Superbly atmospheric novel of bohemian Paris, and a top-flight mystery as well. The heroine, a fierce young art student, is sensitive and appealing, aSuperbly atmospheric novel of bohemian Paris, and a top-flight mystery as well. The heroine, a fierce young art student, is sensitive and appealing, and her little band of friends (a Russian heiress, a cynical French model) have stories of their own and aren't just shuttled onto the stage as side-kicks. The ending is unexpected and very satisfying. ...more
I've never met Stephanie Thornton in person, but boy, do I want to, because her brand as an author is unapologetically kick-ass women of the ancient wI've never met Stephanie Thornton in person, but boy, do I want to, because her brand as an author is unapologetically kick-ass women of the ancient world. I first became acquainted with her Empress Theodora, which I was delighted to blurb, and then went on to Pharoah Hatshepsut - but the women of Genghis Khan are the best yet. Thornton's third book "The Tiger Queens" is a knockout.
The great Khan himself is really just the framework on which the novel is hung - this story circles around the women of his reign, and what women they were. Four narrators hand the torch to each other in turn: seeress Borte who is Genghis's primary wife; brash tomboy Alaqai who is his favorite daughter; endearing Persian snob Fatima who will be absorbed into the household as captured slave and eventually councilor; and finally the silent daughter-in-law Sorkhoktani who will step up to seize the reins when Genghis's empire begins to fracture. Other women have roles to play as well: a tough-as-nails adopted daughter with mismatched eyes; a neglected minor wife whose daughter will wreak a terrible vengeance for her exclusion; a rape-ravaged princess whose madness will have unspeakable consequences for one of the four narrators. It's a complex web and an even more complex family tree; you will need to flip to the character index in the back of the book to keep track, but it's well worth it. These women are fascinating, and there isn't a weakling among them.
Mongolia itself is a character here as well: the bitter winters, the harshly beautiful steppes, the fermented mare's milk and the conical huts and the meals of saddle-tenderized stallion meat. This is a savage world, and it springs to life in all its brutal glory, terrible, tender, and tragic by turn. A highly recommended read - I cannot wait to see what Thornton does in her next book, which tackles the women of Alexander the Great!...more
One of the things I like so much about Russell Whitfield's rip-banging trilogy on female gladiators is that many of his women - including the heroine,One of the things I like so much about Russell Whitfield's rip-banging trilogy on female gladiators is that many of his women - including the heroine, the ferocious, lovely, and endearingly humorless Lysandra - take pleasure in their profession. Most books about gladiators (including my own) focus on slaves who come to the arena unwillingly, but Russell's ladies find pride, honor, and fulfillment in their dangerous career. Life is dangerous anyway; at least the arena offers them a chance at fame, fortune, freedom, and the gender-bending opportunity for pure badassery. It's a bold choice, and it works well for the first two books detailing Lysandra's rise to the top in Flavian Rome. Yet at the same time, it leaves the ironic taste in your mouth that the heroine's struggles are all happening in the name of . . . entertainment.
"Imperatrix" brings that full circle by sending Lysandra and her gladiators out of the arena and into the real world, into a battle where there are no rules of combat, no breaks for the wounded, and certainly no missio given for well-fought losers. The war against the Dacians is going badly, and a Roman commander recruits Lysandra and her force of female gladiators to soak up some of the casualties for the beleaguered legions. War in all its realities will strip Lysandra of many old friends, of her hubristic assumption that she is always right, and finally of her illusions about the honor of combat. It will also allow her to be a true champion, not just a paper champion made of applause and rose petals, but a warrior who knows death is coming in the morning and still doesn't flee - she meets it on her feet, not because an audience is applauding, but because her mission and her fellow warriors in the shield wall need her to the end.
I would not dream of saying if that means Lysandra actually dies. The final battle is grueling, hair-raising, splendidly written, and the end has a twist I did not see coming. A marvelous conclusion to a trilogy I have thoroughly enjoyed.
*Note: I am online friends with the author, but I only "met" him after reading his work. Ben Kane heard me raving about his first two books online, and virtually introduced us; I was a fan before I was a friend, and this review is completely honest....more
This is the book for you if you ever wished you could go to Narnia. The biggest hurdle to enjoying this book, however, is its protagonist Quentin, whoThis is the book for you if you ever wished you could go to Narnia. The biggest hurdle to enjoying this book, however, is its protagonist Quentin, who is frankly a narcissistic prat. He's a brilliant student with a fanboy crush on a series of books clearly based on CS Lewis's Narnia; the kid who never got over the fact that he never opened a wardrobe and found a fantasy paradise waiting to crown him king. But he does get his Hogwarts letter, finding himself accepted to a college called Brakebills which trains the gifted few in the arts of magic - but even Brakebills is a disappointment to Quentin because it's not a throne in Narnia (or as it's called here, Fillory).
I didn't care that I didn't like Quentin that much, because the world-building is so fascinating and so thorough. Brakebills and its course of magical studies is a delight; this is Harry Potter with drinking, screwing, and swearing, and if you don't care about Quentin you care about his friends, particularly the shy genius Alice. Alice and Quentin will band together with their own Fellowship (the nerd in-jokes never stop) when they find out that Fillory is real . . . but that it's a lot less PG than the books, and it will claim the life of one of their own. And just possibly make Quentin a man in the process, though you'll have to get to the next book "The Magician King" to find out more. ...more