I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Tide Child
Publisher: Orbit (September 24, 2019)
Length: 512 pages
With the completion of his Wounded Kingdom trilogy, RJ Barker has shot up to the top of my must-reads authors list and I was so excited when I found out that his next fantasy series will be a maritime adventure set on the high seas featuring bone ships and a dragon hunt!
This first novel of the Tide Child trilogy aptly titled The Bone Ship takes us to the Hundred Isles where two rival nations have been warring since time immemorial. None can even tell you how or why the enmity started between them, but all they know is that in this archipelago system, the side with the best ships win. Thus for generations, the islanders have endeavored to build the most powerful fleets out of the sturdy bones of great sea dragons, but after centuries of this practice, inevitably these magnificent beasts have been hunted to extinction. Dragon sightings have become virtually non-existent, sparking yet another fierce competition for the few bones that remain.
Unfortunately, this culture of constant war has also affected the ways people lived. Society favored the strong, and it was decreed that anyone with a physical defect or disability—and even those who were born from a mother who died in childbirth—is automatically relegated to the lower classes, denied a chance to ever amount to anything. That said, it wasn’t all peachy for the healthy and able either. Many are sacrificed to the dangers of the sea, sent to win glory and treasures or die in brutal conflict. In this society where birthrate is low and whose survival depends on raising the next generation, women who have proven their ability to bear and deliver many children are also in places of authority, but as a result, everything else about what makes her a person is diminished. It didn’t matter who you were, it seemed life on the Hundred Isles had relatively little meaning beyond your ability to breed or to fight.
Which brings us to the main characters of this particular tale, Joron Twiner and Lucky Meas Gilbryn. Both of them are condemned to the crew of the Tide Child, a ship of the dead, so called because those aboard are prisoners and outcasts who will toil the rest of their lives on the ship in service to their nation, and it is only a matter of time before the sea claims them—no riches or glory for them, ever. The book first begins with Joron as the shipwife, or captain, of the Tide Child, but he is soon swiftly dethroned by the fierce and plain-spoken Lucky Meas, who vows to whip her new crew into shape. She has been given a mission, and in order to have any chance of success, she’ll need all of them at their best. News of a dragon sighting has been spreading across the Isles, sending everyone into a furor to hunt the creature, which might be the last of its kind in the world. But the Tide Child has been given different orders. Instead of killing the dragon, they have been sent to protect it.
So, one thing I’ve learned from reading Barker’s books is that he is extremely on-point when it comes to writing mentor-apprentice relationships. Granted, Meas and Joron are nothing like Merela and Girton from The Wounded Kingdom, but the author has made their dynamic no less interesting and filled with nuance. This time, the story is told from the third person, mostly through Joron’s eyes. This essentially places him in the role as chronicler of Lucky Meas’ achievements, as it soon becomes clear she is the series’ lynchpin. But one downside of this mode of narration is that it ends to put a distance between the reader and the characters, and I confess missed the more intimate perspective of Barker’s first-person writing. Still, as Meas second-in-command, Joron is also like her pupil of sorts. Their constant interaction and close proximity makes him a good authority on her character, and as a result, much of what we find out about the shipwife is gleaned from his observations of her and their conversations.
I also loved the incredible world-building behind The Bone Ships. Life in the Hundred Isles is harsh, cruel and unpleasant, but I give me a good maritime fantasy and you’ll find that I can put up with a lot of bleakness. After all, I can never resist a sea-faring adventure, and the promise of pirates and dragons simply sealed the deal. Also, the more I learned about the world, the easier I found to appreciate it, even some of its nastier and more brutal elements. Barker clearly spent a lot of time crafting the world, the people and their culture and their traditions, and I’m happy to say all that hard work paid off in the sheer immersion of the experience. History and mythology intertwine to create a full picture of the setting and to explain how life on the Hundred Isles has developed to become so dark and rife with chaos.
With that said, it’s time to move on to the criticisms, though to be fair, they are few. Mainly, The Bone Ships has a mild case of what I call the first-in-a-series doldrums, suffering from sections marked by sluggish pacing which took the wind right out of the story’s sails. What’s more frustrating is that more often than not, these periods would follow immediately after a flurry of action. One moment, I would be all pumped up, only to run smack into a brick wall a few pages later. I understand that in a series starter there’s a lot of setup to be done, but that requires a careful balancing act, which I wish had been handled better here. Fortunately, the second half had fewer of these pacing issues, and the story picked up immensely thanks to many the many exciting scenes of pitched battle at sea.
I won’t deny it, I’m hooked. Despite its hitches, I think The Bone Ships is a promising start to what is on track to be an extraordinary new fantasy series, and strengths like the superb world-building and characters have no problem shining through. Better yet, now that the groundwork has been established, the sequel will likely run more smoothly considering we’ll be able to jump straight into the action. Needless to say, I can’t wait.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Series: Book 1 of The Anomaly Files
Publisher: Hachette Audio (June 19, 2018)
Length: 9 hrs and 42 mins
Narrator: Brandon Williams
Finding that I needed a change of pace after reading a string of heavier sci-fi and fantasy books, I decided to check out The Anomaly Files by Michael Rutger, the pen name of screenwriter and suspense/horror/sci-fi novelist Michael Marshall. The second volume The Possession recently came out this summer which was what originally drew me to the series, but of course, being a stickler for reading in order, I wanted to start with The Anomaly.
The story begins with an introduction to protagonist Nolan Moore, an amateur archaeologist and the host of an esoteric documentary web series about the strange, the paranormal, and the odd. If it’s something that can’t be explained or sounds like it could be a good basis for a conspiracy theory, you can bet The Anomaly Files will be there on the ground covering it. And thus explains how Nolan and his crew find themselves at the Grand Canyon, hoping to retrace the steps of a turn-of-the-century explorer who claims to have discovered the mouth of a deep cavern system hidden in the side of the rocky walls. Thanks to a generous donation by a mysterious foundation, for once the team is actually well-funded and equipped to go searching for this fabled cavern rumored to contain all sorts of ancient rock paintings and artifacts which would dramatically alter our understanding of human history. And now, Nolan hopes to make a name for himself by finding it and documenting its all on his show.
Also along for this ride are Ken, Nolan’s good friend and producer; Molly, who manages the team’s operations and generally solves problems and makes things happen; Pierre, their inexperienced but capable cameraman; Feather, the show’s flighty and the gung-ho assistant; Dylan, the transport and logistics guy; and finally, the skeptical and no-nonsense Gemma, an outside reporter smelling a good interest story in Nolan’s expedition. While no one really wanted to acknowledge it, they all knew from the get-go that the project was a long shot, and yet against all odds, the team finds what looks to be a cave opening high up in the canyon rocks, right in the area it’s supposed to be. Ecstatic, our characters waste no time in exploring their incredible discovery, but as they say, be careful what you wish for. Nolan ends up finding the prehistoric treasures and paintings he came to seek, but also a whole lot more. Soon, trapped in the labyrinthine caverns with a threat older than time, and horrors they can never hope to comprehend, the crew find themselves in a desperate fight for survival.
While not perfect, there’s still no denying it: The Anomaly was exactly what I’d hoped for—a bone-chilling suspense/thriller with an archeological bent to get my blood pumping. It’s what I had wanted out of Christopher Golden’s Ben Walker series but did not get—a story with an intriguing mystery at its center that also reads like an adventure with plenty of paranormal elements and even a strong dose of body horror mixed in. That the author is also a screenwriter is all too evident in the novel’s structure, which unfolds like a movie, i.e. our cast of characters head off into an unknowingly terrifying situation, whereupon they are picked off one by one and the audience gets to guess who will come out alive and who will not. It’s not the most original, but it sure is effective.
I would also avoid this book if you’re claustrophobic. One of the things I loved most about it was the oppressive atmosphere and the sense it gave of the inescapable blackness closing in all around me. And then there’s what the characters experience in all that darkness. A rank smell coming from one of the rooms of the cavern. Mysterious lights and objects in underground pools that are crystal clear one moment and then slimy with algal gunk the next. The hair-raising feeling of being watched by alien eyes, of being hunted by a stronger and much faster predator. Fleeting glimpses of movement in the shadows and slithery light brushes against your skin. All this is guaranteed to send shivers up your spine.
To be honest, I’m not looking to be too picky here, since I came to this novel in search of pure escapism and fun, which was delivered to me in spades. But if I had to level a few criticisms at it, I felt the intro’s pacing could have afforded to lose some of the setup in order to bring us faster into the meat of the plot, and the ending could have also used a little tweaking to give the action of the climax more impact and not have it feel so drawn out. I wasn’t too sold on how neatly everything wrapped up either, but then I suppose we needed a have a clean slate from which to launch the sequel—which I most certainly will be reading.
All told, what you see is what you’ll get when it comes to The Anomaly, and I mean that as the highest compliment. After having been disappointed time and again by misplaced expectations and deceptive book descriptions, it’s was refreshing and satisfying to find a novel so well-written, intensely atmospheric, and just plain horrific, gruesome and fun.
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.
Received for Review
My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!
First, my thanks to Orbit for sending a finished copy of Dark Forge by Miles Cameron. This is the second book of the Masters & Mages series and since I enjoyed Cold Iron I will definitely be continuing with this one. I also received a surprise ARC of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso which sounds pretty awesome from the publisher description, so I’m quite curious to check it out.
Also thank you to Harper Voyager for sending me a finished hardcover of Boundless by R.A. Salvatore. It’s a part of the author’s Legend of Drizzt saga which I know next to nothing about! But I think this is the second book of a new trilogy set in this world, so there may be a chance to jump in after all.
With thanks also to Tor Books for Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett, a sci-fi described as Neuromancer meets Star Trek, and I’ve heard so many great things about this one already, I may have to give it a read later this fall.
And courtesy of Tor.com, I received the following goodies: a finished copy of Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht which I’m hoping to get on my reading list for September or October, and also this awesome ARC of Docile by K.M. Szpara, a book which wasn’t on my radar before, but it sure is now after reading what it’s about!
Life has been crazy with my new fall schedule so I’ve been relying more on digital formats to get me through, hence the explosion in my digital haul. From Edelweiss I downloaded three eARCs that were available immediately, first Bloodchild by Anna Stephens, the third book of the Godblind sequence. The first book was kind of iffy, but the second book got me hooked, so I’m pretty excited to finish this trilogy with thanks to Talos. My thanks also to Blackstone Publishing, I got to grab Master of Sorrows by Justin Call and The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes, both of which are fantasy titles that have caught my eye lately. And from NetGalley I also saw The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White pop up last week, and thanks to auto approvals from the kind folks at Random House Children’s/Delacorte Press, I could not help myself.
In the audiobook pile, with thanks to Harper Audio I received Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes, and I have a good feeling this book will work well in audio. From Penguin Random House Audio, I was thrilled to receive a couple YA titles: The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh, her new book about vampires, as well as The Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger, a fantasy about wizards who fight alongside magical animal companions. And last but not least, I finally caved on The Anomaly Files. I’ve had my eye on The Possession by Michael Rutger for a while, but then I found out it was the second book in the series so of course I had to grab the first book The Anomaly as well (which I already listened to and enjoyed).
A quick summary of my reviews posted since the last update:
A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (4 of 5 stars)
Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine (4 of 5 stars)
Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn (4 of 5 stars)
Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff (3.5 of 5 stars)
Stormrise by Jillian Boehme (3.5 of 5 stars)
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (3.5 of 5 stars)
The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young (2.5 of 5 stars)
What I’ve Read Since the Last Update
Work has been kicking my ass lately, and if it weren’t for audiobooks I probably would have gotten zero books finished. But here’s what I did manage to “unstack” from the TBR mountain since the last update, and I’ll have more reviews up soon.
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!
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:
“Your hair is winter fire, January embers.”
~ a cover featuring HAIR
Nick and Amy are seemingly the average couple. Sure, they’ve been through some rough times, especially during the recession when they were forced to move back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri after both were laid off from their their jobs in New York City. But to those around them, they seemed happy. Which is why everyone is shocked when one day, Amy simply disappears without a trace, and the subsequent investigation reveals disturbing secrets about the couple’s marriage and home life.
This book took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions, making me question everything I read, making me wonder how deep the secrets really go and just who is telling the truth. This massively popular book also became adapted into a massively popular movie, so as you can imagine there are a ton of different versions and translated editions around the globe. Below is just a selection of some of the best and most interesting:
From left to right:
Crown (2012) – Broadway Books (2014) – Polish Edition (2013)
Vietnamese Edition A (2014) – Vietnamese Edition B (2019) – Norwegian Edition (2013)
Dutch Edition A (2014) – Dutch Edition B (2017) – Arabic Edition (2013)
Italian Edition A (2015) – Italian Edition B (2016) – Macedonian Edition (2013)
Chinese Edition (2013) – Icelandic Edition (2013) – Persian Edition (2012)
It’s hard picking my favorite this week because of the huge variety of choices and styles, but I think I’m going to have to go with the Norwegian edition. It’s been a while since I read the book so the finer details of the story escape me and I can’t remember if there was a scene like this, but I do like the stark imagery of the lone red kite caught in the bare branches of the tree.
But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Series: Book 3 of Stillhouse Lake
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (April 23, 2019)
Length: 330 pages
This series is so addictive, I just don’t want it to end! Initially believing Stillhouse Lake to be a trilogy, I put off reading this third book for ages until I recently found out there will be a fourth installment incoming, which promptly motivated me to catch up (funny how that works).
Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine takes readers back to the small Tennessee town of Stillhouse Lake following Gwen Proctor, formerly Gina Royal, as she tries to make a new life for herself and her children after finding out that her husband was a notorious serial killer. But even though it has been years since Gwen was cleared of being his accomplice, the family of some of Melvin Royal’s victims still refuse to believe she had nothing to do with his murders. In particular, the mother of one of the women he killed has been leading a harassment campaign against her, making Gwen’s life a living hell. Worse, now it appears there will be a documentary made about the women Melvin murdered, dashing all hopes of privacy for her and her family. Still, Gwen is determined to do her best to protect her daughter Lanni and her son Connor, shielding them from the worst of the harassment, both online and in the real world. But as it turns out, the threat might be even closer to home, as Gwen’s boyfriend Sam has plenty of secrets in his past that he wishes to keep hidden even as their relationship deepens.
One day, Gwen also receives a cryptic phone call from a frightened woman named Marlene Crockett who lives in the nearby town of Wolfhunter. At the time, Gwen is unable to offer much help while her situation in Stillhouse Lake is so uncertain, but not long afterward, Marlene ends up dead and the main suspect is her teenaged daughter. Feeling concern for the girl and a bit guilty for not having done more, Gwen decides to travel to Wolfhunter to investigate, bringing Sam and the kids along because of a sudden need for all of them to get out of town. But when they arrive, they discover a small community rotting at its core—a kidnapped child, women going missing, a police department rife with corruption. Just what the hell is going on in Wolfhunter?
For the first time in this series, the story shifts away from Melvin Royal, setting Gwen Proctor up to be a private investigator in her own right. She has now fully made her transition from the clueless housewife believing that her marriage was the perfect picture of domestic bliss, becoming a survivor who seeks out other vulnerable women to help as well as local small-town mysteries to solve. The transformation in her character has been astounding, to say the least; she’s had to start over again from nothing after discovering that most of her life had been a monstrous lie, managing to persevere in the face of a shock so terrible that it would have broken most people. Now she’s a vigilant and independent gun-toting badass single mom, and she’s like the mama bear who will stop at NOTHING to keep her children safe from harm. God, I love her.
This book also includes the POVs of Sam, Lanni, and Connor, which I really liked because it shows how the shadow cast by Melvin Royal has taken its toll on not only Gwen but her whole family, and anyone they get close to. Now that the kids are older, the experience has also changed them in deep-seated ways. We got to be in Lanni’s head briefly in the previous book, in a story thread that mostly dealt with her crush on a girl at school. But like Gwen, Lanni has come a long way; as she herself observed, back when she was a child, things seemed much easier and more removed—a testament to how well Gwen had protected her children—but it’s a different story now that she is fifteen years old. As such, Lanni’s chapters were my second favorite after Gwen’s because of their complex themes. Between dealing with her first real romance, taking on some of the duties of protecting her little brother, and also helping her mother with the investigation at Wolfhunter, Lanni provided a refreshingly unique and genuine voice that I would love to see carry through to the rest of the series.
The story was also exciting, if a little labored at certain points because you could tell Caine was striving hard to set Wolfhunter River apart from the first two books. For the most part, I think she succeeded, since this one has a different feel than the previous installments, though I can’t really put my finger on why. In some ways, the plot felt somewhat scattered, and had I not known there was another sequel coming out, I would have thought the author was struggling a bit to tie up all loose ends, but now I believe she was simply setting the scene up for more. Regardless, it worked out in the end, and the result is that Wolfhunter River is probably the most action-packed of all three books. On top of all the gun fights and car chases, this one also seemed to have the highest body count.
At the end of the day though, I’m thrilled that we will be getting to see these characters again because I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet. The ending perfectly sets the stage for what’s coming next, and I’m looking forward to returning to more Gwen Proctor and Stillhouse Lake.
“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!
I was so excited when I discovered a new book coming out by Sarah Beth Durst! At first I thought she might be exploring another part of her world of Renthia, the same way she did with The Deepest Blue. But when the publisher description and cover came out, it appears the story will be a standalone based in a new world. Regardless, I’m still pretty excited to check me out some monster racing.
“In this epic standalone fantasy, the acclaimed author of the Queens of Renthia series introduces an imaginative new world in which a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions.
Life, death, and rebirth — in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.
Unless you can win the Races.
As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.
Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.
Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win — if he can be tamed.
But in this sport, if you forget you’re riding on the back of a monster, you die. Tamra and Raia will work harder than they ever thought possible to win the deadly Becaran Races — and in the process, discover what makes this particular kehok so special.”
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of The Nevernight Chronicle
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (September 3, 2019)
Length: 21 hrs and 35 mins
Narrator: Holter Graham
Wow, what an ending! With a flourish, Jay Kristoff deftly concludes the most entertaining assassin fantasy trilogy I’ve had the pleasure to read in recent years with Darkdawn, though to tell the truth, it probably wasn’t my favorite of the three books. Focusing heavily on familial ties and other relationships, as well as the political fallout from the end of the previous book, this one fell a bit short when it came to adventure and pure fun, but it made up for it with intrigue.
But first, if you’re not caught up with the series, this review may contain spoilers for events that happened in Nevernight and Godsgrave. We return to protagonist Mia Corvere, who has trained for eight years—first in the dark halls of a secret academy for assassins, and then in the bloody pits of the gladiatorial area—in order to come to this point. Ever since her father led a failed rebellion and was consequently executed for treason, Mia has sought vengeance against those responsible for his downfall, including her sworn enemy Consul Scaeva. And at long last, she thought she had her revenge, but as it turns out, the situation is more complicated—and her foe more diabolical and wily—than she expected.
But if there’s one silver lining, it’s that Mia has discovered her brother Jonnen, whom she had thought died along with the rest of her family, is in fact still alive and well. However, he is no longer the sweet little baby she remembers in their mother’s arms, having grown instead into an angry, insufferable spoiled young boy who sees Mia as the enemy. Not only does he not remember her or believe in their shared blood, he blames her for destroying his life. On the run together, the reunited siblings lay low while Mia tries to figure out their next steps. More details from her past have come to light, changing everything she thought she knew about herself and her parentage. Meanwhile, another person once thought lost to her forever has made a surprise reappearance, and the repercussions are making Mia question her relationship with her lover, Ashlinn.
That wasn’t the most adequate summary, I’m well aware. However, I purposely kept things vague because the less you know going into this final book, the better. There are some seriously insane twists and lots of emotional bombshells to deal with, especially if you’ve become as heavily invested in these characters as I have. Sure, our girl Mia has bested the deadliest poisoners and defeated giant sand worms in the arena, but nothing could have prepared her for the mental challenges of handling her little brother, who is more like her than she’d care to admit. This book is all about Mia coming to terms with all her relationships—not only with Jonnen, but also with Ashlinn, Scaeva, and other characters we’ve seen from previous books as well. For instance, Mercurio, our protagonist’s dear mentor, is given his own perspective chapters in this novel, and the inclusion of his voice and multiple POVs resulted in a fuller, richer narrative.
That said, in terms of sheer exhilaration and pure adrenaline-rush excitement, Darkdawn probably comes in last place, behind Godsgrave and Nevernight in that order. Granted, it’s hard to top epic gladiator battles and secret assassin schools, but I had hoped for a little more action. Instead, what we get is a lot of talk, talk, and more talk, punctuated with a few skirmishes here and there and, oh hey, why don’t we just throw in a lurid sex scene or two while we’re at it. I mean, I get it—it’s the last book in the trilogy and we need to wrap things up and take care of any loose ends, and sometimes that requires a lot of explaining and describing in great detail. I just wish more had been done to balance out the lulls and improve the overall flow of the story. Listening to the audiobook, there were even a few sections that put me to sleep, because nothing interesting was happening.
Still, at the end of the day, given how much has happened, I guess it was worth putting up with a few pacing issues if it meant a satisfying conclusion. And yes, for what it’s worth, it was a good ending, at once making me feel a deep sense of bittersweet sadness as well as the kind of relief that washes over you after surviving a particularly harrowing emotional rollercoaster. Overall, despite a few stumbling blocks, I have to say I’m quite happy with Darkdawn and the way it puts a cap on the Nevernight Chronicle. I’m also glad Jay Kristoff decided to make this final novel all about Mia and her relationships, calling back to the past and, in some ways, bringing everything full circle. While it might not be as action-packed or thrilling as the previous two books, it does lead to a stunning climax and resolution. And as befitting a series closer, it will fill you with a sense of completeness and leave you with a lasting impression.
Audiobook Comments: After listening to audiobooks for many years, I’ve found there are two types of narrators: those who do the minimum required of them and simply read the words on the page, and those who go above and beyond to add their own flourishes whenever the opportunity arises. Holter Graham is definitely in the latter group. Whenever a song verse came up in the book, for example, he would sing it out to his own tune. His voices were also superb in the way he would rasp out a certain character’s lines, or whisper another’s. Bottom line, he gave life to everyone in the book and made Darkdawn an incredible listening experience.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Age of Madness
Publisher: Orbit (September 17, 2019)
Length: 480 pages
It’s been quite a few years since we had a novel set in the First Law World, and returning to it was a bit like coming home to a comfortable place—well, at least as homey and comforting as it can possibly be when it comes to a Joe Abercrombie book, but you get my meaning. And one thing is certain, A Little Hatred is in every way a story you can expect from the Lord of Grimdark, essentially told in a gritty style heavily emphasizing the bleakness of a world characterized with brutality and violence. And indeed, Abercrombie’s fans will be pleased to find these pages filled with his familiar brand of madness and chaos, in equal parts gory and comical.
But an important note before we begin: while A Little Hatred kicks off a new trilogy called The Age of Madness, in context it is actually the seventh full-length novel set in the greater First Law sequence. Although you can technically begin your adventure here, you will be missing out on many books’ worth of background information that would make reading A Little Hatred a lot more enjoyable, not to mention a lot less confusing. The First Law trilogy would be where I would start, and the bare minimum I would recommend having under your belt before you start this novel which is set roughly thirty years after the events of Last Argument of Kings. Much about the world has changed, but we do return to some familiar names and places.
Once more, we are thrown into the middle of a conflict between the North and the Union. Northmen, being Northmen, are rallying behind a new leader and setting their sights on an invasion, while in Adua, the seat of the realm, a new threat is secretly brewing in silence and gathering strength. A new generation of characters are at the helm, beginning with Rikke, daughter of the Dogman. Gifted (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with the Long Eye, a kind of second sight that allows her to glimpse the future, Rikke foresees something terrible and spends most of the beginning of the novel fleeing from the vicious Stour Nightfall and his men. Meanwhile at the border, Leo the Young Lion, the ballsy son of Finree and Harod dan Brock from The Heroes, is in the middle of the action fighting his own battle against the hordes of invading Northmen even as he dreams of the fame and glory of bringing Nightfall down himself.
At the capital, however, the situation is as lackadaisical as ever with the feckless Crown Prince Orso up to his usual self. A spoiled and pampered playboy, he’s aware that he’s a disappointment to everyone around him but is nonetheless perfectly happy to carry on with his philandering ways. That is, until his current dalliance with the beautiful and sophisticated Savine dan Glokta turns into something more and makes him realize he is not the man he wants to be. Savine is of course the daughter of the infamous Sand dan Glokta, a character whom fans of Joe Abercrombie should know very well. But while the king’s Arch Lector has a role to play in this one, it is Savine who really takes the reins and drives the story. A brilliant and shrewd entrepreneur, she sees the burgeoning dawn of new machine age as an opportunity to profit from the increased industry, but with the resulting worker rebellion causing violence to erupt across the realm, Savine quickly finds more trouble than she bargained for.
Why did I love this book? Let me count the ways. First, the characters, which are as ever on point. I can always depend on an Abercrombie novel to wow me with its cast of colorful personalities, and of course this was no exception. The individual perspectives of Savine, Orso, Leo, Rikke and others combined and intertwined to make up backbone of this fascinating narrative, and as the story progressed, all the threads became increasingly more complex and addictive. A Little Hatred is clearly this next generation’s chance to shine, and for those of us who loved the earlier books, it’s hard not to feel a rush of exhilaration and no small bit of concern for the children of some of our favorite characters as we watch them struggle to find themselves and forge their own way in this harsh and unforgiving world. Abercrombie is also known for putting his protagonists through the wringer, and so you can be sure there will be plenty of cruel emotional conflict as well as perseverance and growth through dangerous challenges.
Which brings me to the story. Rife with mayhem and moving pieces, the plot is practically brimming with action, with the Union beset on multiple fronts. From within, a revolution threatens instability and causes tensions to flare up into violent confrontation, while from without, the borders of the realm are being pummeled mercilessly by the invading forces of Stour Nightfall. Readers get to see all facets of these conflicts from multiple viewpoints, and in pure Abercrombie fashion, nothing is ever clear-cut or simple.
And so lastly, I want to talk about the world-building. This is the world of the First Law as we know it and love it, full of gritty detail and atmosphere. Needless to say, it was a joy to revisit this setting again, to witness how it has changed in so many ways and yet has remained the same in all the important respects. Abercrombie has created an undeniably living and breathing world, one whose wonders and grandeurs shine through even in all its brutality and darkness. Life is a strange and complicated business after all, with nothing ever remaining static, so you can also expect to see this kind of dynamism in A Little Hatred. One of the prime examples can be seen in the social environment, which plays a pretty big role in this novel, influencing character motivations and decisions, as well as being affected by them in turn.
So if you have been following this series and author, don’t stop now; A Little Hatred is a novel you will no doubt love and fully embrace the moment you start it because it is pure Joe Abercrombie. Sure, I haven’t loved all his First Law books, with The Heroes being first to come to mind, but I have to say this one feels solid and it speaks to me in a way that makes me feel confident for the future direction of the trilogy. Even if you haven’t read any of the previous books, I think this can easily hook you. It is simply a novel that commands your attention and keeps you compulsively turning the pages to see where it will take you. For a series starter, it has established a seriously impressive foundation, and I am looking forward to the next installment.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Teen (September 24, 2019)
Length: 320 pages
I didn’t know much about Stormrise before I started reading, and less than ten pages into it, I had to pause my reading to check to see if it was a debut. Yes, this is Jillian Boehme’s first novel and I think it shows a bit in some of the cookie-cutter characterizations and overdone plot points. Still, to the author’s credit, there’s a clear effort on her part at refining a well-tread narrative to make it her own, and even though there were plenty of stumbles in the first half, a strong recovery towards the end made up for them.
In a kingdom threatened by war, a young woman training to be a Neshu combat master decides to enlist in the army to save her brother’s life. Mentally disabled, Storm would not be able to fight, so his twin Rain devises a plan to disguise herself as a boy and report in his place at the mandatory conscription for service, even though it would mean death if she was found out. In order to strengthen her disguise as well as to stop her monthly bleeds, Rain pays a visit to a mystic who runs an apothecary and purchases a powerful potion that promises to imbue her with the magic of a dragon.
On her way to meet up with the army, she meets a fellow recruit on the road named Forest the two of them become traveling companions, and then later tentmates once they reach the training camps. In spite of herself, Rain begins to develop feelings for Forest, but then realizes he is the man betrothed to her older sister Willow. As it is local tradition for marriages to be arranged, Willow has never met Forest, but Rain knows her sister had been looking forward to her nuptials before the war broke out, and it fills her with guilt. Worse, Rain’s dreams have been visited by a strange voice lately, claiming to be the dragoness Nuaga. As someone who doesn’t believe in dragons, Rain is initially skeptical but soon comes to realize that the army will need Nuaga’s help if they are to have any chance of rescuing the captured High King. But first, Rain will need to get the others in her squad to accept and trust the dragon, which will be no easy feat while trying to keep her identity and gender a secret.
The description of Stormrise claims it is inspired by Twelfth Night, but needless to say, I think what most people will think of when they read the plot summary is Mulan. It certainly doesn’t help that I recently finished The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas, an excellent Mulan retelling that begins very much the say way—with a girl training to be a warrior, who risks execution by joining the army under the identity of her twin brother. I have to say, there’s not much in the first half of Stormrise that hasn’t already been done to death, and Rain could have easily been a paint-by-numbers YA heroine. Early character development is also very unsubtle and awkward, relying mostly on telling instead of showing. The intro reeks of a desperate need for the reader to think Rain is special, simply because the character doesn’t believe in living by society’s rules and she plainly seeks to prove it by doing really obnoxious things like looking down on her sister for wanting to get married.
For what it’s worth though, I think the second half of Stormrise is much improved, and it’s not a coincidence that this is also when we get a lot of the dragon magic. I found I really enjoyed the world-building, and once enough of it had been established, that’s when the story was truly able to come into its own. The premise is still a familiar one, but Boehme manages to gradually transform it into something else entirely with the addition of dragons and their mythology. Given time, the story became quite interesting, with so much at stake and not knowing how Rain will manage to get the men in her unit to support her and Nuaga. The action scenes are also well done and adds a fair bit of excitement to the plot, though at no point did I notice any lulls, which is quite impressive considering how pacing problems are a common pitfall of debuts.
That said, overall the characters still needed more work. For one thing, it would have helped make the romance more convincing. This one is borderline insta-love, going from zero (Oh no, I think I’m crushin’) to a hundred (I love you and you are my reason for living!) in like the span of an eyeblink. The fact that Rain kept pursuing Forest even after finding out he was her sister’s fiancé also probably bothered me more than I’d like to admit. It didn’t matter that Willow had never met Forest, nor him her; that’s just not something you do to your own sister, especially when Rain knew full well how badly it would destroy her. Things worked themselves out eventually, but the resolution was too neat and still felt like a copout, not to mention it was strongly implied that Rain would be forever keeping the secret from Willow, which is just not cool.
But all in all, despite some stumbling blocks along the way, I would say Stormrise was a solid debut and I was kept thoroughly engaged for most of it. I don’t know if it hurts or helps that the premise feels so derivative, because even despite the clichés, familiarity with some of the standard YA tropes made this one a quick and entertaining read. It definitely had its moments too—flashes of originality and fascinating world-building ideas—and it’s my hope that we’ll see more examples of these in Jillian Boehme’s future work, because I think she has lots of potential.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone, Book 2 of Sky in the Deep
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (September 3, 2019)
Length: 8 hrs and 23 mins
Narrators: Caitlin Kelly, Dan Bittner
Oof, it stings a bit to write this review, since I gave such unequivocal love to Adrienne Young’s debut, Sky in the Deep. However, The Girl the Sea Gave Back was an enjoyable standalone follow-up but nowhere near as memorable or impressive.
Taking place some years after the events surrounding Eelyn of the Aska and Fiske of the Riki, the novel opens on a somber scene as a grief-stricken family gathers on the shore to say goodbye to a departed loved one. Later, a young girl is found washed up on the lands of the Svell, adorned with the distinctive tattoos marking her as a Kyrr Truthtongue, an enigmatic people who hail from the Headlands. Tova is her name, and it is said that her powers allow her to read the future. But having grown up among the Svell, the ways of the Kyrr are a mystery to her, and she cannot remember her own past.
Meanwhile, Halvard is an 18-year-old chieftain in training, preparing for the day he will lead his people, the Nādhir. However, war is not something he is ready for. The Svell, acting on a misguided interpretation of one of Tova’s predictions, decides to attack the Nādhir, catching them unawares. An inexperienced warrior, Halvard tries his best to protect his loved ones even as his skills as a leader and fighter are tested beyond his limits. And Tova, who is shunned for being different and an outsider among her adoptive people, is forced to confront her role in the chaos and violence that follows.
As I said, The Girl the Sea Gave Back was enjoyable and not a bad book by any means. That said, it failed to capture my attention like the way Sky in the Deep did. The author’s debut was an atmospheric, epic journey that mesmerized as the plot ebbed and flowed with intrigue, suspense, and passion. Suffice to say, I feel this one lacked the same kind of magic, providing nothing I couldn’t get from a vast majority of the YA offerings out there, and as such, I don’t think it stands out. In a nutshell, this was decent but nothing special, which was disappointing especially since Sky in the Deep had led me to expect a higher caliber of storytelling.
But let’s start with the things that I did like. While The Girl the Sea Gave Back can be read as a standalone, I think having Sky in the Deep under your belt before tackling it will lead to a greater appreciation for the world-building and lore behind the setting of this novel. Because the books take place in a shared world, the glorious love story between Eelyn and Fiske was mentioned a few times. And of course, readers familiar with the first book will know that the environment as well as the culture of the people suggests a link to Vikings and Nordic mythology. Young crafts a gorgeous picture of this time and place, including plenty of elements inspired by Viking history and tradition. I’m also happy to report that cinematic tableaus and heart-pounding battle sequences are strengths that are shared between both books.
As for the things that didn’t work as well for me, I’ll begin with the format of the novel. Told in dual timelines that flip back and forth between the past and present, the narrative structure was a bit of a mess. You never really get enough time to settle into one thread before you’re picked up again and kicked to the other. It made following the plot confusing and a bit frustrating because of the emotional detachment that resulted. And secondly, I didn’t connect with Tova or Halvard the way I did with Eelyn and Fiske, nor did I care as much about their relationship. I suppose there was a romance in this book, but because of the way it was handled, the love story felt like such an afterthought that I don’t even know if it should count.
All in all, I’m sad I couldn’t drum up more enthusiasm for The Girl the Sea Gave Back, but at the same time, it also didn’t give me too much to work with. A part of me feels like this book would have worked better if it had been longer, so that the POV characters would have more time to develop, giving their lives and their relationship more depth and meaning. I still think Adrienne Young has a lot of talent and she writes beautifully, so it pains me to say this novel simply did not live up what I know she’s capable of. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about her future work, and I will be keeping my eye out for her next novel to see if it will be better.
Audiobook Comments: The one saving grace of this novel was that I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the talented team of Caitlin Kelly and Dan Bittner. That said, not even their superb performances could overcome some of the issues I had with the book, but I do love that they got two stellar narrators reading Tova and Halvard’s parts because I think it made the experience quicker, more enjoyable, and a lot more immersive than if I had read the print edition.