Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Moontide Quartet
Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Date of Publication: September 27, 2012
Author Information: Website
Books like Mage’s Blood are extremely hard for me to review, and not least of all because the many comparisons of this to A Song of Ice and Fire are mostly appropriate; this first book of the Moontide Quartet is a sprawling epic indeed! Still, I’m of the mind that George R.R. Martin’s epic series stands uniquely on its own…but then so does David Hair’s. It would be impossible for me to go into every single thing I liked about this book without having to talk about why, because that would just lead to lengthy explanations into the details of the plot, and if I did that this review will end up being thirty pages long with half of it made up of spoilers. Obviously, we can’t have that.
Suffice to say though, this book has it all: nations at war, clashing religions, political intrigue, mages and sorcery, multiple points of view. Yuros and Antiopia are two lands long separated by vast ocean. But every Moontide, the seas part to reveal the magnificent mage-crafted Leviathan Bridge, allowing trade and communication between the two continents. Unfortunately, the passage is also a source of much bitterness and conflict. The last two Moontides have involved crusades of conquest, thanks to the lofty ambitions of the Magi.
Now another Moontide is at hand. As the time draws nearer, the people on both sides prepare for war. Antonin Meiros, a mage of great renown (in fact, it was he who was the intellect behind the Leviathan Bridge) seeks a new wife, and travels to Lahk to wed Ramita. Ramita, however, is already betrothed to the hotheaded Kazim. In another part of the world, Elena Anborn has pledged her life to protect the royal family of Javon, fighting off the assassination attempts and conspiracies masterminded by her former lover Gurvon Gyle, who works for powerful political enemies. Meanwhile in Noros, Elena’s nephew Alaron prepares for his mage finals. But during the presentation of his thesis, he unwittingly proposes a dangerous topic that could mean the end to his hopes and dreams.
Everything and everyone is connected in this massive and intricate web that David Hair has woven. The scale of both setting and story are vast. The continents involved here encompass various nations, many of which are described here with great thought and detail. Their populations, including their cultures, languages, religions, rituals and even food and styles of dress are given the same exacting care. This is a world where both magic and theology form a strong basis for society, and it is diverse.
At the same time, readers will find there is much that is familiar in this fantasy world of Urte. Most of the nations and cultures in this book bear marked resemblances to those in our reality — even when it comes to religion and geography. The nature of this brought to mind a recent discussion I had with a friend, regarding settings in various epic fantasies and how he usually preferred fictional worlds that he can imagine as our own earth, whereas I tended to prefer the opposite. Needless to say, a book like Mage’s Blood can appeal to both camps. As well, even I can admit that real-world historical and cultural influences in a fantasy setting can add a lot to a story, a prime example being Jacqueline Carey’s original Kushiel’s Universe trilogy which remains one of my favorite series of all time.
With a book so massive which features a cast so big, it was perhaps no surprise that the first quarter of Mage’s Blood is the most demanding of the reader. The different characters and their story lines are cleanly organized and separated by chapters, which is why this is my favorite format for epic novels. Nevertheless, it makes for a slower start, when an author has to cycle through the perspectives while introducing all the main players, and the first couple hundred pages were dedicated to this task. Patience pays off though, as the book finishes setting the scene and gradually builds up momentum in the middle chapters. This is the meat of the story, and it is amazing how David Hair manages keep all the plates spinning at once, giving each character and plot thread the attention they deserve, while also meticulously bringing them all together so that they eventually form a much bigger picture.
As Mage’s Blood features an ensemble cast, obviously I had my favorites (the notable example being Ramita and her story with Antonin Meiros) while others were not as interesting to me. Each person has an important role to play though, and this was made clear by the climax and the ending, which is in a word incredible. It is a conclusion that is positively incendiary, leaving me wondering what else the author has in store. As the series name implies, Mage’s Blood is only the first in what is meant to be series of four books, and as such there is much left wide open for huge things to come. However, at the same time David Hair has wrapped things up in a way that is straightforward and satisfying, without any abruptness. I think this is a far rarer skill than people realize.
I have a feeling a lot will be happening in The Scarlet Tides. Mage’s Blood may have been encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up to the story, which I honestly don’t think could have been avoided. I suspect, however, that we will jump right into the action with the sequel. I’m excited, and can’t wait to see where things will go.
Series: Prequel to Midnight Thief
Publisher: Lion’s Quill Press
Date of Publication: September 12, 2013
When I first saw the intriguing description for the upcoming book Midnight Thief, I just knew I had to check it out. But with a release date of summer 2014, it was going to be quite the wait. So it was a pleasant surprise when I was contacted by the author and asked if I would like to read and review the book’s prequel novella, Poison Dance. Needless to say, I eagerly accepted; I hadn’t even known there was a prequel, and thought it would be an excellent opportunity to catch an early glimpse of the world and get a taste of the writing style.
Now that I’ve read it, I’m just as excited if not more for the first book of the series. Livia Blackburne first described Poison Dance to me as “darker, and heavier on the romance” than Midnight Thief, and probably leans more towards adult fantasy than young adult. She’s absolutely spot on, as those are all things I picked up from this novella. It stars James, a skilled assassin who is approached one night by Thalia, a dancing girl who offers him a job to kill a powerful nobleman. And if he won’t take it, she is determined to go through with it all the same, with or without his help.
I’m typically very picky about my short stories and novellas; characters always come first in my reading, so I find the fewer pages there are in a story, the more challenging it is to make me grow attached to or form a connection with the protagonist. However, Poison Dance impressed me immediately, painting a clear picture of who James is in a very short period of time. I also found out later that he will only be a supporting character in Midnight Thief, but that just makes me think: how much more awesome will the characterization in that book be, if even someone in the supporting cast like James gets this much thought into his back story? Livia Blackburne obviously puts a lot of care and effort into her world and characters, and if what I saw in Poison Dance is any indication, I’m sure it’s going to pay off.
This novella sets the tone nicely, and gives a good general background for the world in which the series will take place. I didn’t expect too much world building, but what is there definitely piques my interest. If Poison Dance is meant to build up my enthusiasm and fuel my eagerness for Midnight Thief, then its mission was most certainly accomplished.
At the beginning of each season, I come up with a personal reading list apart from those books to-be-reviewed. I started ever since this summer, when I saw how organized it made me and how efficiently it managed to whittle down my TBR (70%+ completion rate!) Yet I’ll admit, I was terrible with following my Fall reading list, just absolutely, pathetically dreadful (33% completion rate).
And I can’t even blame NaNoWriMo for a lot of it, though that one month of wild, literary abandon did take a huge bite out of my reading time. More likely though, is that I simply let my leaning tower of books get away from me once again. Seriously, that thing has a mind of its own. Every time I look away, I swear it grows by several more titles.
A lot of the books I didn’t get a chance to read last season ones I really wanted to get to, so for Winter, they are coming back, along with some new additions. And this time, I be more realistic with the numbers. Here’s my nice and neat metaphorical stack of audiobooks, ebooks and physical books all on hand and ready to go. See anything that looks interesting?
The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult
Publisher: Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Publication Date: January 7, 2013
Author Info: www.amaliehoward.com
Wendy’s Rating – 3 of 5 stars:
Riven is a military general in command of technologically advanced undead soldiers called Vectors. When we first meet her, she has defected and is being hunted by her former charges before she “everts” to our planet to follow through on her mission: find a boy named Caden.
The prologue gives you a taste of what’s to come with a strong, resourceful and deadly main character and a lot of action, but once we hit earth, things stagger. First of all, there’s the problem of this crack soldier who fails to notice that her target is actually in the science class she’s been attending for some time. Fortunately, she has an accident that leads her to his doorstep. From there, there are some interludes where more time is is inexplicably spent in highschool, rather than Riven dealing with the delivery of her package. Then there is a lot of time spent running away from and/or fighting the Vectors that have been sent to retrieve him, with the help of several other people from her planet, including Riven’s sister, Shae. While each encounter includes some very well-scripted fight sequences, the quantity of said encounters becomes tedious and the information that results from each one could have been delivered more quickly, rather than dragged out through the first half of the book.
Fortunately, once the story gets to Riven’s planet of Neospes, things pick up significantly. The descriptions of the technology and the dystopian alternate sort of earth are great and I was intrigued by some of the politics, however, the pay off that we’ve been promised kind of fizzles out. Still, on Neospes, we meet a lot of potentially interesting characters and the intricate political plots involving Caden, his ruthless father and his brother Cale whom Riven is trying to save, and Riven’s father, the heartless creator of the Vectors.
Riven is a hard and fast soldier, intent on her mission, but Caden brings out another side of her that she doesn’t quite know how to deal with. Riven’s character growth, from a truly unlikeable character to, well, an almost girl, is very well done. Because of her involvement with Cale, it’s not surprising that she falls for Caden’s tenderness, skill and his handsome face. Unfortunately, there’s very little to make Caden likable, or to explain why he’s interested in her, or ultimately, why he actually would be worthy of the role Riven expects of him.
With thanks to NetGalley and Strange Chemistry for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Rage of Kings
Publisher: Angry Robot
Date of Publication: December 31, 2013
I have not had the pleasure of reading Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampire Chronicles yet, but hearing about how those books have earned the author the nickname “Tarantino of epic fantasy” has gotten me mighty curious. Being compared to the great QT is high praise indeed! How then could I possibly say no to The Iron Wolves?
This book has it all: bloody fight scenes and explosive battles, psychopathic villains and twisted, gritty anti-heroes. Oh, and mud-orcs. Mustn’t forget the mud-orcs. Needless to say, I am happy to report that Andy Remic’s title is well-deserved; we’re talking no-holds-barred dark fantasy, of the faint-of-heart-need-not-apply variety. We’re talking graphic violence, explicit sex scenes, and a truly astounding number of decapitations within these blood-soaked pages.
If this sounds like your kind of novel, then you’re in for a real treat. Andy Remic has taken the classic “gather your party and go forth on a quest of epic proportions” objective, and so generously wrapped it all up for us in a nice grim package. To stop an invading army of horrors, the great general Dalgoram sets out across the land to reunite his band of veteran warriors for one last stand. Having been estranged for years, the members of the Iron Wolves have all either fallen on hard times or have turned to lives of deviance and corruption. But together again, they find they can transform their shared curse into something so much more.
By the way, my description of “twisted, gritty anti-heroes” was in no way an exaggeration. With perhaps the exception of the old man Dalgoran, I was hard pressed to name a single admirable soul in this group of vile, despicable Iron Wolves. But that’s what I signed up for so I can’t complain too much, especially since Remic delivers exactly what was promised. The only downside I could see to this is finding enough to set some of these characters apart, which gets a little difficult when almost all of them are defined by broken pasts, foul mouths and violent tendencies.
Also as I’ve noted before, at times a novel’s “epicness” can be something of a double-edged sword, as it can do a number on pacing. This story stumbles a bit due to the sheer size of the cast and their multiple points of view, especially when a couple more Iron Wolves are still being added to the mix at about two-thirds of the way through the book. As maniacal as they are, I wish we’d gotten a chance to know Zastarte and Trista a bit better, though I think this will mean a much smoother ride for the next installment now that the scene has been set and all the introductions have been made.
Speaking of which, I’m excited about book two, and if you’d seen that ending, you would be too. I have to say I felt the final showdown scene was over way too quickly, though this probably had less to do with the pacing and more to do with how much I enjoyed the climax and conclusion. Andy Remic is in his element when it comes to writing big battles and fight scenes, and he graces this book with a lot of them. It would be easy but disingenuous to brush them all off as an excuse to provide gratuitous violence, because I actually found many of the scenes of war and fighting to flow and fit exceedingly well within the context of the story.
After all, this is The Iron Wolves, folks. A great choice for readers looking for a stronger, headier kick to their heroic fantasy, just remember to steel yourselves for the unlimited energy and madness this book will unleash upon your lives!
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Throne of Glass
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Date of Publication: November 5, 2013 (audiobook)
It’s not often that a book catches me off guard, but this one sure did. Sometimes, the mood for a particular type of story or experience will strike me out of the blue, making me seek out the sort of book that will satisfy the hankering. At the time, what I felt like reading was a traditional young adult fantasy, complete with action and intrigue, a kickass heroine, a thrilling love triangles and all that goodness. I was pretty confident that Throne of Glass was going to deliver all that and more when I first settled back with the audiobook, and yet nothing could have prepared me for the way it swept me off my feet.
A year into her imprisonment and forced labor at the salt mines of Endovier, convicted assassin Celaena Sardothien is hauled before the Crown Prince and offered a chance to reclaim her freedom. The conditions Prince Dorian offers her are simple: act as his champion in the king’s upcoming competition to find a royal assassin, win, serve the kingdom for four years, and then she will be free.
However, the trials set up to prepare Celaena for the competition are challenging and brutal, and her opponents are all hardened, dangerous men. Chaol Westguard, the guard captain overseeing her training, pushes her hard and keeps her isolated from much of the court activities. Still, she cannot help but be drawn to him, much as she is drawn to the prince. Things get more interesting — and unsettling — when one by one, the other champions turn up dead, savagely ripped apart by someone or something unnatural. Celaena fears the killer will come for her next, ending her hopes before she will even have the chance to win her freedom.
I admit, I was a bit worried when I first met Celaena. I can take sassy, confident and badass young adult heroines, but what gets on my nerves is arrogance. And Celaena happens to have it in abundance. It’s not that her vanity is uncalled for; in fact, she’s quite the talented young woman, having all the looks, the smarts, the moves. But I could have done without her proclaiming her greatness every chance she gets.
Obviously, something changed my opinion of her at a later point, otherwise I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book so much. But more on that later because first praise needs to go to the narrator Elizabeth Evans whose voice work was exceptional, perhaps doing the job too well. Her delivery of Celaena’s lines were all spot on, nailing all the boastfulness and arrogance of her character. It’s really amazing how a good narrator can bring out the full gamut of a protagonist’s personality, for better or worse.
Definitely for the better, once I eventually warmed towards Celaena. Beneath the arrogance lies a lot more than I’d given her credit for, a much greater complexity. She’s really not as invincible as she thinks she is, and deep down I think she knows this. It cast her determination and her strength in a whole different light for me, and in time I grew to like her and want to see her succeed. I’m still not completely sold on the love triangle between her, Prince Dorian and the Chaol Westfall, but at least I desperately wanted to see her win the king’s competition.
And speaking of the competition, what a complete 180 it did on my emotions! Here I was, thinking that it’s just like the fantasy version of a reality-TV-show-type game where the champion with the worst performance gets booted out and goes home each week. That’s how it started off, but by the end I was completely enthralled, especially over the final duel scene. It’s good that audiobooks don’t allow you to easily flip forward to the end of a chapter to find out what happens like you do with a book, or else I would have been sorely tempted to spoil the outcome for myself. It was just that intense.
Like I said, I really didn’t expect this book to be this gripping and full of surprises. The beginning of it led me think it was going to be an average book, but gradually it built up both the story and the characters to make this one close to a five-star read.
Genre: Science Fiction
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: May 2011
Author Info: whatever.scalzi.com
Wendy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars: Scalzi’s approach to science fiction is so refreshing and fun and he perfectly captures human nature at its best and worst.
I’m three books into my love affair with John Scalzi’s writing. He is clearly a master of snark, which his main characters wield with deadly precision. And who better to narrate the book than Wil Wheaton who does a great job of capturing the masterful way Scalzi uses tone to deliver his characters and their message.
Things are perhaps a little too perfect for Scalzi’s characters. They always seem to get the huge win in the end as a result of their mostly well-orchestrated plans and ability to adapt to any situation. I suppose this could get tedious after a while if it truly is a constant in his books, but for now I’m content with the all-loose-ends-tied-up results where the little guys win as a result of the characters actions. I’m even okay with the neon sign moral that appears in the epilogue of each book.
In this case, the little guys are actual little guys. Fuzzy cat-sort-of creatures that befriend Jack Holloway on the planet where he and his dog have just discovered a huge vein of sunstones, which are going to make Jack and the company he is/was contracted to, very, very rich. It becomes a case of big corporation against possibly sentient creatures and Jack, the disbarred lawyer with questionable motives.
While Jack is not a likable character and by no means tries to be a likable person, the fuzzies are, and before long, unsurprisingly, their survival became very important to me. I did not, however, expect to spend most of their fight for survival inside a courtroom when the story became Law & Order in space. That’s not a complaint. Scalzi’s approach to science fiction is so refreshing and fun and and he perfectly captures human nature at its best and worst.
Genre: Horror, Paranormal
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Ragnarok Publications
Date of Publication: September 7, 2013
Ragnarok Publications is a publisher newly founded in 2013, but I’d heard of them prior to receiving a copy of Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love. These are the amazing folks behind the Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters anthology Kickstarter, which was successfully funded this fall and quite possibly one of the coolest projects I’ve ever backed! It was thus an honor and a pleasure to be offered a chance to read and review their inaugural title by Mercedes M. Yardley.
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Series: Book 2 of the Hellbound Trilogy
Publisher: Rethink Press Limited
Date of Publication: June 25, 2012
I’m not sure if I mentioned this in my review of the last book, but I really enjoy when authors explore theological themes and make old religious ideas feel fresh and exciting in their books. I think my interest in theology and religious themes stem from my background. It also may have a little something with me being a history geek as well. When writing heavy religious themes, especially when adding many unique elements, I often find that I think the writer is either trying too hard or not trying hard enough. I can be very particular about this, and for that reason, that’s why I’m pleased that this series has continued to entertain me.
I Am Satan is the continuation of Michael’s journey through Hell, the second book in Tim Hawken’s Hellbound trilogy. After the events of the last book, Michael is now Hell’s new caretaker, and he is not pleased. This displeasure doesn’t just come from his new role as Satan, even though it is part of the reason. In the last book, Michael learned some harrowing truths about God, Satan, and how he fit into this master plan. These new truths, along with his primary motivation (love) compel him to vow that he’ll get his revenge by building an army.
This book was more of a slow burn for me than the last one. In the first book, there was so much being introduced and so much going on as Michael and Satan traveled around Hell. There was much more mirth in the beginning of that book mostly because of Satan (the old Satan, I should say). The last part of the first book sort mellowed more into introspection, and that same feeling continues in this book. Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t any action or that this book is only thought-provoking prose. There’s plenty of action to be had, but in a way, it feels like the story ripens as Michael matures in his journey.
Even with all the knowledge Michael gained in the last book, this book reinforces that there is still more for him to learn. There was more emphasis on Michael’s learning process and exploring the idea of things like time, destiny (which I really liked Hawken’s take on that) and emotions, which is spun in refreshing ways that can give a reader pause to think about these things. I appreciated that Michael didn’t suddenly become this super being with all this unfathomable power just because he’s the new Satan.
Michael is set to rebel against his fate and create his own by amassing knowledge. In the last book, he’d made great strides with learning how to control things such as the elements. There are still many things he has to learn in order to challenge what he’s expected to do and take the fight to heaven, however. Then, there’s the added fact that Michael’s thirst for revenge, the fact that he’s holding hard and fast to hatred, is starting to shape him physically into something sinister, a demon. In Hellbound,going to Heaven is presented as a choice for Hell’s denizens which is a twist on the universal reconciliation idea. For some people, though, they decide to wallow in their sins, and they eventually become the avatar of the sin they hold to firmly.
Michael is starting down that path, but feels it will be worth it to save his love and forge his own destiny.As I stated in my last review, destiny is seen as something that isn’t linear. There could be many possible ways for a person to achieve their ending fate. This second book took that a step further and played with the idea that there are many final outcomes that could be achieved in a innumerable amount of ways with some outcomes being more likely than others. It doesn’t state that destiny doesn’t exist more so than it’s tempered with many external and internal factors.
With that in mind, Michael does have a clear goal for what he wants to achieve, how he wants to challenge his “fate,” but the road to achieving this is full of funny twists and turns.
Michael isn’t the only person who keeps this story running. There’s a colorful cast of characters that you’ll love and hate who help to round out Michael’s journey. Hawken added a few of The Bible’s more infamous characters to the story, and he even toyed around with some elements of The Divine Comedy, which I think I was expecting this to be some take on that poem originally and it turned out to be much more than that.
Hawken’s writing can invoke very vivid imagery, especially if you’re a highly visual person who can easily get lost in descriptions and ideas. The prose definitely pops. There were parts of the story that felt a bit too convenient and tidy in the midst of what was going on, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the book. I think this was a strong follow-up to the first book, and I’ll be bumping the last book, Deicide, higher on TBR pile because I have to see how this all ends.