audiobooks Fantasy

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold (Audiobook Review)

As Wyrd & Wonder winds down I am in the mood for standalones.  Surfing my audiobook library I happened to stumble across this absolute gem of a book.  The Spirit Ring is a  deceptively simple fantasy full of magic, humor, kobolds, and taking power in whatever form your status allows.  From ghost dads to corpse buoys and kobolds, let’s just jump right in

Bookish Quick Facts:
  • Title: The Spirit Ring
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Publisher & Release: Baen, 1992
  • Length: 369 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of fantasy

A quick note on the Audio: running 13.25 from Blackstone Audio, 2019. Narrated by Grover Gardner. Total 5⭐ experience 

Here’s the synopsis:

In an alternate Renaissance Italy where the church regulates magic and licenses magicians, fiery Fiametta Beneforte wants to be more than her goldsmith-mage father’s unpaid apprentice. But when the Duchy of Montefoglia is laid under military and magical siege, she unexpectedly must join with Thur Ochs, a young Swiss miner and foundryman, to tap their skills in both metalwork and necromancy to rescue her father’s soul and combat an evil sorcerer

My Thoughts:

This is easily one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  It takes a good look at how magic would have fared in the time of the Renaissance era, within the church, putting sanctioned white magic crafters against black magic users and necromancers. How are women treated in this world? How does class limit someone’s reach in life? Is magic written in Latin so only the learned and upper class people have access to it?

But she wasn’t a man and she doubted she’d get ten paces with a sword in her hand.  Not man but true mage. If God wanted to damn her for using the only strength he’d given her, that was God’s choice

There are lots of good themes running through this that are appropriate to the historical time period. The magic is fairly simple and I think it makes sense as far as how the church would have tried to control it’s use. Some of the necromancy parts get pretty dark and it’s more of what I am looking for when I pick up books like this.

I’ve heard the prose described as “stiff” and I can understand that, but the book is funny as all hell and had some of the actual best moments. There’s a whole sequence of Swiss Army Man in book form when Thur is trying to get his brothers corpse out of a window, across the river, down the road … it’s ghastly hilarious and Bujold has a serious talent at imagery plus dry humor to create a wonderful effect.

He has a sudden picture of himself: a naked Swiss madman carrying a corpse.  Well he had nothing to attract a robber certainly

The ending also had me rolling despite the kind of sadness to it all. I think that once you get past the first two chapters which introduce the main characters, the book takes off and becomes quite a delightful read. Both points of view are told equally well so that I never minded if I was reading Fiametta or Thur.

A strong female lead, a miner who ends up being pretty brave after all, and even the Abbott who surprised me at the end are all great characters. I love the obstinate old horse, trying to balk and eat grass while a battle is taking place 😂

The conflict is believable, the action constant, the kobolds something that you don’t see every day. Oh the kobolds! I need more kobolds in fantasy please 

Overall, this is really a great little book and of course Grover Gardner adds a stunning narration. His voices are awesome and the humor or gravity radiates in his voice. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this as much on page but I think I would have.

The Ring! Of course! Damn – I mean God bless me, that’s what it was

My last thought, as someone who’s lost their dad and can now appreciate ghost dads, is that I freaking love Prospero. He meant well for Fiametta and I love that even in the afterlife he was looking out for her and stayed snarky as ever.  I’d like to have seen Fiametta grieving a little more but I think she will when the shock wears off.

Overall: simple on the outside but full of great themes and humor to balance the darkness.  A tale of occupation in renaissance times based loosely on the life of Benvenuto Cellini. My first Bujold but definitely not my last. If people are describing this as one of her “lesser” works, I need all the “better” ones now!

Thanks for checking out my audio and book review of The Spirit Ring by Louis McMaster Bujold. I purchased my audiobook on Chirp and I’m definitely buying myself a hard copy for my collection. As always, all opinions are my own ♥️

audiobooks Fantasy

Mirror Gate by Jeff Wheeler (Book Thoughts)

I saved my Mirror Gate review to fall on the Wyrd & Wonder prompt 5-Star Fantasy! It wouldn’t be a fantasy reading month if I didn’t finish and feature at least one book by Wheeler. See my review links for prior books in the series at the end!

While I didn’t give Mirror Gate 5 stars (sorry but I already read Muirwood) – I can constantly rely on Jeff Wheeler for clean, wholesome fantasy that keeps me absorbed from cover to cover. More often than not his books breeze 5 stars for me. 

**One last note before talking about the book – holy cow did anyone see the release day numbers for Druid?? It slammed #1 in both epic and historical fantasy for both book and Kindle form!! Wheeler’s fans were READY for it!**

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Mirror Gate
  • Series: Harbinger #2
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, August 2018
  • Length: 349 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes to this world colliding series

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler continues his wondrous Harbinger series in which two young women unite as two worlds approach the brink of war…

Though relations between Princess Seraphin Fitzempress and her father have been strained, Sera’s royal position has remained unchallenged. Filled with self-doubt, she struggles to grasp the Mysteries—her greatest trial yet.

An education in the enigmatic magic is a necessary one, should Sera plan to rise in her station and invoke her powers during war. But the emperor’s death now leaves both Sera and her ambitious father eligible for the throne—a contest the prince regent intends to win. Even if it means an alliance with a rival empire.

Sera’s hope lies in Cettie, a waif raised in the world below, whose life has intertwined with Sera’s in the most unexpected ways. The Mysteries come easily to Cettie, and her studies have begun to yield new insight into her growing powers. But those same powers put Cettie in the path of those who would destroy her.

Now as the threat of war ignites and an insidious sickness spreads throughout the kingdom, Sera and Cettie will need to gather their courage and fight for each other’s lives…and for the future of their endangered world.

Mirror Gate jumps about 4 years into the future after Storm Glass left off. Cettie and Sera are about to take the test at Muirwood Abbey, but dark machinations are working against them.  There was more action and excitement in this book than the first one!

With the Emperor now dead, Sera’s father will scheme up literally anything to get her out of his way to the throne. Unfortunately the odds are against her as war also brews with Kingfountain(!) and she just doesn’t have the experience needed to step into office yet

“I apologize if I’ve embarrassed you, Mr. Skrelling,” she said. “I think it for the best if you depart and compose your feelings”

– Cettie

I love Cettie. She brought back a lot of old Muirwood memories including the cruciger orb, kestrals, the myriad ones, and even a kishion. While it was nice to revisit this lore, my gut told me to dock a star for rehashing old ideas instead of bringing in new ones, regardless of how it all ties together.

I liked seeing Cettie & Sera and think the page time recapping Muirwood lore would have been better spent showing their growing relationship or time at the Abbey, vs catapulting them 4 years ahead to BFF status.

There’s a new character named Juliana who was just amazing! She is utterly fierce and added a lot to the plot, action, and banter

“Hang the Aldermaston!” Juliana barked. Doctor Redd covered his eyes, shaking his head worriedly.

One thing I especially liked was how Wheeler brought back an idea that @niseam_stories also wrote extensively on – that bizarre, harmful, misleading thoughts may either come from outside influence or our mind trying to play ticks. We should be wary and critical of those thoughts. 

The mind could only think of one thing at a time, and she had every right to control what those thoughts would be

Wheeler is big on thoughts influencing actions.

One thing I didn’t like was in one of the Aldermaston’s lectures, Wheeler got lost in the theology and dropped a few phrases like ‘second life’ that needed explanation. Also while the colliding world theme was cool, it was kind of hard to see Kingfountain as a conquering nation of zealots, with submarines? How long after Trynne’s storyline did this occur?

Overall: betrayal, political machinations galore, more betrayal, more intrigue, and all of the above is exactly what I love about these books. I picked it apart but really immensely enjoy this world. 

The end left the characters in interesting places and I am extremely excited to read the next book in the series. War is beginning, Sera is trapped, and Cettie is learning how deep found family truly runs.

Kate Rudd is an amazing narrator too, I hope she keeps narrating all of Wheeler’s books!

The Harbinger Series

Fantasy Historical Fiction

ARC Review: The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

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

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Tower of Fools
  • Series: The Hussite Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French
  • Publisher & Release: Orbit Books, 10/27/20 (original 2002)
  • Length: 576 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes but apparently not for easily offended people

The synopsis from GoodReads:

Reinmar of Bielawa, sometimes known as Reynevan, is a doctor, a magician, and according to some, a charlatan.  When a thoughtless indiscretion finds him caught in the crosshairs of powerful noble family, he is forced to flee his home.

Once he passes beyond the city borders, he finds that there are dangers ahead as well as behind. Strange mystical forces are gathering in the shadows.  Pursued not only by the affronted Stercza brothers, bent on vengeance, but also by the Holy Inquisition, Reynevan finds himself in the Narrenturm, the Tower of Fools.

The Tower is an asylum for the mad, or for those who dare to think differently and challenge the prevailing order.  Escaping the Tower, avoiding the conflict around him, and keeping his own sanity might prove a greater challenge than Reynevan ever imagined.

Oh Reynevan, part of me thinks that him and his entire lot needed a turn in the asylum.  After bedding a knight’s wife and apparently falling madly in love (which she clearly didn’t return), Reynevan sets off on a series of misadventures when he should honestly be fleeing the country.

This is a very historically dense book, with many names and details that bogged the pace down quite a bit.  That said, I don’t know a darn thing about the Hussite wars so I felt like I learned SO much, and it was interesting too to see why the wars started and how the church kind of just devolved into heretical “witch hunts” and went to the crusades.  There is more history than fantasy but it felt so real that I had more than enough to keep my imagination going.

The atmosphere felt appropriate too, these religious groups hated each other.  There is suspicion and people were encouraged to rat out their neighbors for clemency.  Someone is killing merchants, the Knights are on their way out, and wallcreepers are turning into humans and making dark deals.  I know a lot of people aren’t liking all the Latin left in the book but like the prayers weren’t spoken in English and do y’all really care what they say?  Even the bits left in sentences make more or less sense if you know anything about word roots, and if not, I doubt much is being missed.

I did just love the characters too.  Scharley had me literally CRYING I was laughing so hard during one totally fake exorcism scene.  I didn’t realize that Sapkowski had a sense of humor but the banter and conversations and occasional one liners from side characters are amazing, and I think David French did a great job bringing the characters through the translation.  Reynevan himself is a moron though, he got so much great advice and ended up ignoring all of it, captured, and imprisoned instead.  Riding through the towns and hearing the different townspeople’s interpretations of happenings and politics was interesting too.

I think this series is really going to heat up in book two, with the wars starting and a lot of the setting and exposition out of the way.  I will definitely be reading on when the next book comes out!

Thank you so much again to Orbit Books for the early copy!