Categories
Fantasy Fiction Horror audiobooks

Wizard & Glass by Stephen King (or, why I can’t finish a series)

Ever notice that I tend to get about three or four books into a series and then quit? The fact is that in between ARCs I never had time to read these giant, door stopping books, and once they got above 8-900 pages I was just about out of luck …

Well, this book was one of these clonkers. It took me two weeks to get through it even listening on partial audio (28 hours total 😭) so it’s kind of easy to see where a reader with deadlines gets to these longer books and comes to a screeching halt.

Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, the great Mark Lawrence wrote (see GoodReads) that you are either a Roland (and hate Wizard & Glass because no progress is made) or an Oy (you love everything about the journey despite it being a giant flashback).

For once I am glad that I’m taking the time to be an Oy, and this is a more than appropriate kickoff to GrimDarkTober.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wizard & Glass
  • Series: The Dark Tower #4
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: Grant, 1997
  • Length: 704 original hardcover (my PB around 930 pages) 
  • Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ I’m team “enjoy the journey”

Here’s the synopsis:

Roland the Gunslinger, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake survive Blaine the Mono’s final crash, only to find themselves stranded in an alternate version of Topeka, Kansas, that has been ravaged by the superflu virus. While following the deserted I-70 toward a distant glass palace, Roland recounts his tragic story about a seaside town called Hambry, where he fell in love with a girl named Susan Delgado, and where he and his old tet-mates Alain and Cuthbert battled the forces of John Farson, the harrier who—with a little help from a seeing sphere called Maerlyn’s Grapefruit—ignited Mid-World’s final war

So this book started out where The Wastelands left off, in an epic riddling contest between Eddie and Blaine the Mono. Was I belly laughing at the dead baby jokes? 

Um…. Maybe? I had a cathartic laughing experience at the baby and the SuperFlu one, I have such tied up feelings about pandemics and it’s not usually who I am but I think I just needed to laugh at something particularly horrible.  Some inner turmoil definitely released there, so thank you Mr King.

Anyway, Eddie is probably turning into one of my favorite book characters of all time, even if our main characters essentially drop off the page once Roland starts his story.

It’s creepy, dark, witchy, mystical, had me absolutely cringing at some especially gory parts, and was everything I’ve come to expect from King at this point.  I wanted Roland and Cuthbert and Alain to succeed. It was painful to watch youth and inexperience war against the more hardened players as they uncovered the true goings on in Hambry.

Not going to lie, I’m all for Roland and Susan too.  I was actually pretty broken up about how that all ended.  P.S. none of this is spoilery, it’s all alluded to in prior books.

Character wise – really quick – yes I liked the boys and their personalities. It was nice to finally “meet” them. Rhea the witch is probably the creepiest witch I’ve read in a LONG time, and more than once I had to put it down and go think non-gorey thoughts for a bit.  Sheemie was the real hero in the pages for sure.

One thing that struck me was the level of anticipatory grief that I was having for certain character deaths that actually never occured. They have to happen at some point but not all happened here and for that I was glad, because it was hard enough to read what was already there.

I do wish that King hadn’t essentially gone all Wizard of Oz at the end. It was just weird, and felt a lot weirder than the whole Charlie the Train thing he had going on before.  I won’t hold the ending against the rest of the book but it did put a weird taste in my mouth after such a disturbingly wonderful journey.

Quick note on what I heard from Frank Muller when I was listening – he’s a great narrator and added a LOT to the story, made my skin crawl reading Rhea’s parts!

Long story short: I’m an Oy. I appreciated the journey and am excited to keep reading forward.  When will I have time for the next book, even longer at 931 pages? I hope next month! 


The Dark Tower series so far:

1. The Gunslinger

2. The Drawing of the Three 

3. The Waste Lands


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

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (Book Thoughts)

While I admittedly haven’t done much reading this month, for various reasons, I was finally able to finish Foundryside. The book was an August buddy read on Discord that I was interested in but couldn’t get to on time, and I’m glad I eventually did.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Foundryside
  • Series: The Founder’s Trilogy #1
  • Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Publisher & Release: Crown, 2018
  • Length: 513 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ for fans of the genre that don’t mind a deep dive into magic systems

Here’s the synopsis:

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself—the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic—the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience—have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined

Alright so this is a steampunk-y heist fantasy with a very scientific magic system, lots of snark, and a group of characters that are typical individuals in an atypical group. Bear with me on this because the brave and tragic male character isn’t usually portrayed as the third wheel to the women and that’s where this book won me over.

First let’s talk about the narrative voice.  I personally do best with third person limited, where you see the world through the main character’s eyes and mind but the story is told by a separate narrator.  I like the style because I tend to view the book as a movie in my brain while I’m reading it, and if the imagery is realized well enough to create a realistic world for me to get lost in, all the better.

So that’s where I think the author really succeeded here.  Whether in the dumps of Foundryside, the commons, the guild areas of money and waste, or even the dungeon, I had no problem visualizing Tevanne unspooling around Sancia. 

To further tie that into the world building, remember my fixation with guild drama that started with Garth Nix? There’s tons of (but never enough) guild drama, politics, scheming, plotting, old customs, new customs, relics and religion and lore to really flesh out the world build.  Most of the slang was world based too.  “Scrumming” seems to be the Tevanni primary cuss word, and the explanation is just perfect 😂

Ok, let’s briefly do the magic system next.  It’s scientific, and it’s the main info dump of the novel. More than once, Bennett takes a deep dive into the science of his glyph/sigil based magic system called Scriving.  The whole point is to convince objects that reality is something else.  I’m just going to say that it’s by far one of the more interesting magics I’ve seen recently. It was extremely well thought out, although I felt like it bogged the pace down at times when instead of focusing on action, the magic took precedence. I’m not complaining but it made me zone out a bit at times and just felt like too much, so I docked half a star. Really, I’m nitpicking though.

For the most part the action and plotting moved along at a good pace, I may have phased out a few times but never would say J was bored reading. There’s more than enough mystery and nuance to keep it interesting where all else fails.

Alright I saved the best for last, let’s see why the characters are interesting. Sancia is a pretty typical thief, a really great thief, down on her luck needing money.  She has a snarky sidekick (Clef) who ends up being an inanimate object that can talk to her.  Then it’s kind of a mixed bag of people introduced and I was surprised at who ended up being important. There’s a cranky old scientist type (Orso) who I hated at first but he ended up being my favorite character. How amazing can a cranky old guy get? Apparently very. His assistant (Berenice) forms a friendship with Sancia and ends up being pretty bad ass herself. Lastly, the son of a Founder (Gregor) who just wants to make Tevanne a better, more just place, but his fate is in the hands of someone else.  Gregor also ended up with the saddest storyline – a good study in characters with deceptive narratives aka you’re not expecting to have your heart ripped out by them but you do.

Put them all together, and you end up with a super cranky and reluctant mentor figure overseeing two absolutely powerful women, with an equally righteous and brave man that while important, kind of ends up being a third wheel to the women. There’s a lot of nuance and development in the group interaction that I really liked.

Ok let me wrap this up before it gets any longer! If you like steampunk, in depth magic, political intrigue, guild drama, dark and ancient forces at work, world building, and random groups of people working together to topple a capitalist society, you would probably love Foundryside.  It’s not a happy book but it’s got it’s moments of darkness, light, torture, hope, misery, redemption, and all of the above. Overall I had a great time reading it and would definitely recommend.

 

 

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 Skald’s Black Verse ~ Book Tour & Giveaway

Endless thanks to Escapist Book Tours and Jordan Loyal Short for having me on the book tour for The Skald’s Black Verse! This is the first in the Dreadbound Ode trilogy.  The final book just released back in March so check it out and binge the whole thing if it sounds good to you!

51tvBrg-k+L

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Skald’s Black Verse
  • Series: Dreadbound Ode #1
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published – 2018
  • Length: 339 pages
  • Rating & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ If you’re looking for a solid grimdark SFF trilogy

Here’s the synopsis:

Brohr needs out of his village before they put a noose around his neck.

The unwanted son of a conquering soldier, Brohr will soon discover that he is cursed, haunted, a berserker. When a strange murder sparks unrest amongst his people, Brohr becomes the prime suspect.

Hunted by invaders from another world, only the forbidden blood magic of the Skalds can save him. To survive, Brohr must unravel dire omens, uncover the truth of his brother’s death, and lead a desperate revolt against an empire that spans the heavens.

But an ancient horror lurks in the shadows, intent upon a rebellion of its own.

The Skald’s Black Verse takes a personal look at what it means to live under your oppressor’s thumb as a conquered people.  It takes place in a small village on a planet that was overtaken by a superior branch of humanity. We watch as both the conquered and the conquerors deal with planetary level destruction and certain doom, and I have to say that I loved it.

There are quite a few characters but I didn’t struggle with remembering them. Brohr is dealing with a curse after his grandfather made a dark pact. Lyssa is a sneaky and resourceful bar maid, and Brasca is taking charge of the town for the Federals. Henrik stepped in later and was used to show how little control the nominal provincial leaders really had. 

It’s a tough and interesting bunch of characters. I like them and will leave it at that since the biggest surprises and plot twists come in character form.

He’d been a fool to think he could manage the end of the world

Plot and action wise, the story itself was fast paced and I flew through this book.  As the conflict deepened and the plot became apparent it turned into an easy two day read.

I am a lover of all things world building and this is where the book excelled.  We see so much of the local food, herbs, medicine, religion, and way of life of the local Norn people.  A lot of culture is revealed as the Federals tried to snuff it out in favor of cultural assimilation.

The folklore element is also strong as it ties into both the local and imposed religions.  The runic binding that can fly spaceships is considered proper magic while the Skald songs are the black, illegal, blood and witchcraft type.  What I wanted was more conflict between the two magics since it was one of the first things out of Brasca’s mouth.  The two magics have vastly different uses although both require blood and sacrifice. The Skald Songs were well fleshed out while there’s a lot of potential for the Binders going forward in the series.

I thought that just due to the scope of the novel towards the end, I felt a disconnect between the sci-fi and dark fantasy element. More from the binding and rune lore was needed to close that gap but I think I see it coming in book two. I also don’t think Brohr was prepared to step into the role that he did at the end, considering that he was never taught the rituals. 

To a man who fears death, even suffering is precious

Overall: I can definitely appreciate apocalypse and LOVED the setting and scenery, mood and atmosphere, lore and fighting spirit that kept the book feeling more congruous than not. It‘s interesting, it’s fast paced, it’s grimdark, it’s brutal, and some scenes aren’t for the fainthearted.  Would recommend for fans of dark SFF!


For bonus content…

Here is the giveaway for you all!

Prize: An eBook, Audiobook, or Paperback Copy of The Skald’s Black Verse!
Starts: August 15, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: August 21, 2022 at 11:59pm EST

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/79e197ac45/


There’s also a tour webpage now where you can see everyone else’s content and find more info about the book!

The Hero’s Journey: The Skald’s Black Verse by Jordan Loyal Short


Last but not least, meet the author and go find him online!

Jordan Loyal Short is an author of epic fantasy. His first novel, The Skald’s Black Verse, is a dark and beautiful story about families, cultures, and beliefs at war with themselves. The protagonist, Brohr, must navigate the tangled loyalties and unforgiving biases of a planet conquered by invaders from another world. Using black magic, and the bizarre bond he shares with his stillborn brother’s spirit, Brohr unravels the truth about himself and an eon spanning war that has reached its end game.

You can see Jordan’s latest book reviews at Booknesteu.com.

Jordan has worked in a variety of industries, as a web developer, bartender, copywriter and more. He lives in Washington state with his wife where he is currently daydreaming about the end of the world.

Author Site: https://jordanloyalshort.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jordanloyalshort
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Jordanloyalshor
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jordanloyalshort/

The Skald's Black Verse tour stops (ig)


I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review feature, all opinions are my own!

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
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade

The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

I am going to keep the next Derek Landy reviews a little more vague since I try really hard not to put spoiler content here.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Faceless Ones
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant, #3
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, April 2009
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ if you even remotely liked the first two books yes:

Audio: 7hours, 47 min from HarperCollins.  Narrated by Rupert Degas! I’m loving the audio experience.

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The third bone-breaking, belly-busting adventure in the series that puts the “funny” back in, um, funny series. That didn’t really work, did it?

If you’ve read the previous Skulduggery books then you know what the Faceless Ones are — and if you know what the Faceless Ones are, then you can probably take a wild guess that things in this book are going to get AWFULLY sticky for our skeletal hero and his young sidekick. If you haven’t read the previous Skulduggery books then what are you doing reading this? Go and read them right now, so that you know what all that stuff in the previous paragraph was about. Done? Good. So now you’re on tenterhooks too, desperately awaiting the answers to all your questions, and instead you’re going to have to wait to read the book. Sorry about that.

So I am now three books into my Skulduggery Pleasant audio binge and have no regrets. I think Landy finally hit his stride here in book three because The Faceless Ones is far, far better than the first two! Another action packed story with better writing, nonstop action, mature villains, and an engaging storyline with more depth now.

I think the humor got good reception in book one so he ended up overdoing it in book two. Here he finally hit a good balance. There was a great mix of humor and serious content, with an overall darker tone.

Similar to other middle grade / young reader series like HP, Landy is getting into tougher subject matter as his protagonist gets older. Valkyrie is (I think) 14 now. I like watching series grow up with their characters and I hope Landy continues this trend.

Continuing with the ever present theme of moral grayness, there’s a clear line between the good and bad guys in this one. The bad guys got more serious though and even the good guys are willing to get dirty.  There’s no happy ending, some significant character deaths, and the Dr is truly laying into Skulduggery for putting Valkyrie in danger.  At the end of the day she is literally just a child and I like that Landy isn’t letting Skulduggery off the hook so easily as a morally gray character wreaking havoc on a child’s life.

Throughout the book we get hints of dark times to come, concluding with a surprisingly bleak ending.

The only thing missing? I wish Landy would do more with Ireland as the setting! Why not engage the middle grade audience with Irish things! The book could take place in Chicago or Berlin or Vancouver for all we know except he keeps mentioning Dublin, and it seems like a terrible waste.

Overall this is by far my favorite of the series so far.  It stays age appropriate. Great audio too with Rupert Degas still narrating; he said he stays for the first four books so that’s exciting.  Definitely recommend for Middle-grade/YA


Here are a few favorite quotes!

“You don’t treat me like a child”

He smiled. “Of course I do, but you seem to have this ridiculous notion that being treated like a child means to be treated with less respect than an adult


I’m sophisticated, charming, suave and debonair, Professor. But I have never claimed to be civilized.


I will heal your wounds,” he said, “but I will not facilitate your battles.


My series reviews so far: 

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Playing With Fire
  3. The Faceless Ones
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
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring W.P. Wiles!

Welcome back to Sunday Brunch! Episode 24 features fantasy author W.P. Wiles, in conjunction with the online tour for his recently published novel The Last Blade Priest!

I really appreciate Angry Robot for letting me nag so many of their authors, and of course the authors for taking the time to interview!

Without further delay, let’s jump in!


🍳Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone an interesting fact about yourself that isn’t in your author bio?

🎤I very much wanted to call my daughter Halo, after the Alan Moore character Halo Jones, but my wife said that people would think I had named her after the computer game, and she was right.

🍳What would your brunch order be?

🎤Orange juice, black coffee, apricot danish, poached eggs on toast. 

🍳Everyone talks about tropes these days and The Last Blade Priest seems to be full of subverted tropes.  Were there one or two specific ones you went out trying to tackle ?

🎤When I first started writing, I thought it would be almost entirely from the point of view of Inar, a builder who is reluctantly employed as a guide by a party of rich, arrogant people from the League who want to survey a mountain pass that leads into a forbidden kingdom. So you’d have a fairly standard fantasy set up: a questing party of mismatched outsiders trying to penetrate this mysterious holy land, containing a magical mountain, facing perils and so on. But I quickly realized that I wanted more than a taste of this distant and decadent religion, I didn’t want to only present it from the outside, I wanted to spend time with it and in it. So you also get a perspective within the religion, among the scheming priests in their forbidden fastness – you get the quest from both sides. Another trope that I had fun with was the Elves, but maybe we’ll talk about them separately … 

🍳On the trope topic, do you have a least and most favorite one to read!

🎤I am a sucker for the Gothic, so I will always enjoy crumbling, isolated houses, forbidding ruins, dark ancestral secrets and all that jazz. It’s hard to name a least favourite because I think almost anything can be executed well, or at least given an interesting twist. Zombies have been done to death, though. Let’s have more ghouls, mummies, wraiths and skeletons instead. 

🍳I had to look up a ton of words used in TLBP to describe locations and building structures; most seemed rooted in old English. It felt authentic! Was the language used a conscious choice to set atmosphere/tone/setting or what brought you to your architectural descriptions?

🎤 Naturally an author doesn’t want the reader to have to go to the dictionary too often, and I hope you didn’t have to! But a little bit of unfamiliarity in the language helps give a world a sense of difference and that difference can help it feel real. I write about architecture in my day job so I guess that’s also a language I’m familiar with. 

🍳The book is pretty dense to start with –  names, places, titles, etc, did you have any thoughts about including an index or did you trust readers to stick around for the explanations later on?

🎤I hope that explanations follow new words or concepts pretty closely, even if they don’t happen at once! An author has to walk a line between two dangers. On the one side is the danger of confronting the reader with too many unexplained terms and concepts and leaving them struggling to understand what’s going on. On the other side is the danger of stopping to explain everything as it comes up, which slows everything down and can feel like an author showing off how much attention they gave to all the details and the world building. So you have to navigate between those perils. As a reader I don’t mind having to figure out some stuff for myself, and I find early exposition dumps a little dry, so maybe that’s the direction I tend to lean as a writer. But maybe a glossary would be a good idea for the future! 

 🍳I personally love world building and it was pretty intense in TLBP.  Lore, religion, tradition, text, there were so many factors.  Was there one part of the world you liked creating and embellishing the most or did it all come together as one piece?

🎤I did enjoy thinking about the architecture a great deal. I wanted it to be coherent across the various locations and cultures that appear. Some places build in timber because they don’t have ready access to stone, in other places it’s the other way round. The religious architecture of the Mountain worshippers bear traces of their history: they once built cairns for sky burial and human sacrifice, emulating their holy mountain, and when they got to building temples they made them faintly mountainous, with sloping sides, lit only from the top. But I would like to reassure any prospective readers that this is kept very much in the background! Some people enjoy inventing fantasy languages – I enjoyed creating a fantasy architectural tradition. 

🍳One other question I love to ask is – What idea or theme or visual came first for you in creating the novel?

🎤 A hidden religious kingdom and a holy mountain were probably the starting points. I am a keen armchair mountaineer. I love to read about mountain-climbing and the high places, the strangeness of glaciers, the almost mystical experiences brought on by altitude sickness. There is an astounding surrealist film by Alejandro Jodorowsky called The Holy Mountain, which I saw as a young man and it left a deep impression on me – it’s saturated with this very disturbing imagery, much of it religious. I think that probably planted a seed, long ago, although the book is very different.

🍳Elves as chaotic villains! I liked your recent short piece on Orcs as villains.  What prompted the choice for elves in this role?

🎤As I wrote in that little essay, Orcs are great antagonists, but they’re just antagonists. They can be a little one-dimensional. Meanwhile, I’ve long been tired of the haughty, cultured Elves we’re all familiar with. Their immortality made me think of a short story by Martin Amis called “The Immortals”, which is in Einstein’s Monsters. It’s about a group of immortal beings who have just watched civilisation get wiped out in a nuclear holocaust. But are they in fact immortal, or are they just delusional, traumatized survivors, slowly dying? I don’t want to give too much away about it, but what if Elves were less a race and more an altered state, and an extremely dangerous one? So they have pointy ears and a sense of overpowering superiority and they think they’re immortal, but … 

🍳One random bookish question – what’s your favorite fantasy novel?

🎤My favourite recent fantasy would have to be Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It’s a terrific novel, with vivid characters, an unforgettable gothic setting, intrigue, gore, well-executed magic, mysteries … everything, really. It’s also very funny. As for long-term favourites … Titus Groan meant a great deal to me, and the influence of Gormenghast castle can be felt in my own creation of the Brink. Also Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun

🍳Thanks so much for joining Sunday Brunch! If there’s anything you’d like to add or say about anything at all, please do so here!

🎤Thanks for having me! Don’t eat any strange mushrooms!


Meet the author:

W P Wiles was born in India in 1978. He is the author of three novels: the Betty Trask Award-winning Care of Wooden Floors (2012), The Way Inn (2014), and Plume (2019). When not writing novels, he writes about architecture, and he is a regular columnist for RIBA Journal. He lives in east London.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal Young Adult

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

When I polled my friends for their favorite books, one of my bookstagram buddies  responded that her whole family loves Skulduggery Pleasant!

It sounded a little silly. A middle grade novel with fantasy/horror/humor elements about a snarky skeletal detective. I have seen it recommended before and said ok why not, I could use a laugh!

The audiobook didn’t disappoint.  I absolutely loved it enough to put holds on the next few books.  I’m told that the series goes downhill and gets PC/political later on so I am a little bit wary, but plan on enjoying the books until it gets to that point!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Skulduggery Pleasant
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #1
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, April 2007
  • Length: 400 pages:
  • Rate & Recommend: 4.5⭐  for fans of middle grade-YA. (Remember that I rate these books mainly off of age appropriateness and overall enjoyment)

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant

Ace Detective
Snappy Dresser
Razor–tongued Wit
Crackerjack Sorcerer and
Walking, Talking, Fire-throwing Skeleton

—as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented twelve-year-old.

These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil.

The end of the world?

Over his dead body.

There are a lot of books bridging the Middlegrade to YA reading gap and this is one of them.  A mature 10 year old could read or listen to this, or an adult could find a few things to laugh at too.

It’s funny, very funny, and I think the narrator brought out the banter and personalities of the characters really well.  Some of the dialogue is clunky but for a debut novel I really liked the characters.

Stephanie didn’t seem to have a lot to be upset with in her life, but she is seeking adventure and finds it after her uncle dies and a skeleton in disguise shows up at the reading of his will.

Between Stephanie’s adventure sense and Skulduggery’s one liners and absolute lack of any idea of how to handle a 12 year old, they make quite a pair. I say again how much I love the banter and how awkward Skul could be

The book moves at an appropriately fast pace for middle grade fantasy. The fighting got a bit repetitive but the story moved quickly and I was absolutely not bored at all.  I think that 10-16 age group would devour this book

The biggest thing I noted that set this one apart from it’s genre peers is how dark it got at times.  Age appropriately dark, but still dark.  Where other books in this genre stay fairly light on tough themes, this went into grief and torture, betrayal and madness, among other things scattered between the jokes and lighter content.

I liked it for that contrast of light and dark, highlighting the gray zones and debating who the “good guys” are.  

Here are a small few of my favorite quotes:

I’m placing you under arrest for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and, I don’t know, possibly littering


A living skeleton isn’t enough for you, is it? What does it take to impress young people these days?


To betray is to act against, I just haven’t acted at all


Content wise – there’s very little language, I think he says “damn” once. There is no romantic content and the dark content stays pretty age appropriate which I love and find necessary in order to rate these books!  Any one liners targeted at adults are going to go straight over the little one’s heads, even I hardly caught them.

Overall: I would definitely recommend this as a fun, fast paced read or listen for anyone interested in middle grade/ early YA books

A quick note on the audio: approximately 7 hours, narrated by Rupert Degas.  I loved his accent so much and found it perfect for the text, characters, banter, etc. There’s music at the end of each chapter that set the mood for the next chapter, corny but fun. 100% going to listen to a few of these because I need a laugh in my life and if nothing else, I was laughing out loud for sure 😂