Friday Face-Off: Seasonal

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:

“Ho, ho, ho!”
~ a SEASONAL cover

Mogsy’s Pick:

The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice

I’m not a big reader of “seasonal” or “holiday” books, and since I already featured Joe Hill’s NOS4R2 in a previous Friday Face-Off, this week I’m going to have to once again bend the rules a little with a book I’ve not read before. Somehow, I just never found the time to get to The Wolves of Midwinter, even though I read its predecessor The Wolf Gift and thought it was decent enough. The story, obviously, takes place around midwinter, and promises a Christmas like no other…

Let’s take a look at the covers:

From left to right:
Knopf Hardcover (2013) – Anchor Paperback (2014)

 

Chatto & Windus  (2013) – French Edition (2014) – Portuguese Edition (2014)

  

Spanish Edition (2014) – Polish Edition (2014)

 

Winner:

None of these covers are real standouts this week, but if I had to go with the one I like the most, it would probably be the Knopf Hardcover edition.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

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Book Review: The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone

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

The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (December 4, 2018)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Following The Hatching trilogy, Ezekiel Boone returns with another sci-fi horror thriller, this time delving into the world of artificial intelligence by tackling an idea I’m sure most of us who utilize smart technology devices and AI assistants have entertained at some point or another. Every day my Amazon Alexa spectacularly fails at interpreting my voice commands is another day I can sleep easy knowing that humanity’s takeover by robots is still a long way off, but what if, day by day, we are getting closer? Imagine a next-generation virtual assistant whose personality can not only pass itself off as human, but is also completely integrated with all the functions of a house. This is the basic premise of The Mansion, which features a highly advanced computer program called Nellie.

Nellie can do everything from adjusting the temperature to calling you an Uber, but she can also predict your wants and needs, hold realistic conversations, and be a constant companion so that you don’t ever have to feel alone. But there is also something wrong with her programming. Even from the beginning, her development was problematic, which is why her creators shelved her and developed Eagle Logic instead. Years later, Eagle Technology has taken off and surpassed even Apple, Google, and Microsoft, but for CEO Shawn Eagle, the dream had always been Nellie. He’d set her up in an old refurbished mansion that has belonged to his family for generations, and for a time, things were going marvelously.

But then came the accidents. The deaths. Knowing he is in way over his head, Shawn turns to his former friend and colleague Billy Stafford for help. A brilliant programmer, Billy was the real brains behind Nellie, and the only one now with any hope of fixing her. The problem though, is that the two had a falling out years ago, just before Eagle Technology became successful, when Shawn’s girlfriend Emily decided to leave him for Billy. Now Shawn is a billionaire and Billy is a recovering alcoholic just barely scraping by, but even with the bitter resentment still lingering between the them, both men realize how badly they need each other. With this deal, Shawn will finally get Nellie working the way he wants, while for Billy and Emily, who are now married, it will mean the end of all their financial concerns. All the Staffords have to do is live in Eagle mansion long-term while Billy works on ironing out Nellie’s bugs—a simple request, which turns out to be anything but. As her husband is drawn deeper into the mysteries of Nellie’s code, Emily becomes more and more disconcerted with the AI’s erratic behavior and the eerie sensation that there’s more to the house than meets the eye.

Overall, I thought The Mansion was an enjoyable read, though it is not without its bevy of flaws. First of all, the ideas here aren’t anything new, and together with Boone’s heavy reliance on well-worn thriller and horror tropes, these issues held the novel back from meeting its full potential. Also, while this is very different from The Hatching trilogy in terms of the themes and story, I feel the books all suffer from many of the same pitfalls. One is the author’s tendency to info-dump, as well as a long ramp-up to the actual meat of the story. For instance, the first few chapters are mostly filled with character backstory, laid out like a laundry list. Plot points are introduced, then are either dropped or not carried through to their conclusion. By the end, quite a few questions were also left unanswered. Now that I’ve finished the book and have the benefit of hindsight, I can see that these and other signs of disorganization were everywhere, and I can’t help thinking that much of the novel’s first half could have been pared down or scrapped completely to remove the unnecessary parts and redundancy.

To Boone’s credit, however, he has a style that feels cinematic and it makes his writing very readable and the story easy to fall into. The Mansion was very obviously inspired by The Shining (more the movie than the book, is my impression), and the influences are there, with some that are so blatant they can’t be anything else but a homage. As you can imagine, some of these allusions end up being a double-edged sword, and sometimes, rather than transport me into something akin to Kubrick’s classic, the book instead leaves me feeling like I’m reading a cheesy novelization of some B-list film on the Syfy channel. That said, what I did like about the story was this idea of a “high-tech haunted house”, blending elements from both science fiction and the paranormal, two genres that normally do not make such good bedfellows. Flashback chapters were also done very well, especially those showing us some of Shawn’s harrowing memories from his childhood. Moments of insight and other highlights such as these were what kept me reading, leading me to cut the book a lot of slack despite the pacing and plot issues.

In the end, I might have enjoyed this more than The Hatching. My criticisms aside, I can’t deny Ezekiel Boone has written an entertaining story, even if it does feel messy at times. Overall, The Mansion is undeniably flawed in many respects, but I still give it a 3.5 for its interesting concept and for being an easy, popcorn-y read.

Waiting on Wednesday 12/19/18

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!

Mogsy’s Pick

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (May 7th, 2019 by Knopf Books for Young Readers)

I have a feeling this will be a popular Waiting on Wednesday/Can’t Wait Wednesday pick today since the cover was recently revealed. The premise sounds a bit goofball to me, but after the brilliant collaboration between Kaufman and Kristoff on the Illuminae trilogy, I’d be curious to see whatever the two of them will come up with. Aurora Rising takes place in a new and unrelated universe, but from the sound of things, it will be the start of another incredible space operatic adventure.

“The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the academy would touch . . .

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates 
A smart-ass tech whiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger-management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem–that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline cases, and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

NOBODY PANIC.”

Book Review: The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

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

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 5 of The Invisible Library

Publisher: Ace (November 27, 2018)

Length: 433 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

If there’s one thing I can say about The Invisible Library series, it’s that I can count on the books being consistently solid and entertaining. That’s why I always look forward to picking up the next installment, and that was most definitely the case too with The Mortal Word.

In this fifth volume of the series, the war between the Fae and Dragon-kind is heating up. Attempts to broker a peace treaty are jeopardized when a high-level dragon is found stabbed to death, and naturally the dragons are quick to point the finger at their sworn enemies, the Fae. Our protagonist, the time-traveling, parallel-worlds-hopping, book-stealing Librarian agent Irene Winters, is thus tasked to get to the bottom of who committed the murder before the situation can devolve any further.  Joining Irene on the investigation is also Vale, her talented detective friend, along with some backup from dragon prince and former Library apprentice Kai.

Meanwhile, the peace talks must go on. As a representative of the Library, Irene must oversee the meeting with the eye of a neutral mediator, as well as ensure that the process goes smoothly. However, someone is bent on disrupting the talks with poisoning and deadly sabotage attempts, causing even more trouble for Irene and her team. With the stakes so high, anything can happen now to tip the fragile balance between Order and Chaos, potentially threatening the fate of countless worlds connected to the great interdimensional Library.

Somewhat breaking with tradition, this installment does not involve much book stealing or hunting. Instead, granting Irene one of her long-held childhood dreams, Genevieve Cogman sends her protagonist sleuthing in an entertaining and wonderfully executed murder mystery plot. It was quite a treat to see Irene relish in this role, which includes plenty of new responsibilities requiring her to exercise different talents and skills. But it’s not all fun and games as our girl learns that with leadership also comes accountability and all the pressures that come along with it. Worse, her new position plunges her into the complicated world of Library politics, and more than once, Irene is forced to pit her own professional standards against her loyalties and natural instincts to follow orders.

By following a more traditional mystery plot, however, this book also features a more conventional storyline as well as a less elaborate and flamboyant setting. Compared to The Lost Plot, the previous novel which transported readers to a world reminiscent of the American Roaring Twenties complete with fedora-wearing, tommy gun-toting, jazz-listening gangsters, the worlds of The Mortal Word seemed downright tame. However, Cogman knows balance. The areas of character development and relationship dynamics are where this one shines. As a Vale fan, I was very happy with the prominent part he ended up playing in this novel. I was also pleased with the attention given to the bond between Irene and Kai, especially given the all the recent challenges they’ve been through together. I also loved how the story made more room for characters like Lord Silver, as well as some truly fascinating Fae figures like the countess or the princess.

All told, this was another exciting and fun-filled romp through the myriad worlds of The Invisible Library along with my favorite Librarian spy, and I particularly enjoyed the elements of mystery and intrigue that featured so strongly in The Mortal Word. The combination of humor, adventure and the constant pleasure of not knowing what to expect always makes picking up an installment of this series a special treat. Every book is a surprise, and I’m eager to find out where Genevieve Cogman will take her fans next.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Invisible Library (Book 1)
Review of The Masked City (Book 2)

Review of The Burning Page (Book 3)
Review of The Lost Plot (Book 4)

Book Review: Abandoned by W. Michael Gear

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

Abandoned by W. Michael Gear

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of Donovan Trilogy

Publisher: DAW (November 27, 2018)

Length: 448 pages

Author Information: Website

Talk about being late to the party. W. Michael Gear has been a name in science fiction for a while, though I only read him for the first time a few weeks ago with Outpost, the first book in his Donovan trilogy that took me completely by surprise. By the time I finished, I already had the sequel in hand and ready to go, so for once, I wasted no time in diving in.

Abandoned takes readers back to Donovan, a colony planet that humans have been trying to tame for the last thirty years. Despite the settlers’ best efforts, Donovan’s wildlife has continued to hold back any real development. Over time, the colonists have come to accept the dangers and learned to adapt to the planet’s harsh environment. But now, a Corporation ship has arrived to take stock of the situation, making the people of Donovan nervous, worried that their way of life is now being threatened. When we last left things in Outpost, things were in a state of flux, with high tensions between the new arrivals and the original Donovanians. And space travel being as risky as it is right now, it’s not even certain that the Corporation ship will be able to make the return trip home to the solar system.

Some familiar faces return, while some new characters are also introduced. Representing the planet’s hub of Port Authority is Security Officer Talina Perez, the de facto leader of the Donovan colonists. Keeping the peace in her town has gotten a little more difficult since the new Corporation settlement has been established nearby in the south. Leading them is Supervisor Kalico Aguila, a rising star in the Corporation, until she made what she figured was the biggest mistake of her life by asking to head this mission to Donovan. Her head of security is now dead, forcing her to rely on the hotheaded and volatile Lieutenant Deb Spiro instead, whose aggressive way of doing things is stirring no small amount of trouble with the people of Port Authority. Resident troublemaker Dan Wirth is back as well, taking advantage of the Donovanian’s libertarian ideology to set up a casino and brothel, fleecing the naïve colonists for everything they have. A ruthless killer, he’s also found that it’s much easier to get away with murder on a planet like Donovan.

As if all this excitement wasn’t enough, this sequel also shines a light on a third faction—the people of the wild. The first book touched upon them briefly, but Abandoned finally gives us a chance to see how these rogue settlers really lived. A new perspective character enters the scene in the form of Mark Talbot, a Marine who didn’t really mean to desert, but it seemed Donovan had other plans for him. Following the crash of his ship and death of his companions, Mark stumbles upon a group of hardy women and their children who have been maintaining their own secret farm settlement in the wilderness. Rebecca, Su and Dya harbor strong animosities towards Port Authority and want nothing to do with the other colonists and the Corporation. They heal Mark and take him in, and before long, he becomes a part of their family.

If there is one message that this book sends, it is that Donovan changes people. Talina, a long-time local, was one of the first to figure this out and accept that there’s no set of rules to follow when it comes to surviving on this planet. Those who come trying to conquer it with rigidity and order are often the first to die. This is a fate that nearly befalls Kalico Aguila, before she was forced to admit she’s in way over her head. Of all the characters in this novel, Mark Talbot was probably the most affected by Donovan, followed next by Aguila. Of course, she wouldn’t be a Corporation supervisor if she didn’t involve herself in some manipulation and scheming, but overall, I was glad she didn’t turn out to be as horrible as once thought.

But then, of course, there are the people who don’t change, but simply get better at hiding their true colors. This is Dan Wirth in a nutshell, though his part was relatively lowkey in this installment, to my slight disappointment (yes, I actually wanted to see him cause more trouble!) The role of main villain was instead hoisted upon Lieutenant Spiro, and boy, was she a piece of work who quickly became the most hated person in the series.

In a way though, Gear’s handling of the characters and the fact they are always shifting, evolving is why I am enjoying these books so much; this is very much a human story involving the triumph of the will to survive, despite the trying circumstances. You gotta love how much the Donovanian colonists take pride in their home, even though it has killed so many of them. Amazingly too, the planet itself feels like a character in its own right, taking on its own life and personality. Donovan’s strange fauna and flora are key to this perception, the way the story describes them as constantly pushing back attempts to domesticate it. And speaking of which, this interaction between Donovan and the human settlers also gets a bit of attention, revealing some of its inner workings which are truly alien in its nature. We get a lot more information about the lizard-like creatures called quetzals, which may yet play a larger role in the understanding of the planet.

But most notably, this volume did not really touch upon the subject of the ghost ship that suddenly appeared back in orbit (which felt like a glaring oversight, considering the big deal that was made of it back in the first book), nor did it go into the mystery of why more and more ships were getting lost in space, though I suppose the author needs to save at least a few aces up his sleeve for the big finale.

All in all, I have to say Abandoned was a sequel that does what sequels generally do—that is, continue the threads established by the previous book while adding some more to expand the world-building and further build upon the plot. On the whole, the novel accomplished this in all the right ways, and I couldn’t be happier with the direction of this trilogy.

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

YA Weekend: The Darkest Star by Jennifer L. Armentrout

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

The Darkest Star by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance

Series: Book 1 of Origin

Publisher: Tor Teen (October 30, 2018)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I feel like this book and I could have gotten along better, had I known more about its background and context. Or maybe not, because in essence, this kind of paranormal YA romance is generally not my bag at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize what kind of book this was until after I started; nevertheless, I still gave it my best shot, but in the end, I simply couldn’t connect to either the characters or story.

The Darkest Star, while being the first book of a new series, is a spin-off marking Jennifer L. Armentrout’s return to her Lux universe, and one of her side characters from it, called Luc, gets the spotlight in this one. Co-starring with him is our narrator, seventeen-year-old Evie Dasher. The story begins as Evie and her friend sneak into a club that’s known to be friendly to both humans and the alien Luxen. Although it has been several years since the end of the war between the two species, some of the tension and hostilities are still there.

At the club, Evie meets Luc, whom she is sure is a Luxen, since he is by far the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. But as it turns out, he is much more—and to Evie’s confusion, he appears to know a lot about her and her family. No matter what she does, everything seems to lead back to him. And now there is a murderer on the loose, and among the victims is one of Evie’s classmates. The manner of death suggests that the perpetrator may be a Luxen, which is causing no small amount of fear and anti-alien sentiment at Evie’s school.

To the author’s credit, she has written a spin-off that can be enjoyed on its own without having read the main series. I knew nothing about the Lux universe before I started, but at no point did I feel lost or out of my depth, despite the frequent references to characters from the previous books or events in the past. That said, I got the impression that world-building wasn’t too deep to begin with, which was why learning the ropes was so easy. Character development also felt perfunctory, as nothing really sets Evie apart from your generic female teen protagonist from any number of YA paranormal romance novels. Luc fared even worse. I didn’t have the advantage of knowing him from the original series, but something tells me that if I had, I probably wouldn’t have even picked up this book. Luc was a grade-A asshole from the moment he meets Evie, but apparently, she’s okay with forgoing all her self-respect and dignity as long as the dude is hot as sin.

Books like this and Twilight are reasons why I tend to stay away from this genre, it’s just not my cup of tea. Everywhere I turned, I seemed to encounter another pet peeve, including the dreaded annoying pet nickname that the guy gives the girl, despite her repeated protestations to not call her that. I mean, how hard is this to understand! It is NOT cute. It is harassment that would earn you my boot up your ass. But again, we’re back talking about Evie, whose policy when it comes to guys seems to be “you can get away with being a cad as long as you look great without your shirt.”

The plot was also ludicrously contrived. It’s got one of those third-act twists that’s not actually a twist because anyone even mildly paying attention could have predicted it coming a mile away. The murder arc with the mysterious killer also felt tacked on, because it was clear that Evie and Luc’s burgeoning romance was the only story this book wanted to tell.

So if you enjoy YA paranormal fiction where the romance is the focus, then The Darkest Star is a book you might want to take a look at. Unfortunately, it was just not to my personal tastes. Even if I were to find myself in the mood for this kind of novel, I would have preferred a bit more originality and better characters beyond the usual cookie-cutter variety. This was good for a light read, but nothing about it really stood out or helped it be memorable. I’m disappointed, because Jennifer L. Armentrout is an author I’ve wanted to try for a while, but now that I know more about her writing style, I probably won’t seek out any more of her work.

Book Review: Mass Effect: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente

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

Mass Effect: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In

Series: Book 3 of Mass Effect: Andromeda

Publisher: Titan Books (November 6, 2018)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Although we’re here to talk about a book, no discussion about Mass Effect: Andromeda: Annihilation would be possible without at least acknowledging the fan response to the game it was based on, which many found unremarkable, if not disappointing. Speaking as someone who adores the Mass Effect franchise, even I have to admit that Andromeda—while arguably not as terrible as everyone says it is—was still probably the weakest in the series, failing to meet the high expectations set by the original trilogy in terms of both storytelling and character development. Furthermore, by the end of the game, there were many plot threads left hanging and questions unanswered, and sadly, it has been announced there will be no more downloadable content to follow up on any of this, at least for the foreseeable future.

Luckily, this is where the tie-in novels come in. Mass Effect: Annihilation finally addresses one of the game’s biggest mysteries, and not only that, they’ve tapped an incredible author to do the honors. And if Catherynne M. Valente’s name being attached to the project isn’t enough to get you excited, then surely the prospect of finding out the fate of Quarian ark will, for this story takes us aboard the Keelah Si’yah, a colony ship carrying twenty thousand souls, all cryogenically frozen, on their way to their new home in the Andromeda galaxy. Though the vessel is of Quarian origin, on board are colonists from many of the other non-council races, including the Drell, Elcor, Hanar, Volus and Batarians. With still a long way to go before they reach their destination, however, a Sleepwalker team is alerted by the ship’s AI to strange readings on many of the Drell cryopods. To their horror, they find the pods’ occupants dead, infected by some unknown virus.

Before long, it is determined the deaths are no accident. The pathogen begins to jump species, affecting colonists that are not Drell. Then, many of the ship’s systems start to fail. Someone aboard the Keelah Si’yah is sabotaging their mission on purpose, and what’s more, this killer seems to know their way around the ship. With the situation becoming more desperate, the Sleepwalker team must put their differences aside and work together before time runs out.

In general, tie-in novels are tough to review, but I will say this: those who enjoyed playing Andromeda and wanted to spend more time in the game’s world will likely be happy with Mass Effect: Annihilation. However, those who aren’t familiar with the Mass Effect universe will probably be left unsatisfied. While all the books in the series have been standalone so far, my feeling is that at least some background knowledge of the games is required, or else this one is going to be very confusing.

To her credit, Valente clearly knows her way around the Mass Effect universe, but she is also writing with the assumption that the reader has played Andromeda and is already aware of much of the game lore. For one thing, the characters in this novel are aliens. Mass Effect features some of the best aliens in any science fiction franchise, but the truth of the matter is, you can’t fully appreciate them unless you have played some of the games. Sure, each species has a unique charm and their own personality quirks, but admittedly none of these would be all that entertaining or helpful, if what you’re seeking is a deeper connection to the characters. A lot of books starring non-human protagonists will feature lots of character development to compensate, but this one relies on the reader having that prior knowledge.

Where Annihilation really excels though, is its mystery plot. As circumstances get increasingly more desperate for the Sleepwalker crew, we see each character step up and lend their particular skills and talents to the problem. Like any good investigative team, they’ve delegated their tasks to make the situation more manageable, so that they can attack the three most pressing issues all at once, which is find the killer, cure the disease, and repair the failing ship systems. The result is that the story ends up being one-part murder mystery, one-part medical suspense, and one-part tech thriller—in other words, not a bad combination at all. My only complaint is the lack of action. Previous novels in the franchise have done a better job capturing at the action-adventure and combat feel of the games, but that’s just my personal impression. We get some action short bursts here and there, but the bulk of the book is brainstorming and discussion, and lots of it. Some of this provided great build-up and intrigue for the mystery, but again, those new to Mass Effect might find the lengthy scenes of deliberation and dialogue tedious.

In spite of everything though, I really enjoyed this book. Annihilation is another great addition to the Mass Effect novel series, featuring quality writing and storytelling that proves once more how far the media tie-in, as a genre, has come. Unless you know the Mass Effect universe or are a mega-fan of Catherynne M. Valente, I don’t know how much you’re going to get out of it, but it’s definitely a must-read if you love the games.

 

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Wendy’s Review of Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising (Book 1)
Tiara’s Review of Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising (Book 1)
Mogsy’s Review of Mass Effect: Initiation (Book 2)

Friday Face-Off: Crown

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:

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”
~ a cover featuring a CROWN

Mogsy’s Pick:

King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

I had never read Raymond E. Feist before King of Ashes, but I found it to be a satisfying read, if a bit old hat at times. The book opens on the aftermath of a bloody battle. 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, and now every single member of his family is being put 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.

A fallen kingdom, a lost heir…it all sounds a bit too familiar, doesn’t it? But what about the covers? Are they going to fall victim to “generic-ness”? Let’s take a look at our contenders this week:

From left to right:
Harper Voyager (2018) – HarperCollins UK (2018)
Bulgarian Edition (2018) – French Edition (2018)

 

 

Winner:

Since I’m not really big on the “here’s a weapon/piece of armor” motif for epic fantasy covers, there was really no contest this week! My winner happens to be a beauty too.

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell

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

Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 4 of Spellslinger

Publisher: Orbit (December 4, 2018)

Length: 432 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

In my review of the previous book, Charmcaster, I noted how certain patterns seemed to keep popping up repeatedly in the storytelling. However, as I was reading Soulbinder, all I could think of was how Sebastien de Castell must have had the same concerns as I did on the direction of this series, because it seemed he did everything he could in this one to shake things up and make the story as unpredictable as possible again, even going as far as to make light of some of the repetitive patterns from the previous novels.

Needless to say, this time the introduction did not parallel the opening chapters of the previous books, although once more, the novel opens upon a scene of our protagonist Kellen and the squirrel cat Reichis struggling to survive another attempt on their lives. Such is the life of an outlaw, after all. Still, instead of Ferius Parfax charging to the rescue with her bold tricks and fiery words, this time the Argosi adventurer is nowhere to be found. And instead of barely managing to thwart their attackers and get away, this time our heroes wind up beaten and broken, lying in the hot desert sands waiting for death to claim them.

But when Kellen wakes up next, his elation at having survived is short-lived. He finds he has been kidnapped by a cult of monks afflicted with the cursed Shadowblack, who have spirited him away to their Ebony Abbey hidden in the snowy mountains. Worse, when they took him, they also left Reichis behind, leaving our protagonist all alone in a strange place.

No Ferius. No Reichis. You’d think I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book as much, since our beloved trio has been split apart, but nothing could be further from the truth. I loved Soulbinder, which might be the best installment since the first one. This is the book where it is truly Kellen on his own against the world, where his resolve is fully tested. Without the support of his friends, he must rely on only his own wits and skills, applying all that he has learned since leaving home to figure a way out of his predicament. As much as I love Ferius and Reichis, even I must admit a story like this was a long time coming, because readers needed to know just how far our boy has come.

That’s not to say Kellen doesn’t find help from other sources, some of them quite unexpected. It turns out there is more to the Ebony Abbey followers who have stolen him away, and among them, he makes a few new friends and allies. What’s more, we get to learn a lot more about the Shadowblack, which our protagonists and his companions have been trying to find a cure for since the beginning of the series. But what if there was more to the condition? For the first time, Kellen is willing to consider the possibility that there might be something more to the so-called curse, which means we are also one step further along on his journey to self-acceptance.

It would be hard to read this book and not to feel proud of him, watching him confront his demons and decide his own future. Having grown up in a society of labels and where one’s place in the hierarchy is everything, Kellen coming to grips with his new life as an exile was a huge turning point. Now he’ll have another challenge before him as he determines once and for all how to deal with his own family, from the father who has given up on him to the sister he doesn’t know if he can trust. Without Ferius to guide him, or Reichis to fight with him, Kellan is forced to follow his instincts and place priorities on what matters most. In some ways, this makes Soulbinder the most telling and important books in the series thus far, revealing all of our protagonist’s inner feelings and conflicts.

And so, if you’ve been following along and enjoying the Spellslinger adventures, this fourth volume is not one to be missed. A great deal hangs in the balance in this book, not least of all are the lives of friends both new and old. Soulbinder is a powerful installment that sees a hero coming into his own, and it is filled with momentous revelations and pivotal actions that will surely make it one of the more memorable books in the series.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Spellslinger (Book 1)
Review of Shadowblack (Book 2)
Review of Charmcaster (Book 3)

Waiting on Wednesday 12/12/18

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!

Mogsy’s Pick

Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine (March 26th, 2019 by Thomas & Mercer)

Due to surgeries and recoveries, the publication of a few of the author’s books had to be delayed by several months. But now, the third book of her Stillhouse Lake mystery-thriller series is on track to be released in March of next year, and we also finally have an official blurb to go with the cover!

“She can’t ignore a cry for help. But in this remote hunting town, it’s open season.

Gwen Proctor escaped her serial-killer husband and saved her family. What she can’t seem to outrun is his notoriety. Or the sick internet vigilantes still seeking to avenge his crimes. For Gwen, hiding isn’t an option. Not when her only mission is to create a normal life for her kids.

But now, a threatened woman has reached out. Marlene Crockett, from the remote town of Wolfhunter, is panicked for herself and her daughter. When Gwen arrives in the small, isolated rural community, Marlene is already dead—her own daughter blamed for the murder. Except that’s not the person Marlene feared at all. And Gwen isn’t leaving until she finds out who that was.

But it may already be too late. A trap has been set. And it’s poised to snap shut on everyone Gwen loves. Her stalkers are closing in. And in a town as dark as Wolfhunter, it’s so easy for them to hide…”