Novella Reviews: Penric’s Demon + Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review copies were provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

penrics-demonPenric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: World of the Five Gods novella

Publisher: Subterranean Press (May 2016)

Length: 184 pages

Author Information: Website

It’s always a pleasure to return to Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, which is also the setting of her books like The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls—two of my favorite novels of all time. There’s just so much to love about this world, not least of all the phenomenal world-building featuring some of the richest lore and history I’ve ever encountered in the fantasy genre. One thing of note is the major role that religion plays in this universe. Fate and free will are often recurring themes in the stories set in this world, as well as the question of divine intervention.

The novella Penric’s Demon is a good example of this, following the misadventures of a hapless mortal caught up in the drama of the gods. Lord Penric, our protagonist, is on his way to his own wedding when he suddenly chances upon a halted traveling party on the road. An elderly woman had fallen ill, and like good citizen, Penric decides to lend a hand.

Turns out though, the woman is a Temple divine pledged to The Bastard, one of the five gods in the Quintarian theology, the others being the Mother of Summer, Father of Winter, Son of Autumn, and the Daughter of Spring. As you can imagine, The Bastard is often regarded as the odd one out; His is the domain of all disasters out of season, and though his presence is accepted as a requirement for balance, in some religions he’s even considered to be a demon.

And speaking of demons, the old lady also ends up being a Learned Sorceress—one of those rare individuals who carry within them a sentient spirit with the ability to grant their hosts special powers. These spirits are referred to as “demons” despite them not being inherently evil, though sometimes they can be mischievous and hard to control. The divine ultimately succumbs to her illness and dies in Penric’s arms, but not before bequeathing him her demon, an act that changes the young lord’s life forever.

I admit, my feelings can be real fickle when it comes to novellas. I often find myself disappointed with them because I feel the short format is too limiting, and not enough time is given to the development of the story or characters. However, this one was an absolute pleasure to read. Bujold is a master when it comes to characterization and world-building, and these duo strengths really made this book stand out.

Not only does it offer a closer look at the lore of this world, I also greatly enjoyed the interplay between Penric and Desdemona, the name he decides to give to his new demon. Penric himself is a fantastic protagonist, a kind-hearted and considerate man who realizes he has been given a sacred gift. He also knows he is lucky not to have been destroyed by the entity now riding in his body, because not everyone has what it takes to host a demon. Despite being in way over his head, Penric still tries to do the right thing, striving to learn how to control his powers. His status as an outsider also gives him a unique point of view. For example, even after being with almost two dozen hosts, Desdemona remarks how not a single one of them had thought to give her a name until Penric came along. Their early days together are a source of constant humor and unexpected surprises. The story completely sucked me in, and the ending left me smiling and feeling excited for the next adventure.

4-stars

penric-and-the-shaman-arcPenric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: World of the Five Gods novella

Publisher: Subterranean Press (February 2017)

Length: 200 pages

Author Information: Website

Penric and the Shaman is another bite-sized adventure starring Lord Penric and Desdemona, though four years have passed since that fateful day the two “met” on the road. Our eponymous protagonist has become a full-fledged sorcerer and a divine of the Bastard’s Order, having earned his braids. Now working in the court of the Princess-Archdivine, Penric is content with as a temple scholar spending his days poring over books and scrolls.

However, the peace is broken one day when a Locator of the Father’s Order named Oswyl shows up, hot on the trail of a murder suspect. The wanted man is also purported to be a shaman who has stolen the soul of his slain victim, preventing the dead man’s ghost from being claimed by one of the five gods. After appealing to the Princess-Archdivine for the services of a sorcerer, Oswyl gets assigned Penric, and together with a small group of guards they travel into the mountains in search of the fugitive.

As we soon discover though, nothing is as it seems. This book is told from the points-of-view of three characters: Penric, Oswyl, and Inglis. This last perspective is from the titular shaman himself, the alleged murderer who actually turns out to be a lot more than he appears. When we first meet him early on in the story, his desperation feels different from what you would expect from a truly guilty man.

The three threads here provide a larger picture than what we got from the first novella, which mainly focused on the developing relationship between Penric and Desdemona. This does mean the demon has a smaller role, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly disappointed by her diminished presence. As usual though, Bujold’s characters are her forte, and this book is stronger because of the fascinating dynamics resulting from the increased number of POVs. Penric’s cheeriness, for example, was nicely juxtaposed by Oswyl’s dour and mirthless demeanor. Pen can’t help being the happy-go-lucky nice guy that he is, and half the fun was watching how easily he could push the Locator’s buttons.

Even more groundbreaking were the revelations presented here about shamans and sorcerers, implying strongly that Inglis’ powers may be the flip side of the same coin to Penric’s. We’re also reminded that Penric is more than just a sorcerer; he’s also a divine, and now he’s about to go up against a challenge that will take all his learned skills and abilities. As a sequel, Penric and the Shaman does a first-rate job growing our protagonist and expanding upon his unique role.

Bottom line, this series is a must-read for fans of Bujold’s fantasy, and the best part is, you can even read these two books by themselves, completely separate from the Chalion series. If you’re curious about the World of the Five Gods, this could also be a fine place to start. These charming little novellas feature everything I love about the author’s writing, and don’t underestimate their short length because these compact tales can still pack a lot of punch.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

#SPFBO Book Review: The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller

SPFBO Banner

After selecting our shortlist, the Bibliosanctum team is taking a closer look at our potential finalists. We are busy reading the six books left on our original list of thirty and then each of us will review two of them. Stay tuned for our follow-up discussion on all of our picks to see who we choose to go on to the next round!

dragons-bladeThe Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by  Michael R. Miller

Reviewer: Tiara

Genre: Epic Fantasy, Dragons

Publisher: Acorn Independent Press (November 10, 2015)

Length: 407 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

 

In this debut novel by Michael R. Miller, dragons no longer rule the skies, but have become more humanoid in appearance and walk the lands. Four races roam the land–humans, dragons, demons, and fairies. However, the demons are a thorn in the side of the other races and seem almost unstoppable in nature. Prince Darnuir, the reborn dragon king, knows that the only hope of survival for his people and the other races is to form a unified front against the demons. But how does one accomplish such a huge goal when all the odds seem against you and you’re beginning life anew?

To be honest, when I first started this book, I didn’t know if I was going to like it much. It wasn’t that I hated it, but it took a few–quite a few–pages to really stroke my interest from more than a intrigued, raised eyebrow. When the story did hit it’s stride, though, I found myself invested in the story of these people and their conflict. There are so many threads that this story follows that can keep a reader enthralled by this story. This story is very character-driven. There’s plenty of well-paced action to be found in these pages, but the heart of this story lies in Darnuir and the various people pulled into this journey.

Despite the page count, this is a fast, fun story that doesn’t spend too much dawdling. You follow various characters both “good” and “bad” as they try to navigate the circumstances they find themselves in. The world and its lore is very detailed and did an excellent job of satisfying that part of me that enjoys when a world truly feels like it fits the characters and the tone of the novel. When an author is thoughtful about a world and its mythos, I can’t help but get lost in it. This novel is no exception.

With that being said, this might come off a little tedious to some readers, and if you’re like me and can get a bit impatient with romance in fantasy novels, you may not care much for the romantic interludes in this book. (However, I will say that I didn’t feel like the romance diminished the story in any capacity, but your mileage may vary.) There are parts of this book that can be a little predictable at points, but that doesn’t take away from this being a mostly fun read.

This story is the beginning of a series, and Miller certainly does an excellent job in baiting readers with just enough of the story to keep them hanging on for the next book.

Tiara

Book Review: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Wolf RoadThe Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Crown Publishing (July 5, 2016)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started The Wolf Road, but once it started going I couldn’t stop! And to be honest, I’m surprised more attention hasn’t been given to the book’s “Western” vibe, as that really deserves to be front and center. Out of the novel’s many strengths, its harsh and gritty frontier-like atmosphere was what really stood out—a definite plus for me, considering there’s certainly no shortage of post-apocalyptic settings in the speculative fiction arena.

The Wolf Road features a world ravaged by war. As a little girl, protagonist Elka learned from her Nana about the “Big Damn Stupid”—the catastrophic event that destroyed everything and set human civilization back to zero. Technology and modern comforts are gone now, along with any kind of social infrastructure or protection. It’s everyone for themselves in the northern wilderness where Elka lives, and what’s left of the law here is swift and merciless in delivering justice to criminals and delinquents.

One day when Elka was seven years old though, she found herself lost and alone in the woods. Against all odds, she was rescued and taken in by a man known only as “Trapper”. He sheltered Elka, when he could have turned away and left her to die. For the next ten years he took care of her, and even taught her how to hunt and to trap and to survive off the land. And in time, Elka came to see Trapper as her father.

However, all that safety and happiness about to be ripped away. On a fateful trip into town, Elka discovers that the man who had raised her for the last decade is not who she always thought he was. Trapper turns out to be a serial murderer wanted by the law, and unfortunately for Elka, her close association with him makes her an accomplice. The law is now after her in the form of a ruthless magistrate named Lyon, a hard woman who will stop at nothing to apprehend her prey. And now that Elka is aware of his true identity, the man she used to call her father is coming after her as well, determined not to leave loose ends.

I don’t know what I expected when I first picked up The Wolf Road, but it really hooked me in from the start. First of all, this is a unique novel that encompasses a number of genre elements, making it a bit hard to categorize. While it doesn’t have the breakneck pace of a thriller, the suspense is so thick it’s almost palpable. The post-apocalyptic setting is also unusual in that it downplays the typical themes of technological collapse and life afterwards in the crumbling cities. Instead, we’re deep in the wilderness, focusing on the remnants of a rural population that has reverted to way of life last seen in the mid-1800s, complete with their own Gold Rush! Lone travelers have to guard themselves against wolves and bears, as well as the predators of a more human sort like scammers, murders, and sex traffickers. Throw in poison lakes, the sudden and devastating weather changes, and all the other lasting effects of the Big Damned Stupid, and you have yourself a fascinating mix.

Elka herself is an intriguing character, a product of her unconventional upbringing. She’s tough and independent, but having spent her whole life in the woods, Elka is also understandably a little naïve and all too trusting when she heads out into the world by herself. While her guilelessness does get her into all sorts of trouble, on the bright side it also leads her to an unlikely friendship. Elka meets Penelope, the daughter of a well-to-do doctor, and though the two young women cannot be any more different, they quickly become family to each other. Gradually, their stories are revealed to us, and that’s when the realization really hits you just how dramatically things have changed in this world. Survival in this post-apocalypse can take many forms, and each individual adapts by playing to their strengths. Together, Elka and Penelope make a great team by combining their skills.

Also, no matter who you are or where you come from, everyone in this world has their secrets. In order to understand Elka, we also have to take in account the tricky relationship she has with Trapper, a man she can’t help but still think of as her father, even though she knows he is a killer. The Wolf Road portrays the different relationships very well, but given Elka’s history, there’s also an element of the unreliable narrator to contend with, and I think that’s where the story stumbled for me a little. I can’t go into any more detail due to risk of spoilers, but I can say that fortunately, this issue only cropped up for me near the end of the book, and the twist didn’t affect my overall experience too much.

Bottom line, The Wolf Road is an outstanding novel, incredibly well-written and carried out with impressive finesse. I loved the atmosphere of this world, and the people in it feel fully fleshed out, brought to life with strikingly vivid imagery and realistic characterization. This was one great read.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

Week 4: The Cloud Roads Read-Along

The Cloud Roads Read-Along banner

We’re starting a new Read-Along this week, with The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells! If you’re interested in participating, visit the SF/F Read-Along group for more information and to join the discussion.

With thanks to Anya for the read-along banner!

CloudRoads

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is — a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself… someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn’t tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power… that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony’s survival… and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save and himself… and his newfound kin.

spoiler alert banner

black line 2

schedule

Week 1 – Wednesday September 7th: Chapters 1-5 – hosted by CoolCurry (Sarah)
Week 2 – Wednesday September 14th: Chapters 6-10 – hosted by Lisa
Week 3 – Wednesday September 21st: Chapters 11-15 – hosted by Anya
Week 4 – Wednesday September 28th: Chapters 16-20 – hosted by Imyril

Questions

1. All has been revealed! Any thoughts on the cross breed Fell? What about the Fell in general? What do you think of them as villains?

Mogsy: All has been revealed in indeed! I was actually surprised to find out the Fell had already successfully crossbred, and it just makes their mission all the more insidious. It’s also very troubling to find out that the mere attention of the Fell on Indigo Cloud has caused their colony to fall apart. That’s some strong corruption.

2. Do you think Moon made the right decision staying with Jade? Do you think he’ll grow accustomed to court life?

Mogsy: Moon will probably never feel completely at ease at Indigo Cloud court, but I think he’ll make a home there and be accepted. He’s more than earned his place with his actions in this week’s chapters, and it’s clear he is tired of the nomadic life and being alone. He has also forged a strong bond with Jade, so once they cleared the air it only made sense for them to stay together.

3. Do you have any thoughts on the series’s take on gender roles?

Mogsy: Raksuran culture is largely matriarchal, with certain aspects of their society closely resembling those of hive insects that have a reigning queen. However, the differences in gender roles isn’t portrayed in such a way to make one gender or the other feel more dominant or inferior. I think Raksuran society is more divided in terms of whether one is Aeriat or Arbora, and the types of roles they fill for the colony–Hunter, Warrior, Mentor, etc. Every individual makes an important contribution to the survival of the whole colony, regardless of their sex.

4. What were your favorite/least favorite things about the book?

Mogsy: I love the originality of the world-building. The Raksura are a fascinating fantasy race, and despite their culture and biology being so different, they still come across very human in their emotions and motivations. That said, I wish there had been more description of what everything looked like. I often had a difficult time picturing the environment, or what the Raksura looked like (in all of their various forms), or of what the groundlings and their flying ships looked like, etc.

5. Anything else you’d like to add?

Mogsy: Not much else at this time because I’m out of town right now and can’t go into as much detail as I would like. But I’ll definitely be writing a review soon with all my thoughts!

Waiting on Wednesday 09/28/16

Waiting on Wednesday Banner

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky (February 14, 2017 by Orbit)

I am so excited about this book. I loved The Immortals earlier this year, when I got the opportunity to read it as well as listen to the audiobook which was superbly narrated by the author. It had me hooked from start to finish, and here’s hoping the sequel will be just as awesome.

winter-of-the-gods“Myth and reality collide in this sequel to The Immortals that sets Greek Gods against a modern Manhattan backdrop.

Manhattan has many secrets. Some are older than the city itself.

Winter in New York: snow falls, lights twinkle, and a very disgruntled Selene DiSilva prowls the streets looking for prey.

But when a dead body is discovered sprawled atop Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue, it’s clear the NYPD can’t solve the murder without help. The murder isn’t just the work of another homicidal cult — this time, someone’s sacrificing the gods themselves.

While raising fundamental questions about the very existence of the gods, Selene must hunt down the perpetrators, tracking a conspiracy that will test the bonds of loyalty and love.”

An Interview with Erin Lindsey + The Bloodbound Series Giveaway!

***Be sure to check out the end of this post for details on our Bloodbound trilogy giveaway!***

ed119-e-l-tettensorToday it is with great excitement that I welcome back Erin Lindsey to The BiblioSanctum to chat about her latest novel, The Bloodsworn. And in case you missed my review of the book yesterday, I loved it! The Bloodsworn is available in stores now, concluding her fantasy adventure series The Bloodbound trilogy, so there’s no better time to read these books. We’re also honored to be hosting a US/Canada giveaway of all three books in the trilogy, so don’t forget to check out the details after the interview. Please enjoy our Q&A!

black line

Welcome back to The BiblioSanctum, Erin! It’s always a pleasure to have you stop by.

Thanks! It’s nice to be back.

Happy book day, by the way! Huge congrats on the release of your new novel, The Bloodsworn. Since it’s the third installment of the Bloodbound trilogy, can you kick us off by giving us a brief rundown of the series and what prospective readers can expect when they pick up these books?

The BloodswornA little bit of everything, I think. Action, political intrigue, mystery, romance. Oh, and a dash of smut.😉

I think the main thing to know going in is that although the series is variously billed as epic fantasy or fantasy romance, it’s really a character-driven narrative first and foremost. So while I like to think that the setting is rich and the plot is immersive, my number one goal was to create engaging characters and relationships, and focus on how those are shaped by the big events going on around them.

Ever since the first book, I’ve been dying to ask how these stories and characters came about for you. What was the creative process behind the development for this series? Do you remember when you first got the idea? And what was the impetus behind some of the magical elements in the books, like bloodbound weapons or blood sorcery?

The genesis of these books is actually kind of a weird story. It started as a writing exercise to keep the creative juices flowing while I was posted in South Sudan for work. Juba isn’t the kind of place that offers a lot in the way of entertainment, so I amused myself by banging out this story about a rebellious noblewoman in the king’s army. I really never thought it would go anywhere. But by the time I was a few chapters in, I realized I was having a blast writing it, and that’s always a good sign that you’re churning out something that might actually be worth reading. So I started to take it a bit more seriously and pretty soon I had a manuscript. THE BLOODBOUND was the fastest thing I’ve ever written. Still is, four books later.

In terms of the creative process, there was initially a hodge-podge of influences in there – history, movies, games, even a Disney flourish or two. One thing I set out to do very deliberately was add a love triangle in Book 1. Those have such a bad reputation, and it’s largely deserved; they’re so often angsty and drawn out, yet without any of the heavy consequences that come from real-life love triangles. But I was convinced that if it was handled honestly and, dare I say it, maturely, it could offer some powerful insights into the characters involved. And I think that’s what happens in this series, especially because the triangle itself is resolved relatively quickly and the rest is actually about the aftermath – the consequences of Alix’s choice in Book 1, which reverberate through the rest of the series.

And I guess the blood magic really followed from that. In a series where relationships are everything – not just romantic but those between friends, siblings, comrades-in-arms, even countries – the idea that blood is the centre of power and identity, and therefore a source of potent magic, felt very organic to me. Also, I just thought the notion of having a weapon keyed to your DNA – but through magic instead of science – was pretty cool.🙂

Yes, I’m totally with you on the relationships being everything. So let’s talk characters! The inseparable trio of Alix, Liam, and Erik have been at the center of this trilogy since the beginning, but over time you’ve also added quite a few members to the very diverse and interesting supporting cast. Are there any particular characters, major or minor, who are particularly near and dear to you, and why?

The BloodforgedUgh, that’s like asking someone to pick one of their children! It’s a boring answer, but I really have come to love them all. Alix for her fierceness, Liam for his warmth and self-deprecating wit, Erik for being such a heartbreakingly good man.

One character who really grew on me was Vel. She was tricky at first. I couldn’t figure out what made her tick. But once I did, I realized she was one of the most complex, conflicted, and interesting characters in the mix. Her relationship with Rig just worked – which made it great fun to put her in Alix’s hip pocket for the bulk of Book 3. Adventuring with your big brother’s scandalous lover… awkward!

And then there’s Rig. He seems to have stolen everyone’s heart, including mine. There’s just something about an Alpha Male, isn’t there? Especially one who’s laid back on the surface but a boiling pit of lava underneath. I honestly didn’t expect him to be so charismatic, but he was undeniably the breakout star of THE BLOODFORGED. That’s the thing about characters, though – they take on a life of their own so quickly.

Haha, yeah, I had a feeling that might have been a cruel question, asking you to pick favorites, but I think you covered everyone’s strengths nicely. From the acknowledgements page, I know that writing this trilogy was an important journey for you. How does it feel now to have completed it?

Bittersweet, definitely. It feels like an accomplishment, but I don’t want to leave these characters behind. There is so much more story to tell, and the more time I spend with them, the more true that feels.

But who knows – if the series does well maybe there will be more. So, you know, if readers want to see more they should talk it up on Amazon and social media (*cough* hint hint).

What were some of the best moments for you when writing this trilogy? And on the flip side, what were some of the most difficult challenges?

Writing Book 3, THE BLOODSWORN, was really cathartic. Certain scenes in that book are just… oof. And I’d grown so attached to the characters by that point that I became quite emotional writing them. I think I cried about three times. Not always sad tears, either; sometimes the scenes were just… emotional. It’s honestly not an experience I’ve had with other books I’ve written, so it was pretty intense – in a good way.

There were tough moments too. THE BLOODFORGED was by far the most complex plot I’ve ever crafted,  in the sense of having three separate storylines told from four very different POVs, all of which needed to come together by the end. It was also darker in tone, very Empire Strikes Back, and it’s a tricky balance – upping the stakes and making things appropriately dire without completely bumming out your readers. THE BLOODBOUND was pretty upbeat overall, so I think I challenged readers a bit with Book 2 and really asked them to trust me that the payoff in Book 3 would be worth it, just that much more intense for having been an investment.

The BloodboundThe trilogy may be over, but do you think you will ever revisit this world in your writing?

I hope so. There’s a lot more story to tell, as I mentioned before. I’m also toying with the idea of doing some free content on my website. I think it would be a lot of fun if I could find the time to do it, and if there was enough interest to make it worthwhile.

Aside from The Bloodbound trilogy, you’ve also written the fantasy mystery Nicolas Lenoir novels under the name E.L. Tettensor, and the two series are very different in tone and style. What is it like to switch between genres? And are there also other genres you’ve considered writing?

They certainly are different, and I admit I did struggle sometimes to switch gears, like when a Lenoir book came back for edits while I was smack in the middle of a Bloodbound book, or vice versa. It would always take me a few days to adjust. That being said, having written a couple of mysteries sure came in handy while I was writing THE BLOODFORGED, since Liam’s storyline is basically a mystery at heart. As for new stuff, I’ve found a blend of the two styles in my latest project, which is a fantasy mystery with a very light tone and a good hit of romance. I’ve really enjoyed playing in that sandbox, so I might stick around there for a while.

It’s been great talking with you, Erin! To wrap things up, can you please leave readers with three things that they might be surprised to learn about you?
  1. I spent more than a decade working for the United Nations.
  2. My worldbuilding tends to draw heavily on Africa and Central Asia.
  3. I was in the middle of working on The Bloodsworn when a coup erupted in the country I was living in. Quite literally: I was at home on lockdown, using the “down time” to write, when gunfire broke out on my street. The sentence I abandoned midway through is on Page 286: “She turned full circle, gesturing at her surroundings.”
Thank you so much again for the interview! Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Thanks for having me!

You can find me on Twitter and Facebook, or at my website, erin-lindsey.com. Stop by and say hi!

black line

The Bloodbound Trilogy Giveaway

The Bloodbound The Bloodforged The Bloodsworn

Interested in The Bloodsworn, or thinking about checking out the The Bloodbound series from the beginning? Well, you’re in luck! With thanks to the publisher, the BiblioSanctum is pleased to be hosting this giveaway for a chance to win all three books in this amazing trilogy. This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. One lucky winner will receive a set of books containing The BloodboundThe Bloodforged, and The Bloodsworn. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to bibliosanctum@gmail.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “THE BLOODBOUND TRILOGY” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Friday, October 7, 2016. 

Only one entry per household, please. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.

So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!

 

Book Review: The Bloodsworn by Erin Lindsey

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The BloodswornThe Bloodsworn by Erin Lindsey

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 3 of The Bloodbound

Publisher: Ace (September 27, 2016)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

No question, I was particularly eager to get my hands on this third book of The Bloodbound trilogy, especially after that bombshell Erin Lindsey left us with at the end of The Bloodforged. And it appears she’s not done with us yet. The author has saved the best surprises for this final volume, along with some of the toughest battles and most challenging decisions our characters will have to face. The momentum of the war in Gedona is approaching its zenith, and by the time the dust settles, no one will be left untouched.

The Bloodsworn is the excellent result and reward after two books of build-up to this final showdown between the Kingdom of Alden and the invading Oridian forces. Since this is the last volume in the trilogy, the following review may contain mild spoilers for The Bloodbound and The Bloodforged so you might want to be caught up before proceeding. The previous book ended with a troubling revelation about Erik White, the king of Alden, leading to the creation of a secret plan known only to his majesty’s closest friends at court. A rumor is purposely spread that the king is ill and unable to appear in public, while his sister-in-law and bodyguard Alix prepares to go on a dangerous mission to save him—a quest which would take her beyond enemy lines. Erik himself is locked away to prevent him from being a danger to himself and others, while Alix’s husband Liam is left behind at the palace to guard his half-brother and keep up the façade.

Alix also seeks the council of her brother, General Riggard Black. Though Rig is unable to leave his post, he does send his lover the priestess Vel to accompany Alix, knowing that the two most important women in the world to him will be able to help each other. However, despite Vel’s handy healing skills and knowledge of the terrain, the priestess is no fighter, and on this particular mission Alix knows what a liability that is. Speed is of the essence; if they can’t get to what they need in time, terrible things will happen to Erik and Liam back at home and the kingdom of Alden will fall.

This is a book that covers a lot, a lot of ground. The story itself has several peaks as our characters have to deal with multiple disasters in their respective plotlines, until they all eventually converge in one explosive ending. Once more we have diverging POVs as our main couple is separated again in this book, with Alix heading out into the wilderness to mount a daring rescue while Liam continues settling into his new role as prince by trying to fill in for Erik. Their marriage is further strained as Alix’s guilt and Liam’s lack of confidence remains an obstacle between them, but with everything that happens over the course of this story, they soon realize what is truly important. Thus even amidst all the action scenes and battle sequences, I feel that this book might actually be the most emotional one of the series.

Then there’s Erik, who spends the bulk of his time in this novel imprisoned. This doesn’t make his arc any less interesting though, and in fact, after Alix’s POV my next favorite one was probably Erik’s. Out of all the characters, I think he’s the one who has grown the most. While it’s true that most of his battles are internal, without giving away any spoilers, I have to say Lindsey wrote his sections very well, making his personal conflict and the nuances in his personality feel utterly convincing. To be a good man, or be a good king? Those two roles sometimes clash, and Erik’s mettle is tested when that problem arises, though others like Alix, Liam, and Rig are also forced to ask a similar question of themselves when confronted with their own dilemmas. Lindsey has a knack for challenging her protagonists by putting them in extreme situations, which makes for gripping entertainment, but because you know deep down they are all kind-hearted and inherently good characters, their decisions are often predictable.

Still, like the previous two books in the trilogy, The Bloodsworn is meant to be a feel-good read, and I think we can safely say, mission accomplished. Granted, there are some darker undertones here and there (we are dealing with brutal war and plenty of blood magic, after all) but even through the hardships and heartaches, I feel like I can always cheer for these characters. Every book has also added something new to the world and its history, and I love how incredibly deep the setting feels. Mix in the excellent world-building and brilliant characterization with the action, romance, and thrills of the story, and you have yourself the ultimate fun, enjoyable “summer vacation” kind of fantasy novel.

In fact, according to the author’s website, that’s exactly the kind of book she was aiming to write, with the perfect blend of “action, heartbreak, and triumph”. The Bloodbound trilogy is all that and more, with The Bloodsworn being the outstanding conclusion I’d been hoping for. This is a series very much worth exploring if you enjoy fast-paced and adventurous character-focused fantasy. Highly recommended!

4-5stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum
Review of The Bloodbound (Book 1)
Review of The Bloodforged (Book 2)
Guest Post: “In Defense of Fluff and Fun” by Erin Lindsey

YA Weekend: Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Poisoned BladePoisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Court of Fives

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (August 16, 2016)

Length: 468 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one. Last year’s Court of Fives and I didn’t hit it off very well, despite my excitement to read Kate Elliott’s first Young Adult novel. Happily though, this sequel improves upon almost every single issue I had, and I was really glad I decided to give the series another try.

In this world, the Fives is a popular game involving an intricate obstacle course: each adversary moves through through four challenges before tackling the final moving tower puzzle, which must be successfully scaled in order to claim the victory flag at the top. Our protagonist, a young woman of mixed background named Jessamy has achieved her dream of competing in the Fives and is now a Challenger, moving up the ranks and gaining tons of fans. Sadly though, it meant saying good bye to Lord Kalliarkos, the boy she befriended and fell in love with. The young Patron prince is being sent off to war, along with Jes’ father the great General Esladas.

Jes herself is traveling the countryside on tour with her Fives team, earning the money required to support her mother and siblings in secret after helping them escape imprisonment. Her family’s enemies are still out there though, so Jes has to be extra careful not to rouse suspicion, even if it means sneaking off when she’s not supposed to. However, war threatens to unravel all her plans as her traveling party and the fighting meet on a collision path.

I think it would be simplest just to run through all the improvements I felt were made by this sequel, matching them to the criticisms I had with Court of Fives. First, the world-building: I feel like we get a much better grasp of what’s going on in Poisoned Blade. At the end of the last book, the author introduced several elements hinting at a secret history and suggesting that there’s a lot more behind the lore of the Fives. The ideas are further developed here, and we’re also starting to see a lot more connections forming.

Second, the story: maybe it’s because I never found the concept of Fives to be all that interesting, but I was so glad the story in Poisoned Blade started to move away from the game. Instead, the book’s plot focuses more on the bigger picture of what’s happening around the kingdom—war, politics, and the power struggle between all sides. All the backstabbing and conflicts within the royal family are complicated enough to make my head spin, but it makes for a much more compelling story.

Third, the characters: In Court of Fives, Jes was one of the most frustrating protagonists I had ever met. She waffled constantly, which also resulted in a very confusing picture of General Esladas, because it seemed she could never make up her mind whether she admired her father or hated his guts. In my eyes, she also played Kalliarkos mercilessly, persuading him to help her out by goading him or poking at his weak spots. Fortunately, the romance was toned down a lot in this sequel, so there were fewer awkward moments between Jes and Kal. I’ve also come to appreciate General Esladas’ character a little bit more, now that his love for his family is starting to come through and Jes has decided that he’s a good man who is just as trapped as she is.

Furthermore, there are a number of general developments that make this book a better read overall. Jes’ experience of being the daughter of a Patron man and a Commoner woman was explored a lot more, like how growing up in the middle of two worlds has affected her, especially since her heritage is clearly written on her physical features. No matter how successful she is as a Fives Challenger, people still judge her by her sex and color of her skin. Going deeper into the social and cultural issues of this world also makes it feel a lot more real and immersive. I’m interested as well in the relationships between Jes and her siblings. There are quite a few shocking twists revealed in this book when it comes to her twin, and of course there’s also the matter of her newborn baby brother—very curious about where that’s going to lead!

Bottom line, I thought Poisoned Blade was much better than the first book. I wouldn’t call it a standout read compared to some of excellent YA I’ve read, as there’s still room for improvement, but nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised how well the story drew me in considering my less-than-stellar experience with Court of Fives. Frankly I did not expect to enjoy this sequel so much, and now is it’s all but assured that I will be picking up the third book to see how this trilogy will end.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum
Review of Court of Fives (Book 1)

Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every other weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I round up what I’ve read since the last update and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

black line

Received for Review

A lot of exciting new arrivals this week! And actually, as I’m putting together this post in advance, I’m also prepping for an upcoming vacation (in fact, by the time this goes live I should already be at my destination) so you can be sure a bunch of these will also be coming along with me on my road trip! Huge thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and for more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages!

book-haul-sept-24

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp and Chasing Embers by James Bennett – My thanks to Orbit Books for sending along these pretties. The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a paranormal horror and Chasing Embers is an urban fantasy with dragons. Very different books, but both are going straight into my travel bag because you never know what I’ll be in the mood for!

Judgment at Verdant Court by M.C. Planck – I just love this cover so much. Now I’m even more of a sad panda that I’m not caught up with the World of Prime series yet; this is the third book and I still need to read the second. My thanks to Pyr Books for the ARC!

Ocean of Storms by Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown – The BiblioSanctum is going to be participating in Sci-Fi Month again this November, and I’ve already been working on lining some exciting books and giveaways for the event. Be sure to keep an eye out for more on this sci-fi thriller from Amazon Publishing/47North about archaeologists and astronauts teaming up to avert an epic disaster on earth and in space. Shout-out to Wunderkind PR for the awesome opportunity!

The Bloodsworn by Erin Lindsey – With thanks to Ace Books for this third book of The Bloodbound trilogy. Trust me when I say this concluding volume is not to be missed. Stay tuned for my review as well as my interview with Erin Lindsey, coming up next week. We’ll even be hosting a giveaway to celebrate the book’s release!

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black – This one’s likely coming along on my road trip too. It’s described as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller that should appeal to both YA/Adult audiences due to its crossover appeal, and hey, I’m always up for an alien invasion story. Thanks again to Ace Books.

book-haul-sept-24-2

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey – This was a surprise arrival, so I apologize if my high-pitched squeal of excitement broke a few windows when I opened the package and this ARC came out. I’m a huge fan of Jacqueline Carey, having enjoyed her work in both epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and I’m always curious to see what she does next. Huge thanks to Tor Books!

And more love to the wonderful team at Tor Books for sending me the following finished copies, all surprise arrivals but I definitely want to read every single one! There’s already been plenty of buzz around Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, so I was thrilled to receive this Tor Teen title. I also can’t get over this finished copy of Cloudbound by Fran Wilde featuring that incredible cover art. I’m seriously digging the new look for these Bone Universe books, and I can’t wait to dive into this sequel. Last but not least is The Family Plot by Cherie Priest which I’ve been curious about for a long time. It’s a haunted house book, which makes me think it’ll be perfect for Halloween season, so you can bet I’m lining this one up for next month.

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood – And speaking of Halloween season reads, earlier in the week I received this book I hadn’t heard about before, though I have several other horror books by Alison Littlewood on my shelf. As soon as I got it though, I went to Goodreads to look it up and oooh, it sounds creepy! Now it’s going on my October TBR too for sure. Thank you, Jo Fletcher Books.

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu – I’d like to thank the lovely folks at Wunderkind PR for sending me this Saga Press title, which of course is the much anticipated sequel to one of my favorite books last year, The Grace of Kings. It is one hefty tome! I’m looking forward to savoring it, though.

the-graveyard-apartment forsaken-skies cyber-world

winter-tide the-fortress-at-the-end-of-time

The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike – I couldn’t help it, but after seeing this book on several blogs, the description of it piqued my interest. So when I saw it pop up on NetGalley, I just had to request. It’s also a horror, translated from the original novel by one of Japan’s most popular horror/mystery writers, so how could I resist? With thanks to Thomas Dunne Books.

Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark – Audiobook, with thanks to Hachette Audio. I love listening to sci-fi books, and I’ve heard so many positive things about this one, including that it’s a fun and easy read. That’s really good to know, since I’m planning to listen to this a lot while I’m on the road, and we all know how a good story can make the hours and miles just fly by.

Cyber World edited by Jason Heller and Joshua Viola – I’m not a big anthology person, but when I was contacted about this collection of stories featuring subjects like cybernetics, neuroscience, transhumanism, nanotechnology, etc. I just had to take a look. Not to mention the author line-up. You have writers like Paolo Bacigalupi, Richard Kadrey, Nisi Shawl, Madeline Ashby, and many, many more. Again, look for further info later this fall during Sci-Fi Month, we’ll have more goodies and a giveaway coming your way. Thank you to Hex Publishing and Beverly Bambury Publicity for the opportunity!

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys and The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott – More eARCs from the generous peeps at Tor.com! I’m especially excited about Winter Tide because wheee, Lovecraftian ficion! The Fortress at the End of Time is new to me, but it intrigues me too because it has clones and aliens, enough said.

Reviews

Time for a roundup of my reviews since the last update. I reviewed a couple books that didn’t work so well for me, but happily there were also a bunch that did. Ibenus takes top spot as the highlighted book this week. If your tastes in urban fantasy run towards the gritty and the macabre, I highly recommend checking out the Valducan series.

Ibenus by Seth Skorkowsky (4.5 of 5 stars)
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (4 of 5 stars)
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton (3.5 of 5 stars)
Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter (2.5 of 5 stars)
Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (2.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

Ibenus

 What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

I went on a novella bender this week, with three being considered as quite a binge for me, since I don’t normally read that much short fiction! Here’s some of what I’ll be reviewing very soon.

The Wolf Road penrics-demon penric-and-the-shaman Of Sand and Malice Made

black line

Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Book Review: Ibenus by Seth Skorkowsky

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

IbenusIbenus by Seth Skorkowsky

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror

Series: Book 3 of Valducan

Publisher: Ragnarok Publications (September 13, 2016)

Length: 410 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

For those who have not yet been initiated into the strange, scary and wonderful world of the Valducan series, better strap in, because you’re in for one hell of a ride. Here you will find monsters and demons and the secret international network of warriors who hunt them, and at the center of it all is the most important tool in their arsenal—holy weapons. These are imbued with the spirits of angels, forming a deep and reverent bond with their wielders to grant them amazing supernatural powers.

Hands down, Ibenus is my favorite book in this series yet. There are so many reasons why, but most of all, thank you Seth Skorkowsky for giving me something I’ve wanted since the beginning: a Valducan story centered on a female knight! Victoria Martin is our protagonist, a former London police officer whose life falls apart following a vicious demon attack which leaves her traumatized and her partner dead. Her employers subsequently let her go, dismissing her report and claiming that the impossible things she saw was due to stress and psychological damage. Unwilling to accept this, Victoria decides to take matters into her own hands. This is how she winds up tracking down and fighting alongside the Valducans, after one of their most experienced knights saw potential in her and agrees to take her on as his student.

Allan Havlock, protector of the holy blade Ibenus, didn’t know why but agreeing to train Victoria simply felt right, like the angel in his weapon was showing him his path. Little did he know though, his new apprentice had been in contact with an internet conspiracy group led by a man named Tommy D, an amateur filmmaker who shares her desire to expose the world to the truth of monsters. On her part, Victoria thought she was doing the right thing, infiltrating the Valducans with the goal of blowing their cover wide open. However, this was before she got to know her fellow demon hunters, before she got to sympathize with their mission…and before she started to fall in love with Allan. By the time she realizes she might have made a mistake though, it may already be too late.

Ibenus is the third installment in the series, but like the previous novels it can be read as a standalone. In fact, I would even say it’s a great place to start, since it does a fine job introducing the Valducans and laying out the nitty-gritty of what they do. Unlike the previous two books, Ibenus also features a lot more team action, whereas both Dämoren and Hounacier focused mostly on their respective main characters. I think this gives the book an edge, showing the ins and outs of how a new recruit like Victoria is initiated and integrated into the complex Valducan network, as well as how this shadowy group functions like a well-oiled machine. It’s this level of detail in the world-building that makes Ibenus a wonderful jumping-on point. That being said, the stars from the earlier books also make cameo appearances, so if what you read of Matt Hollis or Malcolm Romero sounds interesting here, I strongly urge you to go back and read their backstories.

This book also offered up just the right blend of different genre elements. I am a big fan of urban fantasy tinged with horror, and the Valducan series has always scratched that itch for me. In this world there are everything from werewolves to wendigos, but these are the no-holds-barred kinds of monsters—brutal and terrifying. In Ibenus, the creatures the knights are going after are even worse. Called Mantismeres, they are giant insectoid demons that spawn doll-faced carapaced minions, which in turn lure in their unwitting victims by emitting sounds that imitate crying or giggling babies. Imagine meeting something like that in the dark.

There’s also a great plot here, involving more than just action and thrills. Skorkowsky takes the storytelling to another level in in this book, developing character relationships and using their different motivations to create tension. There’s everything from love and betrayal to hidden agendas and conflicts of interest. A new light is shone on the will of holy weapons like Ibenus, emphasizing the fact that they are fundamentally sentient beings and can be considered characters in their own right. The enmity between the Valducan and Tommy D’s gang also becomes a focal point, for while they may both fight on the same side against the demons, the two groups are driven by different forces. Yet it’s easy to understand where the “bad guys” are coming from, even if you disagree with their methods. Likewise, despite the Valducans being the “heroes” of this series, what happens in this story will lead to many questions about their motives. I really appreciated how things were never simply black and white.

All told, Ibenus is another amazing demon-gore-splattered sequel in the highly entertaining Valducan series. The author has come a long way since the first book, and the series itself has also grown from stories about lone heroes to a bigger, fuller, more epic experience involving greater consequences and higher stakes. I love it. Highly recommended.

4-5stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Dämoren (Book 1)
Review of Hounacier (Book 2)
Interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Guest Post: “You Can’t Hide Everything…So Don’t” by Seth Skorkowsky