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

Age of Shadows by R.E. Palmer (Book Review)

I thought last night’s post would wrap me up for this month here but it’s been a while since I could post a review.   Last year around this time I read the first book in R.E. Palmer’s Song of Echoes series [See Here] and ended up enjoying it quite a bit.  The series has an epic classic fantasy feel with large scale battles and brave deeds, sorcery, a powerful leader defending the realm, tales of old, and a not necessarily happy outcome.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Age of Shadows
  • Series: Song of Echoes #2
  • Author: R.E. Palmer
  • Publisher & Release: Self, December 2021
  • Length: 437 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ Yes for classic fantasy fans that don’t mind the indie feel

Here’s the synopsis:

As Elodi strives to defend her realm against a new enemy threatening the north, Toryn discovers the dark secret that plunged Hope into despair, destined to live under a shadow of her own making.

But as both struggle in the face of overwhelming forces, the Archon demands all who can bear arms, rally to his cause.

Age of Shadows has been sitting in my request pile since about February making me feel guilty, and I finally made time to pick it up. Palmer introduced a ton of new world building and history, character development, magic, new races, stark imagery, and many other things that made it another enjoyable read. Despite its somewhat numerous flaws in editing, this is a solid indie fantasy and the conclusion was particularly mind blowing.

Let’s talk about the magic first since it was the biggest change from book one.  We saw more of the Wyke’s abilities, for bad and for good, and all the terrible things that the dark magic can accomplish.  The Song and Verses were developed too in both theory, good, bad, and corruption, with a returning character (Hope/Nyomae) discovering her past.  There is also magic introduced with the two new races, Amayan and Nym, both of which contributed a lot of mysticism to the storyline.  Don’t worry though there’s plenty of sword, bow, and siege machinery too if you prefer your battles fought by hand.

The best part of this one was how Palmer took all the world building gaps in Song of Echoes and fleshed out the world through reverie and discovery.  The end is absolutely mind blowing. How can deception and corruption run so deep? HOW? I admire an author that is willing to tear their whole world down.  Will they even manage to rebuild it with the core cast going forward into book three?  There are so many tangled political webs and fronts of battle to defend that I have no idea how he’s going to take the series forward.  I appreciate all the micro world building too as things like the Sunrise tradition were brought to page.

The amount of military strategy and preparation/execution of battles through Elodi’s chapters felt like a bonus.

The characters are pretty well coming into themselves too.  Toryn has recovered from captivity and is learning his own personal history. Nyomae is starting to teach him the ways of the Verse and he FINALLY intersects with Elodi’s storyline.  I have to say she is still the star of the show for me. The Lady faces every fear imaginable as her city falls and she is summoned to defend the realm despite the loss of her lands.  I don’t know how she rode straight into battle but she did, with her two captains at her side. Gundrul and Cubric both ended up being good characters too, carrying most of the banter and “aw shucks” moments.  I’m worried for the other captain, Ruan, hoping he made it to safety. Palmer doesn’t tend to leave loose ends so I assume he will be back in book three.

I do wish though that some of the revelations came sooner, although I’m ok with a slowburn.

And the end? No spoilers but the entire world did a somersault and I’m here for it this time.

Overall: Tons of action and many new discoveries kept Age of Shadows moving at a great pace.  I loved all the new things and never felt bored while reading, As a fan of all the world building ever – yes I’ll keep reading these!  I kept a star docked for the ton of editing issues and a few mishaps but overall would recommend these to fantasy fans who enjoy a large scope and classic feel to their adventures.

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

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson (Thoughts & First Impressions)

A lot of people have been waiting very patiently for this and I apologize for how long it took. There is so much that one could potentially say about Gardens of the Moon and the Malazan  series in general, and for my first post I want to take a very general approach to how I felt coming into the book and how I feel coming out of it and into the next one. I think this will have a lot of good information for other first time readers and those debating about whether to start the series

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Gardens of the Moon
  • Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1
  • Author: Steven Erickson
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Books, 1999
  • Length: 666 pages (MMPB)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ and yes, hard yes, for anyone with even a casual interest in military or regular fantasy

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

Vast legions of gods, mages, humans, dragons and all manner of creatures play out the fate of the Malazan Empire in this first book in a major epic fantasy series from Steven Erikson.

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order–an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.

Okay, so anyone with even a casual interest in fantasy has heard of Malazan, and with that knowledge comes the fact that this fandom is completely full of elitist fucks.  I let that level of elitism deter me for a long time because I found it intimidating, which is just stupid, because when a book is just this damn good people just need to read it.  I get the hype, I really do, but let’s talk about this on an introductory level

First off, the author recommends reading them in publication order which I think is awesome. The series seems super intimidating but it’s really not because the reading order, at least the first time through, is pretty straightforward.

The book itself is written on such an amazing, huge, wonderful scope, that yeah you are absolutely not going to pick up everything on the first read. I sure as hell didn’t. I’m halfway through book two now and learning quite a bit about book one still so do not be concerned if you start reading and go ” holy fuck I have no idea what’s going on” – trust me, you’ll get there.

One of the things that I tend to love about military fantasy is that it’s very realistic in terms of the reader knowing just about as much as the characters knowing. A lot of fantasy holds your hand and explains things and walks you through what’s happening, but in a military engagement this is absolutely not going to be  realistic. If the characters know what’s going on, you probably know what’s going on, but even then sometimes you don’t. Eventually in the text things are explained so you kind of have to just keep reading and learn as you go

That said, there’s a very helpful index including people, places, and some of the phrases used in the text. A good example is the word “Soletaken” – you can either look it up in the index, or just wait for someone to explain it. 

I think the coolest thing about this book is just how absolutely epic and all encompassing it is. You’ve got humans, non-humans, empresses, mages, gods and other deities, assassins, the undead, dragons, talking giant ravens, hounds, magic weapons, epic sorcery, and just about anything else you could ever want in a fantasy mashed into these pages somewhere. It’s truly and epically impressive and I’m not even scratching the surface.  

Another thing that I really appreciate is how Erikson does not mince words. If a character is fat, awesome, if they’re black, awesome, whatever.  Burned, missing an eye or arm, whatever. Just about the only thing that makes anybody turn their head is a puppet with devastating sorcery capabilities.

Even the most boring storyline in this book eventually ties into bigger things and gives you a big validating “oh wow!” moment, or six.  Even when the text isn’t necessarily exciting you get cool fantasy names like “Despot’s Barbican” to keep you entertained and curious. I didn’t love the Darujistan political storyline until it started falling into place, but it was still cool.

The level of political intrigue is right up there as well, both within and outside of the Malazan Empire.   The mages are plotting, the gods are plotting, Dujek is plotting, some of Whiskey Jack’s men are plotting …. Everyone’s got an end game and you have no idea what any of it is until Erickson decides to tell you.  Some of the plots carry right over into the next book too.

The sorcery and some of the fight scenes are epic too.  So are the characters and interwoven plots. I love the names like WhiskeyJack, Tattersail, Anomander Rake, Topper, Fiddler, Quick Ben – Erikson comes close to Glen Cook in the “fun military nicknames” category – and just smashes him everywhere else. No offense but Cook even admits he was outdone in the book plug 🤣

Some of my favorite themes were … Cause and effect. Luck. PTSD and how war sucks away humanity. Friends and found family.  Protecting your own.

Some of the coolest magic – Anomander Rake’s sword, which essentially sucks souls into it and puts them to a hellish task.  Also Hairlock’s puppet shenanigans.  The shape shifting.  At the end it was hard to tell 100% what happened but that was some damn fine sorcery as well with the “house” appearing. One more awesome point of magic is the future telling or guiding Deck of Dragons. It’s not readily apparent how involved and magical the decks are, but when it comes out it’s quite interesting!

I feel like I’m already writing an essay (while hardly scratching the surface).

I want to stress again to first time readers too –  just keep reading when you feel overwhelmed, I think the best approach is to let it wash over you without interrupting the reading too much. You’re not stupid, you’re not alone, it’s a LOT to take in.

I am told that this is the least well written of his books as well, so I have high high high hopes for the rest of the series

🖤

Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

The Summer Tree Week 4 Readalong & Wrap up!

Yayyy we did it, this is the finish line! The week four questions are hosted by Bookforager over at https://bookforager.wordpress.com/ , who has my favorite website layout ever, it’s so easy to find things!

Anyway! I have so many thoughts on the ending and the book in general.  It was awesome to read along with such an awesome group of bloggers too. I learned a lot about the fantasy genre in general from reading everyone else’s thoughts and am super glad to have been able to participate!


1. Paul is now the Lord of the Summer Tree. What do you think this means/ will mean?

I think it means I’m an idiot for thinking he would end up dead and buried after the three days! I have NO IDEA what this means.  My best guess is that he is some kind of Avatar for Mörnir and was either granted special knowledge or will otherwise be afforded some respect by the court if nothing else

2. Each of our grad students has found a role to play in Fionavar, most questionably Jennifer. She asks herself “what was her sin, what had she done” to deserve the terrible TERRIBLE punishment she receives at the hands of Maugrim and his creatures. What are your thoughts and feelings on Jennifer’s plight, and how have you made sense of it within the scope of the story so far?

Yeah like WTF, are they all just going to teleport back to Toronto after this? That *WAS* the ending, no?  I am going to be that person and say that overall, GGK isolated my feelings about the characters by making them all caricatures.  Aileron – the most valiant prince. Diarmuid – the biggest scoundrel.  Maugrim – omg most evil dude ever right down to the burning eyes and hooded face.

What happened to Jen? Honestly I just figured GGK was continuing to go for “the WORST THING EVER” and he concocted something that would even have George RR Martin golf clapping.

In the greater context beyond shock value, I would be a little annoyed by Silvercloak if he had forseen that and was alluding to it when he first met Jen

3. What did you make of the many events in the throne room, from the assassination attempt to the showdown for the crown?

This felt like a stage drama to me! I think it was probably one of Diarmuid’s most serious lines in the entire book, when he acknowledged that both were trying, or at least willing, to assassinate him.  I am not sure how he ended up yielding the crown so easily either, I wanted a lot more prince vs prince drama.

I was also surprised that the Black Rose (or whatever she went by) was interested in potentially murdering him.  I would have thought she would be gunning for marriage or another political alliance, not sneaking in. DID SHE FORGET THAT IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO?  He acknowledged that “plucking a flower” was probably in poor taste, but at the same time, IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO

4. There’s been a surfeit of signs, a plethora of portents in this week’s reading. Now is the time to air your opinions on such things as flying unicorns, getting lost in the woods, the Cave of the Sleepers, magical Horns and unearthed Cauldrons

This is probably my most serious conversation topic – I think it’s a good example of some things that GGK did really well, and some that he did really badly.  The cauldron, for example, made me realize that there’s more than one super evil destroyer of things with more than one goal here.  That whole story line needed more to flesh itself out but I’m sure we will be revisiting it later on.

Which horn came first, RJ or GGK?  I like magical horns.  Kristin Britain did one too.   TOP 5 MAGICAL HORNS, THERE’S ANOTHER ONE!

I think you can never go wrong with a flying unicorn, I absolutely adore pegasus and unicorns and any other kind of sentient equine whatsoever.  I do feel a post coming on my TOP 5 SENTIENT EQUINES IN FANTASY! The last one mentioned – being lost in the woods – I think that was one of the most magical scenes and I was so worried for the boys! Those woods had a mind of their own and truly it was a good thing that the powers that be were eventually distracted by Paul

5. The Dwarves did it, in the darkness, with the Cauldron of Khath Meigol! What do you make of this last-minute revelation? And care to make any predictions on future developments?

Well …. we finally got Matt’s story. I was hoping for Matt’s real name, because there’s no way it’s Matt. I loved the bit of dwarf lore but it seems like he will have to go back, maybe with Silvercloak, and right some past wrongs.

Seriously though just when you thought the court couldn’t get any more dramatic…

6. Finally, reaction shots on Maugrim the Unraveller – go!

I was picturing Skeletor from He-Man, honestly, and laughing.  Like animate the eyes red and go. I know I know I know I’m terrible but I literally had this entire book playing out in my head as a He-Man style animated cartoon and I just thought it was funny, that’s the best I can do for you guys

Overall – I swear I’m not trying to undermine anyone’s true and undying love for this book but while entertained and fascinated, I didn’t take the story itself very seriously.  I enjoyed the themes and applying them to a broader context within fantasy literature more than the story itself

What I really want to see though is how GGK grows and moves on from the first book – did he hear criticism about the characters and flesh them out more? Do we see how they were affected by events back in Toronto and they return to Fionavar for round two because – hey, your destiny is calling about it’s extended warranty?

I can’t wait to find out!

Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

The Summer Tree Read along – week three!

Turn back now for spoilers through chapter 12, up to the start of chapter 13!

Overall I found these chapters both more interesting and readable, although GGK truly and officially lost me as far as caring about any of the characters lol.

I take that back, I care deeply for Ysanne’s cat

Week three’s questions provided by @queenzucchini at https://thequaintbooknook.com/ !!


1. We’ve seen some extreme behaviour – we learn that Galadan wants to unravel the world because it witnessed his rejection. Ysanne’s sacrifice takes her out of the Tapestry entirely. What were your reactions to these and other character motivations?

I think I am the outlier here but I feel like GGK is just hyper exaggerating every trope out there.  Boo-hoo someone rejects you, time to destroy everything! What pride! What egocentrism! Delusion of reference! Lolol I can’t

Ysanne’s made sense, I think she needed to unravel herself in order to kick Kim’s seerism to the next level. I don’t quite understand how or why but the sacrifice to the dagger felt necessary.

2. And speaking of sacrifice, Paul has spent his final night on the Summer Tree and all his defences have been stripped. How are you feeling towards Paul now and what do you think might happen to him next? Rereaders – do you remember your first reactions to this?

Paul honestly pissed me off, although he’s not the only character I have read recently (The Latecomer) that derailed mentally and checked out after a fatal car accident.  He seemed to have control issues prior to the accident too.  What I really want to know is how long he and Rachel were separated before she hooked up with and then got engaged to the other dude, I mean she was taunting Paul so badly like “hey you’re suffocating but THIS dude cries after sex”

Ooook Rachel, calm down.  Anyway, I have a pet peeve over casually suicidal characters (thank VE Schwab and Fredrik Backman for that one) and honestly – Paul got his wish, ok let’s move on.

The way this question reads makes me think that Paul isn’t actually dead. /facepalm. What I would hope happens next is that someone cuts him down and buries him.

3. Alongside (or because of?) Paul’s time on the Summer Tree, some cosmic forces seem to be moving in Fionavar again. Last week we talked about prophecy, but how do you feel about the role of deities and mythology in the book?

This is by the far the only part I am interested in at this point, plus the conflict that I’m sure will develop between the two princes.

I loved the whole sequence where the goddess answered the gauntlet in the sky with the blood moon.  I also enjoyed the little hint that the bad guy has been free for a while now and just finally decided to declare war! The cosmic forces are moving and I am here for it

4. We have (officially) met the banished prince Aileron! Impressions? And does his presence and return to court give us any further insight into the politics of Brennin?

I can’t wait until the Prince actually returns to court and confronts all the people in power, including Diarmuid. All we know right now is that Silvercloak supports him and Ysanne must have foreseen something that warranted keeping him closeby. Politics are sure about to get a lot more complicated!

I thought he was a spy when we first met him, the true identity was a bit of a surprise. I liked the entire cat vs. Prince scene and it seems like Kim is heading towards becoming a seeress queen 😂 her ability to banter came out of nowhere

5. At last, Dave has returned to grace the pages! His absence has caused much speculation, but how do you feel about him now that we know what he’s been up to?

Well he definitely wasn’t hiding in a broom closet, I guessed wrong! It seemed at first like Dave would be the least likely to acclimate and embrace the experience, but he seems like he has handled it the best of all of them. Chill, meld in with a hunter tribe, make some friends, sleep around a bit, and body slam a mythical evil creature. Wield a giant axe? Sure why not.

Dave is by far the most surprising of any of the characters so far, he must have been the one who secretly needed a little magic in his life

6. Dave’s time with the Dalrei gives us a great deal of insight into a previously unseen culture within Fionavar, so it’s time for a world-building check in! Anything standing out?

The deities and the description of the big mountain are standing out the most right now. I think I like the Dave storyline the most of any of them right now, although having more mythology revealed is interesting too. The Dalrei became the best developed group in the book though which makes me think they will be important going forward.

7. And as always, any other thoughts?

I think GGK lost me with the dream sequence feel of chapter 9. Thankfully he reined in the purple prose after that and went back to just telling the story, which I am now more or less invested and interested in. Add in a cult and a sibling rivalry, also possibly? A dragon? And I’m down for anything

Excited to see how it wraps up next week!

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
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay (Read-a-long Questions)

***Tree wolf image by chic2view (Wyrd & Wonder 2022)! Please do not alter the image & credit the artist ❤***


I am so glad to be reading The Summer Tree with the Wyrd & Wonder readalong! My favorite discussion format is a few chapters a week with questions, so this is perfect

I’ll be uploading my weekly discussion question responses to this thread!


Week One – Questions hosted by Imyril! Do check out her blog for tons of great fantasy content!

1) How are you reading along with us? Is this a first time or a reread? Show us your book cover!

I am reading via a paperback and this is my first time reading.  I have read Mists of Arbonne by GGK. Honestly if I had just read the synopsis of The Summer Tree I think I would have never picked it up since the blurb is borderline corny!

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2) The prose style is as distinctive as calling the prologue an overture. How are you finding it?

I don’t dislike the prose but he has the weirdest way of naming characters. Paul! Schafer! Paul Schafer! In 3 paragraphs GGK can call Paul 4 different names and it drives me nuts since there’s only one Paul. He does it with Dave Martyniuk too – there’s only one Dave and the scattered use of last names is just grating on me.for some reason

Some of his similes are a bit weird too – did anyone else catch the part at the end of chapter six where the lake was immediately sexualized and then that whole scene was allegoric to the loss of innocence? GGK makes some “interesting” stylistic choices

All in all, it is quick reading and easy to first prose

3) Each visitor gets a moment to define them before they arrive in Fionavar. What are your first impressions of our travellers? Any you particularly like / dislike?

I just don’t think it was enough! In that sequence GGK barely touches on the women while introducing parts of what motivates the men.  I’ve already got Paul picked out as the sacrificial lamb but I have no thoughts on the others yet, except that they seem inconsistent.

Kim is a cutout that clearly has some type of Seer abilities, and while Jennifer kept saying she was frightened she was able to face down the Prince with claws at the ready.

That said – I’m down for fantasy that focuses more on story than characters

4) …and what do you make of the characters & politics of Paras Derval?

This is only to the end of chapter 6 – I am curious as to what end game they are playing! We finally learned of the conflict and curse in Fionavar, but the politics and alliances are still fairly undefined.

I might be the only one but the characters seem like cardboard cutouts right now.   Loren – mage. Gorlaes – bad guy. Metran – doddering old mage. Ysanne – mysterious sorceress. Jaelle – angry priestess. Diarmuid – rakish Prince playing his own political game.

The king is the only one I thing has layers so far!

5) The obvious question: would you accept Loren’s invitation? Given the reception from Diarmuid and Gorlaes, would you regret it?

Back in college I would have gone in a second, no questions asked like get me out of here!  Now I have too much adult stuff going on, animals to care for and such.  I would have been ok with the reception of the prince sneaking me alcohol 😂

6) How/Do you judge Loren for keeping so many secrets from the visitors?

I don’t judge him – yet – it’s too hard to know what the visitors role will be at this point.  Obviously there is a lot going on and while  some of it is starting to become clear, we don’t really know what Loren’s endgame is yet.  I think if he had told them any more they would have balked too

7) There is a lot of worldbuilding so far! Intriguing or overwhelming? Anything standing out for you? And as always: any other thoughts this week?

I think it’s a bit overwhelming, but at this point I have read enough epic fantasy to just absorb what I can and let the rest wash over me as part of the reading experience.

The part sticking out to me is the Legend of The Summer Tree and the hanging kings for sure, I love when magic and rulers/kings are tied to the land

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
Fantasy

(I Finally Finished) The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

Despite The Shadow Rising being arguably the best book of the series so far, I just could not get through the first 500 pages.  The second half was so much better

The issue with a 1007 page book? It just doesn’t seem like I am ever making progress, and as much as I am here for “the journey”, it’s SO HARD sometimes.  Reading for hours and hardy making a dent kills my morality these days.

That said … I don’t love how the book world spends so much time focusing on numbers, and my favorite reads of 2021 were all over 800 pages, but still

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Shadow Rising
  • Series: The Wheel of Time #4
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Publisher & Release: TOR Books, September 1992
  • Length: 1007 (MMPB)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ I mean I think everyone should give the series 4-5 books then make a decision

The new synopsis:.

Jordan’s #1 New York Times bestselling epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time®, Rand al’Thor now wields the sword Callandor. He is both the Champion of Light and the Dragon Reborn. Now, he seeks answers to another prophecy that lies with the warrior people known as the Aiel to put him on the path of learning how to wield the One Power.

Accompanied by Moiraine Damodred, Rand arrives at the Aiel Waste and is granted permission by the Wise Ones to enter the sacred city of Rhuidean. After passing through a doorframe ter’angreal, Moiraine gains foresight while the Aiel await Rand’s return, either with both arms marked by dragon symbols, validating his identity as He Who Comes With the Dawn, the Chief of Chiefs of all the Aiel―or to never emerge at all.

Overall, each storyline had a lot more going on and keeping it exciting in the final 400 pages or so.  I think again that just the length throws me off more than anything, but I think this was the best of the books (and that seems to be a common thought among Wot readers that the 4th is the pinnacle befire the 5-9 slog).

Rand is still figuring out how to lose the last vestiges of a Two Rivers boy, but he is the Lord of Tear and the Dragon Reborn and a big part of the book is him coming into these roles.  Rand had to stand in defense of his stronghold, then set off and claim his right with the Aiel people.

We finally learn about his birth too.  The history of the Aiel and the concepts of Rhuidean were probably my favorite part

Meanwhile, Part in rides back to save the Two Rivers from the Whitecloaks.  I hate Faille with every ounce of my being and am just waiting to see what exactly she trapped Perrin into without his knowing.  It was absolutely wonderful watching him bring Emonds Field together with the other towns to defeat the trollocs though, the people did proud to their Manetheren bloodlines!

The Nynaeve and Elayne storyline … Ugh I mean they are hunting black ajah and did Rand a huge service finding a certain artifact, and we saw exactly how strong Nynaeve really is.  There’s just so much braid tugging and arguing with those two that I can’t.

Mat hung out on the sidelines but I liked how he stuck by with Rand no matter how dangerous it got.  Their friendship got a boost in this book and I couldn’t believe what happened in Rhuidean to Mat – I’m not entirely sure I understand fully what happened but his new spear is bad ass.

Min, Elaida, Siuan, and Leanne – why!! Elaida has to be absolutely insane.  I had trouble understanding why Galad and Gawain didn’t side with Siuan, and how the warders possibly lost, but the dice are cast I guess.  What happens now with the White Tower broken?

Some miscellaneous thoughts and things:

  • I enjoy seeing different nationalities takes on the Dragon prophecy.  Each have a different name and story but all are being fulfilled.
  • Getting a glimpse of the sea people were interesting
  • Lanfear cracked me up at the end with the fat suit thing
  • The forsaken! It’s hard to remember that the forsaken were human (Aes Sedai) once, but the scheming and aligning of them in The Shadow Rising is a good reminder
  • Everything about Asmodean – this is the only reason I am reading book 5. Lanfear was a bit of a genius on that one
  • It looks like Aviendha, Min, and Elayne will be the three lovers.  It makes sense since Aiel lords have multiple wives

Questions going forward:

  • How will the Andor line affect the final battle?
  • Mat is going to marry … One of the Seanchan princesses? Someone from the court of the nine moons? I wonder how that comes about
  • What exactly does marrying a lady mean for Perrin?
  • How do Siuan, Leanne, and the stilled Logain affect things going forward?

I am maintaining these posts as a reading journal more than anything else but if you have read and would like to chat about these books, find me on twitter or IG at @OneReadingNurse !