Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Buried World by Jeff Wheeler

  • Title: The Buried World
  • Series: The Grave Kingdom, #2
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North – June 23, 2029
  • Length: 335 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⚡ yes for fantasy and magic readers

Thank you so so much to 47North via NetGalley for my e-ARC of The Buried World by Jeff Wheeler!! After reading both Muirwood trilogies, both Kingfountain trilogies, and the Mirrowen books, I can firmly say that Wheeler is becoming one of my favorite authors and I was so thrilled to be able to review this.

Here is the description from Amazon:

The young warrior Bingmei pits her courage, combat skills, and very life against a brutal tyrant’s dark magic in the follow-up to Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler’s The Killing Fog.

The orphaned Bingmei didn’t choose to be a hero. She has no wish to cross the Death Wall to save the world. But she has awakened Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom and Dragon of Night, and it is her destiny to defy him. From his imperial city of ancient sorcery and immortal darkness, Echion conspires to fulfill his own destiny: vanquish Bingmei, revive his queen, and rule together for another eon unchallenged.

Traversing a labyrinth of caves and mountains, Bingmei and her band of allies prepare their defense against a fateful war they cannot win. But when they are overcome by Echion’s terrible power, Bingmei is left vulnerable to a ruthless assassin…one with orders to capture, not kill.

Before he destroys her, Echion craves something more than Bingmei’s soul. Only she has the power to resurrect Echion’s ancient queen, Xisi, whose evil is matched only by his own. Once reunited, their dark shadow will fall like a shroud over the realms. To be a savior, Bingmei must first survive what she has unleashed, and to survive she must begin to understand the seeds of power she’s never learned to control.

The Buried World picks up where The Killing Fog left off, and I will keep this spoiler free so don’t worry. If you read The Killing Fog and felt that it was a little long, rest assured that The Buried World is considerably shorter and moves along at a quick pace.

These books are a slow burn for sure though, Wheeler takes time to build this world and it’s mythology, revealing the legends over time and also taking time to build the characters.

Bingmei had a lot of self discovery and acceptance and personal hurdles to overcome in this novel. She had to lead the ensign while making decisions based off her own instincts…which after book 1 were obviously hard to trust. I loved the friendships and relationship building in this, even between the siblings and the members of the ensign. This is 100% one of Wheeler’s most intricate groups of characters. A little brutality, a little redemption, he puts his characters through the ringer and I just love love love the determination and resolve that the remaining group has mustered.

Have I mentioned how much I love Rowen yet? I like know he’s the other half of the phoenix and wish it would just happen already.

Wheeler also mentions in the afterword that he was inspired by accounts of near death experiences and dreams to write Bingmei’s death sequences. From someone who deals with a lot of death, I really like how he had handled this so far. Wheeler tends to get preachy sometimes but he has done a really good job sticking to the made up mythology of The Grave Kingdom, without bringing a lot of Christianity into this…yet.

I also just want to mention how much I love magical walls – the Death Wall is right up there with the D’yer wall in the Green Rider books, and the Wall in the Old Kingdom books. There is just something magical about walls built on the blood and bones of our ancestors.

All in all – as much as I love this there is something keeping it from being a 5 star read. I think it just burns a tad bit slow for me in some places, then starts racing towards the end. I would call it a 4.5 star and definitely recommend for fantasy fans and people looking for clean reads, clean fantasy, Christian fantasy.

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

  • Title: The Obsidian Tower
  • Series: Rooks and Ruin #1
  • Author: Melissa Caruso
  • Publisher & Release: Orbit Books, June 4th 2020
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes

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

Normally I would give the summary from Amazon here but I really don’t like the published summary. Here is my own that I wrote!

Mages rule all powerful in the land of Vaskandar.  The most powerful are the witch lords, exercising total control over their domains.  As the granddaughter of the witch lord of Morgrain, Ryx would normally be in a position of high power, esteem, and social standing.  The only problem is her magic is “broken”.  Born into a family of Vivomancers who restore life, Ryx’s magic only seems to drain life from, therefore killing, anything or anyone she touches.

As the warden of Gloamingard, Ryx is responsible for the safety of all within.  Her family has had one main responsibility throughout the generations: guarding the mysterious magical artifact within the Obsidian Tower at the center of the castle. All of the Gloaming Lore basically states to keep the door sealed.

Already at the brink of war with diplomatic tension ready to snap, it would be a total disaster if something pushed the neighboring nations over the edge. What happens if the gate is opened? Who are the spies in the castle? What happens when hell is unleashed? Ryx is about to find out. Can she find help in the most unlikely places?

I like my summary better than the published one😂

So to begin, it should be noted that these books take place in the same world as the author’s Swords and Fire trilogy, although one does not need to read that first.

I absolutely loved the world and world-building.  The witch lords all have vastly different domains and I think Gloamingard castle is exquisitely well done.  Each witch lord built a bit of castle into the mix, so the resulting architecture includes everything from a hall made of trees to an entry made of bones.  I could ramble about Caruso’s architectural descriptions forever but to summarize: it’s magical and everything I ever wanted from a fantasy world.  The political structure, mood, diplomatic relations, expectations, pertinent lore, and even the castle staff all fit into the story so perfectly that I give Caruso a solid A+ for world building.  She even tackles smell, texture, temperature, and weather as well as the vivid visual descriptions.

As far as the magic system, land magic is one of my favorite types. The trees and animals and castle and land itself all respond to the witch lord’s magic and the cohesion (or discord) is felt throughout the pages.  I like when a family’s magic is tied to their domain.  The magic is well thought out, explained, explored, and thoughtful explanations are provided for when magical aspects hitch or go wrong.

Part of the mystery of the Obsidian Tower is: What’s inside? What IS it even?  There is a neutral sect of magic specialists called the Rookery, who come in to help Ryx work through the disaster that fell upon the castle.  I never expected these guys to become the focus but the characters are funny, thoughtful, stabby, studious, and…assassin-y? Who ARE these people? I loved finding out, seriously they are an amazing found-family type of crew and accept Ryx for who she is.

Who IS Ryx? She is a great main character.  Smart, resourceful, careful not to touch anyone, and a little too trusting.  Unfortunately I spotted the main double-crosser/spy in the story from a mile away but it was cute to watch.  Ryx is trying to sooth diplomatic relations between neighboring countries and the entire Tower disaster sends the political intrigue and plotting through the ceiling, and everyone knows how I LOVE a good bit of intrigue.  I also loved the witch lord, the Lady of Owls – Ryx’s grandmother.  Caruso  describes the grandmotherly bond and trust so well throughout the book that I almost teared up at one point when Ryx was trying to describe her feelings.  There are also demon characters (!!!!!) and a snarky fox-cat-chimaera-magical familiar that reminded me of Mogget from the Old Kingdom series.  With no spoilers I also was thrilled to see a possible enemies to lovers bit developing.

One other note on some of the content: I do tend to avoid a lot of the “other” that most people love reading about, but I pushed through this one because the content is done pretty seamlessly and is well integrated, and not too heavy.  There is a bi character but all she does is think some women are cute before starting to form a bond with a male.  There is also a same sex couple but all they do is stroke each other’s hair and blush, and I think one of the pair was supposed to be A-sexual which is also I believe where the author identifies.  Additionally there is a “they” character which confuses the shit out of me because I always think it’s multiple people on the page.  I did like the character though, super funny and bluntly honest to the point of being the comedic relief during tense situations.  The point is that the content is there. I felt like a lot of boxes were being checked but as I said, it was done pretty seamlessly and not a big deal.

If you like a fantasy world with equal parts political intrigue and stabbing, banter and friendship, diverse casts, hell itself and a whole lot of cool magic – definitely pick up The Obsidian Tower. I ordered the hard copy already!  I can’t say enough good things about the book and really do encourage all fans of fantasy to grab this immediately!

Categories
Contemporary Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

ARC Review: Dwarf Story by Professor W.W. Marplot

  • Title: Dwarf Story
  • Series: no – stand alone
  • Author: W.W. Marplot (G.D. Marplot)
  • Publisher & Release: Waxing Gibbous Books – June 30, 2020
  • Length: 404 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for younger readers!

“I found a dwarf, and there is something funny growing in my yard”

So begins the story of Arty & Co! Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

First, Arty finds a sweaty, bearded ax-swinging warrior Dwarf scaring his dogs. Soon enough, Emma, Cry, and other middle-school friends also find fairy creature—Elves, Spriggans, Pixies, and a hoped-for Dragon—crashing into their normal homework-doing, backpack-carrying, phone-charging schooldays

Why are these magical beings here? What should be done? Is that ax sharp? Can Pixies be given aspirin? Arty, with his friends—and spying jerks and questionable strangers with long names—follow the clues and try to find out, even as things turn dark and dangerous. The mythical beings take sides.

The Gwyllion, that legendary Old Woman of the Mountains, has a sinister plan that will turn the neighborhood into a fantasy battleground.

Thank you so much to Books Forward for my copy of Dwarf Story! Arty woke up one morning and found a dwarf, thus starting a scientific adventure. Or an artistic adventure if you ask Emma. An awesome adventure if you ask Cry. The three friends each find their own fairy and have to navigate a war as an ancient force returns to reclaim Long Island!

This is a super cute middle grade fantasy, mixing modern with fantastic. There are dwarves, pixies, libraries, old books, giants, cell phones and a bit of everything for every reader.  The advertised age range is 9-14 and definitely qualifies as a “clean read” – AKA something I would personally hand a Catholic 10 year old.  There is also a good amount of basic learning in the story, an intro to some of  the Irish legends and fairy folklore in general.

Arty and Emma are the two main characters.  Arty is more scientific, and Emma artistic.  The book includes a lot of learning and more informational bits that are well tuned to younger readers.  Arty spends a lot of time reading books as he is putting the pieces together to learn about what’s happening with the fairy folk.  Some parts of this honestly might drag for some kids, and there are whole chapters where literally nothing happens, and the characters are complaining of being bored.  Generally with younger kids I would say axe all of this “boring” content, but it still reads quickly with short chapters, even at over 400 pages.  This is where I knocked the stars off the rating – a slightly older kid would be more tolerant of this where I can see a 9 year old maybe flipping until something exciting happens.

Despite the lulls in action, the pace and exciting bits are pretty well even throughout the book.  The end was a bit anticlimactic, with the biggest battle occurring mostly off-page, and the ultimate fight almost entirely glazed over in another characters recap of the action.  I understood how we were mostly just following Arty’s role, and the puzzle involved, but I would have liked to be in on more of the battle action even as a bystander, or another “Mary” chapter.

The characters split the chapters to tell what happened throughout, and I did like them all.  It was told in a 1st person POV but they were talking directly to the reader at times.  This is a great format for engaging kids too.  The other thing I liked is that the kids really did seem to act their ages (around 13) and I would recommend most for that middle-school aged group.

Overall I think kids will enjoy this, and it is entirely age-appropriate for any reader.  A great intro to fantasy and fantastical creatures that could really encourage kids to keep reading in the genre.

Thank you again to Books Forward for my advanced copy!! The book releases on June 30th and I would preorder now if I had kids!!

Categories
Crime Thrillers

ARC Review: The Hiding Girl by Dorian Box

  • Title: The Hiding Girl
  • Series: Emily Calby, #1
  • Author: Dorian Box
  • Publisher & Release: Friction Press, 6/15/2020
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for entertainment value

Thank you so much to BookishFirst and Friction Press for my advanced copy of The Hiding Girl by Dorian Box! All opinions are my own!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Twelve-year-old Emily Calby was a good girl from a religious family in rural Georgia. She loved softball, her little sister and looking up words to get her allowance. Then two men came and murdered her family. Somehow Emily escaped. Only the killers know she survived.

On the run in a fugue, she makes an unlikely ally in a ruthless ex-gang member who takes her in. Overwhelmed by guilt for failing her family, she persuades him to train her to kill before setting out alone on a terrifying journey for justice. Nothing will stop her—not cops or creeps, not even her own splintering mind.

Through it all, Emily fights to hold onto hope and the girl she once knew, kept buried deep inside. A testament to the boundless limits of love, sacrifice and the will to survive, The Hiding Girl is the first book in the Emily Calby Series.

While it is no literary masterpiece, all three hundred and four pages of The Hiding Girl had me hooked. Emily’s family is brutalized and murdered, although she manages to escape before the criminals set the house on fire.

Weeks later Emily meets Lucas, a giant of a man who sells her a masterpiece of a fake drivers license. Lucas might be a 6″5 ex-army turned murderer and etc, but he is a good person at heart and sees some of his sister in Emily. He takes her in off the street and teaches her how to defend herself, use a knife, and shoot a gun.

While I really don’t ever see this happening in real life, it made for a great story. Emily started working out with Lucas’ girlfriend, Kiona, and became at least a little more formidable if not still naive. Lucas doesn’t seem like a typical criminal, he even gets Emily a birthday present. Which is a gun. And Kiona smacked him. I really enjoyed their dynamic. Also found/mismatched families is one of my favorite tropes in any genre!

Emily just wants to find the two men who savaged her family and extract justice. Can she do it after only a month of training in Lucas’ house? The pacing just flies too – I think I read the whole book in two sittings.  Emily is resourceful and interesting while on the road too, the second half of the book takes her on a search for the bad guys.

I don’t think Lucas was supposed to be hilarious, but watching him try to deal with an annoying 12 year old white girl was pretty funny at times. She should have been terrified of him. I think this is a good race-transcending book for the current day and age too. There is also a psychological element involving repressed trauma, which I appreciate as a fan of psychological thrillers.

This is book one of a series and I definitely can’t wait to read the next.  A good series intro has to present the main character/s with an interesting background and a purpose going forward if nothing else.  Box definitely accomplished this. I 100% want to spend more time with these characters and hopefully see Emily grow up and into herself.

Recommended for people who can suspend disbelief long enough to watch a very brave, broken, and determined little girl learn the ways of life from a gun waving not-quite gangster. Some mature content involved.

Have you read it? Want to discuss it? Let me know!

Categories
Mysteries Suspense Thrillers

ARC Review: The Safe Place by Anna Downes

  • Title: The Safe Place
  • Author: Anna Downes
  • Series: no, standalone
  • Publisher & Release: Minotaur Books, 7/14/20
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌞🌞🌞🌞 probably

Thank you so much to Minotaur Books for my free ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Emily is a mess.

Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day.

Emily is desperate.

Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily.

Emily is perfect.

Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn’t play along, the consequences could be deadly.

The Safe Place is a slow burning suspense novel, perfect for anyone itching to get out and visit the French countryside this summer.  Emily is a trainwreck and her new job offer seems too good to be true. Her boss, Scott, clearly has some issues of his own as well. We travel with Emily to his remote French estate and meet Scott’s wife and daughter. Everything looks normal as long as Emily doesn’t look too hard. What secrets lie in the house and why is the daughter, Aurelia, also such a trainwreck? Is it really just an illness or something more sinister?

I enjoyed this one. It is told from alternating perspectives, resulting in a fairly quick read.   I kept wanting to read more to get back to Nina’s chapters.  The book winds its way slowly through the women’s lives on the estate, through afternoons spent poolside and Saturdays in the local market.  The dark undertones are subtle and present throughout, and the end result wasn’t what I was guessing at all.

I felt like not enough truly suspenseful things happened though until the end, and a few great shock opportunities were passed by the author and never resolved at the end.  I mean that odor that Emily kept smelling…

Anyway – the book never dragged nor got boring. I definitely enjoyed meeting Emily and the others, she was a good character.  Naive but found her way in the end.  All of the perspectives were pretty easy to read although i did favor Nina’s the most.  I think lower level suspense fans who enjoy a twist of mystery will love the book!

Have you read it? Want to discuss it? Drop a comment below!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

ARC Review: The Words of the Wandering by D.E. Night

  • Title: The Words of the Wandering
  • Series: The Crowns of Croswald #3. Will not read as a standalone.
  • Author: D.E. Night
  • Publisher and Release: Stories Untold Press, May 30, 2020
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Rate and Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ YES read the series

Thank you so much to D.E. Night and Stories Untold Press for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

Ivy Lovely needs to look to the future but keeps being pulled back into the past…

As Ivy’s power grows, so does the Dark Queen’s intent to destroy her. Ivy has no idea where to find the third segment of the Kindred Stone, the stone which will restore all her queenly power. A circus ends in chaos, an enemy turns over a new leaf, a protector can’t be trusted. Can Ivy work with friends––new and old––to recover what was lost?

The stakes have never been higher.

It’s hard to talk about a third book in a series without giving away spoilers for the rest, so a I will just talk about this book’s unique aspects with no spoilers!

There is more world building from a historical standpoint in this third novel, as Ivy is teledetecting through a book sketched by her family’s scrivenists. I think it’s cool how art comes to life more too, sketching is a huge part of scrivenry but it takes on a new meaning with teledetecting, or interacting with the scene. The circus was a treat too and definitely one of my favorite scenes, but my top favorite favorite were the parts about coming home.

There are more magical creatures too, dragons play a larger role and some truly terrifying monsters. The invisitaurs come back too in a big way.

The pace is so much slower though than the prior novela, we see a lot of Quality Quills Club team building and new friendships forming. No quogo this time.

A lot of time is spent kind of growing Ivy up and making her stronger. The pacing took it’s time until the last 14% when the plot took off running and dropped an unbelievable cliffhanger. I neither love nor hate cliffhangers but feel like one or two more chapters would have been ideal?

My only other issue was the total lack of Fyn in this book, I am honestly shipping Glistle and Ivy at this point. ((((And seriously how did Fyn not know the thing…or does he? How did he show up right then unless he….??))))

I do like that this is a very clean read, there in one quick peckish kiss between characters and that’s about it!

Definitely 100% recommend this series to any fans of magic worlds. Totally appropriate for middle grade readers as well, I would happily hand this over to kids everywhere.

On a side note I will bring over my reviews for books 1 and 2 soon too, I just realized they never made it to the blog!

Categories
Fantasy Science Fiction Young Adult

ARC Review: Sisters of the Perilous Heart by Sandra L. Vasher

  • Title: Sisters of the Perilous Heart
  • Series: Mortal Inheritance #1
  • Author: Sandra L. Vasher
  • Length: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Mortal Ink Press, LLC
  • Release: May 5th, 2020
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨ likely

Thank you so much to Xpresso Book Tours via NetGalley for the digital ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!  Sisters of the Perilous Heart is a unique sci-fi / fantasy crossover novel that got delightfully deadly for the genre.  There is a tad bit of romance too, half of which is actually…cute.

Here is the description from Goodreads:

What would you do to save a sister?

As the last mortal kingdom of Kepler resists the Immortal Empire, its young queen faces a devastating attack. Queen Vivian is two minutes into her reign when an arrow pierces her heart and infects her with the Immortality Virus. But she has too much magic to become immortal and not enough to survive. She must find more magic fast, or she’ll die.

Meanwhile, another young mortal faces an uncertain future of her own. Carina is fleeing for her life, but her magic is a tracking beam for immortals. She must learn to harness and control it, or she’ll be captured and killed. Then she meets the queen of South Kepler.

Vivian needs Carina’s magic, and she can offer safe haven in exchange. But can Vivian trust this common girl? Carina isn’t on the kingdom’s registry of magicians. What if she’s a Northern rebel? A spy for the Immortal Empire? And will the truth be revealed in time to save them both?

Immortality is engineered by a virus strain in a future Earth.  Ships with Immortals are sent out to colonize other planets, and the events of the novel take place some 4000 years later.  Once we read through some boring-ish but important epidemiology stuff, this book became truly enjoyable. I will not say spoilers but the end of the book was BRAVE on the author’s part!

The world-building and history is extremely well done.  It comes in bits and pieces.  In the beginning things are a bit confusing, but by the end of the book the various Strains of Immortals and Mortals and mostly everything else makes sense.  The world itself is very well constructed with terrain, geography, architecture, food and dress that is very Earthlike at times.  We even get a glimpse into the Royal family, succession, and political maneuvering but the novel never felt info dumpy in the present-day chapters.  My favorite bit was to see the native citizens and some animals too.

The two main characters are both sweet and pretty relatable. Carina the girl from the brewery and Vivian, the Queen, poisoned two minutes into her rule. I liked these two, and the funny thing was that every single side character was a huge wildcard while the main characters stayed their courses.  The princes obviously have their own agendas, and who knows what’s going on with Carina’s travelling buddies.  A lot of character development was built around angst and hiding things, but teens in books rarely have open communication and that would make it too easy, right?  Poor Queen Vivian though I really liked her and everyone thinks she’s a monster because of her god-terrible mother.  I did like the dynamic between the trio of siblings – ha ha usually.  I repeat: pay attention to the side characters while reading!

The magic was pretty straightforward.  Certain Mortals in the Cardinal families have strong abilities in telekinesis and either heat or cold, while most people have some mild telekinetic skill.  They vary from the interpersonal threads similar to Truthwitch to moving objects, healing, sensing people’s where abouts, to being able to tear a building apart.

Quick note: once it got going the pacing is perfect.  I promise the plot and character twists toward the end are worth the reader’s time. Some is foreshadowed, some really isn’t.

Last but not least, the OneReadingNurse medical rant©! As a medical professional I am not sure how I feel about HIV+Flu mixing to cause the Immortality virus.  I feel like it would just … kill people.  I did like how much thought Vasher put into the etiology and epidemiology of the virus, but caution readers not to take it as advice on any specific modern day viruses.  I also think her magical healing makes sense – Danielle Jensen and Kristin Britain in the past have written similar magical healing elements – it takes ENERGY to heal! It would likely wipe out the healer, and I like how the energy transfer is acknowledged and realistic here!

Anyway! In summary: Miscommunication as a  plot device is not always a bad thing.  There is political intrigue, sibling banter, and a whole lot of ‘why murder me when you could have just asked’?  I liked the mix of modern, medical, and fantastic elements. I definitely recommend this book to both sci-fi and fantasy readers.  I rated 3.5 stars for the learning curve at the beginning and amount of time it took to clear up the different factions, and I didn’t like Carina’s group’s dynamic.  I definitely have 100% respect for the author for doing what she did at the end of the book 😉 and definitely need to read the next installment!

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

  • Title: Kingdom of Liars
  • Author: Nick Martell
  • Pub: Simon & Schuster
  • Length: 608p
  • Release: July 23rd 2020 (new date)
  • Rating & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ maybe

Thank you to Bookish First and Simon & Schuster for my ARC of The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell.  Book was claimed in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.

Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

(If you’re here for the Sanderson commentary, it’s towards the bottom)

So there is obviously a lot going on in the book, and it is a whopper at 608 pages.  The book is told in first person, as Michael relates his story to a certain Archivist before his execution.

This is fantasy, so lets start with the world building.  My biggest gripe with the book was a certain lack thereof, despite the length.  Words like Tweeker, Skeleton, Sacrifice, the entire political and military structure, religion, and even the purpose of the Kingmans are thrown out in name or title but never elaborated on.  It makes sense to a certain point since Michael wouldn’t have explained things to the Archivist that he already knew, but I don’t think these explanations would have hurt the story.

The action and pacing is decent. The plot starts out a little slowly then picks up around the half way point, holding my attention until the end.  There was enough action throughout to keep me fairly interested – immersion is where the book struggles.  Guns are a big controversy in fantasy novels but I can understand how the non magical countries developed firearms to level battle fields against the fabricators REAL quick, although foreign wars weren’t the focus. In fact the entire plot only takes place over a few days. I like a good bit of political maneuvering in the plot too but readers didn’t see it; another character was facilitating things off page.

Besides the guns, the language and names hurt immersion a LOT.  Come on, Treyvon and Jamal, dark colored guys from the wrong side of the river turning into disillusioned villains? I feel like he took a bit from Batman or Mistborn and an American political commentary.  Bring down the nobility! Also most of the character names were decidedly American.  In a world with magic wielders and broken, prophetic moons, the swearing is an issue too – a great fantasy world will invent it’s own slang, but Martell settled for the nine thousand uses of the word Fuck.  The only swear/curse in Hollow is apparently Fuck, and that’s just not good in high fantasy. The lack of world building specifics also hurt immersion, as described above it just hurts the story when I don’t know what is being talked about and have to try to guess.

The most well described bit of the world was probably the Royals vs high vs low nobles vs those in poverty, but only in the sense of rich vs poor and poverty.  Actually that might be a lie too because no one seemed to really support or care about the rebels, so I don’t know what’s going on with the mood of the city other than that the poor are poor and the rich are rich, and most not rich people are afraid.

Speaking of nobles with power and rich vs poor pit workers … The big elephant in the room is that Sanderson blurbed the book.  I am not a fan of his writing after reading Mistborn but I see similarities especially in the magic system – mostly that it’s lazy.  Everyone gets one specialty (or rarely two) and they range from “light” to “dark” to “nullify” to “lightning” fabrications … You get the idea.  The magic just happens too, it’s innate and the nobles have to train to use it or they can destroy their memories.  Maybe Sanderson saw some of himself and his early writing in the book but I also wonder if he actually read it.

Most of the characters are not excellent at all.  Michael is so caught up in his family legacy that he’s just stupid, getting himself nearly killed frequently. He is near sighted and seems to have no concept of thinking things through or finishing any plans that he starts.  He whines, changes his mind frequently, hurts people because he never thinks, and I thought it was great when the Mercenary called him out on being spineless. Even at the end Michael couldn’t stop repeating the family broken legacy record.  Oh yeah I hate books that repeat themselves and he spent way too much time pining over his father and the legacy, we got it already.  No one wants to be forgotten/Forgotten but this is an adult fantasy, we don’t need the repetition.

Kai (blind) was my favorite character other than Dark, the badass mercenary.  I also liked Gwen, Michael’s sister, for unexplained spoilery reasons, and Dawn. The title of the series, “The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings,” makes sense only at the end when we have an idea where the series might go.  Really though if Kingdom of Liars is just a long introduction and exposition to Michael’s story going forward, the world-building needed to be there.

Random bits: I thought I spotted a nod to Glen Cook’s The Black Company, which is great if it wasn’t coincidental.  I also like when Hanging Gardens hang people, not just flowers.

Honestly I will probably at least try to read the second book.  The new set of characters might be more interesting going forward and events should be taking place in the present.  I am at a solid ⭐⭐⭐ for this one, for poor immersion and lazy magic with enough action to keep me reading.  Would recommend for fans of Sanderson and lower/middle fantasy.

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: The Ranger of Marzanna by Jon Skovron

  • Title: The Ranger of Marzanna
  • Author: Jon Skovron
  • Publisher: Orbit Books
  • Length: 528 pages
  • Release: April 21, 2020
  • Rate & recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ probably

Thank you so much to Orbit Books via NetGalley for the e-ARC!! The book was provided in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own.

I was looking for some awesome new fantasy books to review this spring and summer and couldn’t resist this title based off of my favorite thing ever…horses on the cover. An other-worldly looking woman on a gorgeous horse, plus a description based off Russian and Polish legends did it for me. I also love sibling rivalries and was not disappointed.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.

Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.

When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.

But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.

The plot is interesting and the story is well paced. It may be 528 pages but did not feel that long and at times it was hard to put down. The chapters mostly alternated between Sonya and Sebastian, the siblings on either side of this war, and the chapters from other characters advanced things as well. I like books that don’t repeat themselves.

The world building was fantastic with architecture, climate, food, morale, and religion of both the conquerors and the conquered described in fine detail. The nobility and the peasants both had their turn and I understood the larger motivations of the citizenry. I also loved the Uaine as a bunch of partying war bands – fucking and alcohol and necromancers, Oh my!!! The army of the dead was also a very cool, well done concept.

The entire plot seemed………too easy though. Like an obvious set up. All of it.  I expect utter intrigue and insanity in book two.

I liked the family relationships described throughout the book. Each main character gets to examine their relationship with their parents while finding their own footing. Yes parents have lives, yes they have sex lives and friends and personalities and I think it was great that this theme kept coming out. Above all else the young characters may have made some bad decisions but they were always encouraged to do what THEY thought was right.

I also liked the characters well enough, Sonya is funny and awkward but also a Ranger, ready to whip around and murder a crew of soldiers. Jorge is funny too and I liked that while the other characters picked at his religion, he stood strong on his morals. Sebastian is just a little duped twit. See next paragraph for my discourse on motives. Elgin Mordha and Blaine might have been my favorite side characters. Galina and Sebastien’s mom seemed like hollow shells… I just didn’t understand their motives.

Most of my issues with this book were that I didn’t think the character’s motivations made sense. Things were too easy. Why would Jorge just drop his life’s work? Why would Sebastian just run off and turn into a murderous twit under the tutelage of the man who killed his father? Even Sonja seemed misguided at times, like trusting Elgin Mordha seemed like a questionable choice without really knowing anything about his tribes. I think a lot of the young naivete here is setting the stage for a ton of intrigue and betrayal in book 2, which I am ready for. The end of the book pointed to a lot of tables turning and I think these characters are going to have a lot of hard lessons to learn.

I did enjoy the book and would recommend to fantasy fans. It’s not an amazing stand out novel, but I’m calling it a solid one. I am on board for the second book due to the massive amount of set up that came at the end of this novel, I just see a lot of room for plot improvement and am basing this review on my level of entertainment, which was high.

Thank you again to Orbit Books for the review copy, all opinions are my own.

The book releases 4/21 so check it out if it sounds up your alley!

Categories
Crime Suspense Thrillers

ARC Review: The Nemesis Manifesto by Eric Van Lustbader

  • Title: The Nemesis Manifesto
  • Author: Eric Van Lustbader
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books
  • Release: May 19, 2020
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ probably

Thank you to Bookish First and Forge for the raffle win ARC! I loved his work in the Bourne series and was psyched to have a chance to read this one early.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

Russian meddling, American fragmentation, and global politics collide in this action-packed, international thriller.

In The Nemesis Manifesto, New York Times bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader,the master of the smart thriller,”* delivers an epic and harrowing adventure of the predatory forces that are threatening the very fabric of democracy and kicks off a compelling new series with a singular new hero for our time.

Evan Ryder is a lone wolf, a field agent for a black-ops arm of the DOD, who has survived unspeakable tragedy and dedicated her life to protecting her country. When her fellow agents begin to be systematically eliminated, Evan must unravel the thread that ties them all together…and before her name comes up on the kill list.

The list belongs to a mysterious cabal known only as Nemesis, a hostile entity hell-bent on tearing the United States apart. As Evan tracks them from Washington D.C. to the Caucasus Mountains, from Austria to a fortress in Germany where her own demons reside, she unearths a network of conspirators far more complex than anyone could have imagined. Can Evan uproot them before Nemesis forces bring democracy to its knees?

As the description makes obvious, The Nemesis Manifesto has a massive scope.  It is a classic spy novel with modern day conspiracy theories and such a tangled web of operatives and agencies that I could hardly keep track of the layers of intrigue. It was very well written and so full of action that it was quite hard to put down at times. From Washington D.C. to Russia, Georgia to Germany, arching eyebrows to immaculate suits and a Russian mafia style  blood feud, this is a huge sweeping MUST for fans of spies and international intrigue

The book introduced Evan Ryder.  She is a truly kick ass agent, proficient and deadly and wanted all over the world.  After a small dissertation on why females do or don’t work as agents, the book smoothed out and let her do her job. There was a fairly slow start in general but once the action started it moved so quickly.  The other female agent, Brenda, seemed to be there to serve as an example of a bad female agent.  She was a bit of a mental loose cannon which issues that seemed to stem from seeing her dad in a compromising position.  For example there was some clearly consensual sex going on in her adult consensual relationship, but then as soon as she found out the guy was a double agent she started on a rape tirade and made all sorts of terrible field agent decisions.  Crying rape is never cute and omg did I want to reach through the page and shoot her!  Thankfully throughout the book a handful of other agents, and ultimately Evan was there to bail her out.

Other than a few analogies and similes that seemed a bit over-written, the writing was fantastic and I don’t have much to say about it. The author is a strong storyteller.

Other than Brenda, my other small qualm is that I don’t know if quite enough loose ends were wrapped up.  We were dealing with everything from a hilariously childish interagency blood feud to some fucked up family ties to Nazis, and somehow the DOD got thrown back in at the end.  Nemesis seemed to provide a lot more questions along with their answers, and I never quite understood how things pieced together.  Why were they ever targeting Butler, and what happened to him?  I think, maybe these questions are going to be the basis of book 2, which had it’s own can of worms opened up by a minor cliffhanger.

The most impressive part was how relevant the plot is to today’s world.  The American left and right are so obnoxiously far divided that it almost feels believable that Russian based dezinformatsiya is fueling it.  Why not?  They were alluding to a Trump type of POTUS as well, and it was even more interesting to consider who else in the international committee could be involved.

Last but not least – it’s time for the @OneReadingNurse infamous medical rant.  The book states a patients IV was pulled, and the nurse rushed to “put the needle back in.”  Guys that is not a thing, once we get it into the arm THERE IS NO NEEDLE, just a plastic cannula.  There is NO way to reinsert it.  Huge cringe moment but otherwise the book passes inspection.

Overall I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes international thrillers and spy / black ops novels.  There’s even a little agent holding a gun on the cover.  Thank you again to BookishFirst and Forge for my copy.  It releases in May so keep an eye out for it or preorder now!