Book Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

Parasite by Mira Grant

Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

Series: Book 1 of Parasitology

Publisher: Orbit

Date of Publication: October 29, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars – “Not as suspenseful as I’d hoped and I 
couldn’t connect with the main character, but the premise is interesting and
 the book still holds a huge fun factor.” 

Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire has wowed me before with her work, more specifically, with the book Feed in her Newsflesh Trilogy. I confess my deep love for zombie goodness, which is why I was so excited when I got my hands on Parasite, her new novel that appears to contain similar horror/thriller themes. Due to several factors, though, it turned out that wasn’t able to get on board with this one as much as I’d hoped, but I did very much like the subject. Tapeworms, how deliciously creepy!

The book takes place about a decade into the future, where medical science has taken a great leap forward with the development of a genetically engineered tapeworm. Brilliant scientists at SymboGen Corporation have figured out a way to modify this parasite so that it would live in mutualistic symbiosis with humans. Our bodies give the tapeworm a place to live, and in turn it boosts our immune systems, secretes drugs and medications, protects us from illnesses, allergies, and all that good stuff. Within years, almost everyone on earth has one of these implants living within them.

We are then introduced to Sally Mitchell, our main character who woke up six years ago after being diagnosed as brain dead following a horrific car accident. Her recovery has not been complete, however. Despite being a young woman on the outside, Sally/Sal has in essence only been alive for six years because she cannot remember anything of her life prior to her accident. She woke up a complete blank slate, and had to relearn everything like language, social behaviors, and even basic things like how to eat. Nevertheless, SymboGen touts her as a miracle, crediting their tapeworm implant for preserving her life.

Sticking things into our bodies that don’t belong there has never turned out well in these kinds of stories though, especially when they’re parasites that scientists have tinkered with. Which brings me to my first thought — that this book would have been better and more suspenseful if the science aspect had been stepped up a bit. On the one hand, being an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy means that I am no stranger to suspending my disbelief; pretty much anything can go in this genre, as far as I’m concerned. However, there’s also much to be said about authors who can use science to create nightmare scenarios that are so realistic that even their most outlandish ideas can seem convincing. Books like Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park or Timeline, for example, are fun to read for this reason. The research in them are at a level where I can actually entertain the thought of their stories being possible.

This wasn’t something I could do with Parasite. Admittedly, I may have been a little over-critical of its premise because of my background in biology, but I think most readers with a basic knowledge of microbiology or genetics will also find some issues with this book. There are not a lot of explanations when it comes to the tapeworm, you just have to accept that things are the way they are. It’s definitely not a deal-breaker, but not being able to picture this story as a realistic situation does lessen the suspense somewhat. But not unlike those crazy made-for-TV disaster movies you see on SyFy, Parasite is still a lot of fun.

Sal’s character, however, was a whole other matter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: main protagonists are so important for me, and not being able to like them or connect with them makes it harder for me to enjoy a book. First of all, I found it hard to believe that Sal is at such a high level of proficiency when it comes to social behavior and language, considering she started from scratch only six years ago. Beyond that, her personality is also like that of a spoiled brat who thinks she knows everything.

In some ways, I understand that Sal is supposed to be a little naive, being technically just six years old and all. But I’ve lived almost five times that and I’ll still be the first to admit there’s just so much I have yet to learn, and Sal’s self-centered attitude really got on my nerves, along with her apparent disdain for authority figures. Sometimes, I wondered if I would have enjoyed this book more as a Young Adult novel, because then the premise and the main character’s attitude would not have felt so out of place.

I suppose Sal’s history also excuses her for not being all that discerning, or for not having the best judgment of people and situations. I don’t think it’ll take long for most readers to guess the ending to this book; personally, I was able to predict the “twist” by the halfway point (and I don’t think I’m the most perceptive of readers either) but it’s something Sal only manages to figure out in the final few pages, significantly lessening the effect of the cliffhanger. If any suspense still remained for me at this point, the conclusion pretty much negated it and made me realize that perhaps this book just isn’t for me. For a future Mira Grant fix, I will probably pick up Deadline and return to the Newsflesh Trilogy. Tapeworms are interesting, but I think I like her zombies a lot better.

2.5 of 5 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

YA Weekend: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Date of Publication: September 27, 2011

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars – “Sensual, dark and bewitching, this book had me inexorably hooked by its beautiful prose and passionate tale of forbidden romance”

Let me just start this review by saying how glad I am to have finally picked up this book! Now that I’ve finished reading it, I can’t help but wonder just what on earth had kept me waiting so long. It also just occurred to me that 2013 has been a great year for me when it comes to Young Adult paranormal fantasy novels featuring angels.

The interesting thing I found about Daughter of Smoke and Bone is that it really reads like a book with two distinct parts. The first part introduces us to our main protagonist and narrator Karou, a blue-haired young woman studying at an art school in Prague. Her sketchbooks are filled with drawings of chimeric monsters and other fantastical beings, which all her friends think are the products of an excessively-active imagination. None of them know the truth, that the strange creatures are in fact all very real, and Karou is a very special girl. In her secret life she runs mysterious errands for her foster family, led by the demonic looking Brimstone, the chimaera whose shop opens a portal between two worlds.

But then around the world, burned and blackened hand prints begin appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged figures that witnesses can only describe as angels. Thus we meet Akiva, one of these beautiful, angelic strangers, who happens to catch sight of Karou while she was on one of Brimstone’s errands. In my eyes, the moment they clashed heralded the beginning of the second part of the story, told mostly in flashbacks and memories. It’s a shame that I can’t really say more, because this to me was where things started getting really good. I won’t spoil the book, but I will bring attention to the opening lines, which I think sums things up nicely:

Once upon a time,
an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well.

Two words: forbidden love. I’ll admit I have a weakness for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always appreciated having a little romance in my reading, but I generally don’t go all sentimental and lose my head over mushy stories of star-crossed love. But Forbidden Love will do it. Every. Single. Time. I am such a sucker for all that comes with it, the ache and longing, the clandestine meetings and the inevitable tragedies. I swear it should be like a genre in itself! Something about books like this make me get all tingly inside, and then everything else just fades away as I become inexorably hooked.

The second half of Daughter of Smoke and Bone did just that to me. The first half was pleasant enough, but I did not feel the connection to this book until Karou and Akiva finally meet and their relationship is explained, the intricacies of their story peeling away gradually, layer by delicious layer. Normally I think I would be repelled by this style of story-telling with all the time jumping and perspective switching, but somehow the author makes it work.

It helps of course that Laini Taylor writes oh so beautifully. The intensity and passion in the romance is almost palpable, due in part to her wonderful prose. Also, when she’s not enchanting me with her rich and detailed descriptions of the city, she is making me smile with the bright and spirited personality of Karou. As to the former, I loved that this book takes place in Prague, the perfect setting for a story like this about myth and magic. Everything comes together to create a mood that is all at once sensual, dark and bewitching.

This book, especially with the revelations contained in its final chapters, completely captivated me. Yes, my penchant for this kind of love story may have a lot to do with it, but at the same time, the beauty of the writing as well as the sheer amount of creativity and inventiveness behind the book’s premise cannot be denied. I don’t often feel the urge to jump right into the next installment of a series, even for books I’ve really enjoyed, preferring to take breaks in between. But I didn’t want to wait for this one. Even as I write this, a copy of Days of Blood and Starlight is now in my possession and waiting to be read, and I am very much looking forward to starting it next.

4.5 of 5 stars

Book Review: Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

Genre: Pulp, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Dinocalypse Trilogy

Publisher: Evil Hat

Date of Publication: May 2012

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars – “Pure escapist pulp fiction, very entertaining and fun!”

This book went straight onto my to-read pile earlier this year, for two main reasons: first, because I love Chuck Wendig, and second because…well, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with any book with a title like Dinocalypse Now!

It wasn’t until I was halfway through reading this book that I started to do some research and found out a little more about its background. Crowd-funded through Kickstarter in 2012, Dinocalypse now is based on Evil Hat Productions’ Spirit of the Century role-playing game, which is set in a 1920s/30s-era pulp adventure world. With this information in mind, dare I say, this wild ride featuring jetpacks, talking gorillas, psychic dinosaurs, and ancient Atlanteans finally all came together for me!

It begins when a group of heroes calling themselves the Century Club are brought in to prevent the assassination of FDR, only to find that the president isn’t the target — they are! Though, what comes next is actually a threat to the entire planet as King Khan the ape conqueror storms this world through a dimensional portal, leading his vast army of primates and dinosaurs. Now it’s up to the Centurions to stop him and save the world! 

I won’t lie, I was very much entertained by this book. It is escapist fiction that captures the pure, unadulterated spirit of pulp. Given how characteristics like bigger-than-life heroes, beautiful women, high adventure/action in exotic places, and evil diabolical villains are the hallmarks of this genre, it wouldn’t be wrong to say Dinocalypse Now is all about sensationalism over substance, but I still can’t deny I had a lot of fun.

Picture a kid with an overactive imagination in a toy store, and the stories he can come up with in his head if he played an elaborate game of make-believe while surrounded by miniature buildings, animal plushies, plastic dinosaurs, action figures and toy weapons. You’ll probably get something like this book. Chuck Wendig probably had a blast writing this.

In a sense, it’s likely that the sheer absurdity of this book will also be its greatest appeal. I am completely aghast but also delighted by this its craziness and eccentricity. There is a place in my heart for books that are just completely out there and don’t take themselves seriously, and while I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Chuck Wendig’s other novels, this was still a good one to pick up to pass the time.

3 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Cure by Douglas E. Richards

The Cure by Douglas E. Richards

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Forge

Date of Publication: September 17, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars – “A wild ride, with genuinely unexpected plot twists and a bold driving pace; perfect for fans of techno-thrillers who enjoy a unique blend of science and suspense”  

Douglas E. Richards is known for his mind-bending science fiction thrillers that are a touch different from the mainstream variety, not to mention a penchant for throwing in unexpected twists that will leave you reeling. I finally got the chance to experience Richards’ work for myself with his newest techno-thriller The Cure, and it appears that his knack for storytelling has not been exaggerated.

But first, readers should be aware that the prologue contains extremely graphic and brutal violence. I had a very hard time getting through it myself, and was tempted to skip the entire scene all together. However, as abhorrent as it was, this section served its purpose — we are introduced to the main character Erin Palmer, whose entire life was shaped by a severely traumatic experience with a psychopath when she was just eleven years old.
Now a grad student, Erin has dedicated much of her life to studying and trying to understand psychopathy. When her research attracts the attention of neuroscientist Hugh Raborn who contacts her with a possible treatment and ultimately a cure for the condition, one would think Erin would be over the moon. And yet, she is troubled by the ethical implications of a such a revolutionary scientific breakthrough, not to mention her suspicions that Raborn isn’t being completely honest with her.
Then, enter the HUGE twist. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time during the first third of this book scratching my head trying to figure out where the “science fiction” aspect comes in with regards to the plot. Granted, the author gets innovative and very high-tech when it comes to the science and medical theory, but up to this point, The Cure came across as more of a suspense-thriller. Suffice to say, everything changed when Richards drops a huge bombshell, at once giving me my sci-fi fix and taking the story in a direction I never would have seen coming in a million years!
For obvious reasons, I can’t say much more pertaining to this development without revealing any major spoilers, and really, where would be the fun in that! If the book’s plot sounds intriguing to you though, I do encourage you to check it out; albeit I admit I was initially skeptical over this new turn of events, they gradually grew on me. By the end of the revelation I was at least curious enough and willing to go along to see where Richards will take me, and it’s a good thing I did because the rest of the book can only be described as one wild ride — and emphasis on wild. If nothing else, this twist has definitely piqued my interest in the author’s other books.
When first faced with the driving pace and unique blend of suspense and science in The Cure, one of my earliest thoughts was that Douglas E. Richards’ style reminds me very much of the late Michael Crichton’s. It also came as no surprise when I finished the book and did some further reading to discover that many others have made the same comparison. The writing took some time to get used to, since at times it was awkward and seemed almost didactic in nature, but it is clear Richards knows what he’s talking about. I am no molecular biologist like the author, nor am I well-versed in fields like quantum physics or psychology, but he took some very complex theories and made it straightforward enough to make the story compelling, and for me to understand that there is a lot at stake.
The book wraps up nicely, which is astounding in light of the widely different subjects involved as well as multiple twists in the plot. The story is suspenseful, audacious and a lot of fun, especially if you’re a fan of the kind of science-fiction thrillers by authors like Crichton or Douglas Preston. Once in a while, a book like this comes along and shakes up my reading list, which is something I can appreciate, and on top of that, it gave me plenty to think about.
 4 of 5 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Audiobook Review: Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

Genre: (Urban) Fantasy
Series:  The Craft Sequence #2
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Author Info: www.maxgladstone.com

Wendy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars: I never thought I’d love books where lawyers and big corporations are the (sort of) good guys.

The god wars effected Max Gladstone’s incredibly rich world in many ways. In the first book in The Craft Sequence, Three Parts Dead, we learned about the death of a warrior goddess and what the hollow form that remained after her resurrection meant to those who loved and worshiped her in Alt Coloumb. Two Serpents Rise takes us over to the desert city of Dresediel Lex, where the storm god was defeated, and water is now supplied by Red King Consolidated.

Caleb Altemoc works for RKC. His first task in the book is to investigate the poisoning of that water supply. And by poisoning, I mean someone infested it with sharp, pointy demons. Aside from that inconvenience, he has to deal with the fact that the number one suspect is his own father, a former high priest of the deposed gods, now a terrorist. And Mal, an enigmatic and beautiful cliff runner who is almost impossible for Caleb to catch. Oh and the giant hungry serpent gods who are threatening to wake up.

You don’t necessarily have to read 3PD, but it does help establish the world and the way gods and worship work, which is what I fell in love with about this series. Gladstone’s gods serve an actual purpose, as in, a storm god keeps the reservoirs filled, while a god of fire heats a city and a goddess of war defends it. Their power is not limitless, though. They require worship and faith, and in the case of the old gods of DL, they required sacrifice. RKC brought an end to this, but if you’re going to depose a god that waters the desert, then you better know how to bring the rain.

I never thought I’d love books where lawyers and big corporations are the (sort of) good guys. 3PD followed a lawyer’s investigations into the death of a god, while Caleb is a risk assessment manager with a penchant for gambling. I love the way Gladstone works in the intricate details of business plans, mergers and contracts literally signed in blood, combining it all with his unique form of magic, the Craft. The use of Craft takes an interesting twist through Caleb, who is no Craftsman, but thanks to his dear old dad, is not without ways to defend himself.

I love the world of the Craft Sequence. It is so thrilling and unique that I simply refuse to try to categorize it into the many fantasy sub-genres others try to poke it into. I love that, thus far, the stories are separate enough from each other than I can hope for many more adventures from different aspects of this world, including points of view from the gods themselves.

On the downside, I listened to this as a very disappointing audiobook. I love the Craft Sequence enough to tolerate it, but the narrator was not particularly good with pacing and inflection at the right times. He often sounded like he was whining when the character just wanted to make a point. And worst of all, many of the characters, particularly the females with whom Caleb often had lengthy conversations, sounded much like Caleb, making things very confusing. For this reason, the characters weren’t as compelling and endearing as they should have been.

Story: 4 of 5 stars

Narration: 1.5 of 5 stars

Waiting on Wednesday 11/20/13

“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!

Wendy’s Pick

The Barrow by Mark S. SmylieMarch 4, 2014 (Pyr)
By being in the right place (Goodreads) at the right time, I discovered that the Artesia prequel story my friend Mark Smylie is writing isn’t a comic, but an epic new fantasy.

“To find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map.

When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they’ve struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place.

Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin’s sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross-section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, brought together by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books, or get them all killed.”

Mogsy’s Pick

Red Delicious byCaitlín R. Kiernan: February 4, 2014 (Roc)
I’m really looking forward to this sequel to Blood Oranges! This is one wild series by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney. Siobhan Quinn is definitely not your run-of-the-mill urban fantasy heroine. Not at all. 

Half-vampire, half-werewolf Siobhan Quinn survived her initiation into the world of demons and monsters. But staying alive as she becomes entangled in underworld politics might prove to be more difficult. When the daughter of a prominent necromancer vanishes, it’s up to Quinn to find the girl. But her search will land her directly in the middle of a struggle between competing forces searching for an ancient artifact of almost unimaginable power…” 

Cover Lover

After successfully getting my profile up to a comfortable 87% with NetGalley, I said I would not get any more ARCs for the year, but further to my book haul of denial, I’m clearly not good with my personal promises and resolutions. These two books from Angry Robot popped right out at me because, well, just look at them. Look at them! I try to resist, but sometimes, I’m a sucker for a gorgeous cover and a pretty face. Fortunately, so far, I’ve not been disappointed.

Book Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Falconer

Publisher: Gollancz

Date of Publication: September 26, 2013

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars – “Starring a spirited heroine living a double life, this paranormal fantasy about the Fae is a lot of fun and has me hooked”

I was initially drawn to The Falconer thanks to that striking cover. Just absolutely gorgeous! And then I read the book’s description and saw that the story was no slouch either. A mix of paranormal fantasy and historical fiction, the Fae, and a spirited heroine made this one sound very inviting.

It is Scotland and the year is 1844. A year has passed since Aileana Kameron was found standing over the dead body of her mother, covered in blood. Everyone thinks she has something to do with it, but Aileana knows the truth. It was a faery who killed her mother and ripped out her heart. 
Now all Aileana wants is revenge. As a result, she lives a double life, pretending to be interested in frivolous things like dances and dresses when making her appearances in high society, but when the light fades she goes out hunting. Night after night, she tracks and kills Fae, using the skills learned from her mentor, Kiaran MacKay. Kiaran, who is a faery himself, has his own reasons for wanting to see his own kind dead, but Aileana doesn’t care, not as long as their goals align…and as long as she doesn’t get too close.
Despite bits of historical context hinted here and there, the setting didn’t actually feel like historical fiction to me. Or very Scottish, for that matter. Elizabeth May has pretty much created her own world in The Falconer; the place and time period don’t matter all that much to the story anyway, but the light flavor of steampunk is a nice touch. The world is filled with all sorts of wonderful contraptions, like tea dispensers and floating lights, and Aileana is something of a tinkerer, designing and creating weapons and even her own flying machine.
Aileana herself is a great character, as fiery and determined as that amazing cover makes her out to be. When it comes to female protagonists in paranormal fiction, she ranks amongst the best I’ve ever met, mostly because she comes off as able and intelligent rather than irritating in her conviction. However, if I had to pick a favorite character in this book, the honor would go to her pixie sidekick-like companion Derrick. I loved that humorous, honey-guzzling little guy! 
I also didn’t realize until after I finished reading that The Falconer has been categorized as Young Adult. I suppose in retrospect, the book contains quite a few trappings of the genre, but honestly, they didn’t jump out at me at the time. Aileana is 18 years old, but her experiences have made her older than her years, and even the story’s love triangle, which I usually dread, was bearable because it wasn’t quite like a real love triangle. Even as a YA novel, I feel The Falconer has excellent crossover appeal.
My final thought, and perhaps also a warning, is that this book ends in a cliffhanger, perhaps one of the more infuriating ones I’ve encountered in recent years. The final scenes with Aileana and Kiaran against the Fae threat were so intense and suspenseful! And when I saw that there were still quite a pages left in the book, I got all anxious and prepared for the conclusion to be revealed…only to find out that the last chapter was actually a Bestiary. Arrrggh! 
So bravo, Elizabeth May, you have me hooked. Some might say The Falconer is pretty standard in terms of paranormal fantasy, but so help me, it was a fast read and such good fun.
4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book via a giveaway hosted by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wendy’s Book Haul: Shopping Spree

I recently made some silly statement about new year’s resolutions and how I was not going to buy any more books in 2014. My TBR pile is too high and I must get through those first before I succumb to further flirtations from BookOutlet and Amazon. Apparently, my resolution plans do not take into account all the goodies I’ll end up scoring between now and year’s end….

I ended up at BookOutlet after Mogsy’s five star review of Starhawk, but sadly, they did not have any other books in Jack McDevitt’s Academy series. But I couldn’t very well leave the site without checking my wish list and oh look at all the books available: Shade’s Children, Path of Beasts, In the Night Garden and King of Thorns in hardcover are now miiiine.

…Saving $47 on books I didn’t intend to buy? Priceless (well, maybe not…)

Then, less than an hour after placing that order, a belated birthday present arrived – a gift certificate for Chapters. I pre-ordered Words of Radiance, which felt right after my The Way of Kings bookflail and then went all in on making 2014 the year of The Witcher.

Book Review: Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams

Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Tower and Knife Trilogy

Publisher: Jo Fletcher

Date of Publication: October 25, 2012

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars – “Gorgeous writing and strong characters in this intriguing sequel; you won’t want to miss this”

The Tower and Knife series continues with Knife Sworn, and the second book is as full of magic, intrigue and beauty as the first — if not even more so! One might be tempted to stop with The Emperor’s Knife, its story having wrapped up so nicely at the end after all, with Sarmin coming into his own and the Pattern Master vanquished forever. But trust me, you won’t want to miss this.

The events at the end of The Emperor’s Blade saw Prince Sarmin free at last, taking his place on the throne after years of being locked up in a tower. Mesema, the girl sent from the horse tribes is now his wife and empress, and has just given birth to a boy. However, Sarmin’s own mother the Empire Mother Nessaket has also just recently borne a son, throwing the matter of succession into question. And as the first book has shown, too many boys with royal blood at the palace has always led to bad news.
On top of this, Sarmin has been suffering from memory lapses and getting pressure from his advisers to name a new royal assassin, or a knife-sworn. He’s also just received an unwanted gift of a harem of concubines, which he suspects is actually harboring a spy. There are only a few people close to Sarmin he can trust, and with the births of the princes and the arrival of a Yrkman peace convoy, they become more important to him than ever before.
First and foremost of these characters is Grada, whom we met in The Emperor’s Knife and has since become one of Sarmin’s closest companions and his trusted investigator. I mentioned in my review of the first book that out of all the points-of-view featured, my favorite one was Mesema’s. In Knife Sworn, she takes on a less central role, but in her place Mazarkis Williams has given us the narratives of three other women, all strongly characterized and well-written. I’ve already mentioned Grada, whose complex past and warring emotions made her the most interesting person in the book. There’s also Nessaket, who was almost a villain in my eyes in The Emperor’s Knife, but in Knife Sworn I actually sympathized with her. And finally, my favorite character in this book was Rushes, the slave girl who instantly endeared me to her with her good heart.
Mazarkis Williams’ writing is also in a league of its own, invoking such powerful and vivid imagery. It has been many, many months since I read The Emperor’s Knife, but I still remember a certain scene involving blooming flowers in the desert, which Williams had brought to life with exquisite attention to detail. The writing was simply beautiful, and it is even more so now in Knife Sworn since the storytelling has become cleaner and more robust. It’s the prime reason why I enjoyed this sequel even more than the first book; in The Emperor’s Knife I sometimes found myself lost in terms of which character I was supposed to be following or trying to figure out where I was. I experienced none of that here, in the smooth flowing pace and structure of Knife Sworn.
The author has also ramped up the intrigue. If that was your favorite part of the first book, you will not be disappointed here. Conspiracies, secret agendas and betrayals abound, with twists thrown in. Almost everyone can be seen as a friend or a foe, depending on whose perspective you’re following. I read this book much faster than I expected, because I wanted badly to see what certain characters would do. 
The only thing I would have liked to see more of in Knife Sworn is the magic. Specifically, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more about how it works; the first book introduced a very interesting system involving relationships between mages and spirits, and it was one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever come across in fantasy. Mages didn’t play as big a role in this one, though with the emergence of a new magical threat to the empire, I hope the third book will offer a deeper and more detailed look at the magic of this world. 
On that note, The Tower Broken will be coming out very soon! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

 4 of 5 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.