Book Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Swords and Fire

Publisher: Orbit (October 24, 2017)

Length: 438 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Looks like my list of best fantasy debuts of 2017 grows yet again, and I have another new author to keep my eye on. Although there’s no magic formula to determine what makes a good novel (not to mention I can’t always explain why certain books simply work well for me while others do not), there are still a few key elements I generally look for, including believable and compelling characters, realistic atmospheric and world-building, and writing that is smooth and easy to get into. The Tethered Mage managed to check all these boxes and also succeeded in delivering an absorbing plot with an altogether rewarding blend of intrigue and fantasy. If this is what Melissa Caruso has to offer for her debut effort, then she will go very far indeed.

Set in Raverra, a canaled city reminiscent of Renaissance Venice, The Tethered Mage is the first novel of the Swords and Fire trilogy which introduces us to a pair of young women who come from very different backgrounds. As the only daughter of Lissandra Cornaro, who is also known as La Contessa because of the powerful position she holds on the ruling Council of Nine, Lady Amalia is heir to one of the most powerful aristocratic families in the Empire. But unlike her mother, Amalia doesn’t have much of an interest in politics, preferring to involve herself in more bookish pursuits, secretly tracking down and acquiring rare texts in her spare time.

But on a fateful day while returning from one of her book-hunting excursions, Amalia happens to stumble upon a thin and bedraggled young woman being harassed by a group of thugs, prompting her to step in and lend a hand. Of course, that was before Amalia realized the other woman was fire warlock, who’s more than capable of taking care of herself—and burning the whole city down with her. To save Raverra, Amalia makes the split second decision to help Lieutenant Marcello Verdi of the Falconers, the only magical enforcer on the scene. However, by doing so, she has unwittingly broken a law forbidding any members of a ruling family to bind a mage. Whether she likes it or not though, Amalia is now a Falconer, and the political implications of this are profound.

The fire warlock, a young runaway named Zaira, is not entirely happy with the new arrangement either. She’s spent most of her life trying to avoid the Falconers, only to now find herself tethered to, of all people, the heir of La Contessa. For their own safety (and for the safety of the city), mages are typically identified as children and brought under the care of the Falconers in a comfortable and secure place known as the Mews. It’s not a bad life by any means, but for Zaira who has tasted freedom, having her powers controlled and being monitored at all times does not sit right with her. Above all though, what Zaira hates most is being treated like a pawn—and unfortunately, that is exactly what the powers that be have in mind for her, hoping to use Amalia’s connection to a fire warlock to their advantage.

From beginning to end, The Tethered Mage was a joy to read. Though not the most original story ever, the familiar elements still resonated strongly with me because of how well everything was put together. Characterization was excellent, which for a book like this is essential, since relationships make up the bulk of the narrative. And of course, at the heart of this weave of bonds and attachments, our protagonist Amalia acts as the thread that binds everyone together. Readers also get to discover Raverra through her eyes, and learn of the complexities and dangers behind the politics of the Empire.

But first, like I said, The Tethered Mage is all about the relationships. For one, there’s La Contessa, our protagonist’s mother. Initially, her disapproval of Amalia’s hobbies and clandestine trips out to the city made me picture a strict and uncompromising woman, but don’t be fooled. While the matriarch of the Cornaro family is not someone you would want to cross, that exterior harshness actually belies a fierce love for her daughter. On occasion, she even allows Amalia to spread her wings and explore her interests—unless, of course, that interest is Marcello Verdi, whose status as a Falconer puts him well below the station of a Cornaro heir. Still, despite herself, Amalia is attracted to the Lieutenant, and he is drawn to her as well. This might be a good time to mention that I am very picky about my “forbidden love” stories, but Amalia and Marcello’s romance actually turned out to be very beautiful and sweet, especially since it developed so naturally.

And then, of course, we come to the most important relationship of all—the one between Amalia and Zaira, the mage and her Falconer. In my opinion, between romances and friendships, I actually think the latter is tougher to write convincingly. Book reviewers often slam “insta-love”, and for good reason because it’s just not realistic. Friendships are the same way—they have to be earned, and trust has to build. These things take time and can’t be rushed. And while for many readers, Amalia and Zaira eventually becoming friends may have been a foregone conclusion from the start, this doesn’t mean Caruso ever stops trying to make her characters’ journey to trust and friendship as plausible and compelling as it can be. The vast effort and level of detail the author puts into these kinds of things is obvious, and I respect that tremendously.

I haven’t even really talked about the plot yet, but I think it is enough to say I was kept entertained through the entire novel, even when we got the slower chapters which were dominated by Raverran politics. There’s a good amount of tension as well as deftly crafted intrigue in this story, which also throws us plenty of action and danger to keep us on our toes.

All in all, I am pleased beyond all my expectations. If you’re looking for a traditional fantasy that hits all the right buttons of a great debut, I highly recommend checking out The Tethered Mage. I am already craving the sequel.

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Book Review: Weave A Circle Round by Kari Maaren

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Weave A Circle Round by Kari Maaren

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor (November 28, 2017)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Weave A Circle Round was a book I’d been really looking forward to, but I realized almost as soon as I picked it up that it was going to be very different from what I had in mind. As a result, I found it to be a difficult read, though to be fair, my struggle with it was not so much in a “this is a terrible book” kind of way, but rather more in the sense that “This isn’t what I signed up for, and I want off this ride.”

And to be honest, this story did feel a little like a roller coaster—albeit a nauseatingly chaotic one which would get bogged down and stuck at times. It follows fourteen-year-old Freddy, an awkward freshman who just wants to get through the next four years of high school without drawing too much attention. At home, she also prefers spending time by herself, making little effort to get to know her stepbrother Roland, who is deaf, or to get involved in her little sister Mel’s interests. Their parents are never around, so the kids are mostly left on their own to take care of themselves.

Then one day, a woman and a teenage boy move into that peculiar house down on Grosvenor Street. There’s only one word that can describe Cuerva Lachance and Josiah: Strange. Impossible things seem to happen whenever they’re around, and nothing they say ever seems to make any sense. True to form, Freddy wants nothing to do with her new neighbors, but to her horror, Josiah turns up at her school the next day, and he’s in all her classes. Suddenly, all her efforts to stay under the radar are going out the window as Josiah seems bent on making a spectacle of himself in front of all the students and teachers while dragging a mortified Freddy along with him. Very soon, it becomes clear that Cuerva Lachance and Josiah are more than just a couple of your typical run-of-the-mill weirdos—they might not even be completely mortal. And for some reason, they seem way too interested in Freddy, Mel, and Roland.

Beyond this, it’s really hard to describe the story without giving away some serious spoilers, so I’ll just leave one more little tiny nugget of detail here: Weave A Circle Round involves time travel. And yet, it’s not really a time travel book—at least in not in any conventional sense. Although we get to travel through a time portal, visiting such places and time periods such as Prehistoric China or Medieval Sweden, at its heart this book is a coming-of-age tale about growing up, accepting yourself, becoming a better person. As such, it wasn’t too surprising to find a lot of YA themes.

That said, my main issue with Weave A Circle Round was the overall juvenile tone of the story, specifically the adolescent voice of the protagonist making this book feel more Middle Grade than Young Adult. By itself, this wouldn’t have been an insurmountable problem, as I actually quite enjoyed the mystery of the earlier chapters. Unfortunately, the childishness combined with the hot mess that was the time traveling sections eventually crushed my interest in the book’s second half. Moreover, the dialogue and antics of Cuerva Lachance and Josiah were so absurd that the characters came across more idiotic than endearing, making them both extremely unlikeable.

Granted, I don’t always do well with “weird” books, and this one really tested my limits in that regard. There was just too much going on, with all these topics ranging from classic English poetry to Norse mythology simply thrown together without much coherence. The book’s themes of chaos vs. order also meant that the plot itself involved a fair bit of confusion, and at times I found it sluggish and hard to follow.

All told, while Weave A Circle Round had a few high points, ultimately it failed to draw me in. I struggled to connect with the story or any of the characters, who either felt way too young or way too weird. Quite honestly, this was just not a book for me, but if you enjoy bizarre or uncanny stories with a lot of imagination and quirk, then you might want to take a look, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

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.

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Received for Review

Thank you to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received. For more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages!

With thanks to the kind folks at Ace Books for kicking us off with this gorgeous new arrival – an ARC of Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence! I can’t wait to catch up again with Nona Grey in this second installment of the Book the Ancestor series. 

A pair of intriguing looking ARCs also arrived earlier this month, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci is a space opera described as a “galaxy-hopping space adventure” in the tradition of Star Wars. Well, that’s certainly got my attention! Wonderblood by Julia Whicker on the other hand is set in a dystopian 500 years in the future where a mad cow-like disease has killed off most of the population. Sounds a little disturbing, but still very cool.

With thanks to Simon & Schuster, I also received these two new-to-me titles. First is Immortal Life by Stanley Bing, a sci-fi dystopian about the battle for immortality. A Big Tech mogul has poured his wealth into finding the cure for death, but not surprisingly, the human being specifically created to house his consciousness has other ideas. The second book is this ARC of School for Psychics by K.C. Archer, the first volume in what looks to be an entertaining series about a young woman who discovers she has psychic abilities. Sounds right up my alley, and I’m excited to check it out.

Tor Books also surprised me earlier this week with this finished copy of Mississippi Roll edited by George R.R. Martin, a Wild Cards novel. I’ve never read anything from this series, believe it or not. The recommendation for current fans and and new readers alike makes me think this might be a good place to start, though!

And speaking of surprise arrivals, I would also like to thank Delacorte Press for sending me a finished copy of  The City of Sand by Tianxia Bachang. I did some research into this one and discovered it is a translation of a very popular Young Adult fantasy novel in China, now available in English for the very first time. Unfortunately, the reviews on Goodreads have been pretty dismal, which makes me wonder if there might be something lost in translation. Regardless, I’d like to give this one a try, given its unique origin, and it looks to be a pretty fast read.

Next up, I make no secret my love for video game tie-in novels so I was pretty excited to receive Mass Effect: Initiation by N.K. Jemisin and Mac Walters, the second book in the Andromeda sequence. I haven’t read the first one yet, but I’m pretty sure these novels can be read as standalones – good thing too, because a Mass Effect book by Jemisin is not something I want to miss. My thanks to Titan Books!

Finally, rounding up my physical books is Kill Creek by Scott Thomas. It appears the poor thing spent the last three weeks or so stuck in transit, this being a busy time of the year for the post office and all, but I’m glad it eventually arrived safely. In case you missed it, I read this one back in October around Halloween, and I loved it. Thank you Inkshares for the finished copy!

  

  

  

  

On to the digital pile! From William Morrow I requested Noir by Christopher Moore, a book I’d actually featured for Waiting on Wednesday last week so I’m absolutely thrilled to have been approved. I also decided to pick up Gunpowder Moon by David Pedreira when Harper Voyager sent me the widget, because you know I just can’t resist a good sci-fi murder mystery. From G.P. Putnam’s Sons, I also downloaded The Hunger by Alma Katsu after finding out about this supernatural reimagining of the Donner Party from a fellow blogger.

I also went a bit heavy with the audiobook requests this month, but seeing as I have more time to listen than to read these days, I’m finding it to be a more convenient format. From Audible Studios, I received The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan, which I’ve already finished. It’s the fourth book in the Riyria Chronicles, and I think it might actually be my favorite one so far!

I’m also grateful to Macmillan Audio for Glass Town by Steven Savile and One of Us Will be Dead by Morning by David Moody. I actually have ARCs of these two titles, but being able to switch back and forth between the print and audio will ensure that I can get to them much quicker – and I really do very badly want to read both!

And courtesy of Hachette Audio, I received The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. I’ve never read her before, which is why I’m doubly excited about this one. I don’t expect to be disappointed!

Rounding things up, a big haul From Penguin Random House Audio: The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan is a return to the author’s Gas-Lit Empire universe with a new series about one woman trying to prevent the world descending into endless war. Star Wars: Canto Bight by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, John Jackson Miller is a collection of four interconnected stories taking place in the eponymous casino city as seen in The Last Jedi movie. From the Listening Library collection, I also received Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu which is the second DC Icons novel, this time featuring the Dark Knight himself; Runaways by Christopher Golden, which offers a fresh take one of my favorite Marvel series ever; and finally Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, a YA sci-fi adventure featuring some tomb-raiding action on an alien planet.

Reviews

A quick summary of the reviews I’ve posted since the last update:

The Nine by Tracy Townsend (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Fall of the Readers by Django Wexler (4.5 of 5 stars)
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (4 of 5 stars)
The Squirrel on the Train by Kevin Hearne (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Core by Peter V. Brett (3 of 5 stars)
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner (3 of 5 stars)
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (3 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

 

Interviews & Guest Posts

A huge thanks to author Tracy Townsend for stopping by The BiblioSanctum this week with a guest post discussing the motivation behind her debut novel, The Nine!

Guest Post: “How to Identify Genre in Four Easy Steps (And Why it Doesn’t Matter, Anyway) by Tracy Townsend

 

What I’ve Read Since the Last Update

Here’s where I list the books I’ve “unstacked” from the TBR since my last roundup post. The last couple of weeks were mostly spent cleaning and doing holiday prep around the house since I have family coming over for Christmas, and some days it would take hours for a big job to get done. That’s when audiobooks really came in handy. Depending on how time-consuming my task was, sometimes I would even finish a book a day if I had it on at faster playback speeds! Stay tuned for my reviews of the following books.

   

  

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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!:)

Friday Face-off: Potion or Perfume Bottle

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

“Hubble bubble toil and trouble”
~ a cover featuring a POTION/PERFUME BOTTLE

Mogsy’s Pick:
The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

This week, I’ve chosen a historical tale of mythology, suspense, and lovers separated by time. While I can’t really say I enjoyed this novel, it does fit this week’s theme very well, following protagonists Jac L’Etoile and her brother Robbie who are heirs to a preeminent French perfume company.

Haunted by memories of her mother’s suicide, however, Jac moves to America to become a TV show host, leaving her brother to take care of the family business. While going through some of their old archives, Robbie stumbles across a collection of ancient pottery shards and a family secret about a scent rumored to enable a person to remember past lives. He has big plans for the discovery, but there are others who would do anything to stop them from happening. When Robbie goes missing, leaving the dead body of a stranger at the scene of the crime, Jac desperately joins the search, becoming embroiled in politics, suspense, passion, and a mystery that goes back thousands of years.

I was actually surprised to discover there were at least a dozen covers for this book; I really wasn’t expecting to find so many. Let’s take a look at them now:

From left to right, top to bottom:
Atria Books (2012) – Atria Books (2013) – Center Point (2012)
Random House Australia (2012) – Spanish Edition (2013) – Italian Edition (2012)
Portuguese (2012) – German (2012) – Bulgarian (2013)
Portuguese (2014) – Russian (2015) – Polish (2015)

  

  

  

  

Winner:

Ironically, neither of the two covers that appeal to me the most feature perfume bottles. At first, I was drawn to the warm colors and simplicity of the Random House Australia edition, but then at the last minute, I caught sight of the Polish edition and found myself quite taken by its delicate beauty. I think that’s our winner, folks.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Daevabad Trilogy

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Length: 528 page

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Meet Nahri, a young hustler who makes a living scamming the superstitious and gullible on the streets of 18th century Cairo. Even though she has the uncanny ability to sense illness in a person simply by touching them, she’s never truly believed that what she does is magic. But then one day during a zar ceremony, in which Nahri was just supposed to go through the motions, she accidentally calls forth a daeva warrior. But said daeva isn’t just any spirit to be summoned, for he is Dara, the greatest warrior to have ever lived. Right away, he recognizes Nahri for what she really is—something not all entirely human—and soon the two of them are on the run, trying to say one step ahead of the dark forces pursuing them. Their only safe haven would be Daevabad, the city of gilded brass walls and enchantments, where Dara claims there will be protection to be found.

Many authors have endeavored to tell a similar story, most of which always seem to feature a girl and a guy attempting to reach a magical city while evading the evil creatures hunting them. However, S.A. Chakraborty has achieved something quite unique and remarkable with City of Brass, incorporating elements from Middle Eastern folklore (the book’s title itself is named after a story of the same name from One Thousand and One Nights) along with a heady infusion of magic combined with the rich history and culture of the time period.

There’s also a whole other side to this tale featuring Prince Alizayd, the rather idealistic and sheltered younger son of the current king of Daevabad. His city is one divided along racial lines, those with human blood being largely oppressed and marginalized in a kingdom dominated by the djinn. Although he’ll never inherit the throne, Ali still wants to do some good for the shafits, or mixed bloods, even if it means going against his family’s wishes and jeopardizing his father’s reign. As whispers of rebellion threaten to further destabilize the peace and Daevabad’s politics, certain insurgency groups see Ali’s sympathies towards them as a possibility that he can be convinced to join their cause.

Expertly balancing Nahri and Ali’s narratives, Chakraborty takes us on a journey through a vivid alternate world, exploring the themes of political intrigue and human ambitions against a backdrop of religious and cultural tensions. The world-building is richly detailed, created with what must have been hours of meticulous research. History is smoothly blended with magic and mythology, integrating readers into an immersive experience.

However, if I had to name one thing I loved most about the book, it would be the writing. Chakraborty’s style is elegant and descriptive without bogging down the prose with unnecessary embellishment, so the result is a natural sounding narrative that is so easy to get into. Also, the characters’ voices and dialogue sounded natural without coming off as anachronistic—which may seem like a trivial matter, but this was actually key in helping me connect with the main protagonists. I found myself immediately drawn to Nahri, for example, even when she was immediately revealed to be a thief and con artist, performing fake palm readings and healings. Things only got more interesting when Dara entered the picture. Gradually, the daeva’s initial brusque demeanor is softened through the revealing of his intriguing backstory, not to mention his interactions with Nahri, which are sometimes shot through with moments of lightness and humor. Although I’d fully expected a romance, what impressed me was the organic way the feelings grew between the two characters and how natural they felt. None of that insta-love nonsense.

And then there’s Prince Ali, a djinn raised in the shadow of his older brother Muntadhir, heir to the throne. His innocence and naiveté notwithstanding, I just love what a good, kind, and compassionate person he is. Still, what happens when loyalty to family clashes with the need to do what’s right? Life is complicated, even when you are a prince. The author paints an intricate picture of what it’s like in Daevabad, where awful injustices are committed every day against shafits—and the crown does nothing about it. Ali, who is perhaps more religious than the rest of his family, is troubled by how this cruel treatment of mixed-bloods goes against the teachings of his god, and yet he also loves his brother, whom he has pledged to serve when Muntadhir becomes king. By exploring the great personal and political implications on both sides of Ali’s dilemma, Chakraborty actually managed to make his POV the more compelling storyline in the second half of the novel.

Speaking of which, there were some hitches in the pacing and unevenness in the storytelling, but overall I have to say The City of Brass was exceptionally polished for a debut. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! I was excited to learn that the sequel already has a title—The Kingdom of Copper—and that is already in the works. I’ll definitely be looking out for it next year.

*** Originally reviewed at The Speculative Herald ***

Waiting on Wednesday 12/13/17

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother by Danielle Teller (May 22, 2018 by William Morrow)

We all know the story of Cinderella, but what about her infamous stepmother? I am a sucker for these “twists on a classic fairy tale” where we get a new perspective from the villain. This being the author’s novel debut, I’m a little uncertain how this is going to turn out, but I’m definitely intrigued by the book’s description and I’m curious to see where Teller will go with this.

In the vein of Wicked, The Woodcutter, and Boy, Snow, Bird, a luminous reimagining of a classic tale, told from the perspective of Agnes, Cinderella’s “evil” stepmother.

We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?

As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story. . . .

A peasant born into serfdom, Agnes is separated from her family and forced into servitude as a laundress’s apprentice when she is only ten years old. Using her wits and ingenuity, she escapes her tyrannical matron and makes her way toward a hopeful future. When teenaged Agnes is seduced by an older man and becomes pregnant, she is transformed by love for her child. Once again left penniless, Agnes has no choice but to return to servitude at the manor she thought she had left behind. Her new position is nursemaid to Ella, an otherworldly infant. She struggles to love the child who in time becomes her stepdaughter and, eventually, the celebrated princess who embodies everyone’s unattainable fantasies. The story of their relationship reveals that nothing is what it seems, that beauty is not always desirable, and that love can take on many guises.

Lyrically told, emotionally evocative, and brilliantly perceptive, All the Ever Afters explores the hidden complexities that lie beneath classic tales of good and evil, all the while showing us that how we confront adversity reveals a more profound, and ultimately more important, truth than the ideal of “happily ever after.”

Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend

***Don’t forget to check out the details on our INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY of The Nine!***

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Nine by Tracy Townsend

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Thieves of Fate

Publisher: Pyr (November 14, 2017)

Length: 400 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I love reading fantasy, I love reading science fiction, and occasionally I’ll even be in the mood for a bit of both at once. Is it any wonder then that The Nine hooked me on page one? Defying genre traditions and labels, Tracy Townsend’s debut is a fresh and bold novel that marches to the beat of its own drum, delighting me at every turn. By blending together a number of speculative elements, the author has created something that’s altogether different and new.

Taking place in an alternate universe in which science has become a religion and God is seen as the great Experimenter, The Nine involves a magical self-scribing book which lists the nine people whose actions will determine the fate of world. It’s the mother of all experiments, and needless to say, there are various factions who will go to great lengths to affects its outcome. Caught up in this epic struggle is a thirteen-year-old girl named Rowena Downshire, who works as a black market courier in the hopes of one day freeing her mother from debtor’s prison. One day, her employer Ivor tasks her to deliver a mysterious package to the most feared man in the city—a man only known as the Alchemist, who is said to possess dangerous magical abilities. En route, however, Rowena is attacked and robbed by something called an Aigamuxa, which are giant beast-like creatures whose eyes are on the soles of their feet. Afraid to return to the short-tempered and abusive Ivor with news that she has lost the package, Rowena decides to take her chances with the Alchemist instead, continuing on to her destination in order to let the recipient know what has happened.

But to Rowena’s surprise, the Alchemist does not immediately smite her on the spot. Instead, he provides her with safety, food, and shelter, informing her that anyone who has had contact with the contents of that stolen package is now in grave danger. Meanwhile, as proof of this pronouncement, the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers wakes up battered and trussed up in a cell, facing his monstrous kidnapper. The creature has a book for him to translate, and doing what his captors want may be his only chance of survival. Already, a colleague of his has gone missing because of what she has uncovered, and Chalmers has reasons to fear the worst.

For a novel with so many characters and interlacing plot lines, The Nine is surprisingly well put together and tightly paced. Townsend also balances her storytelling with outstanding character development and layered world-building, with the mythos creation being especially impressive. The subjects of religion and science are explored in a way I’ve never seen before, opening up plenty of opportunities for reader engagement, considering the vast number of possibilities for the direction of this series. Almost immediately, the setting feels at once familiar but also strange and exotic enough to be a full-fledged secondary world with all the escapist potential a fantasy fan could ask for. I loved the idea of all life and creation being seen as the ultimate experiment, with God being worshipped as the great Experimenter who is constantly assessing, adjusting, and applying the appropriate interventions based on the observations of how nine randomly chosen human beings live their lives. What a mind-bending concept!

As well, the world is populated with intelligent beings other than humans, such as the aforementioned Aigamuxa, and there is also a race of sentient walking tree creatures called the Lanyani (though their diet is far from plant-like). These three groups exist in a state of tension, with some of their past history and conflicts touched upon in the main story line. Furthermore, it’s clear that Townsend has a knack for world-building, weaving different genres through her narrative so that the setting has this cool mish-mash of steampunk and historical fiction influences.

That said, it’s the characters who steal the show here. Realistically portrayed and nuanced, they provide readers with the opportunity to experience the full story, the multiple perspectives allowing us to see things from all angles. Rowena is one of our main protagonists, and she is a clever, brave, and determined girl. The people around her are also complex, as there are no simple black-and-white characters here. Rowena quickly learns not to trust anything at face value, realizing that everyone has a story to tell. I especially enjoyed her early interactions with the Alchemist, as we discover along with Rowena just how wrongly the old man has been perceived by the rest of the city. Then there’s Anselm Meteron, a former mercenary who now feels entitled to a retirement of indulgent access after all that he’s been through. While there are many characters, these three stand out as our central figures. The trio of them make for an interesting group of allies, but the result is some fantastic dialogue and quality interactions.

All in all, The Nine was a delightful read, its exquisitely dark and twisted plotline packed with genuine surprises. As much as I’ve written here, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what this terrific novel has to offer. Tracy Townsend has written a dazzling debut which positively crackles with imagination and enigmatic charm. If you’re looking for a clever and magnificently crafted genre-bending fantasy, I wholeheartedly recommend this superb opening volume to the Thieves of Fate series. And believe me when I say I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Guest Post by Tracy Townsed: “How to Identify Genre in Four Easy Steps (And Why it Doesn’t Matter, Anyway)

Guest Post: “How to Identify Genre in Four Easy Steps (And Why it Doesn’t Matter, Anyway) by Tracy Townsend + International Giveaway!

***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***

Today it is with great pleasure that we welcome author Tracy Townsend to The BiblioSanctum to talk about The Nine, her epic fantasy featuring a dark heist story about a self-scribing book that may be the key to the universe! I recently finished this incredible debut and loved it to bits, which is why I couldn’t be more thrilled when Tracy agreed to share her inspiration with us in a guest post and and discuss what motivated her to write her novel. Published by Pyr on November 14, 2017, The Nine is now available wherever books are sold, so be sure to check out it out! My review of it will be up very soon; in the meantime, please enjoy the post and don’t forget to enter our giveaway, which is open internationally – so come one come all!

HOW TO IDENTIFY GENRE IN FOUR EASY STEPS (AND WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER ANYWAY)
by Tracy Townsend

If you’re reading this, then you’re the sort of person who cares about books, and probably genre fiction in particular. Congratulations! You are most assuredly one of my people. I horrified a few of my teaching colleagues at a recent speaking engagement when I answered the question “Why do you write fantasy? What got you into it?” by saying that I have no interest in realistic fiction whatsoever.

It is true. I don’t get interested in stories that seem too much like the world I wake up to every day. But I also have very little interest in genre labeling, even within realms of the fantastic. It seems booksellers and publishers and certain fandoms do, for their own practical reasons. Some have done a bit of head-scratching over my debut novel, The Nine.

“Is it fantasy?” folks ask.

“Oh, yes. Definitely.”

“But there’s science in it, too?”

“Kind of a lot, yeah.”

Always a hesitation, at this moment. “So . . . it’s science fiction?”

“You could call it that. Or science fantasy.”

“What do you call it?”

And here, I’m the one who pauses. “It’s kind of a literary steampunk heist with gaslamp intrigue, clockpunk aesthetics, and some scattered bits of New Weird, grimlight fantasy, and urban paranormal.”

“Oh. . .. Well. I don’t get it.”

I hate to leave readers confused (all right, fine, I actually sort of love doing that, then giving you a big AH HA later, but bear with me). So, in the interests of public service, I’ve drawn up a quick guide for How To Test What Genre You’re Reading.

Step One: Immerse the text in water.

  • Does it shoot off sparks? Probably science fiction. There are a lot of delicate zappy bits in there. That or it’s an ebook.
  • If the wet book has not issued content-related sparks, proceed to Step Two.

Step Two: Open the book. (Provided you can, because wet pages are tricky.)

  • Does the book require an incantation to be properly read? Do you feel a sudden, reeling weariness, as if your very life essence has been tapped by forces of the arcane in service of binding this story to your mind? Probably fantasy, then.
  • If the book is damp, non-sparky, and has not given signs of responding to you through ancient powers, proceed to Step Three.

Step Three: Give the book to someone else and ask them to read a page.

  • Does the book make sense to them? No? It’s probably slipstream or literary speculative or I don’t know, are you still really reading these steps? Have you seen where this is going? No?
  • If the book is damp, non-sparky, non-magical, inscrutable, AND you are a very stubborn person, proceed to Step Four.

Step Four: Put the book down. Ask yourself, “Am I enjoying this?”

  • Does the writing you where you live, in that little corner of weirdness or escapism or thoughtfulness or cultural critique or life-affirmation or challenge to the status quo that feels like where you ought to be, at least right now? Is it talking to you? Do you want to know what the next page will say?

You have, at this point, a quite sodden book. But you also have the only real answer to the question, “What kind of book is it?”

It’s your book. It’s the one you’ve been looking for. I hope, whatever anybody else calls it, you can call it a good companion on whatever journey you’ve embarked upon today.

I wrote The Nine because my book didn’t exist yet. I wanted mercenaries and heists and dirty laundry and broken families and redemption arcs and conspiracies and shattered faith and faith restored and crazy monsters and monsters who are actually human beings, right down to their ten fingers and toes (or in Anselm Meteron’s case, his nine and a half fingers). I wanted the smell of coal and the gray of ashes. Rust and brass. Lightning rails and air galleons. I wanted a story that would make people think, make them worry, make them cry, make them laugh, and give them a few heart-pounding fight scenes along the way.

Science fiction and fantasy is a funny place to be a reader. We’re supposed to be at home with strangeness and the unexplained, figuring out stuff as we go along. Often, though, we cling to labels, and while they have their uses, they’re mostly nonsense. Every genre label is just an argument in disguise — an argument that’s assumed to have been won already. They’re an effort to talk you into reading the text a certain way or putting it on a certain shelf.

It won’t bother me one bit if The Nine ends up shelved with people’s Cherie Priest, or their China Mieville, or their Michael Moorcock. You could even put it next to Watchmen and Amulet and Hellboy. Shelve the book wherever you like. But I hope you pick it up, wherever it’s been put down. I hope it becomes your book, too.

Just. . . maybe don’t actually put it in water.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tracy Townsend holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is a past chair of the English Department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she currently teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband. Her debut novel, The Nine, is the first in the Thieves of Fate series, published by Pyr November 14, 2017. You can find her on Twitter at @TheStorymatic and on the web at www.tracytownsend.net.

The Nine Giveaway

Interested in checking out The Nine? Well, you’re in luck! With thanks to the publisher, the BiblioSanctum is pleased to be hosting this amazing giveaway opportunity which is open internationally so everyone is free to join in the fun. Two winners will be chosen who will each receive a print copy of the book. To enter, simply send an email to bibliosanctum@gmail.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “THE NINE” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Monday, December 18, 2017 and we’ll take care of the rest.

Only one entry per household, please. The winners 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 prizes. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.

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

Book Review: The Core by Peter V. Brett

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Core by Peter V. Brett

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 5 of The Demon Cycle

Publisher: Del Rey (October 3, 2017)

Length: 781 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

To be honest, The Demon Cycle and I have something of a love-hate relationship. While I felt the first book was a truly excellent read, every sequel after that has been problematic in one form or another, be they plagued with redundant (and overly long!) flashbacks, infuriating cliffhangers, or obnoxious characters you just want to punch in the face. Still, Peter V. Brett writes very entertaining stories, so I probably put up with a lot more from him that I would from any other author. As much as I like to jokingly call this series “Days of Our Lives in The Hollow”, there’s definitely something to be said for the guilty pleasure derived from following soap opera bait like Rojer’s troubles with his three-way marriage, or Leesha and her mom’s baby daddy drama.

That said, we’re on the final book now. No more messing around. Like I said at the end of my review for The Skull Throne, I fully expected some tight storytelling and fast-paced action from The Core as we make our last big push towards the grand finale.

In retrospect, those high expectations were probably what led to my eventual disappointment. I wanted swift execution of the story and razor sharp timing befitting of a series conclusion. I wanted answers and a narrower field of focus. I wanted to see multiple plot threads come together and to have the major characters play more central roles again. I wanted too much, in other words. I realize now that I’d hyped this book up in my head, with expectations of what I wanted The Core to be, and it ended up being quite different from Brett’s vision. Of course, I don’t blame him at all for any of that; as the author, it’s his prerogative to take his series in whatever direction he wants. What I do want to do is paint a picture of the situation so that others might better understand why I’m in the minority of feeling merely lukewarm about this novel while most others seemed to have enjoyed it immensely.

Granted, I’m probably sounding a lot more negative than I intend to be. The Core really is a decent book, and had this been any other installment, I might even have given it a higher rating. Still, we’re talking the very last book of a series here. Fair or not, it gets evaluated it on a different set of standards to judge whether or not it serves as a satisfying conclusion, and in that sense, I was not exactly overawed. Even if things ended just about as well as they possibly could, I still experienced a ton of issues along the way, especially in the first half of the story, most of which I spent feeling bored. Tedium in a finale? Something’s definitely not right.

Part of the problem stems from all the soapy plotlines that had valiantly managed to keep the Cutter’s Hollow crew interesting throughout much of the series, but unfortunately, what worked for previous two books merely felt contrived and time-wasting in this final volume. We’re supposed to be bracing ourselves for an epic showdown against demonkind, but there’s hardly a sense of urgency or any kind of tension leading up to the big event. I’ve also watched this series grow increasingly bloated since The Daylight War, and things have gotten really out of hand with the staggering number of characters we have to keep track of. I’ve mentioned before how badly this series needs Arlen to remain a big part of the story in order to keep it focused, so I was once again disappointed at his meager presence in The Core. Considering how only a handful of main character POVs—namely Arlen, Jardir, and Leesha—were significantly pushing this story along, it’s not surprising that we got nowhere fast due the relatively limited page time they were given.

The good news is, things pick up significantly in the second half, the novel’s saving grace being its later chapters. As I’ve alluded to before, I’m actually quite happy with the way The Core ended, just not quite so pleased with the uneven road it took to get there. This has resulted in some very mixed feelings, to say the least, hence my middling 3-star rating. Many others have loved it unequivocally though, and ultimately I think how you feel will largely depend on what you hope to get out of an ending volume. If you’re a reader who appreciates getting the full picture—or if you enjoyed how the previous books continued expanding the story, setting, and characters—then I think you will like The Core very much. On the flip side, if you’re feeling worn out by the widening scope, lack of focus, and increasingly shallow plot threads of the series, then I’m afraid you’ll just find more of the same problems with this one.

Still, at the end of the day I’m pretty happy I got to finish The Demon Cycle. This series and I have had our ups and downs, but it was a fun ride throughout it all. I definitely would not hesitate to read anything Peter V. Brett does next.

Audiobook Review: All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1

Publisher: Audible Studios (November 7, 2017)

Length: 13 hrs and 54 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

I think we can all agree that superheroes are awesome. Like most fans, I love reading about their powers, their adventures, and the lore that surrounds them and their origins—and for a long time, comics have been the go-to for my fix. However, recent years have seen an influx of superhero novels hitting the SFF arena, and while arguably the good ones have been far and few between, that has not stopped me from checking out new ones whenever they come out.

Hence my latest venture into the genre, a quirky novel bearing the equally quirky title of All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. The short version of the description is Sparks vs. Darklings—Sparks being akin to traditional superheroes, while monsters are the supernatural creatures of folklore and legend, such as ghosts, vampires, lycanthropes, demons, and the like.

The long version of this story though, begins with an ordinary college student named Kim Lam who attends the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. One night, she and her three roommates Miranda, Shar, and Jools notice a group of Darklings lurking suspiciously around in one of the engineering buildings on campus. Deciding to investigate, they accidentally end up getting caught in a freak scientific explosion, which transforms them all into Sparks. Endowed with amazing new powers, the four friends decide to take it to the next level by donning costumes and giving themselves superhero names.

There’s plenty to like about this book, most notably the world-building. In what is perhaps one the best opening chapters I’ve ever read, James Alan Gardner show us how very different Kim’s world is from our own by offering us a little story about a demon, a were-beast, and a vampire who walk into a bar. Not only does this set the tone for the rest of the novel, it also introduces readers to the Darklings, a cabal of wealthy elites who have managed to buy their way into power and immortal life, becoming reborn as undead creatures through an agreement called the Dark Pact. Sparks, on the other hand, have abilities based on a more complex science-magical system, fueled by a force called the Light.

I also enjoyed the refreshingly diverse cast. Kim, a self-described “short, queer Asian”, is a geology major who has gone through many personas and evolutions of her identity in an attempt to find herself and see where she fits in. We find her still struggling with this even when the story begins, as her narrative gradually reveals a young woman who is emotionally aloof and unsure of how best to express herself. Kim also lives with three other scarily smart women, including Chemistry major Shar, whose fussy ways and talent for baking the most delicious cookies has earned her the role of “mother hen”; Physics major Miranda, who sings with the voice of an angel; and Biology major Jools who loves hockey and worships Wayne Gretzky. Despite the congenial relationships between the four women, readers get the sense at the beginning that Shar, Miranda, and Jools are merely “the people I live with” to Kim, but eventually their shared experiences lead them all to a deeper, more meaningful camaraderie and friendship.

Also, a shout out to the fact that this book takes place in Waterloo. I’m a transplanted Canadian who considers myself a Torontonian at heart, but UoW was one of my old haunts because I had friends who studied there. There was a surprising moment when I found out this story was set there, followed by a rush of nostalgia when I realized how much of the culture Gardner had managed to nail down just right.

And now, for my least favorite part of a review—in which I talk about what I didn’t like. In truth, I would have given this book a 4-star rating or higher, had it not been for a couple of (in my eyes) major flaws. The first of these was the info dumping. There’s too much filler in general, which ruined what could have been an action-packed and fast-paced book. Several dozen pages could have been shaved off, cutting out the bits that didn’t add much to the story, and the pacing and flow would no doubt have been much improved.

The second issue that put a damper on the experience for me was Kim herself. She’s a great character, but like many “new adult” books of this type, the wishy-washiness of the protagonist can sometimes drive me to frustration and rage. Kim managed to kill a lot of the fun by constantly bringing up the past and pining for an old romantic interest. She’s gone as far as to invent new personalities for herself to forget some of the painful memories and unpleasantness—which would have been fine, if not for the fact that she herself is the one dredging up those bad memories in order to relive and obsess over them.

And thus, my search for a great—and not just merely decent, or good—superhero novel continues. That said though, minus my gripes above, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault was still a fun superhero novel, and I’m glad I got to read it. I hear a sequel is planned, and while I’m not sure I’ll read it yet, it’s good to know there will be more adventures on the horizon for Kim and her friends.

Audiobook Comments: This audiobook exemplifies top-notch voice acting. In a story where the majority of the characters were young college-aged women, it was still easy to tell who was speaking the dialogue at any given time because narrator Emily Woo Zeller did an excellent job varying her voices, tones, and accents. Overall a great listen.