she learned but she really learned nothing from book 1 and she’s still terrible. She is changing but doesn’t seem to be internalizing any of her lessons, although Kostya comes back long enough to force some true self-reflection. That particular dynamic was surprising and one of the more interesting ones.  Nadya is basically a punching bag and while she knows it, she doesn’t seem to care.

Duncan did do a better job showing monstrosity versus just talking about it, but again it was so repetitive. I liked the shifting faces and did like her take on the gods and monsters and older beings, but she could have used Nadya’s broken record headspace to talk more about some of the Slavic lore she was throwing out in names and titles only. That is something I’d like to have read about.  Think Winternight Trilogy – if you’re going to mention the Chyerti why not talk about them?

Serefin was my favorite character again because he is amazing, even though Duncan turned him into the token “other” character. I really think Ostyia would have been enough in that department but she got sidelined plot wise. Serefin and his moths and his bad vision and his nonexistent brutality (talk talk talk, never shown) just make me happy, and I think he had the most interesting arc in this book. If nothing else Duncan did use his and Malachiasz’s time together to explain all of the Tranavian political hierarchy that was missing from Wicked Saints.  I fully enjoyed the parts in Serefin’s head where he was grappling with the God-Monster-Deity-Chyerti-Other.

The ending sounded cool but that last sentence…was a terrible word choice.  It sounded cool but ENTROPY doesn’t even fit, just say his name already.  It was almost enough of a cliffhanger to make me think about book 3, but the plot is not enough to cancel out Duncan’s writing. I will be waiting for the cliffnotes version.

Last but not least: the @OneReadingNurse infamous medical rant. Have you ever actually seen a pupil blow? I have. Someone having a stroke? A blown pupil is TERRIFYING, and having someone’s pupils “blow open” is A TERRIBLE choice of phrase for someone surprised or experiencing adrenaline. Not only that but I think it was used at least 3 times throughout the book and I just don’t understand why an editor didn’t clam this up

This is the second book this year that shut me down in the middle of a trilogy, *cough* Heart of Flames * cough*.  These are the authors that must not read their critical reviews and editorial advice at all.  I haven’t posted it yet but when I feature The Silvered Serpents, I will highlight and throw praises down on Roshani Chokshi for elevating her second book above and beyond the first in every conceivable way.  Duncan and Pau Preto need to learn from her!

In summary: if you liked Wicked Saints, read Ruthless Gods, if not or if you were on the fence, stay away. Ruthless Gods IS marginally better but I personally can’t do it for a third novel.

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

Thank you so much to North Star Editions: Flux for the ward via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

If you know me, you already know that all the And’s and But’s in the summary are driving me crazy; I do hope that this won’t be the books final description. It is a common error to start sentences like that (cough Caraval books) but we were always taught that it was not proper English.

Anyway!  Magic in the form of Silver has been outlawed in the country of Erdis for years.  The Kingdom’s bloody history includes a huge genocide of magic wielders and a systematic eradication of trade routes and immigration from areas where refugees fled.  The King is a murderous bastard, the crown prince is even worse, and the youngest prince is the snarky one that wants nothing to do with royalty.  He reminded me of Nikolai except he’s a pit lord, not a privateer.

The rebellion is seeking to overthrow the crown and has been planting seeds to do so since before Darek (this generation’s rebel  leader) and Ren were born.  The characters are pretty well described in the summary.  There is a lot of squabbling (or sexual tension) between a few of them, but the book has a lot of quite well done banter.  I just kept being reminded of Nikolai with the whole second prince syndrome.

Silver is just an innate ability like fire wielding or any other mage ability.  It seems to be the only magical ability in the kingdom.  Silver can be used for anything from lockpicking to torture to making a giant silver lion appear – like an illusion with substance.  The king uses it to torture people while Ren picks locks and destroys ships… I felt like we were deprived of a good mage fight.  I wanted to see silver vs silver in combat.  While it is a simple enough magic system, and a cool ability, it’s a bit underdeveloped.  Hopefully there will be more explanation in book two.

The world building is really excellent in some places.  The descriptions of the city, buildings, river, mood, political structure, and tension in the city were real.  We even got to see the festival, some food, and see some music and entertainment.   The characters used English slang though, in high quantity.  It isn’t a bad thing but I forgot this was a YA book while reading. There actually isn’t a lot of magic since only the Royalty and Ren wield it now, and seeing as there wasn’t other magic described in the world…. This isn’t quite low fantasy but the fantastical aspect is limited to silver wielding.

Speaking of age appropriateness: the tortures used in the book aren’t for the fainthearted!  I enjoyed reading a book with some teeth, but kind of had it in my head that I was reading an adult fantasy.  I enjoyed it though. Flaying skin and muscle, blood and arrows stabbed and sliced in unconventional ways, courtesy of Adley and Lesa.  I cringed a few times during torture scenes😳 As long as I’m talking about those two, they are a pair of women but the worst that they do is pine and kiss and pine some more.  Otherwise for romance, two characters hook up off page.  I kind of feel like if we get to read about Adley flaying off a guy’s skin, we could have read about Darek in bed, but to each their own.

The pacing of the entire book was good, fast, and then the last maybe 100 pages were BREAKNECK!! I could not put it down!

All in all I think older teens and young adults are a good audience for the book.  I actually enjoyed it as an adult. The most eye-rolling thing that happened was how often the two coupled pairs eyed each other before getting it over with, but some scenes definitely require a slightly more mature audience.

My original instinct was 5stars for the last part of the book – but overall I will go with a strong, strong four.  Thank you again to the publisher for the advanced read!

Categories
Fantasy Uncategorized

Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan

I originally read and reviewed the ARC (courtesy of Wednesday Books via NetGalley, thank you!) of Wicked Saints back in January of 2019.  Now that I’m writing my review of the second book in the trilogy, it makes sense to bring the original review over.

After glancing this morning I noticed that my ‘unpopular opinion’ of the book wasn’t entirely unpopular. The average GoodReads rating only ended up at a 3.7 for Wicked Saints.  Let’s talk about why.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

“A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light

Let’s start with the plot.  Blood & bones, magic, layers of political intrigue and betrayal. The story is actually a good idea. A Slavic based fantasy where Kalyazin’s last remaining holy cleric is being pursued by the brutal blood mage prince and army general of Tranavia, the opposing country.  The cleric escapes, finds a small group of friends working their way towards the Tranavian king, and decides to join. This is vastly over simplified but the blood mage prince pursues them across the land. The third main character is Malachiasz, an awkward boy who is also a Vulture.  These vultures are crafted monsters that form a separate religious faction in Tranavia, complete with their own leader – The Black Vulture –  who is a king in his own right.

Meanwhile the oh-so-brutal-and-terrible prince Serefin carries the other point of view in the story, as he drinks himself under the table chasing Nadya across the country.  He wants nothing to do with his father or the crown and seems pretty sick of war.  He is summoned home for a totally bullshit selection of a suitor by the King, which gives the others an opening to get close to the palace.  Serefin is immediately painted as a bad guy as he razes Nadya’s monastery in the first chapter, and it is interesting to read his chapters and get into his mind to make our own conclusions about him.

So there you have it: The girl, the boy, and the prince.  Let’s talk about the characters. Nadya has grown up with a cleric’s education in a monastery, so we can forgive her naivety in the real world. To an extent.  Nadya’s face is on the spine and the tagline on the cover is “let them fear her”, so I assume that she’s going to be a strong and formidable character.  That was my first letdown – she takes almost every direction from her Gods, which talk to her incessantly, and makes very few decisions for herself throughout the story.  When she does start making her own decisions they are really only to follow Malachiasz, who doesn’t have to do much and immediately throws Nadya’s entire sense of righteousness into a kerfuffle, showing that her entire sense of being is pretty… weak.  Religious deliberation is definitely an important theme for teens to think about, and this could have been done really well except that it turns into a nauseatingly  repetitive inner monologue where Nadya ends up giving her entire agency over to him.  Whoop-de, kiss a boy and throw out your entire life’s training and everything you believe in, who is fearing this girl?

Malachiasz is obviously up to something from the start, and is Duncan’s favorite character.  This was pretty clear from following her Instagram.   One thing about Duncan’s writing style is that it is repetitive, to the point that I guarantee the average reader is going to be skimming.  He is  a vulture so we know he is tortured, we know he is also awkward, and she repeats these things as well as the word “boy” on practically every single page, to the point where I was just sick of seeing the same modifiers.  There is ONE scene where Duncan actually SHOWS us the extent of the Vulture’s mind-erasing torture, and it hit harder than all the babbling about tortured boys in the world put together.  I did like the scenes where his blood magic was used though, he is a formidable mage.

And Serefin, oh Serefin… my favorite character.  His main function in the book is to blur the lines, to show that he’s not necessarily a bad person for doing his job and duty to his country.  Serefin is just another confused (ish) young man who doesn’t particularly love his lot in life, but what do you do when your father is an abusive and insane king?  Read to find out, but I liked him as a general and as the most powerful blood mage outside of the vultures.  I also liked his banter and the two friends who make up his inner group, they try SO hard to keep him centered.  I also love characters with visual issues, and Serefin is more or less blind on one side with funky vision on the other, and I can relate painfully to that!

So while discussing the characters I threw in my bits about her writing style, the ridiculous romance, Nadya’s pining, and the gray-zone characters.

Some other stylistic points: The book is told in the dual point of view style between Nadya and Serefin.  Their names are used, in full, at each chapter heading…. kind of weird.  There is also a blurb about either saint or a god at each chapter start, unrelated to the story and distracting.  Other than the climate and certain bits of architecture and religious aspects, the world building is not fleshed out at all.  I didn’t feel like I was in Kalyazin OR Tranavia and that’s all I will say about it.

This has been hailed by some as GrishaVerse fan fiction and I really have to agree.  Some noted similarities are Alena the Sun Goddess, the bit where the dark character doesn’t remember his name, torturing prisoners in mines, experiments on people.  Also the journey in general across the country reminds me a bit of Alina and the Darkling, where she really should know better but has no issue turning into something else for the big, dark, bad guy.

All three main characters in Wicked Saints turn into someone, or something different by the end of the book.  The transformations set the base for book two, which I will begrudgingly read.  Even at the end I wanted to smack Nadya for being an incredulous idiot…actually I wanted to smack her hardest right at the end.  I would have also liked to see more of the fighting and intrigue in the parts about the suitor competition, Nadya was learning a lot right then about power and magic.

In summary: A good idea but Duncan’s language fails at the delivery.  I can’t be horrified and rolling my eyes at the same time, although the potential is there.  The pacing of the story is ALL over the place and I think we need more worldbuilding. I hope she takes these criticisms into book two and improves because I think that she can.   I would let my kid read it but probably caution older fantasy readers; there’s just too much eye rolling.  Final thoughts: give our young readers some credit, show not tell, and stop repeating the same phrases over and over.  Thank you again to Wednesday Books for the advanced copy, all opinions are my own

0225202030_HDR

 

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: Race the Sands

Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers – Harper Voyager for the eARC of Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst!  The book releases April 21st 2020 so add it to your TBR now if you are interested!

Here is a portion of the description from Goodreads:

In this epic standalone fantasy, the acclaimed author of the Queens of Renthia series introduces an imaginative new world in which a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions.

Life, death, and rebirth — in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races.

As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.

Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.

Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win — if he can be tamed.”

I feel like the description gives away a LOT of the plot.  We are following Trainer Tamra Verlas, who used to be a champion kehok racer and now is looking for a rider to be the next champion.  Tamra needs funds to pay for her daughter’s augur training and is working on a budget.  She meets Raia, a runaway, and together they have to train a very deadly, strangely intelligent kehok.

Does it sound a bit like The Scorpio Races? Yes, to the point where I almost put it down – but I encourage you to keep reading if you feel like DNFing at first.  The first few chapters as well as the rest of the book read very “young” to me in the writing style, but the political intrigue and maneuvering part of the plot take over after the races start and I really did enjoy the book overall.

I would have liked to see more of Raia training the kehok at first – it happened so quickly where she went from a total novice to being ready to race.  Not that they didn’t have enough hurdles to overcome as it was but the racing ended up not being the main storyline of the book at all, which is where it differed from TSR and other similar books.

I liked the main character cast but they all had very similar voices.  Raia can sound like a teenager because, well, she is one, and so can Dar, the emperor to be, but Tamra sounded like a kid and she had to be in her 30s at least.  Lady Evara and Yorbel sounded a bit alike too and they ended up being amazing ancillary characters.

As far as the world building, SBD did an amazing job for a standalone novel.  It is hard to build a world in one book and she described the architecture, art, food, religion, and social structure of Peron and the Heart of Becar in such a way that I felt like I knew not only the setting but the mood of the city.  I would have liked to know more about the strict divisions between rich and poor though; it seems like in a reincarnation based society that anyone reborn as a human would be considered…. honorable? So why go as far as to keep the poor out of sight?

The religion was one of the most interesting parts of the plot.  In order to crown a new emperor, the soul of the old emperor had to be found….and the augurs couldn’t find him!  I enjoyed the bits about reading souls and auras, worrying about what animal they would be reborn as, and the mental image of augurs canvassing every single ant hill looking for the emperor’s soul!  The downside of this is…. I called the major plot twist the second it was mentioned.

Also like I said, I found the races to be anticlimactic, even the championship race. This was a huge bummer for me but I understand that the races became a vessel for the rest of the book’s plot in the second part of the book.  It was a quick read and became impossible to put down in the last 150 pages or so.

I never feel like I do a good job describing books but if you are into strong female characters, monsters, racing, political intrigue and plotting, definitely pick up this book. I feel like it’s marketed for adults as Tamra is older, but this is definitely appropriate for young adult readers.   I went 4/5 stars just because of the lack of variation in character voices, but really the action and intrigue packed into this book is pretty impressive.  Thank you again for the eARC, all opinions are my own!

Categories
Fantasy

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

First off, a huge thank you to Berkley Publishing Group – Ace – for the electonic ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

To get started, here is the summary from GoodReads:

In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.

There isn’t much more to summarize! Claire the undead librarian has a muse assistant, a demon, and a book’s Hero that end up on an adventure together to retrieve this lost manuscript that is apparently the devil’s bible. It’s a great idea, although the book felt wordy and long in places which might have to do with the fact that per the author’s note, this originally started out as a short story. Streamlined, this would have made an amazing novella or shorter book. 384 pages to cover two days is a lot of space to fill!

Other than a few swears and some fighting, this book could be appropriate for any age group. I think it is meant to be an adult fantasy but the language used and casual banter makes it seem like a younger audience was intended. Some of my favorite elements were fighting with words, exploring the other realms, and the pet gargoyle.

I like motley groups, and my favorite character ended up being Brevity, the muse. She had a lot of potential that wasn’t tapped in this book, she was hardly featured, but it looks like she might have more time in book two. She is funny and quick thinking and quite a character. Other than her and Claire, I didn’t care reading from Leto and Rami’s view points.

I also had a lot of questions such as – why are unwritten/unfinished books and other pieces of art in Hell? It seems like a punishment to put them there even if it’s neutral territory! Also what kind of weapon is the bible they were chasing, how is it powerful, and how do the different sides plan to use it? Some of my questions were answered right at the end, but not those ones! This book wrapped up fairly thoroughly but it looks like there is going to be a series.

All in all, if you like reading about books and libraries and stories, there are a lot of really interesting concepts here. The book dragged for me but I mostly enjoyed it, and others might love how philosophical it is about stories. I would rate it 3 stars and still recommend to fans of angels and demons and stories. It published on October first so go grab a copy if it sounds up your alley!

Categories
Fantasy

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

43521682

Thank you so much to Orbit Books via NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Honestly I just want to start by saying that The Bone Ships is one of the best books I have read all year, and I can’t wait to have it in a hard copy with the rest of the trilogy!! I KNOW I will be re-reading this! I was swept away by all 500+ pages and never felt bored, never skimmed, and definitely can’t wait for the sequel.

The description from NetGalley:

“For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war. The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted. Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favour, because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war”

I will start by saying that the cover and internal map are both really awesome designs, and I think the map adds a lot to the story. It is helpful to be able to visualize the ship’s route and have some sense of scale to the journey they are on.

The story itself is completely unique to anything I have ever read before, and very dark as well. The entire war at this point is based on stealing children from the other side to sacrifice their souls as corpse lights on their ships. Additionally, each healthy first born of the Hundred Isles’ women is sacrificed in the same regard. These souls seem to make the ships literally alive, as when the ships take damage, the corpse lights go out. This doesn’t seem like an intelligent way of life to some people, which may or may not be one of the many sources of intrigue, treason, and subplotting within the empire.

There are also black ships of the dead, where the brilliant white ship is painted black to signify that those on board are condemned to death as criminals. They sail to their deaths…. Good lord what an amazing cast of characters as well. Meas, the ship’s captain, or shipwife, is one of those morally grey characters that I wanted to hate but ended up loving. She is known as the best shipwife in the isles, if not the world, and stole command of the black ship Tide Child from the other main character, Joron Twiner, who had an arc of growth and leadership that made me proud of him. My favorite character was probably the Guillaime, I wanted to set the book down and clap when he finally did his thing but I really can’t talk about him without spoilers, but trust me. The same concept kind of goes for the sea dragon, an amazing being but too full of spoilers. The ship’s crew was such a rag tag bunch but they faced soooooo many things together including learning discipline, enemy ships, inclement weather, traitors in their midst, and becoming unsung heroes… Watching the crew come together was a huge strong point for me.

I also can’t get over how well Barker describes, well, pretty much everything. The flora and fauna as the crew discovers new places, I felt like I was there. The ships themselves felt so visible in my mind as well, even the clothes and uniforms and weather. The language and ship slang is done impeccably as well, right down to Black Orris! The one other thing that really had my spine tingling were the naval battles, let those giant bows fly!!

So long story short, I absolutely 100% recommend this book to anyone with any slight interest whatsoever in fantasy, dragons, pirates, sea life, old gods and legends, treason, morally grey characters, women in charge, snarky animals….basically read it. Thank you again to Orbit Books and NetGalley for this early read! The book comes out September 24th so be sure to preorder if it sounds up your alley!