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!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Ruthless Gods by Emily Duncan

I have been sitting on this review for weeks and with the release now imminent, I should probably post it.  I believe the review is spoiler free for both books.

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.

I read Wicked Saints as an ARC last year and enjoyed the basis of the story, but if you all remember I just absolutely hate her writing style. I found Duncan’s writing repetitive to the nauseatingly “I need to skim” point of being terrible.  A good author would take that significant round of criticism from Wicked Saints and build a better novel in Ruthless Gods….but OH god was I wrong in thinking it would happen.  (My review of Wicked Saints

Here is the description for Ruthless Gods:

Darkness never works alone…

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

The first thing to note is that book one was supposed to be Nadya’s (HAHAH), this is  Serefin’s (got it, he was no hero though) and book three is to be Malachiasz’s.  I don’t think Duncan is doing a great job of clarifying this but Serefin did have a very large, if not incidentally passive at times role in this book.  I will come back to him later on but do appreciate the title character having a firmer role.

So. Duncan’s writing. If I had to read “*one of 5 adjectives* + boy” one more time I would have DNF’d, and almost did. Again.  Duncan has the continent’s ENTIRE future political leadership trekking across the country together in this book and all they do is continue to pine and chase each other’s tails. Maybe the hunter couldn’t have done much politically but can we treat Serefin like the actual king of Tranavia? The entire trek could have been EPIC and brilliant and all we got was more of “blah blah I was betrayed blah and now I’m afraid but let’s kiss again…” and Nadya’s broken record just played, and played, and played.  The plot and mechanisms did advance but it took a lot of weeding through nonsense to get there.

Oh yeah, Nadya thinks that she learned but she really learned nothing from book 1 and she’s still terrible. She is changing but doesn’t seem to be internalizing any of her lessons, although Kostya comes back long enough to force some true self-reflection. That particular dynamic was surprising and one of the more interesting ones.  Nadya is basically a punching bag and while she knows it, she doesn’t seem to care.

Duncan did do a better job showing monstrosity versus just talking about it, but again it was so repetitive. I liked the shifting faces and did like her take on the gods and monsters and older beings, but she could have used Nadya’s broken record headspace to talk more about some of the Slavic lore she was throwing out in names and titles only. That is something I’d like to have read about.  Think Winternight Trilogy – if you’re going to mention the Chyerti why not talk about them?

Serefin was my favorite character again because he is amazing, even though Duncan turned him into the token “other” character. I really think Ostyia would have been enough in that department but she got sidelined plot wise. Serefin and his moths and his bad vision and his nonexistent brutality (talk talk talk, never shown) just make me happy, and I think he had the most interesting arc in this book. If nothing else Duncan did use his and Malachiasz’s time together to explain all of the Tranavian political hierarchy that was missing from Wicked Saints.  I fully enjoyed the parts in Serefin’s head where he was grappling with the God-Monster-Deity-Chyerti-Other.

The ending sounded cool but that last sentence…was a terrible word choice.  It sounded cool but ENTROPY doesn’t even fit, just say his name already.  It was almost enough of a cliffhanger to make me think about book 3, but the plot is not enough to cancel out Duncan’s writing. I will be waiting for the cliffnotes version.

Last but not least: the @OneReadingNurse infamous medical rant. Have you ever actually seen a pupil blow? I have. Someone having a stroke? A blown pupil is TERRIFYING, and having someone’s pupils “blow open” is A TERRIBLE choice of phrase for someone surprised or experiencing adrenaline. Not only that but I think it was used at least 3 times throughout the book and I just don’t understand why an editor didn’t clam this up

This is the second book this year that shut me down in the middle of a trilogy, *cough* Heart of Flames * cough*.  These are the authors that must not read their critical reviews and editorial advice at all.  I haven’t posted it yet but when I feature The Silvered Serpents, I will highlight and throw praises down on Roshani Chokshi for elevating her second book above and beyond the first in every conceivable way.  Duncan and Pau Preto need to learn from her!

In summary: if you liked Wicked Saints, read Ruthless Gods, if not or if you were on the fence, stay away. Ruthless Gods IS marginally better but I personally can’t do it for a third novel.

Categories
Science Fiction

Book Review: Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole!

Thank you so much to my partner Angry Robot Books (thank you!) for the finished copy of Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole! The book was provided in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

The Coast Guard must prevent the first lunar war in history. A lifelong Search-and-Rescuewoman, Coast Guard Captain Jane Oliver is ready for a peaceful retirement. But when tragedy strikes, Oliver loses her husband and her plans for the future, and finds herself thrust into a role she’s not prepared for. Suddenly at the helm of the Coast Guard’s elite SAR-1 lunar unit, Oliver is the only woman who can prevent the first lunar war in history, a conflict that will surely consume not only the moon, but earth as well.

I usually enjoy books with fictional military bearing and love my sci fi, so this book seemed like a natural pick.  It is my first romp into  current American military fiction, featuring mainly the Coast Guard and Marine Corps/Navy.  Sixteenth Watch is what they call a tour in space, and one central plot is a huge military branch jurisdiction battle…in space.

Captain Oliver is trying to prevent a war with China.  Tensions have been heating up on the moon and the Coast Guard is the branch for the job, but the Navy has pushed them into a corner.  The solution seems to be to win a military competition that the Marines have been dominating for years in order to win public support.   The Coast Guard team is capable but still reeling from losses incurred in a surface skirmish years ago where they lost two team members and Oliver’s husband.  There are also overarching themes of dealing with grief, self forgiveness, teamwork, and standing up for yourself and your team when things get hairy.

I did enjoy the book a lot but the plot was scattered all over the place at times. Boarding Actions were interesting enough to carry the action for the most part, and jurisdictional conflicts were individually interesting, but I wanted more cohesion.  The SAR-1 team went from disgruntled to cohesive VERY quickly after a few weeks and one particular incident in the field, and I think even before presenting the team competition there should have been a little more proof of their friendships forming and teamwork solidifying.   Cold packed way too much into the end and then just ended the book with a sense of closure that I didn’t feel, at all

I did absolutely love Oliver and the team though, she was such a bad-ass. I wanted to root for her team of Coasties, like who doesn’t love watching a team come together??  The pacing of the entire novel just felt off even though they only had a few weeks together,  most of the action was in the last quarter when the book got interesting.  Prior to that the story seemed to be a cycle of grief and exposition, which was needed but set it off to a slow start for me.

The other thing I need to mention are all the abbreviations and editing.  A glossary is provided for us non-military people but it was a bit of a struggle for me to keep up sometimes.  There are also multiple typos and areas that needed another read over,  and since this is a finished copy I allowed it to distract me a bit.

This is definitely a must for military fiction readers.  I think sci-fi readers will enjoy it too but it was less about sci-fi and more about the military and strategy and Marines waving their d!cks (sorry I lived with one for a LONG time and this seemed quite accurate).  I would still recommend it too for those who like kick ass female characters and stories with team competitions.

Thank you again to Angry Robot Books for the book (Gemma is amazing)! All opinions are my own.