Categories
Fantasy

The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie (Book Thoughts)

I committed to finishing series this year and just devoured The First Law #1-3. I will read the subsequent books at some point but I admit to being less interested in side stories within the greater world.

So, yeah, I’m glad to have finally read The First Law.  Big magic, big action, big destruction,  heroes and villains as one, the series has everything I want in a fantasy. The immersive descriptive writing style kept me sucked in, and I can add this to my top adult fantasy reading.

It’s hard to talk about book three in a series without spoilers so I’ll do my best, but am not 100% committed to anything beyond this point being entirely spoiler free.

Bookish Quick facts:
  • Title: The Last Argument of Kings
  • Series: The First Law #3
  • Author: Joe Abercrombie
  • Publisher & Release: Gollancz, 2008 (Orbit Reprint, 2015)
  • Length: 536 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of dark fantasy
Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The end is coming. Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but it’s going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. It’s past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. His days with a sword are far behind him. It’s a good thing blackmail, threats and torture still work well enough.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is far too painful, and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too, and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.

While the King of the Union lies on his deathbead, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union. The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law…

My thoughts:

There’s a lot that I want to say about these books, but I’ve said most of it in my first two reviews of the series. And I’m sick, and have sick brain, so this may be short.

Overall this is one of my favorite adult fantasy trilogies I’ve ever read.  The Last Argument of Kings really nailed home a constantly bleak outlook, heroes aka villains sinking ever lower, complicated friendships unravelling, so much betrayal ..

.. Essentially everything Grimdark is supposed to be.  You think the characters hit rock bottom and then they just keeps sinking.  Sinking and grinning and swinging their bloody weapons the whole time, I love it.

The war scenes were the highlight. Not just the duel, the scene up in the highlands at Crummock’s fortress, with everyone crawling around stabbing at whatever, blood raining down, the actions of the bloody-nine… Umm 😳 terrible stuff.  There were lots of times where the reading experience was immersive like that though, where one could feel like they were there among the bodies.

The world build throughout the series is amazing too, without ever being overwhelming.   Someone in an interview once said that the best worldbuilding feeds into immersion without becoming a distraction, and I have never agreed with anything more.

Character wise, Glokta had some real hero/villain moments. He’s probably my favorite character. It’s hard to make readers cheer for a crippled torturer and Abercrombie managed to do it.  Dogman and Logen both had weak story endings but I didn’t hate the way the ending made the whole series come full circle.  I think that’s the point, that it never ends for fighting men.  He left it open to go all sorts of different ways.

Many people with fewer fried brains and more eloquence have sung endless praises about this series so, yeah go read it. I’m not sure how I waited until 2022-23: totally worth it.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Cursed by Marissa Meyer (Audio & Book Thoughts)

The good news is that this book came out in November, and I’m reading it in January! ARCs aside I am nearly caught up with new releases and can start reading my backlog soon.

You can find my review for Gilded here, and now let’s talk about Cursed.

Bookish quick facts:
  • Title: Cursed
  • Series: Gilded #2 (Duology)
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, 2022
  • Length: 496 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐ for fans of dark fairy tales and retellings

A quick note on the audio: narrated by Rebecca Soler, at 16.5 hours from MacMillan Audio in 2022

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Be still now, and I will tell you a tale.

Adalheid Castle is in chaos.

Following a shocking turn of events, Serilda finds herself ensnared in a deadly game of make-believe with the Erlking, who is determined to propel her deeper into the castle’s lies. Meanwhile, Serilda is determined to work with Gild to help him solve the mystery of his forgotten name and past.

But soon it becomes clear that the Erlking doesn’t only want to use Serilda to bring back his one true love. He also seeks vengeance against the seven gods who have long trapped the Dark Ones behind the veil. If the Erlking succeeds, it could change the mortal realm forever.

Can Serilda find a way to use her storytelling gifts for good―once and for all? And can Serilda and Gild break the spells that tether their spirits to the castle before the Endless Moon finds them truly cursed?

Romance and adventure collide in this stunning finale to the Rumpelstilskin-inspired fairy tale

My thoughts:

At this point I’ve read nearly everything that Marissa Meyer has published, and most of it has been consumed by listening to Rebecca Soler.  I’m going to get the annoying thing out of the way first and then talk about all the good things.

The thing is, I think Meyer really had to stretch to make this book 500 pages long.  There was a lot of repetition, a lot of explanation, and while I understand that she wants the reader to get the point, I feel like I would have been more bored if I was reading the text. That said, at this point we know that the Erlking is absolutely evil. Serilda is generally a pretty smart person yet she just kept begging and screaming and crying at him repeatedly over multiple instances, and I just got sick of listening to it.

So parts of both the audio and the text got to me. I just hate people that whine and the audiobook was extremely whiny at times, striking a small nerve.

So on to the positives. I applaud how far and how dark she took this story – even if I felt like the end was a total cop out. I was so devastated by the events leading up to the ending and … I would have just left it.

The lore, stories, action, and characters, were all pretty much on par with the first book.  I liked meeting the gods and monsters and generally appreciated the pacing of the book.  It wasn’t that I was bored, it’s just that the same type of situation between Serilda, the kids, and the king, repeated itself so much that it became more tiresome than shocking.

Not to say that there were not many good parts though. There’s plenty of fierce magic and snarky banter to keep the pages interesting.

TLDR/Overall: All of that said though, I highly recommend reading Cursed if you liked Gilded. It’s just more of everything and it’s difficult to find YA books that are willing to go quite as dark as this series.  With plenty of dark fairytale lore and fantasy imagery, you can’t go too wrong with Meyer.


Thanks for checking out my book and audiobook review for Cursed by Marissa Meyer. I obtained my copy through Libby and as always, all opinions are my own❤️

Categories
Fantasy

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie (Book Thoughts)

Well well, look at me committing to a series for once.  It certainly helps that about four of us are buddy reading on discord right now and having a good chat about the series, plus the books are just that good so far!


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Before They Are Hanged
  • Series: The First Law #2
  • Author: Joe Abercrombie
  • Publisher & Release: Gollancz/Pyr 2007
  • Length: 560 pages (Orbit PB 2015)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes keep going if you liked book one!

Here’s the synopsis:

The second novel in the wildly popular First Law Trilogy from New York Times bestseller Joe Abercrombie.

Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run — if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem — he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters — if they didn’t hate each other quite so much.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven — but not before they are hanged.


My thoughts:

Disclaimer: I’m not going to give any overt spoilers but it can get tricky when talking about sequels and subsequent books in a series. I do my best!

First up, here’s my favorite quote:

Is it coming for me? Several tons of rock, about to splatter my remains across the city? What a ludicrously random way to die. He felt his mouth twitch up in a faint smile.

-Glokta’s pov

I think the utter randomness of events in these books, and in other military SFF, is what makes them particularly endearing to me.  When books follow a set formula they get boring.  I think, overall my favorite part about this series is that you never really know what’s coming next.

There’s also many healthy doses of character development, random death, bonding, falling outs, murder, politicking, savagery, and, being realistic, among other things.

Glokta carried my favorite storyline just because I love how utterly savage he is, even when he’s being a good guy.  I love politics and plotting and he navigates it all rather cunningly, while at the same time he couldn’t care less if he died.

The other storylines all have their moments (and their oh-shit moments) too.  The other characters all serve to expand the world, the military, and backstory of the magic.

Some characters surprised me too like West, Dogman, Pike, you never know who’s going to become a main character going forward.  I think he stepped it up with the dialogue and banter in this one overall too and it’s just a more mature story in every aspect.

I have to mention the final chapters!  It’s grim, it’s realistic, it’s sad, and I’m more than surprised by who had the final scene in the book.  Will Dogman be a major character going forward?  It seems like he will have to be! We still don’t know what’s up with the bloody-nine either, I’m excited to learn that mystery which was originally shown in book one.  I love the whole ending. Not every quest and mission is going to end in some kind of prophetic victory and now going forward the characters just have to keep doing the best they can with what they’re given. It’s refreshing to see a quest fail miserably for once.

Anyway, in every aspect imaginable I am excited to read on and see how this thing ends!


Thanks for checking out my book thoughts and review of Before They Are Hanged!  Have you read it? Want to chat about it? Leave a comment! I grabbed my copy via Libby and as always, all thoughts are my own.

Categories
Fantasy Fiction

Fairy Tale by Stephen King (Book Thoughts)

Happy Friday everyone! The last book I finished in 2022 was Fairy Tale by Stephen King.  Reading a book in December that came out in September is quite an achievement for me… and …well, I found it to be a perfectly average portal fantasy so this will be a pretty short post

I’ll say my only possible original thought first: I read half of the UK and half of the US versions and I’m glad they didn’t try to translate the UK text into Brit-Speak.  The text and art is the same & only the cover changed (darn those pretty UK covers)! I just never think books translate well between the two dialects 🤷‍♀️

Anyway, let’s take a look at the book then I’ll share a few quick thoughts.


Bookish Quick Facts:
  • Title: Fairy Tale
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: Scribner, 2022
  • Length: 608 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ for fans of King, Fairy Tale retellings, dark fairy tales, and dog lovers
Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was seven, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world


My thoughts:

For once I really do not have strong feelings one way or another about a King novel.  I love stories about stories and the more the better.  While he certainly pulled in a ton of traditional dark fairy tales (not the Disney versions 😅) and wound them all into a solid coming of age story, I just don’t think he did anything new or exciting here.

It’s a steady story with solid King prose. He pulls enough from The Dark Tower to make me wonder if the castle is the same one – probably.  King loves to pull all his stories together and it’s my favorite part of the reading experience now to see what he is going to bring in from his own books and what other authors he’s going to call on. Hello Mr Lovecraft 👋

As I said, it’s 600 pages of solid story that just never really grabbed me except where the old dog was concerned.   I have mixed feelings about portal fantasies at the best of times but King salvaged it with interesting world building and keeping my mind engaged with puzzles.

I like the themes he tackles too, from alcoholism to grieving parental loss, examining your own actions, and seeing how far someone is willing to go.

If you like portal fantasies and coming of age stories, gray heroes, curses and twisted tellings, if you’ve ever felt loyal to a dog and wondered what you would do to turn back the clock… I’d say check out Fairy Tale 

Categories
Fantasy

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Book Thoughts)

This is one of those books that’s hard to talk about because I’m 15 years late to the party and it’s been beaten to death by every BookTuber on the internet.  That said though, better late than never because The Blade Itself is an absolute delight to read and I feel like I’m filling in my fantasy knowledge gaps.

I didn’t read at all between 2007 and 2016 because of college then life circumstances, so I have had to do a lot of catching up on books that were published in those years and this has unfortunately been one of the ones that got lost to time.

Let’s show the book facts then I’ll share a few thoughts, mostly about my reading experience


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Blade Itself
  • Series: The First Law, #1
  • Author: Joe Abercrombie
  • Publisher & Release: Gollancz/ Pyr, 2006
  • Length: 560 pages (Orbit PB reprint)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ for fantasy fans who like big casts and dark humor

Here’s the synopsis:

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian — leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.


My thoughts:

The first thing is that I was not expecting the book to be funny, but I laughed out loud at least three times and had frequent chuckles. Great bloody fun.  I noticed Lev Grossman and Lee Child both wrote cover blurbs for various versions of the book, so it struck me that they’re marketing this to a vast, vast range of readers.  Grossman’s full comments in the back definitely influenced me to pick it up, I mean even Jeff VanderMeer plugged it.

So let’s see. The book was pretty slow in the first half, and essentially overall it was more focused on building the characters, the world, the political machinations and conspiracies, the basis for wartime conflicts, and setting up alliances.  That said, it wasn’t boring at all. Not one second. Abercrombie has this digestible and engaging writing style that sucked me into whatever was going on.

Some things have to be done. It’s better to do them, than to live with the fear of them

He used asides from the characters minds to invite the reader into whatever insight is happening, and often times it’s sarcastic and hilarious.  I liked the crippled torturer (by God he’s my age 😭) as much as any other character, and found the dashing hero prototype character to be totally insufferable.  I heard this series tends to flip tropes on their heads and make you root for people you usually wouldn’t – totally, 100% accurate.

And of course at the pinnacle of tension, it’s paired with a flapping set of cranky old wizard balls as he has to interrupt his bath to rescue everyone… Just .. it’s perfect.  Lots of “grimdark” published recently seems to rely on shock and authors trying to be terrible, where Abercrombie just lets story roll. It needs no gimmicks. The dark humor comes as the flip side.

He tossed the helmet back onto its stand, then stood there staring at the armour, lost in thought. “Once you’ve got it on, how do you piss?”

I got used to magic being over explained in a lot of modern fantasy books. I kind of prefer it like it is here, mysterious and potentially big and hugely disastrous.  Just knowing the magic is there is enough and it keeps it more interesting not to know. Actually, the things that are hinted at but not explained are the things making me want to start the second book ASAP! 

What Abercrombie does explain well is custom, history, politics, and action.  It’s exceptionally easy to picture fights, chases, marches, the weather, and how everything happening plays into everything else.

There are a LOT of characters at first and it’s hard to keep the names apart, but give it time.  It’s cool in these types of books to see how the storylines converge.

You carry on. That’s what he’d always done. That’s the task that comes with surviving, whether you deserve to live or not. You remember the dead as best you can. You say some words for them. Then you carry on, and you hope for better.

My only real gripe came with rare consistency errors, like the number of opponents would change from one paragraph to the next or one character who had just stated a culture didn’t have gods started screaming “fuck your gods!” at their soldiers.  Minor but off-putting things that didn’t quite read well, but really didn’t affect anything and were quickly forgotten.

This is getting long, so let me wrap it up.  If you like grimdark, action, world building, dark humor, cranky wizards, amazing casts of characters that shatter tropes, and the ‘shit happens’ atmosphere that runs rampant in the best military fiction, this might be a book for you.  Big scope, big magic, big mystery.  Don’t be shy if you haven’t read it yet, I’m right there with you 😅

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

The Poison Season by Mara Rutherford (Finished Copy Review)

I liked Mara Rutherford’s prior three books and was psyched to claim an early finished hardcover of The Poison Season via Bookish First. Are you on Bookish First? If not, I think my promo code can get you free points when you sign up so you should totally consider doing that. I’ll post it at the bottom!

This is a rather dark YA fantasy featuring a living, bloodthirsty, wandering forest surrounded by a poisoned lake, and the isolated community that lives within. Let’s take a look at the book first then I’ll share my thoughts!


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Poison Season
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Mara Rutherford
  • Publisher & Release: Inkyard Press, 12/06/22
  • Length: 400 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨

Here’s the synopsis:

Outsiders are always given a choice: the Forest or the lake. Either way, they’re never heard from again.

Leelo has spent her entire life on Endla, coexisting with the bloodthirsty Forest and respecting the poisonous lake that protects her island from outsiders who seek to destroy it. But as much as Leelo cares for her community, she struggles to accept that her younger brother will be exiled by his next birthday, unless he gains the magic of enchanted song so vital to Endla.

When Leelo sees a young outsider on the verge of drowning in the lake, she knows exactly what she’s supposed to do. But in a moment that will change everything, Leelo betrays her family, her best friend, and Endla by making an unthinkable choice.

Discovery could lead to devastating consequences for both Leelo and the outsider, Jaren, but as they grow closer, Leelo realizes that not all danger comes from beyond the lake—and they can only survive if Leelo is willing to question the very fabric of her society, her people, and herself.


My thoughts:

This is a rather dark and insulated story about a community that fears outsiders and goes through great lengths to keep them away. I liked the lore and rituals but wanted more of them. Endla is a violent community built on lies and secrets and generational trauma, where the townsfolk have magical singing voices tied to the island and forest. A great premise that I rather enjoyed, so I wish more exploration of this could have taken the place of some of the repetitive ish romantic parts. The micro world building was great and I felt like part of the village, just wanted more of the how and why magic developed as it did.

I liked the first half of the book more than the second half. The first was beautiful, establishing the world and characters, where the second half spent a lot of time on the romance. I liked the characters well enough though, Leelo and Jaren seemed like good people experiencing typical YA book struggles like not feeling up to par with community standards and feeling atypical, dealing with family trauma and secrets, etc. Even the more unlikeable characters like Sage and Ketty I felt like they were, if nothing else, done well.

The book was slow burning but not boring at all, then dumped all the answers towards the end. I generally enjoyed the read (plus the large type font and inner artwork). I actually liked the resolution too and would recommend this one for upper YA as it’s one of the better ones I’ve read recently. If I have to read YA, I’ll take these moody, eerie, atmospheric and borderline spooky books any day.

Overall there’s a great premise that wasn’t quite fully realized, but it was close. I’d recommend for fans of darker YA fantasy that like romance too.


Thanks for checking out my book review of The Poison Season by Mara Rutherford! I claimed a copy with my bookish first points, and as always, all opinions are my own. If you’d like to join bookish first and have a chance towards winning early copies, my referral code bc25a61ba071488b9 can earn you some points to start! 

Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

Death, Rites, Lore, & More: How do various fantasy books look at these things?

I’m not sure I’m readily equipped to handle such a big topic yet but I’ve been preoccupied with death and started thinking about how death, ghosts, remembrance, rites, customs and etc are portrayed in different fantasy books.

I’ve also been taking fan submissions for what to write about this week and a Twitter follower said something like “books and/or quotes that left you breathless.” This was a pretty easy thread to combine so here you go, friend!


I know there are a lot of really unique takes on death throughout the fantasy genre but I wanted to take a look at a few I’ve read recently (think the past few years, or, I remember them vividly enough to comment).

First off, in broad terms, a lot of military fantasy handles death in a light that tends to reflect our modern day thoughts.  Characters can die en masse during conflict, some go out as heroes, others die in accidents or simply senselessly, much as in real life.

I’ve got to mention one passage first that left me absolutely breathless when I read it – from Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson.  One could write three essays on death in Malazan but it’s an embodiment of what I wrote above, everything from hundreds of thousands dieing in one day to an isolated hero, to the last man standing.  Malazan spends a lot of time brooding on death and remembrance, with reincarnation and spirits and many, many related themed explored throughout.

Anyway, here is that passage:

The unnamed soldier is a gift. The named soldier–dead, melted wax–demands a response among the living…a response no-one can make. Names are no comfort, they’re a call to answer the unanswerable. Why did she die, not him? Why do the survivors remain anonymous–as if cursed–while the dead are revered? Why do we cling to what we lose while we ignore what we still hold?

Name none of the fallen, for they stood in our place, and stand there still in each moment of our lives. Let my death hold no glory, and let me die forgotten and unknown. Let it not be said that I was one among the dead to accuse the living.

and a quote from Toll the Hounds:

Survivors do not mourn together. They each mourn alone, even when in the same place. Grief is the most solitary of all feelings. Grief isolates, and every ritual, every gesture, every embrace, is a hopeless effort to break through that isolation.

To face death is to stand alone.

Whether or not you agree, I feel this in my bones.  I’ve thought about these passages more than anything else I’ve read in the last year, I’m sure of it.

So let’s look at how death is handled in some other popular (and not so popular) fantasy.

I know there’s a lot of understandable hatred towards Harry Potter right now but as a kid, it was the first book I read that took an honest look at death and put it in palatable terms for me as a young reader.  The series takes a frank look at how much is lost in war, the cost to community, family loss, orphans, and also gives the reader the idea that family never leaves us. When Harry saw his family in the Mirror of Erised, it planted that seed for honor and remembrance and the ones that never leave us, a scene rehashed at the end of the series.  It also runs the themes of heroes, accidents, senseless  curse rebounds, and that no one is immune to death. My favorite was the story of The Deathly Hallows, embracing the eventuality of meeting death on equal terms.  I also love the idea of Thestrals, the skeletal pegasus that is invisible until someone has viewed death – terrifying but actually very friendly and useful once a respectful relationship has formed.  I could write pages on Thestrals alone.

Another favorite series of mine that I talk about frequently, Green Rider, has choked me up more than once in it’s remembrances of the fallen.  I have never read a book with such a subculture built around death and preservation.  The catacombs are the scene for some of the most moving parts of the entire series and shows that heroes and history can be cherished and revered.  The main character has an affinity for communicating with ghosts (which will break your heart some times) but she also experiences such things as a type of berserker ride fuelled by ghosts, the shenanigans of ghosts wreaking havoc in the archives, and more.  One of my favorite scenes is a remembrance ceremony where they all say the name of a deceased rider. That all said, it’s another fantasy series that kills characters in conflict, lets some go out at heroes, some die cruelly at the hands of enemies, and some are just. So. Senseless.  Which is another reason why I shamelessly label Green Rider as military fantasy.

Moving on to a book which holds a rather alien view of death that stopped me cold when I first read it- Slaughterhouse 5.  Just think about death for a moment and try to expand to a nonlinear frame of reference, then read this passage:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them….

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.

Kurt Vonnegut

A bit mind-blowing, isn’t it?

There are lots of YA fantasy books that focus on death too, like Scythe, where Neil Shusterman looks at death from a pinpoint of random necessity.  It’s not fair, and no one is immune, but a universally accepted construct of the reapers.  Some other recent ones include The Keeper of Night, about Japanese reapers, and Give the Dark My Love, about necromancy and the toll of plague and death on one’s sanity.  Love and souls.

I’d be amiss if I talked about YA/MG books and didn’t mention The Graveyard Book. I love this book because it gives kids the wonderful message to not fear death, to embrace being alive, and to kind of introduce the solitude and isolation that comes with grief.  If the Macabray existed, would you dance with the dead even if you had no memory of the fact?

You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change

This is starting to get long, so I want to end with another of my favorite authors and how he tends to handle death in his books – from a Christian perspective. Jeff Wheeler writes a lot of fantasy with Christian undertones, so you get everything from the funeral rites of Kingfountain to The Deep Fathoms, where the living can visit the dead once a year should the proper channel be opened.  In one series he offers us a land of the dead symbolized by a wall, in another it’s spirits exiting through a portal in the abbey.  I always find his deaths to be terrible but necessary, back to the theme of heroes and wars and accidents.

Very briefly, some indie books with interesting takes – The Last Blade Priest where deaths are sacrificed to these vulture type deities for sustenance and a whole religion (and conflict) is built around the practice.

A Touch of Light by Thiago Abdalla – I don’t honestly remember this one too well already but there was a new and interesting theme regarding not mentioning the dead at all.   It was really convenient for the characters who seemed to be chased by memories of the dead, frequently.


Wrapping this up, I have always been fascinated with how different books handle death.  I’m not even speaking of books where death is a character like, oh I don’t know, Terry Pratchett, but as a theme or subtext or just a book with interesting ideas. 

Do you have a book that deals with these topics that you enjoy or that made you think? Even a quote? Let me know in the comments!

Categories
Fantasy

Travels in the Dark by Jordan Loyal Short (Book Review)

Happy weekend everyone, hopefully you’ve all got some good reading time planned!

It’s hard to talk about book three in a series without giving anything away, so I just want to make a few general comments about the conclusion of The Dreadbound Ode trilogy.

The Skald’s Black Verse was decent, I loved The Weeping Sigil, and found Travels in the Dark to be the weakest of the three but still a great read and satisfying conclusion.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Travels in the Dark
  • Series: The Dreadbound Ode #3
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, March 2022
  • Length: 342 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ yes for dark fantasy fans!

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Lyssa is going to the Dead Place and everyone she killed will be waiting.

As the Hidden One’s twisted plan to resurrect the Deep Gods unfolds, the only way to stop him is a secret buried in the land of death.

But Lyssa has not given up. If the Deep Gods can return, so can she.

Can Lyssa find a way back? Can she delve into hell’s darkest corners and emerge with the lore to stop the Deep Gods’ rise? Or will she become a lost soul, like so many of those she loved in life?

Ancient horrors will wake. Skalds will sing. And a blind seer will see the shadows gather.

Lyssa Pedersten has tasted poison, and hell had best beware.


Whew… Overall this series was very, very good.  It’s rare for me to sit down and binge a series like this but it was hard not to know what happens next. If you TL:DR this review, just know that I recommend it for dark fantasy fans that like equal parts character and action driven content with tons of world building.

Brohr, aka mister “this dark and no darker”, is trying to figure out how far into the void of corruption he is willing to go. Can he regain his own agency? He is willing to travel to Hell, the outer void, or straight into a clash of monsters to get Lyssa’s soul back.  That’s great for Lyssa because fuck being dead, she’s not done with life and has a long road through the underworld to travel.  Then you have Henrik who is balancing by the hair of his little toe over a pit of political vipers while witnessing the aforementioned clash of gods. I think, for all that I didn’t like Henrik at first, that he ended up being my favorite character.  All three have pretty amazing arcs.

Each characters storyline will break your heart in this book as they finally come to their fates.

The mood and setting just keep getting darker.  Lyssa’s trip through The Dead Place was probably my favorite part even if I never cared for her as a character.  The terrors and obstacles she navigated were cool, sad, and added a lot to the world building.  Talk about letting hell loose 😅

Is it bad that my favorite character was a talking severed head, and a minor side character in the form of an 8 year old girl?  This, if nothing else, to me showed that everyone retains a choice despite their situation.

A smile found its way to his lips, despite everything, as he spied Greta bobbing down the hallway with Sascha’s head tucked under her arm.

The world building continues to grow too and once again, only adds to the story.  There’s more lore, we see The Dead Place, encounter more magic, and see all the terrible choices that people end up making as the end of the world closes in. Ooh I loved seeing how these people grew and adapted to overcoming challenges, and seeing who still had hope at the end.

That all said, this was the hardest for me to read. Compared to the first two books, the ebook was challenged with editing and formatting (KU version) where the other two were near flawless.  I also had some minor questions at the end. Then there were just silly things like ok if this creature is totally alien, it probably doesn’t have human arms and legs (even if there are hundreds of them) …. It was just overall harder for me to get through, was a tad repetitive for it’s length, and really needed a final proofread.  Don’t let that deter you though please!

Don’t get me wrong, I love this series and recommend it fully for dark fantasy fans. It’s both character and action driven, full of lore and world building, and wrecked me a little bit. Overall the series gets a strong ⭐⭐⭐⭐ from me and I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews Science Fiction

Happy Veterans Day ~ Let’s Chat About Some Favorite Military SFF

Happy Veterans Day to those who have served! I wish I had taken the time to compile a list of SFF authors who are also veterans, but for sure if anyone wants to throw some names out there I will make a post at a later date to feature them! Those also a link at the end which leads to a great article on how various authors took to writing military sci-fi after their service!

For now, let me randomly pick a few military science fiction & fantasy books that I have enjoyed, have been recommended, or want to read! Definitely comment if you want to add any favorites or make recs!

The Fantasy books are pretty well known but I would love to know what y’all think of my sci-fi picks, mostly written by veterans!


Let’s start with fantasy, because I only have three to mention that I’ve read in the past few years:

1) Green Rider: doesn’t present itself initially as a military fantasy.  The riders are a much underrepresented and fascinating branch of the Sacoridian army that function as the King’s messenger service, but are also fully trained and equipped to fight.  They serve many roles. The riders become more prominently featured as a military branch throughout the series and gain respect and military involvement due to the actions of the main character, Karigan, and their leader,  captain-turned-major Laren.  Might be a good choice for those transitioning into harder military fantasy

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2) The Black Company: I don’t think Glen Cook needs any introduction.  My favorite thing about these books initially is that the narrator is the chronicler/medic, and he doesn’t quite understand magic nor care for warfare so much, so you get a chronicle of events from a more human perspective.  It’s pretty military though if not so tactically heavy.  It’s wild throughout the first few books and I’d like to keep reading at some point for sure.

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3) I’ve only read the first two, but I’m amiss if I leave Malazan off my list of military fantasy books.  All I’m going to say is epic battles, huge sorcery, devastating consequences, it’s all there.   I’m not an elitist but I’ve had a blast reading so far and Deadhouse Gates was phenomenal.

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Sci-fi:

I’ve read less military sci-fi than other genres over the years but have found a few favorites, and many more that I’d like to get to.  Kindle Unlimited has an absolute wealth of space Marines and military sci-fi to surf and I always wish I had time to randomly try and find more gems.

1) I’ll start with Starship Troopers because it helped spawn the entire genre.  I read and reviewed it last month and definitely think it’s worth checking out just for how influential it was.  Plus, Heinlein was a veteran of the U.S. Navy! 

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2) Speaking of veterans, while surfing Kindle Unlimited I stumbled across another veteran who writes Military SF.  I’m pleasantly surprised at how many people I know that have read and enjoyed Frontlines by Marko Kloos.  My reviews for the first three or four books are up on the blog here.  MK – thank you for your service!

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3) Another Veteran, one that I haven’t read yet but need to check out, is Michael Mammay and his Planetside series. He is a retired Army officer! These books come highly recommended and Mammay is pretty chatty with book recommendations on social media which makes me appreciate him.  Thank you for your service as well!

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4) Another Veteran & author that I would like to continue reading, is John G. Hemry aka Jack Campbell. He is a retired Naval officer and has written a ton of military sci-fi books, including The Lost Fleet series as well as some spin offs. Thanks for your service as well Mr. Hemry!

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5)  Not long ago a friend also recommended Evan Currie’s series On Silver Wings.  He said “sometimes you just want explosions!” These books seem pretty short after the first one and are fairly highly rated, so I may check them out some day. I don’t believe Currie is a veteran but if he is, I apologize!

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I also found this article that talks about some famous and not so famous veteran authors! It’s a great read for sci-fi fans https://www.stripes.com/former-troops-building-second-careers-in-military-science-fiction-1.417224


Please let me know what you think, add to my list!

Categories
Fantasy Romance Young Adult

Lakesedge By Lyndall Clipstone (Finished Copy Review)

Thanks to Bookish First and the publisher, I was able to grab a finished paperback of Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone. I keep saying I’ve broken up with YA, but when a free finished copy of a Gothic sounding fantasy with a pretty cover is offered, it’s hard to say no….


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Lakesedge
  • Series: The World at Lakes Edge #1
  • Author: Lyndall Clipstone
  • Publisher & Release: Square Fish, 08/22 (paperback release with excerpt and bonus content) – original 2021 thru Henry Holt & CO BYR
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for older YA or even new adult aged readers 

Here’s the synopsis:

A lush, gothic fantasy from debut author Lyndall Clipstone about monsters and magic, set on the banks of a cursed lake, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Brigid Kemmerer.

When Violeta Graceling and her younger brother Arien arrive at the haunted Lakesedge estate, they expect to find a monster. Leta knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn… Now, to save Rowan―and herself―Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.


My Thoughts:

First off I will say that my favorite thing about this edition is probably the art – cover, interior, very pretty.  There’s also bonus content including an interview and annotated pages in this paperback edition which is always fun.

To generally look at Lakesedge as a Young Adult book: it’s ok, and I think teens will enjoy it more than myself as an adult reader.  Shoot me though but I’m sticking to my sexual content objection for the advertised age range.  they could have done worse, but I don’t think characters going from first kiss to pooling desire in a matter of seconds is something 14 year olds need to read 🙄 I’m going to keep saying it because I know I have parents and at least one teen who come here for clean YA recommendations, and I value you guys!

Ok, ok, anyway, off my soap box, let’s talk about the book

For my own personal enjoyment as an adult reader, I actually did like the setting and atmosphere.  The big house at Lakesedge and the gardens were moody and dark and made for a great spooky season read.  The scary parts weren’t too scary and all together the monsters, shadows, corruption, and darkness in all it’s forms contrasted nicely with the cottagecore personalities of some of the characters. 

I liked Clover and Florence, Arien too, the side characters were great.

While there is a lot to like in the book, the two main characters both drove me nuts. They had huge saviour complexes and Violeta and Rowan both ended up annoying me almost immediately. Yes yes everyone is very brave and utterly ridiculous and no one else can save the day because, saviour complex! Part of me does get it and I think that teen readers will have a better time with the storyline.  Their annoyance and relationship gave me major Sorcery of Thorns deja vu too.  I’m not shipping it at all, my mind went straight to the Hades and Persephone theme.

Favorite character? Hands down the Lord Under and I wanted more from him and more about him.

Another fault of many YA books, this one included, is that there’s a ton of very repetitive inner monologue and I just get so bored reading it. Violeta spends sooo much time thinking the same things over and over. Is he a boy or a swamp monster? No one else can protect these people! Gosh! It was also hard to read about her memories surfacing because honestly, it’s first person point of view, she wouldn’t just randomly remember the biggest events of her life.  It’s more like she would have chosen to talk about them when she did, but presenting it as random flashback memories was an odd choice.

To end on a good note: the magic is kind of cool, there’s a light and a dark and it certainly takes its toll on the user.  I think it needed a little more background as far as how the magic came to be and maybe an appearance from The Lady, but, I didn’t hate it. Speaking of Hades and Persephone, I hope the entire second book focuses on the world under because that is a potentially cool storyline taking place in an oddly comforting setting of moths and soul trees.

Overall I think this one has an audience in new adult fantasy romance fans. It’s moody and a bit Gothic and I wanted more in some parts and less in others. The setting and atmosphere were the high points for sure. As a YA book I give it three stars, and as an adult reader I’m kind of in that zone too but am a much bigger fan of Novik’s fairy tale-ish monsters


Thanks for checking out my book review of Lakesedge – I claimed a free copy using my accumulated points and am leaving a review voluntarily, all opinions are my own