Friday Face-Off: Street Lamp

the-friday-face-off

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:

“He stood under the street lamp, sleet settling in his hair, hands fisted at his side”
~ a cover featuring a STREET LAMP

Mogsy’s Pick:
Drood by Dan Simmons

This week’s topic is one that invokes powerful imagery, so it is no surprise that my choice today is a very atmospheric, very creepy book. When people hear the name Dan Simmons, Drood probably isn’t going to be the first book of his to come to mind, and neither is it one of his best in my opinion. That said, it is still a fine example of what an talented and versatile author he is. Based on actual biographical events, the story is a mix of historical fiction and gothic horror, exploring the the still-unresolved mysteries behind the final days of Charles Dickens. It is told through the eyes of Wilkie Collins, a distinguished English novelist in his own right and a contemporary of Dickens, whom Simmons channels perfectly by imitating the expository style of the writing from this era.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the covers:

From left to right, top to bottom: Little, Brown and Company (2009) – Quercus (2009) – Subterranean Press (2009)

  

Dutch (2009) – Polish (2012) – Spanish (2010) – Russian (2010) – Italian (2010) – Portuguese (2012)

  

  

Winner:

Well, I can tell you right away which one’s not my favorite: the Polish edition. Whatever the hell that thing is, it’s going to give me nightmares.

As for the one I like the best, it’s hard to choose. The covers featuring street lamps are all very well done (especially the Italian edition) but ultimately I’m going to have to go with the 2009 Subterranean Press. Many of their limited edition publications are well known for having gorgeously illustrated special covers, but I think I like this one even more than most. The depiction of Charles Dickens’ hat as a fiery train wreck is a reference to the Staplehurst Rail Crash, which Dickens survived by sheer luck because his carriage did not completely fall into the river bed after his train derailed while going over a viaduct. The accident is said to have affected him greatly and some claimed he never recovered from the trauma. It’s also a key event covered in Drood, which is why I think this cover is even more evocative and meaningful.

What do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

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

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Saga Press (March 21, 2017)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

From the moment I first picked up this book, I knew I was walking into something special. After my experience with her novels The Mad Scientist’s Daughter and Our Lady of the Ice, Cassandra Rose Clarke’s name has pretty much become synonymous for me with some very cool ideas in sci-fi, and she has not disappointed me yet. Star’s End, I am happy to say, is another strong entry into the genre. And while it’s true that I did not quite fall head over heels for it like with her previous novels, I nevertheless devoured the story like there was no tomorrow.

Described as a space opera which takes place in the far-flung future, Star’s End follows a young woman named Esme Coromina, heir to her father Philip’s vast corporate empire consisting of four terraformed moons that orbit one giant gaseous planet. Together, the moons are known as the Four Sisters—and perhaps not so coincidentally, Philip also has four daughters. Of his children though, only Esme, the eldest, is in a position to succeed him and take over the company when he dies; the three younger sisters have long turned their backs on him and abandoned the family business, due to a falling out long ago caused by something terrible Philip did. Esme was the only one who stayed, partly out of ambition and partly because she plans on changing things for the better once she inherits the Coromina Group.

What follows is narrative that alternates back and forth between past and present, exploring the events that led up to Philip’s heinous act that drove Esme’s sisters away. But the biggest shock to our protagonist comes at the start of this book—her 300-year-old father, whom she has always thought of all-powerful and invincible, is dying. Afflicted with a fatal disease that not even his rejuvenation treatments can cure, Philip tells Esme that he probably has at most six months to live, but before he dies, he would like to see all his daughters one last time. Esme, skeptical of her father’s reasons for this request, agrees to help him regardless, though deep down, she knows the real difficulty behind his dying wish is whether or not she can even convince her sisters to come home. When they left, the three of them made it very clear that they wanted no more to do with Philip Coromina or their eldest sister—for in their eyes, by staying by their father and his company, Esme had betrayed all of them too.

As a result, Esme finds herself in a rather awkward and painful situation. It’s this that makes me feel so deeply for her character, and makes me want to applaud the author for once again setting up such a compelling and emotional premise. Tracking down her sisters one by one, Esme must confront her guilt and come to terms with her past failings in this heartbreaking tale. In a lot of ways, this makes Star’s End a lot less like your traditional space opera novel, and more like your familial drama about love and redemption. In fact, it makes me think that the publisher description is actually a little misleading, suggesting that there’s a lot more suspense in this story when there really is none. Sure, there are indeed the promised “sinister aspects” of the Coromina Group involving its work with alien DNA, not to mention the overall mystery of the “big bad thing” that Philip did—but when answers do come, it is not a shock, nor are Esme’s next moves really in question. Because of the way Star’s End is structured, i.e. alternating between the past and the present timeline, nothing that happens is really a surprise, though ultimately it might not matter so much since the novel’s strengths are clearly in the character building and in the poignancy of Esme’s quest.

Perhaps this is also why Star’s End reminded me so much of The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. While on the surface the two stories have very little in common with each other, both are excellent in providing a deep analysis and portrayal of their main characters. Almost everything else fades into the background as Esme takes center stage in Star’s End, much like how the plot in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter took a backseat while Cat’s personality and her relationship with Finn came to the forefront. This, in my opinion, is where Cassandra Rose Clarke’s writing really shines. When it comes to the delineation of her protagonists, she is an artist; she’ll take apart a character’s entire life, deconstructing their past and present to show how their experiences influence their decision making and shape them as a person. This kind of in-depth character study is exactly we get to see in Star’s End with Esme.

Still, there were a few hiccups. The first time we jumped from the present timeline back to the past, I was really jarred by the change from third-person to first-person narrative mode, and unfortunately, I never truly got used to the switching. As a result, I always found myself feeling more sympathy for and in tune with “past” Esme, especially since older “present” Esme sometimes felt wishy-washy and inconsistent. One moment, she would be preening in response to her father’s praise and proud that she pleased him, but the next she would be flushing with shame if someone else complimented her on the exact same thing by comparing her to Philip. I was also frustrated that Esme didn’t stand up for herself more, considering how her heart was always in the right place. Given how much of the past was outside her control, I didn’t understand why Esme had to be so hard on herself either, and thought that a lot of her sisters’ treatment of her was grossly unfair.

Minor as they were, some of these flaws were admittedly distracting enough that I felt the need to rate this one slightly lower than the author’s other novels I’ve read in the past. BUT! In spite of that, I still want to make it clear—I had a really good time with Star’s End. This book was a powerful and enjoyable read, and even though it wasn’t exactly what I expected, I am in no way disappointed with the way things turned out. If anything, it just reaffirms Cassandra Rose Clarke as a must-read author; I honestly can’t wait to see what she’ll surprise me with next.

Waiting on Wednesday 03/22/17

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

Mogsy’s Pick

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (November 14, 2017 by Tor)

It’s glorious.

“In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.

Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.

Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together–and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past–even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Novellas

toptentues

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. They created the meme because they love lists. Who doesn’t love lists? They wanted to share these list with fellow book lovers and ask that we share in return to connect with our fellow book lovers. To learn more about participating in the challenge, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!

This week’s topic: Top Ten Favorite Novellas

Mogsy’s Picks

The theme for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “Read In One Sitting”, which opens the topic up to a myriad possibilities. Bloggers are invited to post anything from ten of the shortest books they’ve ever read to recommending the top ten books to read when you are short on time, or even top ten books that will make you read the whole day away, etc. Pretty much anything goes, so I’ve decided to take this opportunity to talk about an under-read category of mine: Novellas. As you know, I’m not the biggest reader of the short fiction format, but I’ve been doing better in recent years! In that time, there have been some really good novellas I’ve come across, and I’d like to take today to talk about some of them. And yes, most of these were devoured by me in one sitting!

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor’s Soul has the distinction of being the first novella that I’ve rated a full five stars. It took me less than two hours to read, but encompassed everything I like about Sanderson’s works, including a new and unique magic system. While it takes place in the same world as Elantris, the book features a whole new cast of characters, is set in a new location, and plays out perhaps in another time. In fact, only passing mentions of certain places in the story’s world reminded me that it was the same universe. Regardless, so much of this story spoke to me. Brandon Sanderson may be a writer, though in a way he is an artist himself, his medium being his words. Certainly this book shows he thinks like an artist, or at least knows how one feels. This is a brilliant short novel, with a powerful message.

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

This novella made me an instant fan of Daryl Gregory. It is an average-sized novella, a very quick read, and yet it is just so densely packed with goodness. It just begs to be experienced firsthand. True, it might not be an easy read at times, with its disturbing themes and bone-chilling violence, but I did also find it tremendously addicting. It’s also the characters that make We Are All Completely Fine – mainly because they are all so completely not.  Unraveling each character’s mystery is the first step of this hair-raising journey, and definitely my favorite part of this story. After all, no one would believe them if they told their personal tales of what really happened to them… (Read the full review)

The Last Witness by K.J. Parker

Every once in a while, along will come a novella that is so bizarre, so offbeat and so unlike anything I have ever read before, that somehow, against all the odds, it just…works. The Last Witness is such a novella. Its protagonist and narrator is a man with a very special talent. He would be quick to tell you that it is not like mind-reading, not really. What he does is something much more fiddly and delicate. What he can do is enter your mind and take away your memories. A single one or all of them, it doesn’t matter; they would be transferred to his own mind, and it would be like you never had them. By all rights I should have found this book unfulfilling, given the story’s disorganized structure and how impossible it was connect with the character and his haphazard perspective, but it ended up really resonating with me. It’s strange, but in the best way possible. (Read the full review…)

Sin du Jour series by Matt Wallace

Gonna cheat a little here and feature the full series, since the books are all short enough to be read in one sitting. Imagine Hell’s Kitchen meets Dresden Files, marinated in a flavorful blend of action and thrills, seasoned generously with humor. Two ordinary down-on-their-luck New York chefs suddenly find themselves landing the gig of lifetime at Sin du Jour, an exclusive catering company owned by one of the city’s hottest celebrity chefs. However, it soon becomes clear that Sin du Jour is no ordinary catering company. For one thing, their clients are demons. If a couple hours with a bite-sized, light-hearted urban fantasy novella sounds like a good time to you, then you need to check out this series. (Read the full reviews…)

Legion by Brandon Sanderson

I still can’t believe I’m so in love with a book that’s listed as a mere 88 pages. I often find myself struggling with novellas that are less than a hundred pages because that’s usually not enough to give me all the plot and character development I want. But I should have had faith in Sanderson. There’s a reason why he’s one of my favorite fantasy authors. I love the stuff the guy comes up with, especially his unique magic systems and characters’ fantasy powers. Legion is no exception. To the outside world, protagonist Stephen Leeds appears to live by himself in a huge mansion, but his reality is in fact very different. His mental condition allows him to generate a variety of hallucinated people who share his space with him, and they are all unique with their individual personalities, skills and knowledge. They in turn advise and share their expertise with Leeds whenever he needs to know about certain topics. This unique “power” in turn makes Leeds one hell of a detective/investigator. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

The Purloined Poodle by Kevin Hearne

What a fun little book! Not to be missed by fans of Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, and even if you don’t follow the series, it’s worth taking a look. While it would help if you knew a little of the series’ basic foundations, everything else is going to be pretty easy to pick up along the way, especially since The Purloined Poodle is a whole different kind of animal (pun absolutely intended)! For one thing, the entirety of the tale is told through the eyes of a dog. That’s right, Oberon fans, urban fantasy’s most popular pooch gets his very own book. Dog lovers, urban fantasy enthusiasts, and Iron Druid fans take note: if you are one or any combination of the above, I would highly recommend this novella. Reading it won’t take long and it’s the perfect escape. (Read the full review)

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

It’s always a pleasure to return to Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, which is also the setting of her books like The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls—two of my favorite novels of all time. There’s just so much to love about this world, not least of all the phenomenal world-building featuring some of the richest lore and history I’ve ever encountered in the fantasy genre. One thing of note is the major role that religion plays in this universe. Fate and free will are often recurring themes in the stories set in this world, as well as the question of divine intervention. Penric’s Demon is a good example of this, following the misadventures of a hapless mortal caught up in the drama of the gods. There’s even several sequels, and I do hope Bujold will keep on writing more. These charming little novellas feature everything I love about the author’s writing, and don’t underestimate their short length because these compact tales can still pack a lot of punch. (Read the full reviews…)

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

This novella couldn’t have been more different than Pinborough’s other work, and yet I loved it no less. A beautiful soul-rending song straight from the heart, this tiny little book packs an emotional punch by shifting gears instead to look at the turbulent nature of grief and the profound effects it has on one troubled family. Despite its label as a fantasy novella, the ties that bind the story to the genre are light and ambiguous. However, it’s the themes that really come through: pain, grief, death, loss. Family, support, togetherness, love. Ultimately, these are the topics that define the sweet poignancy of this beautifully crafted novella. The Language of Dying is an astonishingly good read, simple in its approach, but thoughtful and heartbreaking in its execution. It’s not an easy book to read, but you will be glad you did. (Read the full review)

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

Magical realism fans are going to want to take note. In Calabria is a short and simple tale, but packed with some powerful themes. I’ve always loved stories with unicorns in them, especially those that portray them in meaningful ways, and if anyone can be relied upon to write a book that does just that, it is Peter S. Beagle. With the deft touch, the author weaves a strong thread of mythology into this gorgeous and emotional tale about love, sacrifice, and courage. Reading it is like stepping through a veil and into a dream, crossing into that secret and magical place where everyday life comes face to face with the fantastical. Highly recommended for readers who love genuine characters, evocative settings, and storytelling with a touch of pure magic. (Read the full review…)

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

Are you really that surprised Brandon Sanderson makes it onto this list three times? Honestly, I have no idea how the guy does it. Whether his books are 1000 pages or 100, they’re always fun to read, not to mention creative as hell. As you’d expect, this was definitely the case with Snapshot. It is a mystery story, but there are so many layers to it that I believe even non-fans of crime and detective stories will be able to appreciate it. For one thing, the fantastic premise adds several extra dimensions to the plot, and our characters are repeatedly thrown into situations that will get your brain juices flowing. I don’t often hand out such high ratings for a novella simply because so few have impressed me to this degree, but I’ll happily throw my full recommendation behind this one, because I thought it was a truly imaginative and brilliant read. (Read the full review)

Book Review: Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

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

Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Arcadia Project

Publisher: Saga Press (March 21, 2017)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Last year Mishell Baker burst onto the scene and shook up the urban fantasy world with her debut Borderline, dazzling me with her fresh take on the genre. She also introduced us to Millie Roper, one of the most genuine and notable protagonists that I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. It is therefore with great excitement that I can say the sequel Phantom Pains is even better, stronger, and more inventive than its predecessor. The Arcadia Project, welcome to my favorite series shelf!

If you haven’t read the first book yet, 1) you’re missing out, and 2) you may want to catch up first before tackling this one. Phantom Pains begins approximately four months after we last saw Millie, who has left the Arcadia Project after the devastating loss of her partner Teo. The Hollywood soundstage upon which the incident happened has since been designated a magical crime scene, restricted to all but those who are savvy to Arcadia, the “other” realm where Fey and other supernatural creatures reside.

However, just as Millie and her former boss Caryl are carrying out their final inspection of the soundstage before clearing it to open again, something strange happens. A vision of a tormented Teo suddenly appears to Millie, beseeching her to “let him in”. Traumatized, Millie is only marginally comforted when Caryl tells her that it could not have been the spirit of Teo, since ghosts don’t exist. But if that’s true, then what did she see?

While reluctant to rejoin the Arcadia Project as a full agent, Millie does agree to help them get down to the bottom of this, if nothing else to get the soundstage up and running again so she can get a particularly nettlesome studio client off her back. For the first time in months, Millie returns to her old home of Residence Four, where she is scheduled to meet with two bigwigs from the Project’s National Headquarters. Soon after her meeting though, one of them is found brutally murdered with dark magic—the kind that only Caryl, a warlock, is capable of. Still, despite the overwhelming evidence, Millie is certain that Caryl didn’t do it. Painfully aware that she is her friend’s last and only hope, Millie must now gather whatever allies and resources she has left to try and clear Caryl’s name before it is too late.

Let’s start with how simply awesome Millie is as a protagonist. Phantom Pains continues to develop and grow her as a complex and fully-realized character, while also progressing her journey as a survivor. I could tell you that Millie has borderline personality disorder, or that a about a year ago she had a failed suicide attempt that caused her to lose her legs a promising film career. But the truth is though, those mere descriptions simply don’t do her justice. Millie is so much more, and once you pick up these books and experience her voice for yourself, you’ll know what I mean. It really speaks volumes about the author’s skills as a writer that she is able to convey the character’s tragic past and disabilities in an unflinchingly honest yet respectful manner, making her feel realistic and convincing without resorting to stereotypes. Outstandingly, Baker challenges our established views on disability in fiction simply by writing a fun and enjoyable story, and her protagonist is portrayed as she is: vulnerable but strong, flawed but indomitable, different but no less important.

Bottom line, I just love Millie, despite her not always being likeable. It’s true that she’s a straight-talker, and her BPD sometimes affects her emotionally, making her say or do impulsive things. Interestingly though, I find that she has mellowed out somewhat in Phantom Pains, her voice reflecting the ongoing treatment she reports to have been receiving in the four months since the events of Borderline. And on that note, I was also happy to find out that Millie and Caryl remained friends, even in the aftermath of all that happened. The two of them have a great dynamic, not to mention Caryl was one of my favorites from the first book and it thrilled me to see her play a bigger role in this sequel. If you aren’t familiar with Caryl’s circumstances I’m not going to spoil anything for you, though I will say that Phantom Pains revealed much more of her history and what I learned broke my heart into a million pieces.

And that brings us to the story, which was absolutely fantastic. While the plot may have been slower to take off and there were more holes in it than I would have liked, I am completely willing to forgive everything in light of how this book ended. It’s not going to be the epic conclusion you would expect in terms of style and tone, but for me the ending was still surprising and emotionally impactful, the kind that makes you look back and realize the entire story had been setting up for this moment. There is a very real kind of beauty in the way everything came together in the end, and of course Mishell Baker nailed it perfectly.

In sum, Borderline was great, and to my delight, Phantom Pains was even better. Bar none, The Arcadia Project is the most refreshing series to come out of the urban fantasy genre in years. Anyone who is a UF fan needs to do themselves a favor and check out these books right now!

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Borderline (Book 1)

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

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

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 3 of Shades of Magic

Publisher: Tor (February 21, 2017)

Length: 624 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

My impression after I finished A Conjuring of Light was that it was definitely better than the first book, but I think the second one was still my favorite. As this was a series that took its time growing on me though, I had a lot riding on this concluding volume—yet when all is said and done, I’m actually quite happy with the way this novel turned out. The ending was very satisfying and epic, despite having to take an inordinately long and windy road to get there.

This story begins right after the end of A Gathering of Shadows, so if you have not started the trilogy yet, beware of possible spoilers in this review for the first two books. If you’ve been following along up to this point though, you’ll know that Kell has become an Antari in exile, distrusted by his adopted parents the king and queen of Red London, even after everything he has done and given for his beloved brother, Prince Rhy. Lila Bard, hailing from Grey London, has come a long way since her days as a common thief after discovering her abilities as a magician, but now she must learn to master her powers before they consume her. Meanwhile, Captain Alucard Emery of the ship Night Spire is another skilled magician, and he has since returned to London to be at the palace with Rhy, with whom he used to have a relationship.

In the aftermath of all the turmoil though, a dark force has risen, threatening the fates of all. Something always rushes in to fill a vacuum, and not surprisingly, the broken balance has created an opportunity for a new king to emerge and seize power. At last, the battle of the Londons has come to a head, and now our characters must set aside their differences and work together in order to defeat a common foe. Even an Antari needs help once in a while, and if they can’t all unite to combine their strengths, everything will be lost.

A Conjuring of Light was great because of the answers. Finally, we get resolutions to a lot of mysteries left hanging from the previous books. We learn the consequences of the destruction of Black London, as well as what has become of the dark magic moldering in its wake. We also find out about the links to White London, and what happened there to cause such a threat to Red London. In addition, the characters are greatly developed in this installment, exploring their histories and relationships. Kell and Lila finally get to a point where they must examine what they are to each other—allies, friends, or perhaps something more? Lila herself became less belligerent and unbearable too, I was pleasantly surprised to find, so that was a nice bonus. The complex bond between Alucard and Rhy also gets some attention in this novel as the two of them reconnect and get the chance to clear the air. I was even happy to get to know more about Holland, whom I always felt was a bit underdeveloped—until now.

The not-so-great part about this book? I found the first half to be somewhat trying. If you’ve been following this series, then I’m sure you’ve noticed: each installment has been growing in page count since A Darker Shade of Magic, and I won’t deny that when my copy of A Conjuring of Light first arrived I found myself making side eyes at its thickness. I had serious doubts that all 600+ pages of this book would hold my attention equally, and unfortunately I was right; the first half of the book just didn’t interest me as much, filled with meandering plot threads and filler-type scenes that felt like they were simply there to stall for time.

It’s a shame that my overall experience was dragged down by the beginning or otherwise my rating would probably be higher, so thank goodness that the pacing stepped up in the second half to clinch the finale. In short, I loved the ending. In fact, I felt the entire second half was very strong, as that’s where most of the best parts can be found. I’m talking action and intrigue, pacts and betrayals, magical conflicts and battles at sea. All this ultimately builds to an unforgettable climax, one that will not disappoint. I also have no doubts that the conclusion will also leave fans of this trilogy happy, since it ties things up so well.

So was A Conjuring of Light worth it? Absolutely. It was a slight struggle to get to the end, but when I finally got there I had no regrets. Despite its ups and downs, Shades of Magic was an enjoyable trilogy overall and I would recommend it for its sheer imagination and sense of wonder and magic.  Taken as a whole, it is an impressive achievement by V.E. Schwab and I continue to look forward to what she will do next!

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Mogsy’s Review of A Darker Shade of Magic (Book 1)
Wendy’s Review of A Darker Shade of Magic (Book 1)
Mogsy’s Review of A Gathering of Shadows (Book 2)

Book Review: Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop

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

Etched in BoneEtched in Bone by Anne Bishop

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 5 of The Others

Publisher: Roc (March 7, 2017)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website

So, another one of my favorite urban fantasy series has come to a close. Finding out that Anne Bishop will soon be following up with a spinoff series did soften the blow somewhat, but I won’t lie; when I picked up this final chapter of The Others starring Meg Corbyn and Co., my heart was filled with excitement but also a lot of bittersweet feelings. I’m definitely going to miss spending time in Lakeside Courtyard and reading about its colorful residents.

Since Etched in Bone is the fifth and final installment of the series though, please beware this review may contain spoilers for the previous books. Marked in Flesh saw the Humans First and Last movement violently crushed by the Elders, and the repercussions of that event have been widely and deeply felt across the land. Pro-human groups have lost much of their power, and many of their remaining cities are now cut off from resources and protection. The thriving community of Lakeside Courtyard, having emerged from the Elders’ wrath largely unscathed, now finds itself in the position to offer help to those in need. Its wolf-shifter leader Simon Wolfgard is seen as one the more sympathetic Others, and word soon spreads that they are offering jobs and shelter to human refugees who are willing to work hard and won’t cause trouble.

Everything seems to be running smoothly, until the arrival of Cyrus James “Jimmy” Montgomery. Against his better instincts, Simon decides to let Jimmy stay in part because he is the brother of Lieutenant Montgomery, a well-respected man in Lakeside Courtyard, but also because Jimmy is the brother and son of two other current residents. That decision to show compassion ultimately turns out to be a huge mistake, for Jimmy is a con artist, seeing this opportunity not as the blessing it is but as an easy meal ticket and a way to scam money. Not realizing that the Terra Indigene reserve the worst kinds of punishment for his sort, Jimmy continues to emotionally blackmail his sister and abuse his privileges at Lakeside Courtyard, until it’s only a matter of time before he takes things too far.

I’m going to be honest here. I thought Etched in Bone ended up being another fantastic installment, but as an ending, it was somewhat disappointing. I think Bishop might have overplayed her hand when it came to the resolution of the HPL storyline in the previous book, because let’s face it, anything coming up on the heels of that epic conclusion in Marked in Flesh would be hard-pressed to rival that that act. And indeed, the conflict in Etched in Bone felt rather tame in comparison. For example, if this had been just another book in the series, I think Jimmy Montgomery would have made a pretty decent villain. For a series conclusion though? A small bit conman felt too low-key and insignificant to be the story’s main focal point, especially since we’d just seen the likes of Nicholas Scratch, leader of the Thaisian HFL who had the power of an entire movement behind him.

Then, there’s Simon and Meg. I’ve never made it a secret how I feel about these two. Their romance, if you could even call it that, has always weirded me out. I don’t care much for Meg either, and my enjoyment for this series has always been carried by my love for some of the other characters. Other than being able to tell the future by cutting herself (which the Others actually want her to stop doing), Meg brings absolutely no valuable skills to Lakeside Courtyard, and yet the Others all bend over backwards to treat this helpless little woman-child like a queen. To me, Simon’s attraction to Meg has always felt more like a loyal guard dog’s devotion to his master, like she’s something fragile to be protected and kept safe because she’s too weak to look after herself, and in turn she treats the wolf-shifter like he’s her big fuzzy pet. Bishop had this one last chance to finally set their relationship on the right course, and I was a little surprised that she didn’t take it. Simon still bends to “his Meg’s” every whim, while she continues to be portrayed a meek character who requires constant sheltering and protection.

Bottom line, Etched in Bone would have worked perfectly fine as a middle book of a series, but as a series conclusion, I felt it left something to be desired. But while my review probably goes against the grain of the overwhelmingly positive response this book has been getting, I just want to say I still adore The Others, and if nothing else, this was a satisfying and happy ending for everyone involved. I’m beyond excited that Bishop will continue to write stories set in Thaisia because I’ve enjoyed every moment I’ve spent in this world, and even though this novel didn’t exactly end with the bang I’d wanted, it was nonetheless a very good book and a must-read for fans.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Mogsy’s review of Written in Red (Book 1)
Tiara’s review of Written in Red (Book 1)
Review of Murder of Crows (Book 2)
Review of Vision in Silver (Book 3)
Review of Marked in Flesh (Book 4)

Friday Face-Off: Birds

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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:

“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs are too sweet and wild”
~ a cover featuring BIRDS

Mogsy’s Pick:
Miriam Black series by Chuck Wendig

That’s right, this week I’ve decided to do something different by featuring the covers to every book in the excellent Miriam Black series! After all, how could I decide on just one when they all fit the theme?

Originally published by Angry Robot, the first three books had covers designed by artist Joey Hi-Fi. When the series was picked up by Saga Press and reissued though, they were also re-branded with a new look. Let’s check them out now:

Blackbirds

6ce27-blackbirds blackbirds-saga

Mockingbird

00bbb-mockingbird mockingbird-saga

The Cormorant

ba466-thecormorant the-cormorant-saga

Thunderbird

Thunderbird

Winner:

While the new Saga Press covers are gorgeous and I like them very much, I’m still going to have to go with the old covers for this one. Joey Hi-Fi’s unique style gives them personality, not to mention his designs also feature Miriam who looks totally badass with the birds making up her image and flying all around her.

What do you think? Which ones are your favorite?

6ce27-blackbirds 00bbb-mockingbird ba466-thecormorant

Guest Post: “The World behind The Heart of Stone” by Ben Galley

Ben Galley is an author who’s been on my radar for a while now, ever since his book Bloodrush was chosen as one of the top ten finalists in last year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition. This spring, he has a new novel coming out called The Heart of Stone, a grimdark fantasy featuring war, magic, and a battle golem made of stone. Today we are thrilled to welcome Ben himself to The BiblioSanctum to talk about his process of creating the world behind his new book (which will be released at the end of this month!) We hope you will enjoy this awesome guest post which he has so kindly written for us, and let us know what you think of The Heart of Stone!

THE WORLD BEHIND THE HEART OF STONE
by Ben Galley

A wise man once said: “Books are a finer world within the world.” I think Mr Alexander Smith was spot on. Every time I pick up a new book, I am just as excited to discover the world as I am the characters that live within it. I hold Tolkien responsible this. He, along with other authors like Lewis, Pullman and Donaldson taught me about the endless possibilities of world-building, and left me with an addiction for creating fictional worlds. I thought I’d talk about this obsession, as well as how I constructed the world for my new standalone novel – The Heart of Stone.

To me, the world is as every bit as important as its characters. It’s not merely the canvas for the story, or a set for a play, but a character in itself. Sometimes multiple characters. It can be just as deadly as any dark lord, or as intricate as any plot. It even sets the rules the characters can live by or fight against.

Whenever I’m planning out a new book, my first job is to build the world. I say job because it comes with responsibility, but at the same time it’s an absolute pleasure. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being a small god, tinkering with a new creation, but for me it’s not work, it’s fun. When I was creating the world for The Heart of Stone, I drew the maps before even deciding on a name for the main character – the golem Task. Authors plan and write in all sorts of different ways, but for me it’s the first port of call. It sets the mood, the tone, and even defines certain aspects of the genre I’m writing in.

For The Heart of Stone, a book about war, I decided I needed a fractious world. One with a bloody and bitter history. While it’s still a fantasy book, there is an underlying theme of real-world struggles, and so I created The Realm.

The Realm is a world split between south and north, with the desert lands (The Harmony) faced off against the north (The Accord). Despite these pacts, each country vies with its neighbours, and if they don’t, they insulate themselves behind walled borders. There’s even a patch of the world divided up between states called the Duelling Dozen, where the reigns of kings and queens are measured in days rather than decades. Even the natural world has a heartless element to it, with the addition of a gigantic whirlpool in the ocean. The God’s Rent is miles wide, forged by long-lost gods thousands a years before, and dictates the Realm’s weather and seas. It’s also responsible for war itself, forcing the south into drought while the north gets all the rain, and creating a very good reason for another war.

For a standalone, the world is possibly too vast. I’ll be the first to admit it, and say that’s largely because of my obsession for world-building. It’s like a tube of Pringles. Once I start, I can’t stop, even if it’s for my own knowledge rather than the reader’s. However, the main story arc is largely confined to one area of The Realm – Hartlund. It’s a far-flung island in the midst of a long civil war. It’s this war that my protagonist Task is forced to fight in, and so most of the world-building was done there. I made it a grim and cold place, I have to admit, but most war zones are.

Another aspect of my world is its implied era, which defines a lot of Hartlund. Being a Brit, I thought I’d look to my own country’s long history or war for inspiration. I took a lot from the English Civil War, where royalty fought against government for nine rancorous years, countryman against countryman. That inspiration led me to build my own post-Renaissance world, and stray into the realm of gunpowder fantasy.

There was an element of necessity in this, as I needed battle scenes that were not only different from the medieval, magical worlds of previous books, but also ones that worked with a golem. Arrows, swords and catapults were not enough of a threat to a stone war-machine, but cannon and muskets were. It’s the first time I’ve dabbled in this sort of era. I’ve come close with the 19th century world of my Scarlet Star Trilogy, but that was more steampunk than “powderpunk”. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write, especially when you have a golem that has a penchant for throwing cannons across battlefields.

I did draw a lot of parallels from that period of history, primarily because I needed it to be somewhat familiar to a reader, and not too fantastical or otherworldly. Of course, I couldn’t help myself in other areas. I would say The Heart of Stone is definitely more low fantasy than it is high fantasy. There may not be a whiff of elves or goblins in sight, but it is still very much a fantasy novel. Hartlund is populated with odd animals, with half-mammalian, half-reptilian steeds and other beasts. There are roamwillows – carnivorous trees that traipse across battlefields. There is magic, albeit a lost or banned art, and mostly a magic of the mind, verging on physic or telekinetic powers. And there is the magic of golems, which is practically a mystery to everyone but a golem. And even then, Task isn’t quite sure how he works.

And that’s a brief introduction to the inspiration and construction of my latest world, and why world-building is such an obsession for me. It’s been a pleasure writing about it, and thanks again to BilbioSanctum for having me on the blog! If you’d like to know more about The Heart of Stone, all the links and info can be found at www.bengalley.com/heart-of-stone. It’s out on the 30th of March this year.

Thanks for reading.

Ben

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Galley is an award-winning fantasy author from the UK. He is the author of the epic Emaneska Series, the weird-west Scarlet Star Trilogy and the brand new standalone The Heart of Stone.

When he’s not dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant, helping fellow authors to self-publish and sell their books at www.shelfhelp.info.

Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley), Facebook (@BenGalleyAuthor) or at his website www.bengalley.com.

#SPFBO Review: Larcout by K.A. Krantz

SPFBO Banner

Phase 2 of The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 is officially underway! For the six-month period from November 1, 2016 to the end of May 2017, we will be reviewing the ten finalists chosen by the blogger judges from the first phase of the competition. For full details and the list of books, see our SPFBO 2016 page.

Larcout by K.A. Krantz

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Fire Born, Blood Blessed Book #1

Publisher: K.A. Krantz (2015)

Author InfoKAKrantz.com

Wendy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Vadrigyn Le Sri is of the Morsam — the halfbreed children of the goddess of fire. Fire and venom run through her veins, screaming for death, but Vadrigyn is not some monster without reason. She is certain that the only way to escape her prison world where kill or be killed is the only motto is to prove to the male gods that she is more than the fire in her blood. They give her the chance to prove herself by plucking her out of Agenwold and tossing her into the Jewelled Nation of Larcout. Here, battles are fought with magic and the mind, which Vadrigyn must learn to master if she is to unravel the mystery of her mother’s decades old crime and the current politics of which she is the key to everyone’s undoing.

I immediately fell for Vadrigyn upon meeting her. She is a gruff warrior woman raised to take nothing for granted. Thrown into the fancy world of high court, she stands out like a sore thumb, or in her case, the poisonous Dorgof parasites that extend from her palms. Everything about her is fierce and animalistic, from her wild hair to her fanged teeth and appetite for munching on precious stones, but Krantz balances this with Vadrigyn’s intelligence and the ferocity of her desire for change. She is out of place in both the world she is torn from and the world she is dropped into, but she makes no apologies for any of the myriad of things that make her different, including her parentage, even when her mother’s crimes and Vadrigyn’s apparent weaknesses are constantly thrown in her face.

Her instruction and mentorship in her new world is undertaken by her cousins, who feel they must band together to protect each other from the Le Sri shame brought down by Vadrigyin’s mother, and Le Zyrn, a high ranking man in the grand political scheme. Many others seek to use her for or against the throne, and it is Vadrigyn’s job to learn how to decipher this puzzle, and prove herself to the gods.

This is where the book started to teeter on the edge of boredom for me as Vadrigyn meets a plethora of potential friends and foes, many of whom are somewhat difficult to tell apart, and few of whom endeared themselves to me. While Vadrigyn remained an interesting character throughout, she did not necessarily change or grow in a way that the reader is allowed to see. Despite the story being told from her point of view, there is very little emotional depth in her character, though it could be argued that emotional depth is simply not her way. Vadrigyn is refreshingly open and calls everything as she sees it and we are privy to that through her thoughts, even when she does manage to hold her tongue in front of the blood-beings she must protect and protect herself from. In the middle of the book, Vadrigyn unwittingly begins to play the role of Nancy Drew, pointing out what ought to have been obvious to everyone else, but for the convenient fact that mind altering abilities are at play. The entire middle section could use some tightening up in order to address the lull that occurs while everyone takes the time to catch up to Vadrigyn’s revelations.

Both the magic and political system prove to be creative strong point in Krantz’s story, once the pieces start to fit together, and the overall prose is well written, save for a penchant for splitting off sentences from a paragraph for the sake of emphasis. Topped with an unusual heroine, this is a solid entry in the fantasy genre.