4.5 / 5.0. Beautiful ending to this favorite fantasy fiction trilogy by Marillier. Loved both the Cara/ Badan folktale, and the conclusion to Blacktho4.5 / 5.0. Beautiful ending to this favorite fantasy fiction trilogy by Marillier. Loved both the Cara/ Badan folktale, and the conclusion to Blackthorn and Grim's journey.
Hoping the author will set other stories in this world with some intriguing characters: Conmael, the Swan Island men.
Highly recommended trilogy. PERSONAL FAVORITES: Dreamer's Pool and Den of Wolves....more
The Brush of Black Wings is not a stand alone read. A bridge story between the Master of Crows series and The Wraith Kings, this novella is best underThe Brush of Black Wings is not a stand alone read. A bridge story between the Master of Crows series and The Wraith Kings, this novella is best understood and enjoyed if read after Eidolon. Recommended to fans of both series. ...more
A dark fairytale, an excellent fairytale, a fantastic standalone fantasy novel. Uprooted by Naomi Novik took me by surprise. This December read is defA dark fairytale, an excellent fairytale, a fantastic standalone fantasy novel. Uprooted by Naomi Novik took me by surprise. This December read is definitely a favorite. It contains much of what I love in a fantasy: marvelous world-building, strong female characters, romance, strong and distinguishable magical elements, loyal, memorable friendships, action, danger, a great ending, and hmm… a different sort of dragon. Don't miss it!...more
Tower of Thorns continues the story, as Blackthorn and Grim settled in Dalriada, waiting out the seven years' bond to Conmael. They hope that troubleTower of Thorns continues the story, as Blackthorn and Grim settled in Dalriada, waiting out the seven years' bond to Conmael. They hope that trouble won't find them. Unfortunately, Lady Geiléis and her men arrive from the North seeking help from the Crown Prince. Hers is a strange story about a howling creature trapped in a tower surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. This creature's howling casts a sort of dark spell on the Lady's lands, killing animals and causing its inhabitants to suffer from terminal depression and disorientation. He has been present for almost two years, and all attempts to drive him away by ordinary means have failed. The prince consults Blackthorn and Grim, and against their better judgment they set off to solve the puzzle of the monster in the tower. Meanwhile, Blackthorn finds herself conflicted when an opportunity arises to seek revenge against the man who destroyed her loved ones and held her in his foul prison, but to do so, she feels the need to lie to Grim in case she has to leave him safely behind.
Although Tower of Thorns again incorporates a fairytale-style storyline along with Blackthorn and Grim's ongoing thread, there are quite a few differences to be found. Marillier's fairytale is not only darker than in her first book, but also more complex. The 'monster in the tower' surrounded by a thicket of thorns sounds familiar, yet it is unique. The writing has a dreamy quality at times, and yet at others, there is an earth-bound sense to it. Marillier achieves this by utilizing different points of view. Lady Geiléis provides part of that dream-like quality through characterization, as well as through her slow narrative of events leading to the advent of the 'monster in the tower.' Meanwhile, Blackthorn's and Grim's points of view, Grim's in particular, bring the reader back to reality within the boundaries of this fantasy.
The main and, most importantly, the key secondary characters involved, are on the grey side, not black and white. Blackthorn and Grim are further developed in this second book. In Marillier's hands, Blackthorn's bitterness becomes a palpable thing, however as her courage is challenged, the depth of her inner strength and vulnerabilities are revealed. Grim's emotionally devastating backstory, on the other hand, is fully disclosed to the reader in Tower of Thorns. As this story progresses, his character becomes a stronger force within this series, as well as more endearing to the reader. Hidden agendas are a theme in Tower of Thorns, ensuring that Lady Geiléis' character, unlike Oran's in Dreamer's Pool, is as grey as grey can be. She is not the only one though, because the fey, and even the monster and other characters involved in this excellent fantasy, play a double game.
The events, as they unfold, are rendered in such a way as to convey a real sense of danger to both Blackthorn and Grim. It keeps the reader wondering about that final piece to the puzzle. There are unexpected twists to the end of the fairytale, as well as to Blackthorn's plans for revenge. So that, even if the reader believes predictability will factor in, they may just change their minds once the end is reached. Highly recommended. ...more
Dark fantasy romance. Slightly unbalanced in its execution with a few slow and later sex filled sections but overall an above average fantasy romanceDark fantasy romance. Slightly unbalanced in its execution with a few slow and later sex filled sections but overall an above average fantasy romance with interesting main characters dwelling in a rich, dark magical world. ...more
Bitter magical healer Blackthorn makes a deal with a fey, the powerful Conmael, in order to escape the bowels of a foul prison. In exchange, she relucBitter magical healer Blackthorn makes a deal with a fey, the powerful Conmael, in order to escape the bowels of a foul prison. In exchange, she reluctantly vows to set aside her plans of vengeance against the man who destroyed her loved ones agrees to assist anyone who asks for her help, as magical healer or wise-woman, for a term of seven years. As she travels north to Dalriada, she is followed by a former prison mate, the hulking, silent Grim, whose only mission in life has become to protect her. Together, they settle in a cottage bordering a mysterious, magical forest and the lands of the Crown Prince of Dalriada.
In Dreamer's Pool, the first book of this fantasy series, a hardened, embittered Blackthorn helps Oran, the Crown Prince of Dalriada, find happiness with his beloved future wife Lady Flidais. Using a mixture of magic and folklore, Marillier weaves a fairytale-style story alongside that of Blackthorn's dark tale of loss, grief, and thirst for revenge. By the end of this first book, Blackthorn and Grim are established companions, not lovers. They become a team whose combined resources -- ingenuity, insight, magic, and loyalty to each other -- are admired and respected.
The story of Blackthorn and Grim in Dreamer's Pool highlights Marillier's excellent writing style, specifically in how she incorporates a fairytale about a prince fighting for his love, into a darker fantasy filled with magic, the elusive fey, and ancient Irish folklore. There is nothing common about this prince's battle though, as there are lies and twists that lead to dangers and dark magic. Blackthorn is the most interesting character in this first book, as the events leading to her devastating, personal story are slowly revealed. Her companion Grim is just as intriguing, however, although we learn enough to love his directness and loyalty, Marillier leaves the details for later. Grim, as a character and as companion to Blackthorn, becomes a grand revelation in Tower of Thorns.
Read in March, reviewed as part of overview November, 2015 ...more
The Dhai know their world as Raisa where magic is ruled by three ascendant and descendant stars: Para, Tira, Sina. Parallel worlds with identical contThe Dhai know their world as Raisa where magic is ruled by three ascendant and descendant stars: Para, Tira, Sina. Parallel worlds with identical continents and inhabitants begin merging as the fourth star Oma, the worldbreaker, ascends in one world just as another is torn apart. After 2000 years, the veils separating the worlds rip, creating doorways between them, leading to chaos, destruction, deceit, betrayals, and war.
This epic fantasy begins with a tight focus on a few characters and quickly expands as some cross paths or veer in and out of each other's lives. Lilia, a young Dhai girl with unknown magical powers crosses worlds and grows up as a drudge until coming of age and deciding it is time to fulfill a promise. Rho, a parajista Novice with hidden powers and a peaceful future prognosticated by Seers refuses to accept his destiny and searches to change it. Akhio, an ungifted, passive male becomes Kai when his sister dies. Aware that he is unprepared for the position and a political pawn, he nonetheless accepts the post in order to investigate his sister's death. Zizili, a mixed raced warmongering Dorinian general butchers her people to please her queen, and betrays her queen to protect her people. And Taigan, an immortal Omanista assassin from Saiduan and traitor to his Patron, is bound to find other Omanistas to stop the invasion taking place in his homeland. His power is rising with Oma's ascension.
The title of the book, The Mirror Empire, has a dual meaning, one of them is a spoiler, the other refers to the two parallel worlds that mirror each other: the same continents, countries, peoples, customs, make up both worlds, with each corresponding individuals' decisions resulting in different destinies for them and influencing events taking place in their separate worlds. The worlds are independent of each other, but everything changes when Oma rises. When gates begin to open between these worlds and one intrudes on the other continents, countries, people, and empires topple and powers shift.
Gender roles, gender reversal, and polyamory societies all play a big role in Hurley's fantasy. For the most part, Hurley uses gender reversal by portraying women in alpha roles. In some cases, as with the Dorinian culture, the women are brutal, bloody warriors, with males portrayed as weaker beings treated as possessions, although to a certain extent (at least so far) the men seem relatively content with their roles. Within the Dhai culture women are portrayed as smart, power hungry entities with most of the power and responsibility, while men are portrayed as passive or intellectual beings, and in few cases as partners or warriors. It's interesting that although the polyamory societies created by Hurley feel organic to the world-building across the board, at times there is a discomfiting lack of balance in the gender role reversal with powerful women that cross into the cruel realm while males seem to accept this treatment as part of the societies to which they belong -- it becomes a matter of one gender overpowering another, a weaker one because it is either naturally passive or being oppressed.
Hurley's fantasy is filled with sentient nature (in some instances beautiful and in others cruelly fascinating), intellect, and the basest of human nature. The basic building blocks for different cultures and histories can be found in this first installment, with political intrigue, ferocious warriors, violence, and destruction driving the action and pacing. The Mirror Empire is a disquieting, unsettling read. The violence is such that it quickly desensitizes the reader to shock when more comes along. I cared deeply about characters when the story began, but as it moved along it was hard to keep caring about most of them and I ended up saving my empathy for a chosen few. It's a cruel world-building, but interesting, both colorful and grim, and vibrantly involved. I couldn't put the book away and will follow through by reading the next installment....more
Where the Trains Turn by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen is a SFF novella about sentient ghost trains, an imaginative boy, a mother who prefers her life as wWhere the Trains Turn by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen is a SFF novella about sentient ghost trains, an imaginative boy, a mother who prefers her life as well as her son's be grounded in reality, and a meeting with destiny. The story grabbed my attention once I got passed the clumsy translation from Finnish to English. The narrative is austere and even with the problematic translation the story retains a heavy atmosphere. The boy, whose obsession with trains is fed by his father's, is socially inadequate with a healthy imagination. After a tragic incident, the mother eliminates everything from his life that may spark the imagination and the boy's life takes a new course. A chance meeting with destiny changes that. What made this story a great read for me were the fantastic twists that came at the end. I never saw them coming....more
"Sleep Walking Now and Then," is set in the Big Arena, a futuristic New York City, where class and financial divide are wide and marked. Residents of"Sleep Walking Now and Then," is set in the Big Arena, a futuristic New York City, where class and financial divide are wide and marked. Residents of the Big Arena will do anything to stay at the top of their game in 2060. That wider look at time, place and society is the perfect cue to the more intimate setting, characters, and motivations that come along next. Bowes' main character is Jacoby Cass, a successful playwright, director and actor whose star seems to be waning. Everything depends on the success of a new interactive production at The Agouleme Hotel in a dilapidated Kips Bay neighborhood. The hotel's original owner and two deaths, one of them a suspected but unproven murder, are the inspiration for Cass' play.
Bowes mixes up the future (2060) with the past (1890s and 1960s) through the play's dialogue, descriptions of the hotel as the set, and the actors' wardrobe. Atmosphere is grand throughout the story. Greed, egos, staging details, as well as the "anything for a hit" show business attitude are also easily captured by Bowes. The above mentioned and the idea of having the public become part of the play (imagine an interactive play set at the Algonquin), became more a focus for me than the murder mysteries. The end fits the story, characters, and attitudes perfectly.
Richard Bowes is a favorite author. Through the insights and knowledge of New York City, past and present, found in the body of his works it quickly becomes evident that the City is an intricate part of the writer, just as the writer has become part of the City. In my opinion, one of Bowes' biggest talents is the subtlety with which he infuses his New York City tales with fantasy. I again found that subtle touch in "Sleep Walking Now and Then." ...more
I am familiar with Dale Bailey's short works through his contributions to Asimov's Magazine. His novelette The End of The End of Everything is not nomI am familiar with Dale Bailey's short works through his contributions to Asimov's Magazine. His novelette The End of The End of Everything is not nominated for any awards that I know of, however, in my estimation it is one of the best I read in February. Think of a dystopian earth where everything in the world is slowly dying from a sort of darkness, described as ruin, that is killing everything it touches: man-made structures as well as all living things, including man. When a couple moves to an exclusive artists' colony with a friend, his latest wife and her child, they find the wealthy, famous, and semi-famous indulging in end-of-world free-for-all dissipation and suicide parties that result in carnage. A mutilation artist becomes the ultimate horrifying temptation for the main character, a philandering poet who questions the mediocrity of his life.
This story has excellent sff elements that are utilized throughout the story as a whole. The central character works as both the focus and narrator, and the world-building although murky in its inception, is clear enough for the story's purpose. This novelette, however, is sff/horror, one that is filled with the kind of violence, blood, and mutilation that is horrifying and truthfully not for everyone. That aspect of the story did not bother me personally. What this very well-written, fascinating novella was missing for me, was a real representation of the psychological torture that the living should have been experiencing. Instead everyone is portrayed as very sophisticated and for the most part clinically detached. Yet, this novelette stayed with me and I will probably reread it. There is so much going on in this story that I may have missed something.
Check out that great cover illustration by Victo Ngai. ...more
Of the SSF short works I read in February, my favorite was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2014 SFF novelette The Devil in America, a free online read at Tor.comOf the SSF short works I read in February, my favorite was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2014 SFF novelette The Devil in America, a free online read at Tor.com that has been nominated for a Nebula Award. Last year, this author's short story Super Bass was among my favorite.
With "The Devil in America," Kai Ashante Wilson introduces fantasy elements while making a strong social statement. He combines ancient African magic with the left over legacy of slavery in America. The central story, where the fantasy elements of the story are focused, takes place in a post Civil War South. Small sections, depicting racially motivated crimes committed against African Americans throughout US history and to contemporary times, are inserted throughout to punctuate consequences of events occurring in the magical section of the narrative. This excellent novelette is short, to the point, and packs a punch. ...more
The Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert is another SFF novella from Tor.com and a Nebula nominee. This sff horror story begins with a stranger pasThe Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert is another SFF novella from Tor.com and a Nebula nominee. This sff horror story begins with a stranger passing through a small town and seducing a group of women. Nine months later, there is a baby boom. But there is something different about these babies. The mothers will go to great lengths to protect them from those who might hurt them.
This story begins on a ominous note and ends quite well. Unfortunately, the middle drags rather badly. Narrated through journal entries by the different mothers, the reader never meets the babies' "father," the man or creature that so easily seduced the women of this little town. The mothers -- some of them children themselves, others married, divorced, single, or widowed -- are secretive at first. They love their little monsters too much to care what they are or they will be getting up to. This story is fantasy/horror. With the exception of little monster babies with tiny wings, the fantasy side in this novella is left to the reader's imagination since there are no real explanations as to what they are, where they come from, or what the real purpose of their existence is. The real horror in this story lies on the mother's disquieting actions once the "mother's instinct" comes into play, the rest is mild in content....more
Draven's fantasy world-building is as attractive and compelling as her characters. Imagine two cultures and peoples so different in customs and physicDraven's fantasy world-building is as attractive and compelling as her characters. Imagine two cultures and peoples so different in customs and physical appearance that the other appears to them as 'monsters.' Then imagine the royal houses forging an alliance through a marriage where the bride and groom find each other so physically repulsive they have a problem looking at each other without flinching. What are the chances that they will find a happy ever after?
This fantasy romance has some gushingly sweet lines between two people who find each other physically repellent. That's because Ildiko and Brishen genuinely like each other from the moment they meet.
She drew a circle on his chin with her fingertip. "Your skin color reminds me of a dead eel I once saw on the beach."
Brishen arched an eyebrow. "Flattering, I'm sure. I thought yours looked like a mollusk we boil to make amaranthine dye."
Draven does a fantastic job of utilizing a growing friendship and understanding as a building block to romantic love. Political intrigue is well integrated with both the fantasy and romantic elements of this novel. But there are also battles of wit as well as physical battles, warriors, magic, dark, light, and more. My one niggle is the overly formal dialog that creeps in between the main characters even during intimate moments. But that was not enough to spoil my enjoyment of this story or the beautiful romantic ending to Radiance. That is until you get to the epilogue, which almost serves as a prelude to what promises to be a more politically complex and fantasy-filled series. I will not miss the next installment. ...more