Categories
Fantasy

Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar (Book Thoughts)

Welcome to my first grimdark review of GrimDarkTober month, featuring Gunmetal Gods! I have seen this book absolutely everywhere since it was published and never felt like I had time to read, which was a sore error on my part. 

This is a wonderfully dark fantasy with some of the most brutal (and frankly disturbing) scenes I’ve ever read.  It’s got a few of my favorite themes including military tactics, religious introspection, gods and djinn causing mayhem, and some really truly grimdark twists of fate.

Let’s take a look at the book!


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Gunmetal Gods
  • Series: Gunmetal Gods #1
  • Author: Zamil Akhtar
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, 2020
  • Length: 498 pages
  • Rate & Recommend; ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for dark fantasy fans

Here’s the synopsis:

Game of Thrones meets Arabian Nights in this blood-soaked fantasy epic inspired by the Crusades, featuring Lovecraftian gods, mischievous djinns, and astral magic!

They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers.

Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry.

To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing.

When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars.


I’m having the worst time reviewing this one because it’s so complex and will do my best to hit all the big points!

The story itself has an absolutely epic scope, covering everything from an old hero’s comeback to ancient gods stirring in other dimensions.  It’s got large scale battles, political machinations, tons of world building, brutality, hope, shifting alliances … I can’t even start to cover it all but I promise I was never bored reading.

The first unique thing is that the two points of view start off as “the good guy” and “the bad guy”.  As the book progresses, both Kevah and Micah navigate this wide range of roles from father to doombringer, not necessarily in that order, and it was crazy to follow them both into that murky morally gray zone.

“He was never cruel and always let the Archangel guide his hands. It all changed after we found the witch. In Nixos, he enslaved thousands and burned a bishop. And then in Kostany, I saw him drown a little girl and trample babies as if they were weeds.” – Aicard, on Micah’s downward spiral

There were a lot of awesome side characters too that we meet and get close to throughout the book.  Whether or not they live is another story, but I enjoyed the time spent with them all the same.

The world building was pretty epic in scope too, especially in the religious context.  The two warring nations are both crusading for their holy land.  I liked how deep the author went into each side’s beliefs and also their questioning of faith when things got … grimdark.  When we actually meet the angels and certain gods, including the truly “Lovecraftian” ones, I could appreciate the scale of havoc they wreak.

We go forward to victory with whatever power we have, whether of the light or the dark

There’s a ton of other world building too like history, stories, lore, food, wartime hardships, customs and poems, past times, seasonal weather, art and architecture. The book really didn’t lack for much at all and it all flowed well.

I wanted more from the Mages but that’s definitely coming in book two.  The magic is tied into either the gods, the djinn, or both, and was pretty epic in scale so far since one mage can do a ton of damage to the army.

You want brutality? Stomping babies. Burning refugees. Cutting off horse’s ears.  Loves and morals and families into the sea or on the sharp end of the sword. This is off the grimdark chart as far as I’m concerned. There’s really no end to the dark in this although Akhtar does give us just enough hope to not completely despair while reading.

“What if there are no answers?” I laughed to distract from the dread spreading through me. “What if the world is as dismal as it seems?” “Then at least we’ll know it. We won’t be lying to ourselves. We’ll drown in the truth, our eyes wide open.”

Overall: this is a great read for GrimDarkTober.  I loved the story. I loved the magic and religions. Loved the character arcs, including some of the more minor character roles.  Loved the shifting political alliances and power struggles. Loved the twists and turns that kept me guessing throughout.  Totally recommend this one for dark fantasy fans with a tough stomach.

Categories
Fantasy

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah (Book Thoughts)

I actually finished this book a few weeks ago and my thoughts never coalesced into anything productive.  The Stardust Thief was my last read with the OpenlyBooked Book Club on Instagram and while I enjoyed reading it, I found it extraordinarily hard to focus on.

Whether that’s my state of mind, the pacing of the book, the slow burn, or what, I really don’t know. It took me three weeks to read and became a struggle by the end despite having liked it for the most part.

Let’s take a look at the book and then a few specific thoughts. Also if you have the hardcover make sure to hold it up to Google Lens to hear a message from the author!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Stardust Thief
  • Series: The Sandsea Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Chelsea Abdullah
  • Publisher & Release: Orbit, May 2022
  • Length: 480 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for fans of desert settings, stories about stories, 1001 Nights, jinn magic, and fantasy with clean content

Here’s the synopsis:

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

Neither here nor there, but long ago . . .

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

By all accounts and descriptions, I was expecting to be utterly enchanted by this book.  I love stories about stories and storytellers, folklore is my jam, and I love a good lush setting full of tradition and magic and lore. So why did I struggle with this?

For one, the flowery writing style tripped me up when it harshly contrasted with lighter, choppier areas of text. I like purple prose at times but when I’m tired and my brain is already full, overly descriptive writing can bog me down.  Then when she switched to an action scene the sentences became short and often repetitive, which threw me since I don’t think she accomplished the sense of urgency she was going for with the contrasting writing styles.

I did really like the setting and imagery though since the author used the environment to bring the story and journey of the characters to life.  Tying that into the world building we definitely got a good picture of life in the Souk, the oases, the palace, and all the music and food and people contained within.

The magic was definitely the strongest aspect.  Jinn stories are endlessly fascinating and I liked how the various ifrits had different abilities and powers, as did their blood.  Is this a good time to talk about Qadir? No spoilers but I loved his character until the big mystery reveal felt VERY young adult.  I had to go and look at what age group this was for again, as I felt like I was reading a YA at times and other times it did feel more mature.

The characters and their relationships were another strong suit.  I get so sick of reading romance in fantasy and I truly actually loved the themes of unrequited love and friendship. Loulie never got closure with Ahmed, Mazen and Loulie ended up as friends, and Aisha found her own way. Qadir had his lovers soul on hand and I like that the author kept him loyal to it.

Friendship and stories were such a refreshing theme to read about for once.

In general I liked all of the characters too.  Mazen and his child like love for stories and history was definitely a highlight.  When we got into the “parchment pages” of his telling I think there were some of the best parts.

My biggest gripe was the title of the book.  The Stardust Thief was mentioned once, in passing, about a character that wasn’t even one of the main group, and it didn’t fit the description at all. Yeah it sounds cool but with no stardust involved, no one is stealing it either…. So humph.  I’m being cranky, but humph. It also bugged me that the editor let a few things slip like at one point where the horses were gone, and they had been walking for two days, Loulie turned around in the saddle.

So to wrap this up, there is plenty of action, balanced with travels, stories, rich imagery, powerful magic, and good characters & banter  in general should have made this a wonderful and engaging story.  I think my feelings of neutrality are more a reflection on my state of mind than a true representation of the book, and I would fully recommend it to anyone who likes slow burning, character driven stories about legend and lore.

Categories
Fantasy

Book Tour Feature ~ The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Thank you so much to Berkley Publishing Group (Ace) for having me on the book tour for The Witch and the Tsar!  I feel terrible for missing publication date but was hoping to recover my now defunct Bookstagram account prior to doing the feature, but anyway, here we are!

Let’s just dig right in and take a look at the book, which I fully recommend for fans of historical fantasy, Russian Mythology, and books that feature women of lore.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Witch and the Tsar
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Olesya Salnikova Gilmore
  • Publisher & Release: Ace, 09/20/22
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨  sure if you like historical/Russian fantasy

Here’s the synopsis:

In this stunning debut novel, the maligned and immortal witch of legend known as Baba Yaga will risk all to save her country and her people from Tsar Ivan the Terrible—and the dangerous gods who seek to drive the twisted hearts of men.

As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumors about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia—now the wife of the tsar, and suffering from a mysterious illness—arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realizes the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan—soon to become Ivan the Terrible—grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

This book reminded me a lot of Circe, in that the author went out to humanize and reclaim a mythological witch’s narrative and somewhat succeeded.  It also falls right into that genre of cold, dark, and bloody Russian mythological stories like the Winternight Trilogy in which we desperately need more books.

The story itself is so rich and complex. Yaga must come out of her exile to save Russia from Ivan the Terrible, while finally learning what it means to be both a mortal and part deity.  I loved the story itself even though it was often a slow burn with some dubious pacing.

Bringing mythology into history is always challenging. Gilmore wrote a stunning appendix featuring both the deities and real life historical figures that she brought into the story.  As someone who gets hung up on accuracy vs. interpretation a lot, it was cool to have the author point out where she took the biggest liberties and learn what she found important in the real life historical sense.

The world build & setting is quite well done too.  I have come to expect lots of architecture, idolatry, clothing, food, customs and lore, and lots of cold weather from these stories and Gilmore does not disappoint. I loved it all from the rich imagery of the palaces to the bloody descriptions of the military police riding out and the towns they devastated.  There’s a constantly solid blend of tragedy and hope that I liked quite a bit.

Like any story of Russian evolution, one big conflict was the old spirits & mythology vs the new Christian god. I think this was nailed as Yaga tried briefly to assimilate to court before everything went to hell, where she got a first hand view of everyone’s shiny new Christianity.  Weaved throughout are the descriptions of sprites and spirits, lesser and more powerful gods, charms and other magic.  With characters like Little Hen and Volos, the magic really had a life of it’s own too.  Yaga’s spells and abilities were interesting enough, made more so when she filled the gaps in her learning with a mortal witch and then was able to travel through dimensions of the spiritual realms.  The gods and goddesses obviously had influence and magic too so there was always something mischievous going on.

Lastly let’s meet the characters! Yaga wasn’t the fearsome witch I expected at all. I found her lack of knowledge a bit disorienting at first considering the length of her existence and legendary witchery.  She really had pretty limited skills at first and constantly didn’t know what to do in various situations, but then we see that Yaga had some of the lessons but none of the context from her mother’s teaching. It took a while to build up her experience and characterization.  She gained a much greater awareness throughout the book before fully embracing herself. There were lots of good character arcs too like the Tsar’s descent into tyranny, Vasily as the Russian soldier archetype, Marina, and of course the mediating of all the feelings associated with changing times.

Overall this was a pretty solid debut.  The book got a tad repetitive at times and slowed it’s pace way down to focus a lot on Yaga’s journey. None of it was bad but I ended up docking some points for how it really did feel like a much longer book. That said, I loved the history and magic, the setting and imagery, and in general I am a big fan of Gilmore’s writing! I’ll be looking for whatever she writes next for sure!

⚔️Thank you to the publisher for my early reading copy via NetGalley! All opinions are my own ⚔️


From.the Publisher:

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore was born in Moscow, Russia, raised in the U.S., and graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in English/political science, and from Northwestern School of Law with a JD. She practiced litigation at a large law firm for several years before pursuing her dream of becoming an author. She is most happy writing historical fiction and fantasy inspired by Eastern European folklore. She lives in a wooded, lakeside suburb of Chicago with her husband and daughter. The Witch and the Tsar is her debut novel. Learn more online at www.olesyagilmore.com.

2268306

Author photo by Nicola Levine Photography, LLC 2021!

Categories
Fantasy

The Warrior by Stephen Aryan (Book Review)

A big huge amazing thank you to Angry Robot Books for my finished copies of the Quest for Heroes duology! The Warrior is now out in the world and here are my thoughts on it!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Warrior
  • Series: Quest For Heroes #2
  • Author: Stephen Aryan
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 08/09/22
  • Length: 419 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ yes if you liked book one!

Here’s the synopsis:

The story of Kell Kressia continues in Book II of the gripping fantasy duology. Kell, two time saviour of the Five Kingdoms, is now the King of Algany. He has fame, power, respect, and has never been more miserable…

Bound, by duty and responsibility, Kell is King only in name. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he leaves affairs of state to his wife, Sigrid. When his old friend, Willow, turns up asking him to go on a journey to her homeland he can’t wait to leave.

The Malice, a malevolent poison that alters everything it infects, runs rampant across Willow’s homeland. Desperate to find a cure her cousin, Ravvi, is willing to try a dark ritual which could damn her people forever. Journeying to a distant land, Kell and his companions must stop Ravvi before it’s too late.While Kell is away Reverend Mother Britak’s plans come to a head. Queen Sigrid must find a way to protect her family and her nation, but against such a ruthless opponent, something has to give

The first thing that I love about the book, besides the cover, is the synopsis! Not much more recall is needed.

I’m going to *duck behind the couch* and say that I liked The Coward a lot more than The Warrior. It was nice to see Kell off on another heroic quest, even if none of the humans understood it, and he must have come to terms with a lot of his anxiety and PTSD because it isn’t nearly as severe here. That speaks for the level of resolution provided in the prior book

Character wise, I liked Sigrid the most as she dealt with the crazy old Reverend Mother and the fate of Algany. I wanted more from the Queen and appreciated her arc the most.  Kell and Willow make a good pair although I still wanted more from their friendship, should it be called that.

Where Aryan kind of lost me was in his shift from low fantasy in The Coward to the more magical elements of The Warrior. I got to ask him about it in the Q & A on the SFF Oasis discord and understood what he was saying about wanting to change things up, but it was too strange for me to introduce so much newness into book 2.

Odd’s … Thing … What the heck was it? I was interested in learning and unsatisfied with the resolution to the point that I didn’t care about… What happened. I would have loved at least an update on the two other questers from book one but their story was done. As a result of these things I just didn’t feel for or care about Odd or Yarra at all, so a lot of the book with drawn out scenes featuring these two felt harder to get through.

That said, the setting was well done in places.  I did love the visuals of the Alfár housing, especially the multicolored windows and descriptions of their culture and dwellings.

The ending went from near catastrophe to more or less resolved, real quick, which was OK from a wrap up standpoint but The Warrior wasn’t nearly as light as The Coward to support the quick resolution.

One thing that was really missing was the POV of the new Reverend Mother – even one chapter would have sufficed but I felt like Britak was such a huge presence, then a hole appeared and the plot kept going without filling that leadership role!

I just ended up with a lot of mixed feelings and questions, like about Odd. And did the Vahli saga survive since the Medina saga was the one mentioned by the historian at the end? It also felt a little bare without the chapter lead excerpts than book one had.  I guess that chapter of Kell’s history closed but I missed the little tidbits.
(And this has nothing to do with my rating but those spine sizes, those spine sizes, those spine sizes, who did this)!!

Overall: if you read and enjoyed book one, I would recommend reading book two. I have seen interestingly mixed reviews on which book people prefer so I would definitely say try them both!

Thank you again to AR for my copies, all opinions are my own 


My review for The Coward 

Categories
Fantasy

The Coward by Stephen Aryan (Book Review)

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for hooking me up with a finished copy of The Coward by Stephen Aryan! The sequel, The Warrior, comes out August 9th and I’m excited to jump on the hype train for this duology before it ends!

That said, The Coward is a fast paced book with lower fantasy elements, good characters, decent world building, intricate plot, and a blessedly readable font size!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Coward
  • Series: Quest for Heroes #1
  • Author: Stephen Aryan
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, June 2021
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of epic quests told with a lighter hand

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Who will take up the mantle and slay the evil in the Frozen North, saving all from death and destruction? Not Kell Kressia, he’s done his part…

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…

Oh Kell, aren’t you just a bucket of joy.  Let’s talk about him first. I appreciated the anxiety/PTSD element of the character and how the author showed that Kell wasn’t ok after his first trip to the North.  Many books throw heroes into quests and horrible situations without ever following up on the aftermath – so it was interesting to see that as a main plot point.  Despite ten years to rest and recover, the experience haunts Kell.  Would anyone ever want to be faced with that again? I enjoyed his redemption arc!

I liked the other characters too. Everyone in Kell’s party more or less volunteered for the mission. Each had their own mental and physical barriers to overcome and I enjoyed meeting the questing crew.  It might have been nice to go a little deeper into each character, although I predict that only one of them is going to end up in the next book.  The group worked and fought together well though, and there was enjoyable dialogue. Banter, not so much. 

One thing I noticed was that the characters tended to pair off to talk and even to fight, more than interacting as a group, and I would have liked to see a little more of that bigger group aspect.

The overall pace was fairly quick. Aryan didn’t spend a lot of time bogging us down with details.  The political plotting, religion, and lore were well described within reverend mother Britak’s chapters and that added a lot of depth to the world.  I liked her chapters, she was a crafty old bat! The old folks were pretty ruthless in this book,  between Britak and the old king that sent Kell on the quest – those two should have gotten right along. 

The book had fairly good worldbuilding too.  The religious lore ties into the plotline in more ways than one.  There’s also weather, terrain, food, local customs, and descriptions of buildings among other things that add to the setting. 

While parts of the book stayed pretty light, there was quite a bit of violence and darkness thrown in too.  The fact that Aryan skirted along without spending too much time on any one topic kept it from becoming too heavy.

 Where he really lost me was with his consistency at times – for example – in one chapter, a character’s leg becomes mangled.  Shortly after the character was up and running along full speed.  There is no way the characters could have accomplished so much with their injuries over such a short period of time.  I’m also a reader who reads out loud in my head as I go so that typos really throw me out of my reading rhythm.  For a third printing there were still a *lot*.  It’s not a huge issue overall but tended to throw me out of immersion.   Lastly, that slang! Some slang was like old English (Arse, cock, etc), although right at the start he was rife with the modern (fuck, shit) words.  

I won’t lie that the book got off to a rough start for me but did, very quickly, redeem itself.

Ending on a good note – once the book gets going, it really gets going.  I liked the battle scenes and emotional toll that kept the quest rolling forward.  There was one source of magic in the book – and without spoilers, let’s say that I enjoyed everything associated with the Lich’s castle.  I also hope to see more of the Alfár in the next book since they seem to be the “magical” race.

Overall – I enjoyed this book as an epic quest fantasy that isn’t as dense as others in the genre.  I would definitely recommend for fans of books with lower fantasy elements who aren’t counting on a super involved world build and magic system.  I think Kell become a real hero by the end of this book and I can’t wait to see how he handles the storm coming in the next installment.

Thanks again to AR for my finished copy, I hope to have a review for The Warrior coming in the next week!

Categories
Fantasy

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay (Book Thoughts)

I was so glad to read The Summer Tree along with a fantastic group of bloggers for this year’s Wyrd & Wonder read-along! I have been posting each week this month, and now this is my regular old book review and thoughts post, spoiler free!

Let’s jump right in:

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Summer Tree
  • Series: The Fionavar Tapestry, #1
  • Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Publisher & Release: 1984
  • Length: around 380 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 3.5 stars – I didn’t love the book but I respect it and think it fits in with 80s fantasy. Would recommend for adult fantasy readers

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

The first volume in Guy Gavriel Kay’s stunning fantasy masterwork.

Five men and women find themselves flung into the magical land of Fionavar, First of all Worlds. They have been called there by the mage Loren Silvercloak, and quickly find themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. For Kim, Paul, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave all have their own part to play in the coming battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s classic epic fantasy plays out on a truly grand scale, and has already been delighting fans of imaginative fiction for twenty years.

This book truly has about a hundred different editions from different publishers but I’m pretty sure it was originally published in 1984 somewhere in Canada.

My first main thought is that based off of the synopsis I never ever ever would have picked this book up if it was not for the read along. I definitely didn’t love or particularly enjoy it but it was entertaining and got me thinking about fantasy as a larger genre and wear certain styles and tropes fit in so I definitely think that the read had value.

Essentially the plot is that five grad students in Toronto get sucked into an adventure in a magical world. They don’t get a lot of information before going but more or less take on the adventure in different ways, integrating themselves more or less successfully into the politics and struggles of Fionavar.

My biggest issue with the whole book is that it was essentially a hyper dramatic stage drama cartoon playing out in my head. The villains were the absolute super worst, the characters were all more or less cardboard cutouts, and it was really hard for me to care about what was going on beyond saying like “hahah Wow that’s fucked up”

Underlying everything there was value in the prophecy, lore, foretelling, historical events, and world itself of Fionavar. I did enjoy the world building that was given and GGK hinted at some of the events that would be happening in the next book so I’m kind of excited to see where he takes the series.

Some parts were better developed than others but it was enough to make me believe that GGK is well capable of building a world and magic and struggles that I would want to read, although other parts were not fleshed out very well at all.

Speaking of the way that he writes, I had a really hard time with some of the purple prose and language in general. I really did feel like I was reading a stage drama script sometimes that cued how dramatic the characters were trying to be.

It’s hard to talk about it without giving spoilers but I think that it’s a hyper exaggerated and tropey book, which is absolutely an author choice and there for entertainment. I do think The Summer Tree fits in with some of the older fantasy that I’ve read from that time period and would recommend for adult readers age 18 plus who are interested in some classic fantasy.

War, kingdom, evil, destiny, prophecy, sword and sorcery – this does have the elements of a solid read even if the stylistic choices didn’t work for me.

One final thought: I really wish that my edition had the Pegasus on the cover because pretty much all of them seem to except mine 🤣

Categories
Fantasy

Iron Garland by Jeff Wheeler (Book Thoughts)

It looks like Wyrd & Wonder month is turning into a binge of the Harbinger series by Jeff Wheeler.  They are quick reads thankfully because I am dying to jump into Deadhouse Gates because yes, Malazan is life now LOL.

Iron Garland is the first book I have blogged this month that is eligible for the Wyrd & Wonder bingo board, so…. I am using it for the prompt “Don’t leave the path”.  While it’s not in a woodland connotation, the first reason is that the world of Lockhaven and high society is so strict in societal norms for women that a single misstep in a dance, a single breach of propriety, crossing the wrong person, any small thing can derail a woman’s prospects. Stay on that path! The second “path” is that of the Mastons. There is a very different set of beliefs and guidelines for Mastons (think like religious norms with divine guidance) that also set a strict path for these people.  While the Knowing won’t abandon people for making mistakes and learning from them, it gets harder and harder to get back on the right path after straying due to the way society and debt is structured, plus the influence of the Myriad ones.

Now that I’ve talked about the prompt, let’s briefly talk about the book! Spoiler free of course. My reviews for the series so far are linked at the bottom!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Iron Garland
  • Series: Harbinger #3
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North – November 2018
  • Length: 353 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 absolutely keep the series going

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

For three years, Sera Fitzempress has been a pawn in a gilded prison—the floating manor of Pavenham Sky. Disgraced and exiled from society, she has been isolated from the downtrodden she’s determined to liberate. But although Sera may seem subservient on the outside, the stubborn princess has only become emboldened.

Now in charge of her family’s estate, Cettie Pratt has grown into an independent young woman, although she continues to be tested by the high society of the clouds. Advancing in the magic of the Mysteries, Cettie is also a useful tool of defense during turbulent times. However, as more of Cettie’s mysterious past comes to light, her greatest challenge may be a reckless stranger with a dark secret.

The fog of war is drawing in, and with it comes a startling new enemy who may unravel secrets that both women would prefer stay hidden. But their secrets may be the only way to stop the coming darkness…

Ok I know I didn’t love Mirror Gate so much but Wheeler brings all the stops out in Iron Garland.

Wheeler assumes now that we are familiar enough with both the Harbinger and Kingfountain worlds to drop all pretenses and world building fluff and tell the story.

Sera absolutely shines in this one.  It is the growth and power I have been waiting for from her! Three years have passed since she was figuratively imprisoned at Pavenham Sky, and as much as we hate to admit it, Lady Corinne gave her the tools she needed to succeed at court.  I was thrilled to see Sera at Kingfountain and I think Prince Trevon will be interesting going forward as well.

One exciting thing is that Wheeler tells us something about an old Kingfountain legend – the Maid of Donremy – that I won’t share for spoiler alerts but it brings the entire war of hard feelings into perspective and raises a lot of thoughts too.

Cettie is powerful as well in this novel and I am both happy and sad for her.  I think we all knew by now that Cettie was to be the Harbinger, that’s not a spoiler, and it was joyful to see her stand up to her adopted siblings and come into her own as Keeper of Fog Willows.  Towards the end though, was she losing her mind? It is entirely out of character for Cettie to ignore a prized possession going missing and someone clearly meddling with her business items.  There is absolutely no way she wouldn’t have confronted anyone about this or pursued it until she had answers, I just don’t believe it.

Action wise – the book opens with a ghastly murder, contains the end of a war, a hunt for a Fear Liath, and some absolutely stunning duplicity towards the end.  The cliffhanger is as equally alarming as the beginning and the book hardly slows down in between. This is what I expect from Wheeler, nothing less at this point!

Lastly I should mention the new residents of Gimmerton Sough, the manor next to Fog Willows – I can’t say too much but the foreshadowing throughout the early part of the novel is obvious and real. You don’t know exactly what the foreshadowing is pointing to but you know to be very, very alert for issues and when they start popping up, oh my 😭 I am so worried for my Fitzroy siblings that I’m going to start Prism Cloud today

Can you think of any books where characters must stay on a literal or figurative path??


The Harbinger Series:

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler (Book Thoughts)

Hi book friends! I have had an absolutely phenomenal reading time in April, including finally starting the Harbinger series.

Look at that cover, do you even need any other incentive to pick up the series?

I flew through Storm Glass in about a day with a mix of reading and listening.  I like Wheeler’s books because they are entertaining and interesting while not being overly complicated, making for quick reads.

Read if:  regency England with a steampunk twist imposed on a fantasy setting of floating  estates sounds good!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Storm Glass
  • Series: Harbinger #1
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, June 2018
  • Length: 367 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 for clean fantasy fans

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

Theirs is a world of opposites. The privileged live in sky manors held aloft by a secretive magic known only as the Mysteries. Below, the earthbound poor are forced into factory work to maintain the engine of commerce. Only the wealthy can afford to learn the Mysteries, and they use their knowledge to further lock their hold on society.

Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity.

Neither girl feels that she belongs. Each seeks to break free of imposed rules. Now, as Cettie dreams of living above and as Sera is drawn to the world below, they will follow the paths of their own choosing.

Both girls will be needed for the coming storm that threatens to overturn their worlds

So I finally got around to starting the Harbinger series, and I’m not disappointed at all. I always make a point of reading the author’s note of a book first, so I knew a little bit about what to expect including that Wheeler wanted to write a historical fiction but ended up imposing that setting into another fantastically built fantasy world.

Imagine the strictest social hierarchy, privilege versus poor, strict governesses, early discovery, factories, even zeppelins.  I think it was interesting that Wheeler started bringing technology and steampunk vibes into a book and one of the main themes is how the characters take new science and incorporate it into their world view. Is it Mystery (magic) or mystery (something yet to be discovered)?  I also liked how these themes are tied directly to the magic in the world.

I love the world building, the rich estates and gardens, waterfalls, and how they contrast with the dirt poor factory districts below teeming with sickness and poverty.

How can you beat a system designed to keep the poor poor, the rich in debt, and everyone except the tip-top of the Elite in check? Hmm

Cettie and Sera are both great protagonists and I can’t wait to follow them through the series. Each is a strong-willed young woman and for once I think that Wheeler actually made children (think around 12, preteen,) seem age appropriate.

Cettie came from the Fells, one of the poor factory districts, and is adopted into a rich floating family estate by a kind military leader. Sera is a princess (!!!A descendent of Maia and Collier about 200 years down the line!!!) who will eventually battle her father for the Empire.

There are whole bunch of Side characters that are worth mentioning too, including Cettie’s new adopted siblings and an estate keeper who is easily as evil as Umbrage!

The plot is quick moving, there is not much down time at all.  There are some hints that end up being obvious and I’m sure some obvious points will turn into surprises later on in the series.

This is also a series that ties into the Muirwood books, in that it takes place in the same world and Muirwood Abbey plus an Aldermaston have a cameo at the end.  I am excited to see more of this setting in the next book.  There is also a Kingfountain tie-in and a mention of a Bhiku, I believe from the Dryad-Born series. I think it’s wild to try to envision all these stories taking place in the same world.

One comment I want to make is to reply to a few people saying they feel that reading this series is like reading the Book of Mormon: …. Ack, I get it but I don’t feel it, yet at least.  Historically the human race makes sense of the world and each individual reality through stories, faith, folk tales, fantasy, but the point is: stories.  Even if part or much of the books is an allegory, the vibe I get is that the characters are deeply attuned to learning and some, like Cettie, are more in concert with the Mysteries (faith, magic, sentience, etc) than others.  I know Wheeler can get preachy (what do you expect from a pastor?) but as I said, I’m not feeling it here, simply a story making sense of the world’s history as he sees it, and I personally love the science and faith intertwining into the characters world view.

Long story short: magic, danger, excitement, propriety and society, learning, debt and tithes, more magic, found family to the max,  and willful young women ready to take on the hierarchy!

Categories
Fantasy

The Killing Fog (Book Review) by Jeff Wheeler

I read The Grave Kingdom series back in 2020 as ARCs, and found that oddly enough the first review never made it into my blog!  Now that I am trying to organize back content I definitely had to rectify that situation.  I am back writing this based on my Instagram thoughts and notes from my reading journal!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Killing Fog
  • Series: The Grave Kingdom #1
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, March 2020
  • Length: 413 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Kingfountain series conjures an epic, adventurous world of ancient myth and magic as a young woman’s battle with infinite evil begins.

Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.

Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.

Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.

The Plot: This is an Asian based fantasy where a young girl is training to become a warrior after watching her family be slain by an invading band. The book starts on a sad note and introduces an interesting tale of magical weapons, ancient curcses, martial arts, political maneuvering, lost kingdoms, and devious dragons.

I believe this is Wheeler’s longest book and also the most slow burning of all of them.  There is a lot of magic and world building to introduce (and a LOT of characters and martial arts) although I found the last 25% to be quite rewarding.

The Worldbuilding: I think the world building is the strongest element.  Each Kingdom has a unique flair, with smells and foods and attitudes unique to the problems and geography of the region.  I enjoyed this and it becomes important in later books as these regions and their rulers are brought back later on.  I think the histories, lore, and general atmosphere of the book were quite cohesive and added a lot to the read.  There is language and symbols used too (with a glossary – thank you)! Looking up the words can slow the pace down a bit but I found it worthwhile and learned soon enough.  My only thing is that if anyone is listening on audio (I am not) this might become hard.

I do love Wheeler’s descriptions of settings and buildings and even climate too, everything about the environment is fused into the action and creates a very strong world build.

For more on the world and aesthetic:

Grave Kingdom

The Magic: I honestly don’t remember how much is given in The Killing Fog about the Grave Kingdom and the Death Wall, but it is as if a wall separates the world from the spiritual realm.  The magical weapons, curses, artifacts, and of course dragons! all add to the action

The Characters: I saved this until last because Wheeler’s biggest weakness as an author is introducing child characters.  Owen and Evie (Kingfountain) Ransom (Argentines)  Lia (Muirwood) – despite having tons of kids, Wheeler just does not do kids well.   They end up with incredible character arcs while the initial presentation simply never hits home – so – my advice is give Bingmei time if she doesn’t ring true at first.

That said – Bingmei is introduced as a young girl who is motivated by revenge after the murder of her grandfather and devastation of her family’s quonsoon.  She is presented as a bit of a blank slate, then grows and learns quickly as she has a bit of a destiny attached to her and is thrown into a role of sacrifice vs savior, with huge decisions that no one ever wants to make.  Her growth and character arc  is one of the high points of the series

The other members of the group (I don’t remember individuals) all had unique personalities, struggles, and abilities too.  I enjoyed the banter and how many fierce women there were, including the leader of the fighting school! There is a male counterpart who becomes Bingmei’s travelling companion (and friend – my favorite, a friend and supporter without a romantic interest)!

I can’t talk much about the romance because it comes with a different character in later books, but, there is one dashingly tragic rebel Prince who was total book boyfriend material.

Random things: another big check for the clean, more wholesome content I come to expect from Wheeler.  Issues – the fight scenes got a little repetitive by the end, I was joking singing “Wheeler goes kung-fu fighting”!  Bingmei also has an innate ability using smells that is cool, but doesn’t seem to fit with anyone else’s magic or abilities so it threw me off.  The length and pace dragged a bit although ultimately paid off, resulting in this being my least favorite Wheeler book to date. It wasn’t bad by any means but I do not recommend starting his books with this series!

For fans of found family, crews, discovery, atmosphere, tragedy, magic, new worlds, legends, strong women and more – definitely check out The Grave Kingdom trilogy!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Star Mother (Book Review) by Charlie N. Holmberg

My head is still hurting from a few recent extremely dense reads. Looking for something lighter I turned to Holmberg, an author I can count on for a faster paced, magical read without too many details bogging it down – and was not disappointed.

Her latest duology, Star Mother, came out this winter and I have had it on my radar. I love her books when I need something cute and addictive without investing a wealth of brain power.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Star Mother
  • Series: Star Mother #1
  • Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, 11/01/21
  • Length: 268 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌞🌞🌞🌞 for romantic fantasy fans or an intro to fantasy

Here is the synopsis via Amazon:

A woman’s heart proves as infinite as the night sky in a breathtaking fantasy by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Charlie N. Holmberg.

When a star dies, a new one must be born.

The Sun God chooses the village of Endwever to provide a mortal womb. The birthing of a star is always fatal for the mother, and Ceris Wenden, who considers herself an outsider, sacrifices herself to secure her family’s honor and take control of her legacy. But after her star child is born, Ceris does what no other star mother has: she survives. When Ceris returns to Endwever, however, it’s not nine months later—it’s seven hundred years later. Inexplicably displaced in time, Ceris is determined to seek out her descendants.

Being a woman traveling alone brings its own challenges, until Ceris encounters a mysterious—and desperate—godling. Ristriel is incorporeal, a fugitive, a trickster, and the only being who can guide Ceris safely to her destination. Now, as Ceris traverses realms both mortal and beyond, her journey truly begins.

Together, pursued across the Earth and trespassing the heavens, Ceris and Ristriel are on a path to illuminate the mysteries that bind them and discover the secrets of the celestial world.

The Plot: This is a fast paced story about a mortal woman who chooses to bear a child of the Sun. I fully enjoyed her journey and watching her develop relationships with both the Sun and *the quintessentially complicated  dark/mysterious/brooding man who is quite a mystery*.  The plot is pretty unique and I enjoyed the idea of the story and lore behind it.

The Magic: In regular Holmberg fashion, she gives the reader just enough lore to understand the world and appreciate the magical elements. The magic held by the celestial beings and their legends felt very folklore ish to me.  The book avoids a few complicated rabbit holes (Time not making sense, for one example), by saying that the Gods only need to know certain things. Then the tides and universe run on Starpower – so it’s something different but all vaguely explained.  I liked the idea of interacting with the Gods and demigods and how they are formed! Ristriel had the most interesting magic by far but talking about it gets spoiler real quick!

World Building: I would like to see more world building in general, but Holmberg mainly tells us the main ideas we need to know for the story to make sense.  I did like the descriptions of the Sun Palace and patriarchal society.  If someone prefers characters and action to world building this will be a perfect book.

The Characters: Ceris was introduced as a prankster with an immature but great sense of humor and I liked her from the start. I don’t want to give too much away about Ristriel.  He was dodgy about who and what he was and I think Ceris let it go a little too quickly.  I also have to admit that while I definitely rooted for and wished each character well as individuals – I didn’t see the chemistry between them.  The Sun was honorable and offered many times to do the right thing by Ceris (from a Christian standpoint anyway) and I liked his lore/legends as well. I hope the next book offers more of the Earth and Moon!

Themes: from the afterword, she wrote the book while in and coming out of a dark place. I liked the musings on faith and divinity, finding family, and keeping your promises.

One thing that did throw me was when a priest called Ceris out for abandoning her 100% fully CHOSEN mate with whom she had the star child – the choice and free will was highly emphasized too throughout the book – I thought he was right.  Coming from a Christian author I was very surprised to see Ceris freak out about her honor as a woman when one can’t argue that she should have stayed with the Sun, who had offered to make her a queen. Ris could have been paired with someone else and prior to this Ceris had been extremely loyal to her betrothed. I also loved the cover but I missed where there was a fox in the book! I think it should have been one of Ristriel’s forms!

All in all, I fully recommend for romantic fantasy fans, folklore, or someone wanting to try fantasy for the first time!

A few notes on the audio: through Brilliance Audio, I didn’t realize that Kristine Hvam did any narration for 47North authors! I am familiar with her from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Ravenspire, and so many more. She is a well respected fantasy narrator (she does other genres too) and this is another solid performance from her.  As the kindle audio is weird, I read and listened about 50/50 to this book.  For sure, though, I definitely appreciate authors like Holmberg and Jeff Wheeler who make their books and audiobooks accessible to read and listen via Kindle Unlimited!