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: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Nightwise
Publisher: Tor (April 3, 2018)
Length: 368 pages
The Night Dahlia returns to the dark world of Laytham Ballard, a man introduced to us in the first book Nightwise as “a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.” Fans who enjoyed reading about the jaded, nihilistic perspective of our fallen hero will be glad to know this second installment is just as tantalizingly dark with all its action-packed and emotional twists.
While technically, The Night Dahlia is the beginning of a new mystery and can be read as a standalone without Nightwise as a prerequisite, I still highly recommend reading the books in publication order to get the full impact. There are developments by the end of this book that will make a lot more sense if you have followed the character’s journey from the beginning. This time, Laytham has been charged by the powerful fae mob boss Theo Ankou to track down his daughter Caern, who has been missing since she was 13 years old. As this was almost a decade ago, the trail has long since gone cold, but our protagonist has a reputation for having a number of magical underground connections and a knack for always finding what he needs. Because of this, Ankou is convinced that Laytham will succeed where all his other investigators have failed.
Provided with a near limitless amount of cash as well as an elf bodyguard named Vigil Burris to both protect him and keep him in line, Laytham embarks on his search for Caern, a mission that will take him from the stunning and luxurious islands of Greece to the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles’s nightclubs and porn industry. Along the way, he’ll face the many demons of his past, which includes a few bitter enemies as well as some former friends.
R.S. Belcher continues to be one of the best when it comes to dark and gritty urban fantasy, going places where most authors in this genre only dare dream about. He is bold and unafraid of pushing the boundaries, especially when it comes to his protagonist. As we learned in Nightwise, Laytham Ballard is more than just a conflicted anti-hero; at times he can be downright dastardly and villainous. Just when you think he’s coming around, he’ll show you how wrong you are by defaulting back to the aggressive, selfish and cowardly creature that he is. He’s someone you can never depend upon to keep a promise, someone who would sell out a friend at the drop of a hat if it means saving his own hide. To his credit though, he’s also self-aware enough to know he’s a despicable shitheel which is probably why he intentionally prevents anyone from getting close. You won’t want to get on his bad side either, because he can also be a cruel and vengeful bastard, having been known to go to frightening extremes just to settle a score.
For all that though, Laytham is still a fascinating character to read about, and while his world is a pretty grim and messed up place to be, everything about it piques my curiosity to learn more. The author’s creativity is on full display here as every page is steeped with magic and the paranormal—the kind where the Fae are a powerful drug running crime syndicate, Aztec wizard gangsters rule the streets, and even the infamous serial killer Charles Manson makes an appearance as a lunatic mage who creates monsters out of thoughts and nightmares. The wondrous and the fantastic are everywhere, even in the most hellish and most hopeless scenarios. As such, The Night Dahlia is not always an easy book to read, especially when it portrays situations that are uncomfortably close to some of the awfulness experienced in our own real world. That is immediately evident as the novel opens on a horrific scene of school shooting, in which a nine-year-old boy becomes possessed with the spirt of a psychotic killer and is made to commit mass murder. That enough should tell you the tone of these books. This isn’t merely dark urban fantasy; this is urban fantasy that frequently treads into horror territory.
But while this series may be filled with pain and suffering, there is also growth and a chance at redemption. Laytham knows he’s a terrible person, but perhaps owning up to his flaws and mistakes is the first step to doing better, and being better. His character is the embodiment of that dark place in all our psyches, the part that most of us try to ignore or pretend is not even there. In a way, that makes Laytham feel very genuine and human, so even when he is at his worst, you can’t help but feel for him on some level, even if it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth to admit it. Complex characters like that get to me every time, though, so I never once considered throwing in the towel, even if I personally find it difficult to relate to the protagonist. I was also pleased to see, by the end of the novel, that there may be hope for Laytham Ballard yet.
Perfect for readers of gritty and in-your-face dark urban fantasy with tinges of horror, the Nightwise series will ignite the imaginations and test the mettle of even those who think they’ve seen it all. The Night Dahlia follows marvelously in the tradition of the first book, with R.S. Belcher giving his fans more of what they love.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Nightwise (Book 1)
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 2 of Swords and Fire
Publisher: Orbit (April 24, 2018)
Length: 560 pages
I’m always a little nervous going into a sequel to a book I loved, especially when the story and characters are still fresh in your mind. Knowing you are jumping into a new adventure that can change the course of everything you know or shift the game as swiftly as the weather is sometimes a terrifying thing.
But as it turned out, I had an amazing time with Melissa Caruso’s The Defiant Heir. In fact, I pretty much couldn’t ask for more out of a sequel. In the first book, The Tethered Mage, readers were introduced to a historical fantasy setting reminiscent of Renaissance Venice, along with an irresistible cast which includes our protagonist Lady Amalia, a young noblewoman finds herself becoming a Falconer to the fire Warlock Zaira. Forever linked together by a magical bond neither of them wanted, Amalia nonetheless tries to make the best out of the situation, and although Zaira’s initial pushback was hard and aggressive, eventually she too started to come around to their new reality.
Friendships, however, are not forged overnight. There’s still plenty of conflict—both individually and between them—for Amalia and Zaira to work out, and this is where this sequel comes in. The Defiant Heir continues to develop the characters’ relationship by setting them on a quest to gather information behind enemy lines, with success only possible if both women can pull all their knowledge, skills, and abilities together to work as one. All this is also set to a backdrop of imminent war, as the seventeen Witch Lords who rule in Vaskandar gather for a rare conclave in the aftermath of the events that transpired in The Tethered Mage. As the scion of one of Raverra’s most powerful families, Amalia has been groomed to take her mother’s place on the Council of Nine since birth, even though she would much rather be ensconced in a library with a pile of books or tinkering with new contraptions in a workshop. But now the time has come for her to formally enter politics and take on the responsibilities of her role as La Contessa’s heir, even if it means giving up the things she loves.
I’m a big fan of stories that put characters to the test, because they always have the most compelling conflicts. Which path will a person take when faced with life-altering choices? Do they follow their sense of duty or their heart? What lengths will they go to achieve their goals? For Amalia, life has changed a great deal ever since becoming a Falconer. She has made a new friend in Zaira, even if that friendship is still complicated and somewhat precarious. She’s even found love with her fellow Falconer, Lieutenant Marcello Verdi. But as mad as they are for each other, a future together just isn’t in the cards, and that was even before Amalia decided to increase her efforts to follow in her mother’s footsteps. As the daughter of La Contessa, she must put the needs of the country before her own desires. And if her country needs her to play spy and court alliances, she’ll have to do that too, even if those duties require her to serve beyond her experiences and limits.
Amalia, however, is not the kind of person to give up when the going gets hard, which is what I loved about her character in the first book and she continues to show the same kind of persistence in The Defiant Heir. She’s also measured and calculating, preferring to keep all her options open, even if it does leave her personal life a bit of a mess. That said, it’s wonderful to see a flawed but genuine and intelligent female protagonist who displays such strength in the face of crushing social pressures, and still be a good, kind, and sincere person.
But once again, Caruso shows that her greatest strength is writing relationships—and a good thing too, since each and every single one of the story’s multiple threads have a basis in the character dynamics. Amalia loves her mother and wants to please her, which fuels her determination to be a good heir. She loves Marcello, but must put her feelings for him aside to allow herself to be courted by Kathe, a Crow Lord who is debonair and charming, but still pragmatic enough to understand how such a relationship would serve both their purposes. Then there’s the Falconer-Falcon bond between Amalia and Zaira, which has developed into something much deeper and more complex. They’ve put their lives in each other’s hands, and both women have learned to trust more because of it. Zaira has even let herself open up and grow closer to Terika, another Falcon. This particularly sideplot has expanded the scope of her character in many ways, showing a side of the cantankerous fire warlock that we’d only begun to explore by the end of the first book. All these relationships were woven together to form an intricate web of personal stories within a greater narrative, which made this book a joy to read because we got to watch each character grow.
Fans who enjoyed Caruso’s debut will find even more to please them in The Defiant Heir, a sequel that further explores the world and all the characters we’ve come to know and love. In addition, it’ll take us to new locales and introduce us to new players, adding even more depth to series. With this second volume of Swords and Fire, Melissa Caruso is well on her way to making a very big splash in the fantasy genre, and I can’t wait for the third book to get here.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Tethered Mage (Book 1)
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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press (April 10, 2018)
Length: 294 pages
The first line of the description for Space Opera likens it to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I think it’s an apt comparison because the influence of Douglas Adams clearly shows (and the author even acknowledges it). This is the kind of book that will make you simultaneously laugh and shake your head in amazement wondering how anyone could have come up with such crazy ideas. Considering how my first experience with a Valente novel was something of a downer (with The Refrigerator Monologues) this over-the-top and fun-filled romp through the galaxy was the breath of fresh air I needed.
Our story starts in the new future, when Earth suddenly finds itself visited by a bright blue, seven-foot-tall flamingo-like alien who offers humanity an opportunity to join the greater galactic civilization at large. However, after the disastrous results of a galaxy-wide conflict known as the Sentience Wars, these invitations are hardly going to be simply handed out to every new species they come across. So, what ultimately determines whether humans will be deserving of recognition and a place among the stars? The Metagalactic Grand Prix, a singing contest in which all prospective species vying for inclusion must compete to prove their worth. Come in dead last, and you will be deemed non-sentient and unfit to join the intergalactic community. Worse, your entire species will then be exterminated to prevent you from becoming a danger to yourself and others. (“Hey,” the blue alien bird thingy pretty much says to the people of Earth, “I didn’t make the rules. I’m just telling you all what’s up, so you better choose your representatives wisely if you don’t want your whole planet incinerated.”)
The good news is that the aliens are not just going to let the humans flounder, and they’ve even provided a helpful list of their favorite singers and bands—those they believe might have the best chance at success in the contest. The bad news is, pretty much everyone on that list is dead and gone, except for Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, a washed-up glam punk rock band who had one single hit in the mid-2000s before fading rapidly back into mediocrity. The band’s frontman, who was just getting used to being completely forgotten, is suddenly thrust back into the limelight as all of humanity’s hope now rests on his and his bandmates’ performance at the Grand Prix. Things aren’t looking too good for Earth, but at the very least, people are reminding themselves that they don’t have to win. Just as long as they don’t come in last, humanity has a chance! Unfortunately, Decibel “Dess” Jones isn’t even sure he has what it takes in him anymore, not to mention one of his band members, Oort St. Ultraviolet, is has become a weary middle-aged commercial musician with an ex-wife and two kids, and the other, Mira Wonderful Star, is dead, killed in a car crash. Everyone on Earth is now counting on what’s left of the Absolute Zeroes to get past all their insecurities and hang-ups in order to pull off a literal out-of-this-world performance—one that will mean either life or death for the entire human race.
Wow, where do I start? First: freaking awesome premise! But as this is Catherynne Valente, insanely and wonderfully creative ideas are pretty much a given. Her style can take some getting used to, especially in this case, where the novel is presented as an almost rambling narrative full of tangents and asides (some of which are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main story being told). In fact, the characters themselves even feel like mere footnotes at times—ancillary pieces of information tacked on to add more context to what’s playing out on the page. As a “characters first” kind of reader, I thought at first this would bother me, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. After all, how could I not be immediately drawn in by the wonders and fascinating sights of this amazing universe that the author has created? A small story in a big galaxy is how I look at this one. While it’s true that the book is more exposition heavy, and character development might be on the lighter side, Valente has really gone all out with her imagination and world-building here. Just reading about all the different kinds of unique alien species and cultures she has invented is worth the price of admission alone.
And then there’s the humor. It can be described as a mixed bag, but satire is definitely a major component. Valente spares nothing and nobody, poking fun at everything from sci-fi genre tropes to the absurdities of human existence. There are also pop culture references aplenty, as well as moments of slapstick comedy and just plain silliness. Admittedly, it can also become a bit too much at times, and I’ve noticed that the author has a tendency to get carried away, especially when she’s getting into a rhythm and doesn’t know when to hold back. Despite the story’s energetic pacing, things started flag for me in the last third of the book, quite possibly as a result of the novelty starting to wear off and fatigue settling in. Also, humor being so subjective, the strange and madcap nature of the kind in this book will mean that it won’t be for everyone. Your mileage may vary, and personally, I was able to enjoy the style and tone of the novel, but even I felt it ended exactly when it should have.
All in all, Space Opera was good fun—as you would expect from a novel with its loud and glittery cover, quippy tagline, and punny title. Its premise is most certainly guaranteed to be nothing you’ve ever seen before, full of lightness and frivolity, but there’s also a lot of heart and meaning. That said, I was still glad when the book finished when it did, before we started going overboard with the comedic shenanigans and lengthy asides. Valente might have wound up overdoing it in the end anyhow, but then managed to pull it back just in time for a satisfying conclusion.
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:
“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”
~ a cover featuring DINOSAURS
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
So I had some real trouble coming up with a book for this week. Sure, I had a couple books by a certain late author whose dinosaur books have been adapted into movies by Steven Spielberg in mind, but I figured there’s a good chance they’ll be used by many others this week, and I wanted to try and find something a little different.
That said, the novel I ended up choosing was a surprise even to me, because even though I recall a section of the story that takes place in prehistoric times, I hadn’t expected it to have a cover that suits my needs. Just One Damned Thing After Another is a time travel story, starring a plucky historian named Madeleine “Max” Maxwell who gets recruited into a secret society of time travelers working undercover behind the façade of St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. The plot is very entertaining and filled with boisterous comedic hijinks, and one of the biggest perks of it was being able to absorb behind past events, people, and places. And like I said, the most exciting time period Max gets to visit will probably appeal more to dinosaur enthusiasts or paleontologists rather than history fans.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the covers. You kind of have to look really closely on one of them, but sure enough, there are the dinosaurs!
From left to right:
Smashwords (2013) – Accent Press (2013) – Night Shade Books (2016)
This book has an interesting history. Originally self-published by Jodi Taylor on two download websites, that manuscript ended up being bought by the UK publisher Accent Press before going on to become a bestselling sensation across the UK and US. It’s not surprising therefore to see that the book’s first cover, the independently published Smashwords edition, is quite amateurish in its design. To be honest, the visuals actually aren’t that bad, but the atrocious typeface is what really reveals its self-pubbed roots. The 2016 Night Shade Book edition, which is the novel’s publisher in the US, uses some of the same original imagery on its cover, except it also cleans everything up and borrows the more attractive font from the UK version.
The clear winner here for me, however, is the Accent Press edition. I love the colors and the art style used, and as a bonus, it’s also the one with the actual dinosaurs! So, that’s my choice this week. But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?
“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!
Catherynne M. Valente.
An official tie-in to the hit video game Mass Effect: Andromeda. As the Quarian ark Keelah Si’yah sails toward the Andromeda galaxy, it carries 20,000 colonists from several races including the Drell, Elcor, and Batarians. Along the way a routine check reveals that many of the Drell colonists have died in their cryopods, and a pathogen is discovered. It begins to jump species, then the ship’s tech begins to fail, making it clear that this is no accident. It’s murder, and the perpetrator is still on board. The ship’s systems rapidly degrade, and panic spreads among the colonists. To make matters worse, the virus yields a terrible swelling of the brain that causes madness, hallucinations, and leads to violence. If the ship’s crew can’t restore their technology and find a cure, the Keelah Si’yah will never make it to the Nexus.”
Women are shining in every genre of speculative fiction, and it is no longer enough to say “Women are here.” Instead, #FearlessWomen everywhere are taking a stand to say “Women will thrive here.”
Highlighting major titles from bestselling authors V.E. Schwab, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jacqueline Carey as well as titles from acclaimed and debut authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal, Tessa Gratton, Sam Hawke, and Robyn Bennis, #FearlessWomen will be a coordinated social media celebration encouraging fans to start a dialogue about women in publishing, their worlds, their voices, and their unique stories.
With DEATH DOESN’T BARGAIN, Kenyon again returns to the pirate ship Sea Witch, where Captain Devyl Bane, and his undead crew have set sail for eternity, searching for forgiveness and salvation. Together, they are humanity’s last hope to restore the gates and return the damned to their hell realms.
Many demons are beginning to break free of their eternal prison and are bent on mankind’s destruction. The worst of the lot is Vine, determined to claim their lives for taking hers. She will see the world burn…and has the perfect lure to destroy them all. One of their own.
Kalder Dupree has never known a day of mercy. Born to the cruelest of mer-races, he sacrificed himself for his crew and is in Vine’s hands. He expects no compassion or rescue.
Yet the young shipmate Cameron Jack is determined to set Kalder free. As a Hellchaser, it’s her calling, and she cannot allow even a not-so-innocent to be tortured for an act of kindness that spared her damnation.
To defeat evil, it sometimes takes an even worse evil, and Cameron is willing to do whatever she must to make this right. If Vine thought she had her hands full before, she hasn’t seen anything nearly as powerful as Cameron’s resolve.
DEATH DOESN’T BARGAIN delivers a sweeping epic saga sure to appeal to the millions of Kenyon’s Dark Hunter fans as well as anyone looking for a page-turning and high-paced adventure. It is a tale of passion and loss, emotions that wound and heal…and ultimate redemption.
What aren’t you saying, my lord?”
“You’ve the blood of Michael in your veins, girl. While the others are strong, he’s one of the most powerful of all. His blood is straight from the Source itself. There’s no telling what such a bond could cause. The damage not just to you and your brother, but to the entire world.”
A shiver went down her spine as she considered his words. “You’re terrifying me.”
About the Author
Sherrilyn Kenyon is a New York Times bestselling author and is a regular in the #1 spot. This extraordinary author continues to top every genre in which she writes. More than 70 million copies of her books are in print in more than one hundred countries. Her current series include The Dark-Hunters®, The League®, NevermoreTM, Lords of Avalon®, Chronicles of Nick® , and Deadman’s CrossTM. Her Nick ChroniclesTM and Dark-Hunters® are soon to be major media productions.
Visit her online at http://www.sherrilynkenyon.com.
Join the Conversation
Tor Books’ handles across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@torbooks) will be using the hashtags #FearlessWomen (and #FearlessFantasy and #FearlessSF) to promote excerpts, exclusive content, quizzes and giveaways beginning in May. There will also be exclusive giveaways at BookCon, San Diego Comic-Con, and New York Comic Con. Follow Tor Books online, join the conversation – and get reading!
Be sure to also check out the other blogs on the #FearlessWomen tour to read more exclusive content and reviews!
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Firemane Saga
Publisher: Harper Voyager (May 8, 2018)
Length: 512 pages
I must preface this review with a confession: I had never read Raymond E. Feist before picking up King of Ashes, so I was going in with a completely blank slate and no pre-conceived notions of the author or the novel. What followed was a satisfying read, if a bit mundane and old hat at times. It seems to me that over the years, the genre has moved on from a lot of the ideas featured in this story. Nevertheless, I think it’s perfect for anyone seeking a fun traditional epic fantasy, and despite all the well-worn tropes, I enjoyed myself.
The book opens on a bloody scene as Baron Daylon Dumarch, a Free Lord, watches the execution of every single family member of the royal family of Ithrace. The monarch of what was once one of the five great kingdoms of North and South Tembria had just been betrayed by the other four kings in a brutal and decisive battle, signaling an end to the ancient covenant that had protected the peace and balance for centuries. Now King Lodavico of Sandura, the man at the head of the takeover, is determined to completely destroy the line of King Steveren of Ithrace, putting everyone with Firemane blood to the sword.
But in the chaos, a child was overlooked—a baby boy who was spirited away to safety in the confusion of battle. Daylon, who was close friends with Steveren, returns to his pavilion to rest after the executions, feeling sick for the part he played in the betrayal, even though he was forced to do it for the sake of his people. Waking up, he finds that someone had left a male infant in his quarters, and after seeing the boy’s fiery red hair, understands right away this must be the last surviving Firemane child and heir to the now ruined kingdom of Ithrace. Keeping the baby’s existence to himself, Daylon decides to entrust his care to the agents of the “Invisible Nation”, a secretive organization that trains highly skilled assassins and spies on their island of Coaltachin.
All this happens in the prologue, which is then followed by the beginning of the tale in earnest, picking up approximately sixteen years later. The Firemane baby has grown to become a hot-headed young man named Hatu, whose foreign physical traits have made him something of an outcast growing up in the south among other students at the school on Coaltachin. About half the story is told from his perspective, unfolding like a coming-of-age narrative about growing up, mastering his studies, and discovering the physical and emotional changes that come with adolescence. More and more, Hatu is also starting to notice his good friend Hava, who is the best fighter in her class, even though any romance between students is forbidden. Then there’s Declan, the other major perspective in this novel, who is the apprentice of a very talented blacksmith once in Baron Daylon Dumarch’s service. Readers get to meet Declan just as he has achieved master status, and circumstances have forced him to strike out on his own much sooner than he expected.
While there is a smattering of other POVs peppered throughout the novel, King of Ashes is mainly told through the eyes of these two young men—Hatu and Declan. For the most part, they are very archetypal characters, i.e. the lost heir and the bastard apprentice, and no doubt avid fantasy readers will have seen their like many times before. And yet, Feist prevents them from feeling too stale by keeping his story moving at an energetic pace. It’s rather common for first volumes of new epic fantasy series to become bogged down by the minutiae, taking forever to get started, but I was happy to see that this is not the case here.
In fact, I found that Feist could be downright frank in his writing style, cutting straight to the matter while leaving no room for subtlety. Everything is spelled out for the reader when it comes to his characters’ thoughts and motivations, and there is little finesse or attempt to show instead rather than tell. To be fair, this isn’t always bad; the writing is reminiscent of what I would call a classic or old-school style, in that it is very straightforward and easy to read. However, at times it made his characters feel flat and difficult to connect with, a prime example being Hatu when he was just becoming aware of his attraction to Hava. Their ensuing romance, if you could even call it that, felt awkward and forced, for you had the author laying out Hatu’s feelings with all the emotion of a dry clinical report. There’s a strong sense of “what you see is what you get” when it comes to the characters, placing them behind a layer of detachment which made it hard to feel invested in them.
Still, I enjoyed reading this book and discovering the world’s secrets. Characters like Daylon Dumarch are especially intriguing, since he is playing a long game. Now that the many threads of the story have converged in his barony, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen next. King of Ashes manages to set the stage marvelously for more to come, and I’m curious to see where Raymond E. Feist will take things in the sequel.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 5 of Heartstrikers
Publisher: Audible Studios (March 1, 2018)
Length: 13 hrs and 11 mins
There’s a good reason why there’s not an official summary for this fifth and final novel of the Heartstrikers series, and that the description you will find everywhere is a message to the reader from the author about how there’s no way to write a blurb for this book without spoiling all the others. That’s because it’s true. So much has happened over the course of this series, with events and revelations piled up on top of one another, that to single out any thread would be a risk to unravel and reveal more information than I want to give. So, if you’re reading this review, I’ll assume that you are at least caught up to this point in the series, and if you’re not, be aware that there are potential plot details for the previous four volumes.
Last Dragon Standing picks up right up from the events at the end of Dragon of a Different Color. But before the story starts up in earnest, readers are given a brief glimpse into the past with Bob, our favorite dragon seer, who is seen striking a bargain that will change the course of Heartstriker history forever. We are then zipped back to the present, catching up with all our key players who have all gathered around the Detroit Free Zone following the aftermath of what happened to Algonquin, the spirit of the Great Lakes. There have been happy reunions all around—with lovers, friends, family, and even enemies coming together again—and that also includes the return of a couple characters that everyone thought was dead. But the celebrations have barely begun, when a new threat comes looming on the horizon—quite literally.
As epic as this finale was though, I had some concerns. For one thing, I can see why now Rachel Aaron had to make this a five-book series to wrap things up. Don’t get me wrong, I think this final volume was absolutely required, but it irked me a little that so much of it was made up of nothing but talk. If I hadn’t been so invested in the story already, I think I would have been bored to tears, and even then, there were times where the amount of talk really tried my patience. Up to this point, each Heartstriker novel has been a lot of fun, full of action and witty banter. It saddens me that I can’t really say the same for Last Dragon Standing, because at least two thirds of it was filled with our characters doing nothing but just standing around, explaining the situation or discussing battle plans in a very dry, in-your-face tone. Not that this kind of information wasn’t important to the plot, but it still felt an awful lot like blatant info-dumping.
I also think that’s a clear sign of a book trying to do too much when you literally need to have a character chime in and explain what’s happening every single step of the way. In a sense, one of the series’ greatest strengths has become its biggest liability. I’ve always loved the incredible world-building in Heartstrikers and how every book has introduced new elements as well as bigger, badder, and more overwhelming threats for Julius and the gang to face. But now we’ve gotten to the point where the situation has ballooned into something barely manageable, and yet, we still have to tie everything together in one final volume that also happens to be the shortest book of the series.
Still, I don’t know if things could have turned out any differently. As I said before, Last Dragon Standing completes the author’s vision of Julius’ journey, bringing everything full circle back to where we began, in the DFZ. Only now, our nice dragon is no longer alone or quite so powerless. Everything has been building up to this point, and at the end of the day, getting a satisfying conclusion that addresses all questions and conflicts is probably worth putting up a few pacing issues, or having to soldier through some lengthy sections of dialogue. Also, the last quarter of the book was amazing, which went a long way in making up for the tedious talk at the beginning. It was an emotional rollercoaster, and despite feeling confident that Rachel Aaron would leave us all with a happy ending, I still got extremely nervous there for a little while.
Bottom line, as the finale of one of my favorite series, I wish Last Dragon Standing had been a little more fun to read. However, if you’ve been following the books thus far, you probably won’t be too bothered by the lack of action. While this one was mostly full of talk, all of it still went towards building up to the stunning climax. As befitting a series conclusion, the antagonist was an insurmountable threat requiring all our characters coming together to defeat, and that part of the battle was handled in a truly epic fashion. Everyone—and I do mean everyone—we’ve come to know and love in this series will have a part to play, and I really enjoyed the feel-good, fist-pumping energy in the final showdown. All in all, that ending makes this a must-read book in a must-read series, and Heartstrikers will always have a special place in my heart and on my shelves. I can’t wait to see what Rachel Aaron does next.
Audiobook Comments: Vikas Adam has become the voice of this series, and I think I’ll always know him for the incredible performances he has given for these books. He was so good that I’ll even miss his “Bob voice”, which is really saying something! I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Heartstrikers in audio; I’ve had just as much fun listening to this series as reading it, and both formats have been greatly entertaining and rewarding.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Nice Dragons Finish Last (Book 1)
Review of One Good Dragon Deserves Another (Book 2)
Review of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Book 3)
Review of A Dragon of a Different Color (Book 4)
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! For more details and full descriptions of the books, be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages.
Kicking us off this week is Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, a finished copy of which I finally hold in my hands, yay! There were some delays with the shipment of review copies, but thanks to the kind folks at Saga Press and Wunderkind PR, I got mine late last month and I devoured it like a hungry beast as soon as it arrived. Be on the lookout for my review sometime in the next week.
Up next are a couple of new ARCs courtesy of Freeform/The Disney Book Group: #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil is one I’ve been seeing around a lot in recent months, so when it was pitched to me for review, I couldn’t resist. Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes also caught my eye because I’ve become drawn to YA mysteries lately. The protagonist in this one allows her wealthy grandmother to bribe her into becoming a proper Southern debutante in the hopes of finding out who her father is, so I already know I’ll be in for an interesting ride.
Thanks to Orbit Books, I also received ARCs of a couple highly anticipated May releases! The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides has been on my radar for a while, but I only recently found out that it’s a heist story, so now I’m even more excited to read it. And then of course there’s Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan, the second book of the Gods of Blood and Powder series that he started last year to follow up his Powder Mage trilogy. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
And then there’s this little gem which was a surprise arrival with thanks to Tachyon Publications. The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas looks to be a collection, featuring “a decade’s worth of crimes, fantasies, original fiction”. I’ve only read one book by the author (I Am Providence) and I enjoyed it, so maybe I’ll check this out.
I was also beside myself with excitement when a surprise package arrived from Crown Publishing a couple weeks ago, containing an ARC of Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett! A new RJB book is always cause for a celebration, and this one sounds like it’s gonna be killer. Huge thanks to the publisher.
And speaking of exciting ARCs, a copy of Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas landed on my doorstep recently and its arrival was what prompted me to feature it for my Waiting on Wednesday post this week. After all, who can resist a book about 150-foot-tall robots vs. Nazis? The publisher also sent me The Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan, the third book of the Draconis Memoria series, but of course, I still need to catch up with book two, gah! Soon, I hope. With thanks to Ace Books.
And at last, the third book of The Queens of Renthia is here! The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst will round out the trilogy, promising a dramatic finale (and a bloody one too, if the trend from the previous books continues). Speaking of, the publisher also included paperback copies of the first two volumes, The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen, in the package, which was so awesome of them! My thanks to Harper Voyager.
And finally, thanks to Pyr Books for this finished copy of Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson. I’m looking forward to reading it, and also thrilled to be hosting an author guest post and giveaway sometime later this month, so be sure to keep an eye out for that!
On to the digital haul, from NetGalley I didn’t hesitate to snag an eARC of We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix as soon as I saw that it was available; the author’s books are always a lot of fun, so I have pretty high hopes for this one. I also couldn’t resist Brief Cases by Jim Butcher because I never want to miss anything to do with Dresden Files, one of my favorite urban fantasy series. I’ll even read this anthology, even though short stories aren’t generally my thing. I was also sent a widget of Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering, and even though this book is nothing like what I would normally read, I nonetheless decided to give it a try since the publisher description intrigued me. With thanks to Quirk Books, Ace Books, and Atria Books, respectively.
I was also sent an eARC of Scream All Night by Derek Milman from Balzer + Bray via Edelweiss. My thanks to the author who got in touch to let me know about the book! I hadn’t known about this Young Adult horror before, but after finding out more about its premise, I really want to read it now.
And in the audiobook pile, I was pretty psyched to get a listening copy of Circe by Madeline Miller, courtesy of Hachette Audio, after hearing all the wonderful things about this book. Finally, from Macmillan Audio, I requested Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young. I tried as hard as I could to resist this one, but then caved hard after reading Tammy’s rave review at Books, Bones & Buffy!
The following is a list of my reviews posted since the last update, along with this week’s highlighted read. The distinction, without a doubt, belongs to The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (5 of 5 stars)
Head On by John Scalzi (4.5 of 5 stars)
The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus (4 of 5 stars)
Glimpse by Jonathan Maberry (4 of 5 stars)
Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel (3.5 of 5 stars)
Star Wars: Last Shot by Daniel José Older (3.5 of 5 stars)
What I’ve Read Since the Last Update
Here’s what I’ve managed to “unstack” from the TBR since the last update. Stay tuned for more reviews!
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!