Well, that was a ball of fun, and no mistake. I've been loving the whole Daughter of the Wildings series, but I positively inhaledFantasy Review Barn
Well, that was a ball of fun, and no mistake. I've been loving the whole Daughter of the Wildings series, but I positively inhaled this fourth installment, quite unable to tear myself away from it. For anyone who likes a little fantasy served with their westerns, and a side helping of romance, this is absolutely the series for you. Start with Beneath The Canyons.
Silas is a trained mage from Granadaia, sent to the Wildings as a bounty-hunter, catching rogue mages. Lainie is Wildings-born, with untrained mage power, which taps deep into the natural power of the region. Now they're married and on the run, while Lainie learns to control her power and the two of them avoid mage-hunters and the hostility of Plain folk (those without magical ability). All they want is a safe place to live, and to be left alone, but those are proving hard to find.
In order to make enough money to escape the mage-hunters, they join a cattle drive, and this part of the story was fantastic fun. Dealing with weather, stampeding cattle, river crossings and possible rustlers while trying to keep their magic out of sight provides plenty of entertainment in the first half of the book. But when they encounter some mischief-making mages, all hell breaks loose and things get very tense.
Silas and Lainie are a lovely pair. In most fantasy that I read, I look for characters that are complex and not solely black and white; a little grey makes things more interesting. But here there's so much old-fashioned charm in these two that I wouldn't change anything about them. The side characters could do with a touch more depth for my taste, but it's not really a problem, since it all fits perfectly well with the western black-hats/white-hats style.
The magic is quite complex, and each book reveals a little more about it, and about how Lainie can use it. There's also some intriguing political backstory going on behind the scenes, which is becoming more significant as the series progresses. I love the fact that Lainie is both more powerful than Silas, and also more inventive (which is logical, given that she's untrained; she doesn't know what she's not supposed to be able to do!). I also love it when they work together as a team.
The ending is a bit of a humdinger, although not entirely unexpected; not exactly a cliff-hanger, more of a can't-wait-for-the-next-book moment (and it will be called City of Mages! At last we will get to Granadaia, which I'm desperate to see! Write faster, Ms Halland, write faster!). This book is possibly my favourite of the series so far, enjoyable from start to finish, with an awesome mage battle, and Lainie's little victory near the end a terrific punch-the-air moment. Five stars.
I enjoyed the first book in the Angela Marchmont series of country-house cozies set in the twenties, but to my mind this one worked a lot better. I diI enjoyed the first book in the Angela Marchmont series of country-house cozies set in the twenties, but to my mind this one worked a lot better. I didn't guess the identity of the murderer, for one thing (although that particular character was definitely on my list), and this one felt much more satisfyingly complex. It also features Angela Marchmont, the lady detective herself, as the point of view character, which I think works much better than having her as a side character (as in the first book).
Following her success in the previous murder, Angela is called upon by her friend Louisa to investigate her husband's family. After his father's death, a rather peculiar will left money to the four children only for their lifetimes, after which it reverts to the family solicitor. Now three of the four have died in mysterious circumstances. Is it murder? And if so, who is responsible?
This sort of book follows a very predictable pattern, which anyone who's read any Agatha Christie will recognise. There is an array of suspects with motives, secrets gradually revealed and (possibly) another murder or two before the detective (and reader) works it all out. This is an excellent example of the genre, with a wonderfully literate writing style evocative of the period which makes the read an enjoyable ramble rather than the more frenetic pace of modern murder mysteries. Recommended for those who like their cozies quaintly old-fashioned. Four stars....more
This is the third book in the sequence that started with Low Tide, and the author is really getting into her stride now. Florida cop Maggie Redmond, aThis is the third book in the sequence that started with Low Tide, and the author is really getting into her stride now. Florida cop Maggie Redmond, a divorced single mum getting by and tentatively inching towards a new relationship with fellow cop Wyatt, is a sympathetic heroine. But her life is quietly unravelling, with secrets emerging that draw her into the orbit of local crime-lord Bennett Boudreaux.
As in all these books, there's a crime-of-the-week, but the main feature is the intricate personal life of Maggie herself and the developments arising from the death of Gregory Boudreaux in Low Tide, which get murkier and more complicated than ever in this installment. The characters are so real, you feel you know them personally.
However, the star attraction is McKenna's glorious writing style, which is brilliant at the sort of superficial dialogue that hides an ocean of hidden meaning, and also recreates the atmospheric setting so effectively, you'll feel the sweat trickling down your back, and smell the salty tang of the sea. These are short books, so a good, fast read. Four stars....more
McKenna's literary love story, 'See You', is one of the finest books I've read in recent years, so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to enjoy herMcKenna's literary love story, 'See You', is one of the finest books I've read in recent years, so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to enjoy her inimitable writing style applied to a series of cop thrillers set in the Florida panhandle. The first of the series, 'Low Tide', was a good starter, tidying up the immediate problems, while opening up enough intriguing backstory to fill the rest of the series.
Maggie Redmond is a cop getting by as a single parent after divorcing her childhood sweetheart, David, when he got involved in drugs. Now she's tiptoeing around a new relationship with fellow cop, Wyatt, while also finding herself inexplicably drawn into the orbit of the town's resident bad guy, Bennett Boudreaux. And all the while, she's trying to forget traumatic events in her past. But when a severed leg turns up in a shrimp net, Maggie has to try to work out what happened. And then things get really bad. The past, it seems, just won't stay buried.
This seems like a light, quick read, but be warned: the author doesn't shy away from heart-wrenching moments, so have a hanky to hand if you're prone to tears. In between times, enjoy the sweat-drenched atmosphere of the panhandle, and McKenna's glorious way with understated, humorous dialogue. The relationship between Maggie and Wyatt, in particular, is brilliantly drawn. I highly recommend the whole series. Start with 'Low Tide' for maximum enjoyment. A very good four stars....more
I love a good country house murder mystery, something that Agatha Christie specialised in but which is hard to find nowadays. This is a very good subsI love a good country house murder mystery, something that Agatha Christie specialised in but which is hard to find nowadays. This is a very good substitute, which captures the social nuances and language perfectly, and if the identity of the murderer isn't the hardest thing in the world to work out, well, at least I can bask in my own cleverness. I'm usually a sucker for the red herrings, so it's nice to guess right for once.
The story starts with Charles Knox returning from several years in South Africa, where he's conveniently made his fortune by gold mining. He's met by his old friend Bobs and Bobs’s sister Sylvia, now all grown up and a possible love interest. But Charles was once engaged to Rosamund, now married to Sir Neville Strickland, and when he's invited to their country house and there's a murder, things get a bit murky.
As with all whodunits, there is an array of likely suspects who had motive, and the story unfolds by revealing more and more backstory. The focus of the unfolding is Angela Marchmont, a cousin of Rosamund's and a lady with an eye for anything just a little out of place. It's an unusual strategy for a book labelled as 'An Angela Marchmont Mystery' that the title character is almost a side-issue, since all the focus is on the main point-of-view character, Charles Knox. There are good reasons for that in this particular story, but it still feels a little awkward.
The ending is not terribly convincing, but nevertheless I enjoyed this immensely. For those who like their murder mysteries quaint and undemanding, with beautifully authentic dialogue and some nicely Christie-esque characters, this is a good series to try. I wouldn’t normally rate this kind of formula book as more than three stars, but one has to give full credit to an author who knows how to use ‘one’ correctly. Four stars....more
This is a novella which marries a murder mystery with fantasy, a happy combination. Tyrnill is a song-healer, journeying about fromFantasy Review Barn
This is a novella which marries a murder mystery with fantasy, a happy combination. Tyrnill is a song-healer, journeying about from place to place putting her skills to good use, and learning her craft. When she finds herself in the small village of Kineford, she meets Brim, an agent of the King known as a King’s Shield, who calls upon her services to help him investigate a spate of recent deaths.
The writing style is pleasantly lyrical, a welcome change from the gritty tone of much recent fantasy, and the society and manners are delightfully old-fashioned (to 21st century ears). Tyrnill leaves her horse tied up outside the inn, still loaded with all her luggage, while she eats and chats and relaxes, and lo, horse and luggage are still there later. No opportunistic thieves here. On the other hand, Tyrnill’s liking for high-heeled shoes and revealing gowns feels terribly modern. Not quite anachronistic, but it adds some interesting complexity to an otherwise standard faux-medieval setting.
It’s difficult to write a story this short that still feels fully rounded, with believable characters, an interesting setting and enough plot to satisfy. This novella ticks all the boxes, resolving the murder mystery with style, and throwing in a charming little romance for good measure. The magic in this world is intriguing enough to leave me wanting to know more. A good four stars....more
This is the second book in the Narrowdale YA series. I'm not sure exactly which genre it falls under; I'd put it somewhere between suspense and horrorThis is the second book in the Narrowdale YA series. I'm not sure exactly which genre it falls under; I'd put it somewhere between suspense and horror, with paranormal elements. And as YA goes, it's at the younger end, and wouldn't be unsuitable for middle-graders, since the horror is muted, and the humour is cranked all the way up to eleven.
In fact, the opening few chapters are as funny as anything I've ever read anywhere, and yes, that covers Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Bill Bryson. Main character Amy is an absolute delight, completely swept up in her own affairs, and since the book is written in the first person, we get to share all her dippy thoughts. The collision of Amy with algebra had me crying from laughing so hard. I know humour is a personal thing, but I defy anyone not to laugh out loud reading this. The first book in the series, 'Sleepless', described how fourteen-year-old Amy moved to Narrowdale with her parents, made a couple of friends, and got involved in some scary stuff. That book had a few wobbly aspects, but this one works far, far better. The characters are shown in sharper focus, the plot feels more real and the writing is beautifully smooth. And I may have mentioned the humour...
Apart from Amy, the backup team comprises Shane, the pal with the camera, Carole, the obsessive academic, and Nicole, the friend from back home who bounces in and out to jog things along. There's also Peter, the security guy that Amy rather fancies. And now there's Chris, Amy's potential boyfriend (I rather like Chris, so I hope he sticks around). Even the minor characters are quite memorable, especially Carole's mum, with her insistence on family meals together, no matter what. We all know someone like that.
The plot... well, if you've read the first book, you'll know what to expect. There's a weird murder, and a guy who's disappeared, and Amy, as usual, is right in the thick of things, walking into murder scenes and wandering about in all sorts of odd places, finding... well, all sorts of odd things. And, as usual, the adults pat her on the head and tell her not to interfere, to leave it all to them. And does Amy listen? Of course not! That would be no fun at all.
There are a couple of very minor things to mention on the negative side. One is the use of present tense. Now this is a very personal thing, it’s very common in YA and most people probably won't even notice, but I found myself constantly jolted by it. So that spoiled my enjoyment very slightly. The other is that this does feel very young, to me. Again, it's a purely personal thing, and I know I'm not in the target audience for a book like this. I don't read a lot of YA, and when I do, it tends not to be the modern-day, high school kid type of YA. I find it much easier to read when it's (say) epic fantasy. For me, reading about Amy's fourteen-year-old thoughts felt uncomfortably voyeuristic. Which means, of course, that the author got it exactly right, so it will be perfect for the appropriate audience. And it’s a testament to the author that he kept me hooked, even when the kids-running-rings-round-the-police element reminded me of my misbegotten childhood reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
There's one more thing that the author got exactly right, and this was a huge plus for me: he's beginning to reveal a little more background on Narrowdale itself, and the reasons behind all the weird stuff. Now, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. I hate it when things happen just because, and I love that frisson of excitement you get when you discover something huge about the world the story is set in. It's why I read epic fantasy, after all, and to find it here is awesome. That alone would keep me reading, but adding in the humour, Amy's charm and the beginning-to-be-interesting friends makes this series unmissable. Very enjoyable, with a great ending and just a couple of personal niggles keeping it to four stars. ...more
This is the second part of the urban fantasy series The Proving, and boy, is it a cracker. I loved the first part, Twiceborn, werewFantasy Review Barn
This is the second part of the urban fantasy series The Proving, and boy, is it a cracker. I loved the first part, Twiceborn, werewolves and all, but this one is, if anything, even better. It’s a rare accomplishment in a trilogy to maintain the momentum of the first book into the second, but here the author carries it off with style.
SPOILER WARNING: the end of the first book had a number of spectacular reveals, and I really can’t talk about events in this book without referencing them, so it will be impossible to avoid spoilers for Twiceborn. Don’t read any further if you haven’t yet read it. There are no spoilers for this book, however.
In Twiceborn, Kate O’Connor thought things couldn’t get worse after the death of her son, Lachie. Well, she was totally wrong about that. She found herself drawn into the war of succession between the daughters of Sydney’s dragon queen. The winner will be the last one left standing. Kate doesn’t want any part of it, but one of the dragon daughters has made a dying transition into Kate’s body. Now the two, dragon and human, are one.
So Kate has no choice but to fight. But now she has something worth fighting for, because her supposedly dead son has reappeared and she also has a brand-new boyfriend. She’d love to settle down and play happy families, just the three of them, but first she has to settle the Proving, and become the new queen.
Kate is an awesome heroine. Not because she’s a kickass fighter in the feisty female protagonist tradition of urban fantasy (although in dragon mode she’s pretty damn hot). No, it’s because she never loses sight of her human side. She’s been given some really short straws in life, but she doesn’t agonise over her situation, she just gets on and does whatever needs to be done to protect her son. It doesn’t always work as she hopes, and perhaps when your mother is half-dragon a child has to be aware of all the unpleasantness that goes along with that, but Lachie is always her first thought in a crisis, and she tries her damnedest to keep things normal for him. There’s this glorious conversation:
“Lachie sniffed appreciatively. “Something smells good!” “That’s your lunch, mate,” said Dave. “Can I have something to eat now? I’m starving.” “You’ll have to ask your mum about that.” He gave me his best imploring look. “Have a piece of fruit. You don’t want to spoil your appetite.” I looked around at the others as I spoke. Did anyone else find this surreal? This kind of conversation was probably going on in hundreds of other households around Sydney right now. But none of them were waiting on the results of [spoiler: let’s just say ‘unpleasant dragon stuff’]”
Kate is such a wonderful contrast between loving, worrying mother and couldn’t-care-less dragon. I’m quite sure that by the time the trilogy ends, she will have found a resolution to this dichotomy, but in this book it’s pulling her in two different directions. She has to determine when to bring her human side forward, and when it’s necessary to unleash her inner dragon.
But the author doesn’t ever allow the story to bog down in angsty whining. The conflict is there, and Kate’s aware of it, but she never dwells on it. Not that she has much time to dwell on anything, because the action kicks off almost from the start and never lets up for a moment. Everyone, it seems, is out to get Kate, and it’s hard to know who she can trust.
She has a core group of loyal supporters, amongst them boyfriend Ben, and Garth the werewolf. I got a bit cross with Ben, who whines a lot and turns out to be one of those irritating people whose idea of helping is to do something really reckless and worry-inducing. And Garth’s idea of helping is to quibble about every decision Kate makes. There are some new characters in this book, and one in particular lit up every scene. Shifters are always fascinating, but this was an unusual one (to me, anyway).
The author ended the first book in awe-inspiring style, and I was sure she couldn’t repeat the feat. She could and did, in spades. The last few chapters swept me into a maelstrom of emotions, and some utterly shocking developments. And all completely logical. I’d even foreseen some of them, but they still took me completely by surprise when they happened.
This was another unputdownable outing from the author, a well-written urban fantasy with loads of action, some memorable characters and that trademark Australian wit. Now I can’t wait for the final installment. Five stars.
The second part of a series is always a difficult trick to pull off: have all the clever ideas been used up in the first part? Is tFantasy Review Barn
The second part of a series is always a difficult trick to pull off: have all the clever ideas been used up in the first part? Is the plot reduced to dull filler to bridge the gap before the finale? Do the nuances get lost in the rush to ramp up the action a notch? Well, all the answers here are a resounding no: this book is just as absorbing as the first.
In the first book, the villain, Nihil, was defeated, but the results of his experiments are still roaming the kingdom of Halthas. A number of Wielders (magic users) have been altered, rendering them very powerful but also unstable. Some of them have surrendered to the lure of that power, and have become wildly destructive. Others seem to be under better control. The focus of the story is how to manage the altered Wielders: should they be killed? Kept under lock and key for safety? Or helped to manage their powers?
Daro, one of the two main characters, is struggling to come to terms with his own altered powers, and not succeeding very well. But Daro is half Imaran, and the Imarans take him back to Imara to see if they can help him. Meanwhile, his wife Cecily is sympathetic to the plight of other altered Wielders, amongst them Pathius, the missing son of the previous king.
I loved Daro’s excursion to Imara. The first book stayed very much within the confines of Halthas, and much of the story took place in and around the city of Halthas itself, which wasn’t uninteresting but felt like a fairly standard fantasy city and kingdom. But Imara and its inhabitants are indubitably different, with a nicely conveyed sense of ‘otherness’ that I thoroughly enjoyed. There was no real tension to this part of the story, despite some initial hostility towards Daro and some interesting excursions, because I always felt that Daro would survive, but it was fascinating anyway. The Imaran’s home and way of life and the strange, but dangerous, forest they live in, were all equally delightful, but I especially loved their magic, the way they connect with the energy of the world around them.
Poor Cecily has a less interesting time. As in the first book, she seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time sitting chatting over cups of tea, explaining and planning and being terribly ladylike. Cecily is a very powerful Wielder, with some unusual abilities, and I love seeing her using them, but she rarely got the chance to shine. What she did do was to make some dubious decisions, trusting people more on ideological grounds rather than from any logical process. In fact, numerous other characters try to dissuade her, but she manages to convince them all. I’ll be honest, this makes her look soft and not as politically astute as I’d expect for someone of her rank.
Of all the characters, Pathius is the one who resonates the most with me. Cecily and Daro are almost too ‘good’, with few inner conflicts. But Pathius is a man who is truly conflicted, and that makes him interesting. As the heir of the previous king, deposed (in fact, murdered!) by Cecily, Daro and friends, he has the option to pursue the throne. Honestly, I wish he would. It seems to me he has every reason to follow that course. Or he could take the opportunity to reshape his life in a different way.
At the end of the first book, it was revealed that events during their captivity had left Daro and Pathius with a unique connection. Because of Daro’s Imaran bond with Cecily, Pathius is drawn to her, too. I found this a fascinating concept, with many possible plot ramifications. In the end, it didn’t have quite the dramatic effect I’d hoped for, but it still complicated the relationship between Cecily and Pathius, who spend much of the story travelling together, and it may be there are still aspects of this connection yet to be worked out.
The build-up and conclusion were appropriately nail-biting, although I got a bit cross with Daro for constantly trying to protect Cecily from harm and rushing off to tackle this or that problem single-handed. She’s perfectly capable, you know, and the two of you work better as a team. But I have to agree that Daro is quite awesome in full-on combat mode, and his final meeting with Pathius is spectacular, both the visual imagery and the ideas. Very enjoyable.
I do have a few logic issues with the story. For one thing, the altered Wielders now on the loose in Halthas. Some of them have gone to the bad, and have to be destroyed. Some (like Daro) are clearly unstable, but efforts are made to find a way to deal with that. And some are like Pathius and his pals, who appear to be perfectly rational and functional, but common sense suggests that things could change at any moment. Given all this, I found it hard to believe that Cecily would be allowed to wander round the countryside with them, and that no one stepped in to prevent it. It stretched credulity to the limits.
My other big issue concerns history. Much was made in this story of Pathius’ claim to the throne, and whether the nobles would rise up to support him. But this is treason, various characters declared in ringing tones. Well, yes, plotting to depose the current king is indeed treason. Yet this is exactly what Cecily, Daro and pals did a few years back, desposing Pathius’ father, and putting Rogan on the throne instead. It makes me uneasy that I’m rooting for the guys who are traitors themselves (and I am rooting for them, make no mistake). I know the victors write the history books, but still, I hope this issue is dealt with more fully in the next book. In fact, I can’t help secretly wishing that Rogan would fall under a metaphorical bus, and Pathius would end up taking back the throne. Not very likely, I know, but there would be a certain symmetry to it.
And this is the proof of a good story: that I end up wondering where the author will take it next, and what will become of these characters I’ve grown so attached to (yes, even Isley!). And as with book 1, there’s a perfect lead-in to the next part of the story. I can’t wait! A well-written book with a great magic system and some tense combat scenes. The minor issues knock a little off the rating, for me, but it’s still a very good four stars. I highly recommend the series.
I loved the author’s debut work, ‘See You’, regarding it as one of the finest books I’ve read in recent years. So this opener for a new series was a mI loved the author’s debut work, ‘See You’, regarding it as one of the finest books I’ve read in recent years. So this opener for a new series was a must for me. The author very kindly sent me a copy in advance of release day, so I could be one of the first to read it - thank you very much!
This is a very different book, a thriller built around thirty-something police lieutenant Maggie Redmond, divorced with two children. Maggie’s a very likable, very normal person, doing her job, raising her kids, not exactly struggling to get by but (like most of us) stuck in a bit of a rut. But Maggie has a secret in her past, and when ne’er-do-well Gregory Boudreaux turns up dead in an apparent suicide, her life threatens to unravel. She’s thrown into the path of Gregory’s uncle, the town’s rather charming chief crook. And then there’s the teenage girl ensnared by a local drug dealer, trying to look after his kids and her own baby, whom Maggie takes under her wing.
None of this is particularly unusual, but the background takes it out of the ordinary. Set on the Florida panhandle coast, every page oozes local colour and (even to a Brit like me) southern charm. There were quite a few references I didn’t get, but who could resist a town with a single traffic light, and a grocery story called a Piggly-Wiggly? I could almost small the salty tang of the air, hear the slap of waves against the side of the boat, and feel the sweat trickling between my shoulder blades. Although… oysters? Nah, you can keep the oysters.
The plot develops at a stately, Southern pace most of the time, with much of the tension arising from fabulous, subtext-laden conversations where nothing is said explicitly, but boy, are there undercurrents swirling beneath the surface. But, being a thriller, the pace ramps up dramatically at the end, with far less contrivance than is often found in books of this type. And I liked that no one takes such dramatic events lightly.
If I have a complaint, it’s that many of the characters seemed to be a little too nice to be inhabiting a thriller. Not just Maggie herself, but her normal, well-adjusted kids, her loving parents, and her almost-love-interest, fellow cop Wyatt (especially Wyatt, who can woo me any time). Even her ex-husband, divorced for very sound reasons, comes across in his few appearances as a pleasant, sensible and reliable man. In addition, the two plots are not well connected, so sometimes things seemed a little disjointed.
But overall an absorbing, enjoyable read. This is a great start to the series, with the author’s trademark wonderfully drawn characters, southern charm and plenty of humour. But there’s a darker tone in there as well. This is not the weepy-fest that ‘See You’ was, but I shed a few tears all the same. Looking forward to the rest of the series. A good four stars....more
This was a serendipitous find, since science fiction isn't my usual fare. But having tripped over it, I started reading and was insFantasy Review Barn
This was a serendipitous find, since science fiction isn't my usual fare. But having tripped over it, I started reading and was instantly hooked. The book starts with a bang - literally, since almost the first thing that happens is a massive explosion which seriously injures the Nations of Earth President, during a meeting with our hero, Cory Wilson, the ambassador of the title. Cory is about to take up a position as Earth's ambassador to the united non-Earth nations (gamra) who control interstellar travel. Now, everything is in disarray, his gamra partner has been arrested, and Cory himself is under suspicion. And from here on, the pace is relentless, without a moment for Cory (or the reader!) to catch his breath.
This is as much political thriller as scifi, with various factions chasing after Cory or offering him aid, with the usual problem of who to trust. Cory's own allegiance is in doubt, as well: is he loyal to Earth, or is he more aligned now with his gamra colleagues? And what did happen to his predecessor, the previous ambassador? Cory's a likeable character, though, always willing to do what it takes, and never browbeaten into submission. He takes a lot of punishment during the course of the book, but it never seems to stop him going out and doing whatever he feels needs to be done. There were times when I just wanted him to slow down for a moment and recover from one set of injuries before exposing himself to another dangerous situation, but no, that’s not his way at all. So be prepared for near-constant action.
The most interesting aspect, for me, was the distinctive non-Earth races. The Coldi, in particular, were fascinating, with not just different physiology, but very different customs and beliefs. Cory’s relationships with the two Coldi assigned as his partners (zhayma) - Nicha, who is imprisoned early on, and Thayu, his replacement - are wonderfully complex, but also totally believable. The Coldi have the interesting concept of doing everything in pairs, so everyone has a zhayma (a relationship described as like marriage only without the sex). But the mental connection the two share makes it much closer than that. I loved the language differences, too - the Coldi have a multitude of different pronouns for all occasions, and beware the foreigner who gets one wrong! Cory is forever mentally chiding himself for using a slightly offensive one, or, occasionally, deliberately choosing an aggressive one. This is such great detail, which added a whole layer of complexity to Cory’s interactions with the Coldi.
Apart from the Coldi, there are the mysterious Aghyrians, who I first encountered in ‘Watcher’s Web’, and here they are again, with a little bit of history revealed and potential conflict exposed. But the nuances of these non-Earth races are beautifully drawn. The author doesn’t stop to explain anything, you just have to work everything out as you read, but I prefer that kind of immersion. There were times when I didn’t get a reference, but it rarely mattered.
This is an excellent, fast-paced read, with the sci-fi elements perfectly blended with a political thriller and just a touch of romance to produce a terrific page-turner. Great entertainment. A good four stars....more
This is the third book in the War of Memory series. I've already raved at extended length about the awesomeness of these books, soFantasy Review Barn
This is the third book in the War of Memory series. I've already raved at extended length about the awesomeness of these books, so I won't repeat all that. Suffice it say that if you like your epic fantasy with industrial-strength world-building, compelling characters, a plot that stretches itself over a whole continent and a vivid writing style with just a hint of horror, you should give this a try. Start with The Light of Kerrindryr.
So how does this book stack up against the first two? Surely by now the tale must be hitting mid-series sag and getting bogged down in plot sprawl or weighed down with its own history? It's true that there are two large books' worth of the story so far, and a huge array of characters to keep up with. I've said before that this is a series that would justify its own wiki, and it would have been useful to be able to look things up from time to time. However, there is a list of characters and a glossary at the back of the book, so that helped.
Fortunately, the author cleverly manages to revise the previous events while still moving things forward. There were a few moments when I couldn't quite remember the fine detail of some earlier plot point, but only once where I just couldn't remember anything at all about a character and his previous interactions with our heroes. So although it worried me going in that I wouldn't be able to remember anything, it really wasn't too much of a problem.
However, the breadth and depth of the world-building means that there's an enormous amount of background information: about the world itself, the various flora, fauna and races, the history, geography and ecology of the continent. In the first two books, almost all of this stayed in the background, dribbled out in tiny amounts as and when needed. In this book, there were several places where the action stopped so that the main character (Cob) could be informed of some important piece of history. For the first time, I wondered if the sheer weight of backstory would topple over and squash the plot. And the device of having the Guardians withhold information, just because? That's really got old. Cob gets mad with them for it, and so do I.
So let's talk about Cob. He's the archetypal teenage boy thrust into a position of power, but unlike many such stories, Cob doesn't really grow into his powers and become a wise and just leader. He gets mad at everyone, even his closest allies, and lashes out when he shouldn't. And he makes mistakes. This makes him human, and therefore very believable. There has been progress in the growing-up department, but he's still a long way from wise and just leaderdom. Which is good, because that would be dull.
Of the (many) other main characters, some of them are likeable and some are intriguing and all of them are multi-faceted and compelling. There were one or two that I guess were necessary for plot reasons, but I didn't find them desperately interesting (Weshker, for instance, or Geraad). Even so, I never got to (say) a Weshker section, and thought 'Oh, no! Not him again' as I did for some Game of Thrones characters (Catelyn, I'm looking at you here). And even if I had, one Enkhaelen, complex to the nth degree, would compensate for twenty Weshkers.
The plot in this installment is flimsily constructed around one of those zero-chance-of-success missions, where you know everything is going to go wrong along the way, in spades. And it does, of course, but the ways in which it went wrong still took me by surprise, with plenty of dramatic encounters, some tense episodes amongst Cob's pals, and a few heart-wrenching moments. And there are revelations along the way that blew my socks off. I thought we'd pretty much got to the root of the main characters, but nope, not even close.
And then the ending. This is epic fantasy in every sense of the word, so the ending was suitably epic as well, with starring roles for every one of the (many) point of view characters. This did mean that the dramatic denouement went on and on and on, with three steps forward and two back. I'm not a huge fan of this kind of grandiose action, but for those who are, this is a perfectly executed example. And, just when you think it's all over, the setup for the next book in the sequence, and what a setup it is! Awesome.
Another excellent book in the series. Beautifully constructed and written, with a complex plot and compelling characters, emotional depth, and some jaw-dropping revelations – five stars. ...more
I positively inhaled this book – I just couldn't read it fast enough. This is the third book in the Theft and Sorcery series. I reaFantasy Review Barn
I positively inhaled this book – I just couldn't read it fast enough. This is the third book in the Theft and Sorcery series. I really enjoyed the first two, but this one is the best of the lot, for me. Although each book can be read independently of the others, there are some characters from the earlier books that turn up here. Big, big warning for those who might find it problematic: there's a heap of graphic sex in the book, bordering on erotica, and there's also some robust language.
One of the enjoyable aspects of this series is that there's a time-skip from one book to the next. This opens up the possibilities for interesting social changes. In the first book, half-elves were slaves, the lowest rung on the social ladder (after full-blooded elves, the aristocracy, and humans, effectively the middle classes). In the second book, the enlightened new queen had freed all the slaves, and half-elves were coming to terms with full citizenship. Another generation on, and there seems to be no social distinction at all. It's rather nice to see this progression. However, not everything is rosy: there are still those who would divide society down the middle.
The main character this time is Miko, also known as Badger, a half-elf in training at an academy for sorcerers. He's an unusually powerful sorcerer, and creative with his magic, so not only can he do more than most, but he invents new and ingenious spells too. Oh, and he can do all this by the power of his mind, without using the normal incantation and gesture to trigger the magic. I liked Miko very much, despite his grumpiness (I found it quite endearing) and his unusual background is very intriguing.
The love interest is Aya, also a sorcerer, although less powerful than Miko. This seems like a straightforward boy-meets-girl and away-we-go romance, but the obstacles to happiness are quite major ones, and it’s very understandable that things don’t run smoothly. Miko is naturally pretty upset about… well, many things (not wanting to give anything away). But even though it seems the romance is faltering, the two are still thrown together and the attraction is undeniable. In previous books in the series, the sex has possibly been a more significant element than the plot, but here the pacing works perfectly: the sexual tension builds beautifully and resolves itself at just the right moment. Perfectly judged.
The plot (the coup of the title) is gradually revealed, and then comes the attempt to thwart it without disrupting the delicate balance of court politics. Again, this is all perfectly believable, and I loved the way Miko’s innovation comes to the fore, creating new magical functions as needed. Everything builds to a dramatic climax, but (of course) things don’t go quite according to plan, and this part of the book was even more of a page-turner than the rest. Great stuff.
This was a terrific read, and a great finale to the series, with walk-on roles for all the favourite characters from the previous two books. Five stars for the sheer enjoyment of the read, and the inventive ways Miko finds to exploit his powers. ...more
This is one of those books that I would never, ever have read if I hadn’t bumped into the author online in an author’s forum and got to know him. YA?This is one of those books that I would never, ever have read if I hadn’t bumped into the author online in an author’s forum and got to know him. YA? Horror? Eek! No way… and blow me down, if it wasn’t a whole heap of fun. Who’d a thunk it?
Here’s the premise: Amy is fourteen when her parents uproot her from LA and move to dull, small-town Narrowdale. She thinks her worst problem is going to be boredom. Ha! Not a chance. Because first there are the strange dreams, where she’s being followed and there’s this odd whistling. And then… well, let’s just say that it gets a whole lot weirder after that.
Amy herself is a big part of the fun, because she’s your actual spunky heroine. Strange noises at night? Should I sneak out of the house and wander around deserted streets on my own to see what’s going on? Hell, yes! And she has an easy-come easy-go attitude to school - like, it’s boring, so why don’t I bunk off and go talk to the weird homeless guy who knows stuff? So this is bound to appeal to a certain age group who finds school somewhat less than riveting. Does anyone find school riveting? This book is probably not for you.
Better than all of this, though, is that this book made me laugh out loud more times than I could count. It’s just plain funny, and I love a book that can give me the shivers one moment and crack me up the next. A great combination. Just one warning: the punctuation is somewhat haphazard. Now my own punctuation is pretty wayward, so I’m tolerant of that and the book was enjoyable enough that it never became a hindrance. The author is getting some more editing done to improve things, so if this is a deal-breaker, hold off until things are tidied up.
A light, fun read that would work fine for middle-grade and upwards. I’m not sure where on the horror-spooky-supernatural spectrum it falls, but I didn’t find it too scary or gory. Four stars for sheer entertainment value....more
The Daughter of the Wildings series is possibly my favourite reading at the moment. This is book 3, and the author's getting into hFantasy Review Barn
The Daughter of the Wildings series is possibly my favourite reading at the moment. This is book 3, and the author's getting into her stride now. The characters are charming and heroic, the villains are exceedingly villainous (or just plain stupid), the setting is wonderfully detailed with a bit more revealed with every book, and the stories are just out and out good, rollicking fun.
The two main characters, Silas and Lainie, are (unusually for fantasy, but not for this author) a married couple. Theirs isn't a straightforward relationship, which allows for a bit of angsting along the way, but they still get along fine. I'm usually critical of books where the characters fall headlong into stereotypical gender roles, but here it works really well. Silas has a gentlemanly desire to protect Lainie from... well, everything, basically. She still blushes at any mention of sex.
Yet they still have total respect for each other's capabilities. So when they come to do business with a rich rancher, Lainie stands back and lets the more experienced Silas deal with it. And when they encounter the strange blue-skinned A'ayimat, he leaves it to Lainie, who has an affinity with their kind of magic. This kind of character detail is lovely.
The plot this time centres on the disappearance of the daughter of a the aforementioned rich rancher, kidnapped by the A'ayimat. Even though Silas and Lainie are manipulated into taking on the search, and even though they're quite sure that the rancher isn't telling them some important details, they need the money too much to refuse. And off we go into another fast-paced adventure, and it's not much of a spoiler to say that the rancher was hiding a lot. But then, he's not the only one. Knowing who to trust and who's telling the truth is a big part of the plot.
I've been looking forward to meeting the A'ayimat up close, and here we get right into the midst of them and their magic, which isn't quite like either Silas's or Lainie's. The subtle variation in magics is a big attraction for me in this world. Once again matters are resolved with both guns and magic, with heroism and luck, and a big dose of love to keep the evil at bay. And if perhaps our heroes manage to survive an improbable amount of beating up, gunshot wounds and arrows (sometimes all at once!), it would be churlish to complain (this is fantasy, after all).
Another charming and entertaining adventure in this series of good old-fashioned western fantasy tales. It's so much fun I can't give it less than five stars....more
This is the second in the Dragon and the Scholar quartet, and follows on with the story of Ewan (the dragon) and Shannon (the schol Fantasy Review Barn
This is the second in the Dragon and the Scholar quartet, and follows on with the story of Ewan (the dragon) and Shannon (the scholar). The first book ended with the two of them flying off into the sunset, but it was a long way from being a happy ending, what with him being a dragon and all.
So naturally, after a pleasant interlude together, things start to go downhill. There's trouble afoot in the Kingdom of Westshire, which borders our heroes' own kingdom of Regone. Strange beasties have been snatching young girls from their homes, and Ryan, the heir to the Westshire throne, is set on putting an end to it. Into the midst of this comes Ewan's brother Edmond, now King of Regone, bent on wooing Ryan's sister Brighid. Her father, King Riley, isn't at all happy about it. When things come to a duel, Ewan and Shannon are summoned to help sort things out.
You'll have guessed from this that the setting is very much the standard pseudo-medieval affair, where men run kingdoms, save maidens from monsters and wave swords around, while women wear pretty frocks and strive to be beautiful. Shannon, fortunately, is the exception to the rule, a trouser-wearing, intelligent, oh-I'll-do-it-myself competent female, and hooray for that. It's a pity that Brighid is much more the conventional princess-figure, behaving emotionally and being kidnapped so that the men (and Shannon) can rescue her.
So this is no trope-busting feminist treatise, but it's a very enjoyable, light read for those moments when you just can't face another heavyweight grimdark monster of a book. The plot isn't complex but there's enough action to keep things bubbling along nicely. And the ending sees a rather neat solution to the political problem by Edmond, which I liked very much.
There's also a darker, more tragic tone beneath the froth. Ewan and Shannon love each other, but they have the slight problem that Ewan is a dragon. A human under a dragon enchantment, sure, but still a dragon. Ewan's dilemma is that he wants Shannon to stay with him, but he feels it's morally wrong to ask, since he can't offer her any of the sort of things a woman might expect from a lover. He won't even tell her how he feels, because it might sway her. This is a very real tragedy for both of them, and Ewan's handling of the situation is truly heroic. A large part of the attraction in this series, for me, is finding out how this situation gets resolved. If indeed it does. My money at the moment is on a happy ending, but it would be brave indeed to take a different route.
An entertaining, light read. Recommended for those in the mood for a traditional-style fantasy, with plenty of humour. Bonus points for the strong ending, and not shying away from the dragon/human problem. Four stars....more
If you’ve ever wondered what the Sphinx thought about her perpetual task of riddle-making, and whether she’d like… well, a bit of aFantasy Review Barn
If you’ve ever wondered what the Sphinx thought about her perpetual task of riddle-making, and whether she’d like… well, a bit of a change occasionally, this is the story for you. It’s not even very long (4,000 words), so you can’t argue that you’ve got no time. It’s original, clever and very, very funny - what’s not to like?
I don’t normally read short stories, but the author went straight onto my must-read list after I loved her urban fantasy set in Sydney, Twiceborn (with werewolves and dragons, what could be better?). I had to try this too, and I’m so glad I did. Five stars....more
This is one of those deeply worthy books where you can see exactly what the author was hoping to achieve, and it almost works, but in the end there’sThis is one of those deeply worthy books where you can see exactly what the author was hoping to achieve, and it almost works, but in the end there’s just too much unlikely contrivance and too little characterisation to be effective.
Lilly is an Irish girl betrothed to Tadg when the troubles intervene. Both are put under a death sentence, and escape to America to try to make a new life away from the troubles. Of course, things don’t work out smoothly and Lilly’s life becomes a catalogue of difficulties punctuated or inflicted by major events of the twentieth century: the issue of colour, Vietnam, Martin Luther King, the Gulf War and so on. And very depressing it all is. A lot of people die or disappear.
The story is told by Lilly herself, in a long-winded rambling style that is wonderfully evocative and poetic, but becomes wearing when stretched over an entire book. And Lilly is not an active character, taking charge of her life and making decisions about her own future. She is, ultimately, extraordinarily passive, drifting where the wind blows her, running away, being rescued by saintly strangers, running away again, asking no questions and, in many ways, simply surviving. She is so passive, in fact, that her personality fades to transparency.
Nor are the other people around her much better, being mostly ciphers for a social class or group, rather than characters in their own right. Only her own family back in Ireland have hints of full personalities.
In the end, this is a book that is more about the events and social changes that shook America. Any small part of it could have made a deep and profoundly moving story. Stretched over a whole lifetime, many nuances are lost in the race to skate over the decades, and it becomes a shallow, and (to my mind) somewhat pointless exercise. Not without its moments, and beautifully written, but ultimately unsatisfying. Three stars....more
I'm a sucker for a dragon story, and this one is a little different from the usual. It starts as a charming little fairy-tale, wherFantasy Review Barn
I'm a sucker for a dragon story, and this one is a little different from the usual. It starts as a charming little fairy-tale, where the girl in the dragon's lair is a spirited and smart young scholar rather than a helpless princess, and the dragon isn't quite what he seems, either. The two strike up an unusual friendship. This part of the book was lovely, and I enjoyed every moment of it. The second half is far more predictable, and rather more uneven.
Here's the premise: Shannon is a talented young scholar, determined to take a job as healer in the small kingdom of Regone for the perfectly logical reason that she's the best person to heal the king from injuries sustained while fighting dragons. While there, she is pursued by the amorous knight Sir Roderick, who offers to slay a newly-arrived dragon to win her hand. To avoid this dreadful fate, she sets off to find the dragon herself, and discovers a character surprisingly interested in her books and palace gossip.
The sparky conversations between dragon and scholar are a highlight of the book, but by the midpoint, things become more conventional, and there's a great deal of dashing about avoiding the machinations of the villain, and in general trying to stay alive. The characters devolve into stereotypical good guys and bad guys at this point. It was depressing that the spirited and smart (female) scholar took so little part in this, and it was left to men with swords, spears and crossbows to sort things out. Most of this followed conventional lines, apart from one little twist near the end, where the villain takes an unexpected action.
I would have liked a bit more detail about the setting, which was very much a generic fantasy kingdom, with the usual array of inns, forests, craggy mountains for dragons, farms and so on, not to mention possibly the worst-guarded palace ever. I'm astonished the king wasn't assassinated in an early chapter, the way characters walked insouciantly in and out, without seeing so much as a laundrymaid, never mind a guard. I also wondered why, when dire consequences would occur if a certain character dies within a matter of hours, the other characters didn't just go and hide until the deadline had passed.
This is a light, quick read which is entertaining for those not looking for great depth. It’s billed as YA, but it would work perfectly well for MG too. The perfunctory nature of the world-building and the rather simplistic characters would normally make it a three star affair, but the pleasure of the first half, the charm of the two main characters and the avoidance of a too-simple happy ending bump it up to four stars for me. ...more
I almost missed out on this one. I started reading, loved the opening, really got into it, things were just rolling along merrily wFantasy Review Barn
I almost missed out on this one. I started reading, loved the opening, really got into it, things were just rolling along merrily when... werewolf. Now, werewolves are part of the unholy trinity, along with vampires and zombies, that I never read if I can possibly avoid it. So... oh dear. But then I discovered that the book has dragons in it... DRAGONS! Yes! Dragons make everything better. So I started again, and boy, am I glad I did. Because this book was just so much fun (yes, even the werewolves).
Here's the premise: Kate is a twenty-something Sydneysider, recovering (not very well) from a messy divorce and the death of her young son. To keep herself busy, she undertakes occasional courier jobs for friend Ben, and if the jobs are a little suspect, and involve disguises and evading strange people tailing her, she's too sunk in gloom to worry about it. Until one day she finds that the package to be delivered is addressed to her, she has bizarre lapses in memory, flashbacks that involve a lot of blood and she's swallowed an odd sort of stone. Oh, and she can see coloured auras around some people. And then... werewolf.
At which point, things get to be seriously strange. The flashbacks or dreams or hallucinations become longer and more intriguing, but they do make it relatively easy to work out much of what's going on. Combined with odd changes in behaviour, like the sudden sexual attractions and urges to kill things, I had a working theory for all the mysteries quite early on. The extensive use of flashbacks can be jarring sometimes, or feel contrived, as a way to keep crucial information from the reader, but here I felt it worked very well.
Kate seemed like a very believable heroine to me, an ordinary woman thrust into a completely extraordinary situation, and coping with it realistically - veering from capable common-sense to go-with-the-flow acceptance, all tempered with a touch of wry humour, which had me laughing out loud many times. I do love a book which makes me laugh. Ben, the love interest, is unusual in that he seems to be quite the most normal character in the book (after Kate herself). I found the romance very believable, although I think Ben may have some competition in the future - love triangle ahoy!
I really liked the Sydney setting. So much urban fantasy is set in London or a major US city, that Australia was a very refreshing change. It would be quite awesome if future books were set in Perth or Melbourne or Adelaide, to keep things fresh. And yes, the dragons were very cool. The drama ramps up nicely at the end to a thrilling climax and a terrific (if implausible) punch-the-air moment.
In many ways this is standard urban fantasy, but it captured my attention beautifully once I'd got past the werewolf moment. It's a fast, lightweight read, but the humour, the dragons and that awesome moment with the Sydney Harbour Bridge kept me turning the pages with a silly grin on my face. Absolutely fabulous, werewolves and all. For sheer entertainment value, it gets five stars from me.
Sometimes it seems as if every possible approach to fantasy has already been done a thousand times. So it’s lovely to find a new auFantasy Review Barn
Sometimes it seems as if every possible approach to fantasy has already been done a thousand times. So it’s lovely to find a new author capable of putting an original slant on the genre, whilst also having a lot of fun. In some ways this is a conventional story - young man with powers and a special sword, a monarchy under threat, active gods and goddesses - but it constantly took me by surprise, and combined some glorious punch-the-air moments with laugh-out-loud humour. Even the opening, which seems to be heading in one direction, veers straight off in a different one almost immediately. I love a book which surprises me, so this was a very good start.
Here’s the premise: a young man wanders into town carrying a particularly striking sword, a religious artifact. He immediately becomes the focus for various factions who want to protect him or relieve him of the sword or execute him or embroil him in their own plots. The story follows his attempts to pursue his own agenda (finding someone to tell him about the sword he carries), while avoiding the manipulations of his enemies and his apparent friends.
And this is one of the striking features of the story: it’s truly hard to work out who is on which side, or even how many different sides there are. And, rather amusingly, the characters have the same problem. So they inch tentatively around each other, set tests and traps for each other, and occasionally end up fighting each other.
The three main characters are very nicely drawn. Taelien is the sword-carrying visitor who would give a life-assurance salesman palpitations. Whenever a particularly difficult challenge is presented, with almost zero chance of surviving, never mind winning, Taelien goes into “Hell, yes! Bring it on!” mode. Being the world’s most risk-averse person imaginable myself, this gave me palpitations at first, but by the end of the book, I was going “Hell, yes!” too. Taelien is a great character, especially in combat.
Lydia is the “Let’s think this through” person, a high-ranking sorceress at court, who endlessly rationalises everything. When presented with a new kind of magic that she doesn’t fully understand, she devises ways to find out more about it and adapt it into her own magic. Smart lady.
Jonan falls neatly into the plucky sidekick role, and is also the useful guy whose magical bag of tricks gets the others out of a lot of messes. Although, to be fair, he also gets them into some of those messes. One problem I had with the three of them was their youth. They all seem to be abnormally experienced and mature for their supposed ages, and Lydia in particular was problematic. I found it hard to believe that someone of barely twenty could hold such an important and trusted position at court, especially as she was an outsider.
I have to mention the magic system. I’m sure people will compare it with Brandon Sanderson, and to say it’s detailed and clever and well thought-out really doesn’t do it justice. I didn’t get many of the nuances, because I’m too lazy to make the effort to understand these things, but even so, it always made sense to me. There were a few moments where a particularly tricky situation was resolved with an unexpected magical twist, which nevertheless made logical sense: very, very satisfying.
The other highlight in the excellent world-building was the role of gods and goddesses, who appear to take an active part in the lives of mortals. Or do they? This is another area where it’s impossible to tell exactly what’s going on, and what is real and what isn’t. Then there’s the interesting question of what precisely a god is: if a being has godlike powers, does that make him a god? This question isn’t fully resolved, but I like this much better than having everything spelled out.
The writing style is very wordy, and there were places where I would have liked a little less introspection and analysis from the characters, and a little more trusting the reader to get it. In the early chapters, in particular, where the three main characters are tiptoeing round each other, I could have done with a lot less “If this… but then if that…” from them. However, it’s an easy read, with more than enough action to keep me turning the pages.
The climax is nicely dramatic and very enjoyable, with enough twists and turns and revelations to satisfy the most demanding palate. The wind-down at the end, however, felt a bit rushed, and there were one or two things airbrushed over without much explanation (Vorain’s escape, for instance). However, these things might be explained in the next book. An original and entertaining book. Four stars.
This is the second book in the ‘Daughter of the Wildings’ series, and I loved the first, ‘Beneath The Canyons’, when I read it lastFantasy Review Barn
This is the second book in the ‘Daughter of the Wildings’ series, and I loved the first, ‘Beneath The Canyons’, when I read it last year. What do you know, this one is even better. Part of the fun is the genre mash-up - if you’ve ever wondered what a western would look like if you threw wizards and magic into the mix, wonder no longer. This has all the traditional elements of a western - desert badlands, saloons with swinging doors, gun-slinging bad guys, dust storms, horses and big hats. But it also has two or three different kinds of magic, some strange blue-skinned creatures who are probably not human and a whole heap of conflict between the different magic users.
The world-building is a strength of the series, and although each story seems to be no more than a simple adventure, each book pulls back the curtain a little to reveal more of the politics going on behind the scenes. There are enough factions and hidden agendas to fuel a far more epic work, but the author weaves the detail seamlessly into these rattling good yarns so it never feels heavy.
The two main characters, Silas and Lainie, have a wonderful old-fashioned charm about them. Silas is a gentleman who worries about Lainie and wants to protect her, while also respecting her. I loved that he was constantly thinking about her welfare, and worrying whether he was doing the right thing. Lainie is a perfectly capable woman with her own magic, but the author resists the temptation to turn her into a kick-ass warrior-babe. Instead, she only intervenes when absolutely necessary. And both of them take their turns at being rescued from disaster, or, sometimes, rescuing themselves.
The plot - well, there’s not much to it. Silas is summoned to help out a fellow mage, only to find him dead, along with a third mage. Then the hunt is on to find the killer and deal with him before Silas ends up as the next one to die. Along the way, Silas and Lainie work out a few wrinkles in their still-new marriage. But really, the pleasure of this series is the wonderful western-with-magic setting. My only complaint - it’s very short, only 120-odd pages, and the last 10% of the book is a teaser chapter of book 3 and other advertising.
For anyone starting with this book, there’s enough backstory dribbled out along the way to explain everything, but I recommend you start from the beginning for maximum enjoyment. This is one of the most entertaining fantasy series around, and I loved every moment of it. I wouldn’t normally hand out five stars for something this light and easy-to-read, but dammit, it was just so much fun! Five dusty, bullet-riddled stars....more
What this book needs is more orcs. Or any orcs at all, really, but preferably a great horde of slavering, rampaging, hell-bent-on-destruction orcs. FaWhat this book needs is more orcs. Or any orcs at all, really, but preferably a great horde of slavering, rampaging, hell-bent-on-destruction orcs. Failing that, zombies would do the trick. Or perhaps we could push swords into the characters’ hands and toss them into the gladiator arena. Frankly, they need something of the sort. A post-apocalypse world to shake them out of their fairyland and give them something serious to worry about. Because I’ve never come across such a snivelling bunch of whiny, self-absorbed morons who so badly need to just get over themselves.
Here’s the plot, such as it is. Matriarch Lydia has just died, and son Edmund returns to the family home wherein reside his brother Otto and his wife Isabel, along with Otto’s apprentice and his sister, and the resident nanny-turned-housekeeper, the eponymous Italian girl. The story then unfolds with one melodramatic revelation after another, accompanied by much shouting, gesturing, grand speech-making, falling down, weeping and wailing, and running about in the rain. There isn’t one of them who seems to have an ounce of common sense, or any idea of just how lucky they are not to be working in a factory or down the mines.
OK, OK, so I don’t get it. I probably lack the right receptors in my brain to get the point of a book like this. No doubt there are complex nuances of language or literature or philosophy or metaphor that simply whizzed over my head. I’m missing the point, I accept that. But it was short, and I finished it, so I gave it two stars. In future I shall leave Iris Murdoch to those better suited to appreciate the qualities of her writing. ...more
This is a book from another era, in every sense. Written in 1946, it shines a light on a different age, a brief moment of history, and quite a narrowThis is a book from another era, in every sense. Written in 1946, it shines a light on a different age, a brief moment of history, and quite a narrow aspect of history, at that. In the aftermath of the war, an upper-class couple in southeastern England adjusts to the reality of life without servants and wealth.
The main character, Laura, is the slightly dippy wife whose day we follow as she goes about her chores. No longer able to sit idly at home, or gad about the countryside visiting or walking, she shares the household chores with her sole remaining ‘help’, queues for food at the shops with other matrons, tries to arrange for a gardener and cycles off to retrieve a missing dog. Meanwhile, husband Stephen and daughter Victoria are going about their equally mundane lives. And if this sounds dull, indeed it is, as a story.
The point of the book, though, is not so much in what happens, but the constant running commentaries from inside the various characters’ heads. The author doesn’t hesitate to jump from head to head, as needed, in order to give the various viewpoints. And what they expound on is how dreadful life is since the war, with everything changing for the worse and life so terribly difficult. Really, this is nothing more than a glorified essay on the post-war realities of British life, mostly from the upper-class perspective, but sometimes pointing out that the working class and ambitious middle class have done very nicely, thank you. Social commentary, thinly disguised as fiction.
The greatest pleasure of the book is in the author’s descriptive powers, capturing the essence of the English countryside of the era and the attitudes of the people living there. For many people, the language alone would make this a captivating read. For me this wasn’t enough. I loved the glimpse into the past, but the characters were too stereotypical to be compelling, and the lack of plot or clear resolution too great a hurdle to overcome. Three stars. ...more
This book is way outside my usual sphere - YA, not-quite-human creatures, some romantic difficulties - but the opening is charming,Fantasy Review Barn
This book is way outside my usual sphere - YA, not-quite-human creatures, some romantic difficulties - but the opening is charming, and I ended up enjoying it a lot.
Here’s the premise: Brenna is a high school student with a best friend, an almost-boyfriend, a fisherman father and a mother who likes to stand looking wistfully out to sea for hours on end. When Brenna discovers something unusual in the attic… at this point, I knew exactly what was going to happen. And when it does, and Brenna decides to head for the high seas alone in a small boat, frankly I wanted to sit her down and tell her just what a stupid thing she’s doing. But - teenager. There’s no reasoning with them, so I can accept this as part of her character.
Out on the oceans, Brenna runs into the inevitable difficulties, plus a rather nice young man called Dylan, and the two team up on Brenna’s big adventure. Their journey is quite episodic, with every stage fraught with some kind of peril from marauding sea creatures or the ocean itself. Each time, there seems to be a convenient island for them to recover on, before setting off for the next encounter.
On the whole, this works fine. But there’s a section of the book which completely lost me. After deciding they can’t get where they want to go by sea (too dangerous), our plucky heroes set out to make the journey across land. Along the way, they travel through three different countries, with two non-English languages, two non-dollar currencies and a whole continent of cultural differences. Oh, yes, and they start this mammoth journey having lost all their worldly goods. Like passports. This would be enough to tax the skills of even an experienced adult traveller, but a couple of teenagers? Plus the route they take is bizarre, to put it mildly. So I was flummoxed by this part of the book.
Where the book really scores is in the underwater sequences, which are superb, beautifully described and so evocative I could feel the ocean currents against my skin. Dylan’s increasing discomfort as they journey by land, away from his beloved ocean, is also well described, and (for me, at least) was far more effective than the occasional scary monster popping out from behind a rock.
The final encounter is unexpected in several ways, and rather mature for a book otherwise aimed squarely at a young teenage market. In fact, the actions of one character, quite frankly, gave me the chills. I absolutely did not see that coming. And the ending, too, is very grown-up. Kudos to the author for avoiding the obvious ways of wrapping things up. The final moments not only bring this book to an elegant close, but also neatly lay the groundwork for the continuation. Very well done. The unbelievable (to me) land journey keeps this to three stars, but for anyone who’s less pernickety than me (which is almost everyone), this is a readable, entertaining book with some great descriptions of the ocean and a thought-provoking ending. ...more
Some stories keep you on the edge of your seat with non-stop drama, and some are gentler tales, of people learning about themselvesFantasy Review Barn
Some stories keep you on the edge of your seat with non-stop drama, and some are gentler tales, of people learning about themselves and each other, quietly resolving their problems with thoughtful research or experimentation or negotiation, instead of reaching for the swords every time. This book is in the latter category, which makes it very much my kind of story.
The opening of the book is a nice introduction to the background, one of a basically illiterate population, where both magic and writing are frowned upon. Ailith can read and write, but she has to keep that secret. However, a meeting with a mysterious older man, Malachi, reveals that she has another secret - she is a mage.
Ailith is one of twins, with several other sisters and (maybe?) a brother, too. Her twin is about to be married to a man three times her age, a match arranged by the family and the twin seems to be quite content with that. Ailith, too, has had possible marriages arranged for her, but scared off the suitors by her forthright style, and is resigned to spinsterhood. This is an aspect of the society that absolutely fascinated me. It’s rare these days to find a setting where arranged marriages are calmly accepted as a normal facet of life, yet are not a big plot point. I felt like saying: wait a minute, tell me more about this. How does it actually work? But the story veered off in a different direction, and I never did find out about it. Maybe later in the series.
The magic in this world verges on science. There’s a great deal of herbalism and mixing of minerals to make an amalgam, and the mage then adds just a smidgen of ‘intention’ to turn it into something magical. It’s clear that the author has done her research on herbs and other materials, and if I could have done with less detail, that’s a personal preference, and didn’t impact the story.
Ailith is an interesting character - smart and brave and (frankly) completely reckless sometimes in her willingness to experiment, whether it’s on herself or some other hapless character. I liked that she came from a happy family background, with all the petty little squabbles and differences of any family, but clearly wrapped in affection.
Of the other characters, Leofwin is the most compelling, prowling round his castle at night, obsessively weeding and pruning and tinkering in his garden. I loved his habit of leaping up with a ‘Let’s try it!’ whenever Ailith suggests some particularly outlandish concoction.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to congratulate the author on changing the reader’s perceptions of two characters in particular, in very slow, subtle ways. This is difficult to do successfully, and although I think it works better with one character than the other, it’s still very well done.
One aspect that worked less well for me is that Ailith manages to solve all her problems rather too easily. It reduces the tension almost to nothing if, when a crisis arises, she simply decides what particular method is needed, and finds a way to do it. There are no hiccups and nothing goes wrong, everything is resolved quickly and easily. I would have liked a few magical disasters along the way to make me worry for her a bit more.
There is one event in the story which stands out for me. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but Leofwin’s experience in the temple is a brilliant example of an author successfully subverting expectations, while at the same time creating a deeply thought-provoking scenario. I loved this section of the book.
The climax of the story is suitably dramatic, with some unexpected twists and turns. I would have liked a stronger resolution to Malachi’s story, however. He was a major character early on, but his tale trickled away to nothing. I’d have liked more made of Garrick’s father, too. What happened to him should (I thought) have been a momentous event, and given more prominence. And, as mentioned above, I wished I could hear more of Ailith’s twin, and find out whether her marriage was happy or not.
But these are minor points. This was a very enjoyable, well-written read, recommended for fans of quieter, more thoughtful and less action-filled fantasy. Four stars....more
This is an unusual book in a couple of ways. For one thing, the main protagonists are a happily married couple. When Daro is kidnapFantasy Review Barn
This is an unusual book in a couple of ways. For one thing, the main protagonists are a happily married couple. When Daro is kidnapped, Cecily sets out to find and rescue him. No, no, that’s not the other unusual thing. Surely it’s not unusual for a woman to rescue a man?
The second unusual thing is that this story is set some years after a major upheaval in the kingdom. The old king was overthrown and his son and heir killed in a bloody war which Daro, Cecily and their friends helped to orchestrate. The first section of the book, where we meet the companions in ones and twos, and they mull over the previous events and remind each other of this or that close shave or dramatic moment, made me wonder if I’d strayed into the second part of a trilogy. Actually, no, this is the first part. But dammit, that sounds like an interesting adventure they had. I’d really like to read about that. It’s not until this story starts to take off that I stopped yearning to hear about the war.
The plot, as already mentioned, revolves around the kidnapping of Daro by people who appear to have almost impossibly powerful abilities. It took a while to get to this point, but the getting there was not uninteresting. The contrast between Daro and Cecily’s present rustic retreat and the grand city of Halthus, where Cecily is part of the nobility, makes for an interesting introduction, and there are plenty of neat little details along the way that made me smile with pleasure. This is an author who knows how to get the world-building right and drip-feed snippets of information at just the right moment.
But then Daro is whisked away, and the section of the book that deals with what happens to him was, for me, a highlight. His interactions while in captivity came to life and crackled with tension in a way that the more routine city-based scenes never quite did. Partly this is (perhaps) because civilised cities, even magical ones, don’t quite have that fantastical allure for me. And partly this is because Cecily spends a great deal of time sitting around unable to act because - well, reasons. It makes her seem quite passive at times, although when she does get a chance to act, and she and the gang sally forth for an encounter, she more than makes up for all the waiting.
A very small niggle: when Cecily and pals do get an idea of what to try next, it seems to come out of the blue. Sometimes it’s more a chance piece of information, or pure instinct, that drives things forwards. I would have liked a little more deduction, and less randomness, but it wasn’t a problem.
One aspect I really liked about this book is the beautifully worked out magic system. I can’t profess to understand all the nuances, but there’s a lot of subtlety to it. Magic users are called Wielders or Shapers, depending on whether they can manipulate energy or matter. There are various different types. Cecily is an unusually strong Wielder, trained at the powerful Lyceum to enhance her capabilities even more than normal. I loved the way she could Push or Pull - making someone fall over by Pushing their knees, for example - and she also has Awareness, so she can feel where rooms and people are in a building, for instance. Such a useful ability to have.
The other main characters have Wielder abilities too, and sometimes it felt as if they were only there to conveniently make guards run away (by filling their minds with fear, another cool ability) or pick a lock. The rest of the time the companions were mostly cannon fodder, or foils to sit round a table discussing The Situation with Cecily (there was a lot of discussing went on). I confess that I got them muddled up a great deal, but that’s just me.
Eventually the plot blossoms into the expected big confrontation. The battle scenes in the book are done superbly. I’m not a big fan of magical battles, as a rule, but here I always knew exactly what was going on, and who was doing what to whom.
The ending - I’m not going to say anything about the ending, except that the author has set up one of the cleverest lead-ins to the next book that I’ve ever come across. Can’t wait to find out how this one gets worked out. Recommended for fans of traditional epic fantasy who like an intriguing magic system. A good four stars.
Footnote: the author’s husband is a Lego enthusiast, so he made some models of locations in the book, which you can see here....more
I hardly know what to say about this book. I cried almost all the way through, yet I couldn’t put it down. Actually, I laughed almost as much as I criI hardly know what to say about this book. I cried almost all the way through, yet I couldn’t put it down. Actually, I laughed almost as much as I cried. So be warned - unless you’re made of much sterner stuff than I am, you’ll need a good supply of hankies nearby while you read.
This is an extraordinary book. It’s a love story, and no, that’s not a euphemism for romance, this really is a story about love. And not your conventional couple, either. Jack was raised by his best friend’s mother, Miss Margret, and returned every year to visit her and her granddaughter, Emma Lee. When Miss Margret died, the visits stopped but now Jack’s back, and finds Emma Lee still living in the same house, and raising her own daughter. Jack has some secrets to share, but Emma has a secret of her own - she’s been in love with him since she was a child.
Now if you thought a love story between a fifty-something man and a thirty-something women might feel a little odd, don’t worry, it all feels totally natural and beautifully real. Jack and Emma are not extraordinary people, they don’t have unusual talents or great wealth or outstanding beauty. They’re just ordinary folks who live ordinary lives in an ordinary town, yet their story is anything but ordinary.
This is the author’s debut publication, but it’s as fine a piece of writing as I’ve seen anywhere. This is the south, and the dialogue and the tiny nuances of southern life are a pleasure to read, so evocative you could almost be there. Even for me, a Brit, that slow way of life wrapped itself around like a warm blanket. Here’s Jack telling the preacher there’s going to be a wedding:
Jack found Brother Fillmore out back, shooing two half-grown hogs back into their pen. He was the only man Jack had ever seen who could work outside all day and have his overalls as pressed and clean as when he’d put them on.
He was a slim man, just a bit shorter than Jack, but his dignity and bearing always made him seem larger to Jack. He had to be over eighty, though he looked much younger, and he’d lived alone since his wife had passed, back in the nineties.
He didn’t seem all that surprised at Jack’s news, but Jack didn’t recall ever seeing him surprised.
“Well, Emma’s needed a good man to give her some direction for some time,” Brother Fillmore said. “She’s not meant to go it alone.”
“Yes sir,” Jack said.
“How long have you been home, son?”
“Just a little while,” Jack said.
“You’ve not been living in sin ‘til this time, have you?”
“No sir,” Jack said. “No sinning at all.”
“Well, I’ll be pleased to join you in celebrating,” Brother Fillmore said. “I’ll need to come up with an appropriate gift.”
“No gift necessary, sir,” Jack said. “Just bring yourself; bring a dish if you like.”
Brother Fillmore pointed his cane at the smaller of the hogs he’d just penned. “That one just tore up all my Black Krim tomatoes,” he said. “I’ll bring him.”
How can you resist? Highly recommended. Five stars....more
This was recommended by a friend when I lamented the difficulty of finding decent Regency romances these days that have some modicum of connection toThis was recommended by a friend when I lamented the difficulty of finding decent Regency romances these days that have some modicum of connection to the actual era, and don't play fast and loose with historical details. And it's true enough that the historical details do feel very realistic. The author has obviously done her research.
Unfortunately, while the settings are very credible, the characters simply aren't. Now, this is partly my problem: I just find it very hard to read about Regency ladies clambering in and out of windows at night, and having almost-sexy-times with rakish blokes in masks and otherwise behaving recklessly, without comparing them with Jane Austen's much more sedate heroines. Or even Georgette Heyer's, whose characters were always spirited, but never, ever silly. So your mileage may vary, but for me I had trouble believing any of this.
The premise: in an era of Englishmen secretly spying and otherwise interfering with the plans of dastardly French leader Bonaparte, a young lady sets off for France determined to help out. And in the present day, a university researcher follows the story through the young lady’s journals. Now, I’ll be honest, the framing device of the present day researcher felt too contrived for words. It was also very jarring when the story was flowing along nicely, to be forced to stop and try to remember the modern-day characters and the paper-thin plot developments. So I could have done without that part altogether.
The Regency elements were much better, but again, credibility was stretched. Is it possible to get to know a man, and yet not recognise him when he turns up in an unexpected place - and wearing a mask! Surely when he talks, the voice would be recognisable? But no, apparently not, for heroine Amy is completely fooled. But then Amy must be one of the silliest heroines ever. I’m all in favour of spirited heroines who don’t meekly submit to the whims of fate, men and their mothers, but going out to meet a total stranger, alone, in the middle of the night, is just out and out stupid. Time after time she does things that, in real life, would have got her killed or raped or (at best) would destroy her reputation, but somehow, miraculously, she survives unscathed (a man rescues her from her own stupidity, usually).
Now, I kind of get the tone the author was going for - with humour to remove any element of real risk. And it’s true that there are some very funny, laugh out loud moments. Even so, as Amy’s capers became ever more ludicrous, my suspension of disbelief was tested to the limits. And that scene in the boat on the Seine? That was where it broke altogether.
If you can set aside all memory of more realistic Regency fiction, and just go with the flow, you might well enjoy this. I never found any of it believable, however, so for me it only rates as two stars.
This is an unusual book. Yes, yes, I know I specialise in unusual books; not for me the dull old treadmill of mainstream popular woFantasy Review Barn
This is an unusual book. Yes, yes, I know I specialise in unusual books; not for me the dull old treadmill of mainstream popular works. I read stuff you’ve never heard of. But this book is special: I came across it on a forum where the author lamented that she’d only sold… no, let’s not put a number on it. Let’s just say: not very many. So this is a book that nobody has ever heard of.
So what’s it about? Well, let me tell you first what it’s not about. It’s not about saving the world. It’s not about finding the lost heir to the kingdom. There’s no quest, no named sword, no moustache-twirling villain, no prophecy. There are no orcs, dwarves, elves or goblins. No dragons, either, sadly (every fantasy book should have dragons, in my opinion, but there you go). There are no witches, werewolves, vampires.
OK, I hear you saying, so what the **** IS in it, then? People, that’s what. No, not characters, these are real, flesh-and-blood people, who happen to live in the pages of a book. They have histories and personalities, they have weaknesses and strengths, they have beliefs, hopes and dreams, fears and uncertainties. You know, just like everyone.
Here’s the premise. Agna is a young healer from a rich family in Nessiny, trained to use magic to heal. Sent to a foreign land to repay her training in service to others, she joins a caravan of merchants and craftspeople travelling through the towns and villages. Keifon is an army-trained medic from Yanwei, deeply religious but with his own demons, assigned to be her partner. She thinks he’s surly and rude. He thinks she’s a spoiled rich brat.
And herein lies the whole story: two very different people, from vastly different backgrounds, who have to learn not only to work together, as healers with diametrically opposed methods, but also to live together under the basic conditions of the caravan. It’s not so much what happens that’s interesting, but how: the almost imperceptible inching towards an accommodation, the delicate dance around each other.
If you’re looking for a book filled with action, or any action at all, you won’t find it here. There is perhaps only one moment that qualifies in the whole book. But if you’re looking for something deeper, a painting in words, if you like, where every tiny moment, every glance or touch or word is a perfectly nuanced brush-stroke, this is the book for you. If ever you wanted to know what literary fantasy looks like, this is it. A wonderful book. Five stars....more