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
What could possibly improve a good old-fashioned western? Why, a little magic, that's what. Yes, folks, what we have here is a westFantasy Review Barn
What could possibly improve a good old-fashioned western? Why, a little magic, that's what. Yes, folks, what we have here is a western/fantasy mash-up, complete with horses tied up outside the saloon, gambling and whoring inside, and gunfights in the street, but some of the people wearing the big hats are mages, and the mining going on in the hills is digging up something a lot more powerful than gold. And is it fun? You betcha.
Silas is a mage visiting the Wildings from neighbouring Granadaia, a bounty hunter looking to round up a renegade mage for profit. Lainie is a rancher's daughter with her own untrained magical powers. Silas ought to hand her over for training, or else remove her powers altogether, leaving her a shell of her former self, but somehow he can't quite bring himself to do either. Meanwhile, the town is being torn apart by the mining for some valuable commodity which damages the ranchers' land and produces terrible nightmares. What is going on?
Now, the mystery isn't terribly complex and most of the characters fall into one of the standard categories: white hats, black hats or red shirts. No shades of grey here. But the two main characters are lovely, a solidly honourable and gentlemanly hero, and a spirited, independent but smart heroine. Lainie's determination not to be docile does get her into trouble sometimes, and yes, she does have to be rescued by our stalwart hero once or twice, but she also uses her initiative and is just as instrumental as he is in saving the day. And the romance between them is wonderful, sweet rather than hot (although magic does create certain... erm, interesting effects).
There's some fascinating world-building in the background, and I would have liked a little more detail about some of it, particularly the blueskins living in the hills, who have the power to understand any language spoken to them. There's the politics of Granadaia, with its Mage Council, too, and I loved the idea that a person's magic is rooted in the land they were born on. Fortunately, there's a whole series in the pipeline, so I'm hopeful that more of this will be revealed.
What didn't work so well for me? There were a huge number of miners who were almost uniformly stupid and selfish and greedy. And a lot of them got shot in the numerous gunfights. They were very expendible, and I wondered how many of them had wives and families back in town, and perhaps wouldn't have been quite so cavalier about their own safety in reality. But perhaps that's just me with my twenty-first century sensibilities. [ETA: Apparently they were all vagrants and drifters, a point that whizzed by me as I sped through.] Another minor grumble: I found the plot just a tad predictable at times. There were one or two twists, but not quite enough for my taste.
But these are trivial complaints. I really loved this book, and tore through it in no time. I loved the blend of magic with western conventions, I loved the politeness (Silas always addresses Lainie as 'Miss Lainie') and I loved the gentle romance. An entertaining read. A good four stars. ...more
I’m a sucker for a portal story, where the main character falls through some sort of access point into - well, whatever the authorFantasy Review Barn
I’m a sucker for a portal story, where the main character falls through some sort of access point into - well, whatever the author cares to imagine (past, future, parallel world, some other planet altogether). It’s always fun to watch the character work out what’s happened, and trying to deal with the new setting. It can be trite, but there’s always room for a fresh take on the idea.
Jessica has always been an outsider. She’s taller than average, for one thing, not very womanly in shape, has some odd birthmarks, and then there’s the whole web of light thing she does with her mind. Useful for dealing with truculent bulls, but it can kill, too, and she’s still not sure how to cope with it. And then one day, something odd happens and the small plane she’s in crashes somewhere weird. As in very weird.
Straight away I like that the inhabitants of this weird place don’t automatically speak English. And they have tails! Yay for humanoids with tails. Although some of their customs do seem to be very, very odd... But they're not the only people around. This is, in fact, a very complex place, with a number of different species (or sub-species or races, not sure exactly how it works), and some complicated political arrangements. And Jessica is thrust into the middle of it all, seen as a saviour by more than one faction, but not necessarily for good reasons.
I'll confess I didn't always know exactly what was going on. Some aspects were deliberately mysterious, like Jessica's strange mental connection to the man called Daya, and sometimes characters were keeping information from her or outright lying, which made it difficult to follow. Then there was Jessica's web-like power, which I never fully understood. But the story swept me along and I never worried too much about the details.
Jessica herself is a gloriously independent-minded, spiky individual, the ideal focus for a story like this because she constantly asks the obvious questions that also spring to the reader's mind. She doesn't always get a straight answer, but at least she asks, and she keeps on asking. She also makes efforts to avoid being manipulated too much by the people around her, but it's difficult to know who to trust in this strange new world. She also has to come to terms with her powers and the revelations of her heritage, and that's a lot to take in.
It was disappointing that such an otherwise intelligent, sensible and together character ended up drawn into sexual relationships which only served to complicate everything. I wasn't sufficiently drawn to either of the men to be rooting for either of them. Really I was only rooting for Jessica, and longing for her to stand up to both of them and tell them to ^&*% off and leave her alone until she's sorted out which way is up in this strange new world.
The ending was the usual dramatic high-action affair, with a few things sorted out but plenty of scope for further developments in the series. Overall an enjoyable read, with bonus points for the originality of the setting. Four stars....more
Kyra Halland is one of those rare authors capable of creating a deeply realistic fantasy world, with an equally realistic romance eFantasy Review Barn
Kyra Halland is one of those rare authors capable of creating a deeply realistic fantasy world, with an equally realistic romance embedded within it. Too many fantasy authors tack the romance on as an afterthought, or else the romance is all-important and the fantasy elements are hurled randomly into the mix, as if it doesn’t matter whether the obstacles keeping our pair of lovers apart are meaningful or not.
Here everything is carefully thought out. Rashali is a simple village woman, struggling to survive in an Urdaisunia now conquered by neighbouring Sazars. Eruz is a Sazar prince, treading a careful path between his father the king, his vicious, squabbling brothers and his own conscience. When chance throws Rashali into his path, he is forced to face up to the consequences of his father’s rule. And then, delightfully, the gods take an interest in matters and start poking around in the affairs of men for their own not particularly altruistic reasons.
I’m not usually a big fan of having gods as active participants in a story, but here it works really well. It took me a while to overcome my resistance to miraculous events that just happen to carry the plot in the right direction. Here, of course, that’s the whole point, the gods are interfering and causing all sorts of things, good and bad, to afflict our heroine. Once I stopped worrying about the realism (or otherwise) of it, however, the story swept me up and carried me along beautifully, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the story. The gods are not at all as you’d expect, and their little squabbles and rivalries are great fun.
There is a little (non-god-related) magic in this world, and one rather clever communication contrivance that weaves into the plot very well. The world itself is a simple one, with just a few neighbouring societies: apart from the Urdai and Sazar, there are the Sangh, the Kai-Kalle and the Xaxan. Urdaisunia, the focus of conflict between these various countries, has two major rivers but (because of a quarrel in the god-world) they are on the brink of drying up, leading to major tensions. The political differences, particularly between the Urdai and the Sazars, form the backdrop to the whole story.
If I have a grumble, it’s that the characters tend to fall neatly into the good or bad side of the equation. The king, Eruz’s father, in particular, was a little too stupid for my taste. Even when Eruz brought evidence of his brothers’ treachery, the king made no effort to investigate, simply believing the brothers. His dislike of Eruz, who was an excellent army commander, seemed somewhat irrational. Kings really have to be better judges of character than that, if they’re to survive long in power. They also have to be pragmatic, and not allow their personal feelings to interfere with political decisions, although I suppose having a son and heir who constantly says, “Yes, but…” might get rather trying.
My only other complaint is that I found the names difficult. Eruz and his brothers, for instance, are Eruzasharbat, Hazramatanarg and Teshtarganazad, and all the rest of the family, army commanders and the like, have similar jaw-breakers. Fortunately they were often shortened. But that’s a minor point.
This is a refreshingly different fantasy, with writing that brings the world vividly to life (I swear I could feel the sand between my toes as Rashali walked through the desert) and a clever balance between the earthly world and the realm of the gods. A very enjoyable four stars....more
I had the privilege of reading 'Scrapplings' in beta format, and thoroughly enjoyed the unusual world setting, the array of very memorable charactersI had the privilege of reading 'Scrapplings' in beta format, and thoroughly enjoyed the unusual world setting, the array of very memorable characters and the vivid descriptions of the surroundings. I loved the idea that only some people can see the dragons, and even though there's a whole religion devoted to them, the priestesses are just as dragon-blind as most of the population. Being the first of five parts, the plot builds slowly, but things draw to a dramatic conclusion. A good read for those who like their fantasy a little different.
[Note: No star rating, as I haven't read the finished book.]...more
This is exactly the sort of book I love: a well-conceived fantasy world with an intriguing magic system; some great characters whoFantasy Review Barn
This is exactly the sort of book I love: a well-conceived fantasy world with an intriguing magic system; some great characters who behave in a believable way; a plot that’s driven more by the background and characters than the need for relentless action; and a strong, satisfying romance. Why can’t all fantasy be like this?
Let’s start with the characters. Perarre (no, I don’t know how it’s pronounced) is a woman determined to make a success of her career in a male-dominated world. After a wild phase, she’s settled down to an academic life as a translator of old books, aided by her ability to magically ‘read’ the intent of the author (and haven’t we all read books where we could have used a talent like that?). Roric is the buttoned-up and demanding professor she ends up working for, a man hiding a surprising past. He’s given the task of finding out why the ‘magica’, the tricky to manage magic system, is no longer easy to balance. Something has gone wrong, but finding out what has happened and whether it can be fixed means taking big risks.
As the two investigate, they naturally start to see each other as more than working colleagues. This part of the book is exceptionally well-written, as they circle round each other and gradually set aside their prejudices and inch towards an understanding. The romance builds slowly, right up until the point where they hurtle headlong into a passionate affair. The change felt a little bit abrupt, but given their personalities (Perarre’s wild-child past and Roric’s obsessively constrained behaviour), it was believable and I can go along with it.
From this point onwards, the pace accelerates to become a breathless ride from one end of the country to the other, and back again, multiple times. I was quite relieved that later journeys were condensed to ‘After a month of travel…’. Nevertheless, the various locations where the pair end up, whether the sophisticated and political big city, the village or small farming community, the isolated woodsman’s hut or the very different society of the nomadic steppe clans, are beautifully described. I never had any trouble visualising the settings and understanding the prevailing customs.
Both Perarre and Roric have to leave their old ways behind and open their minds to other cultures (quite literally, in fact). I found it fascinating to watch Roric in particular shed the thick shell he’d built to protect himself from hurt, and face up to both his own heritage and a future very different from anything he’d ever envisaged. This is where the rock-solid love between the two is absolutely critical. And yet he never changes his inner self, and never loses his scientific spirit of seeking the truth, regardless of the cost.
There were moments in the second half of the book where I began to feel that the pace was sagging a little, and wondered whether I was being fed a certain amount of filler. But then things would veer sharply off in a completely unexpected direction. I do love it when a book surprises me, and this one has several such moments, much to my delight. The ending is less unexpected, and (to my mind) falls slightly flat, and I wasn’t totally convinced by the oh-so-convenient way the population of the capital city falls into line, but it isn’t a major stumbling block. A very enjoyable read. Highly recommended. Four stars. ...more
What a lovely book. Literate, elegant and charming, with a touch of whimsy, this is a story in the high fantasy style of Tolkien,Fantasy Review Barn
What a lovely book. Literate, elegant and charming, with a touch of whimsy, this is a story in the high fantasy style of Tolkien, although on a more domestic scale. It’s set in a world where tree spirits, Silvanii, reside in trees in the wildwood, living in harmony with men. Occasionally, a Silvana will choose to take a human husband, leaving her tree to take human form and live a different life.
The story focuses on Fabiom, son of the lord of Deepvale, following his life from age four through to maturity. Fabiom has always been drawn to the wildwood, and on the eve of his seventeenth birthday he determines to try to win a Silvana wife for himself. What happens that night and afterwards affects him and his family deeply, and changes his whole life, bringing conflict between his duties as lord and holder, and the needs of the Silvanii.
The backdrop to the story is a fascinating world, drawn with a deft but light hand. Fabiom’s society is Romanesque in many ways, with the house constructed around the central courtyard, and reclining on couches to eat formally. I liked the idea of the heart room, too, where everyone entering the house washes before entering the house proper. There are other cultures in existence, well-differentiated but very believable. I loved Fabiom’s shock at the idea of sitting on chairs to eat, grumbling that he found them very uncomfortable. Because of the influence of the woodland and the Silvanii, there is a great deal of detail about herbs and plantlife generally. The author has clearly done a great deal of research, but occasionally I could have done with less detailed herbology.
The characters are not the conflicted souls so common in fantasy these days. They mostly fall clearly into one or other camp, either good or bad, with the good characters paragons of honour and integrity, and the bad thoroughly devious, greedy and unscrupulous. Fabiom himself was a bit over-endowed with all the virtues, unselfishly doing his best for all parties, liked by everyone and never putting a foot wrong. It made him a bit dull at times. The other characters are more interesting in being somewhat more human (Silvanii and their woodmaids excepted, naturally). The woodmaids were a delight, and added a sprinkle of humour to the otherwise serious tone of the book.
The book was divided into a multitude of parts, with sometimes a big time jump between them. This enabled the story to cover a lot of ground, but it did sometimes feel very episodic, like a series of novellas glued together. There were some parts, particularly the campaign in Gerik, which seemed to serve no purpose other than to pass the time. Then, after a rousing crescendo, the last paragraphs of the book are pure setup for the next book in the series, which felt somewhat off to me.
I had a few credibility issues. The Silvanii objected violently to the stealing of the secret of silkmaking, imposing a horrible punishment on Fabiom and Casandrina. Yet they knew perfectly well that the mulberry trees won’t grow without their help, so there was no long-term risk at all. I didn’t find it convincing that they couldn’t distinguish between the betrayal of one individual and a betrayal by all of mankind. They themselves take on human form and live as humans, so they really should have a better understanding of human ways.
I also had a problem with the secrecy surrounding Casandrina. I could understand the reasoning behind not wanting to broadcast the news, but enough people knew who she was. It would have been impossible to keep it a secret for long. Yet it was a major plot point late in the book that her nature was unsuspected. Another point was that more than once a boy’s seventeenth birthday passes unnoticed. Other important dates seem to be remembered well enough, and given the significance of this particular date, the only time when a young man may try to win a Silvana wife, you would think it would have a big red ring around the date in the calendar.
I also had one or two clarity issues. The author is very good about not beating the reader over the head with world-building minutiae, and that’s generally a good thing, but the question of the daughter was dealt with too subtly, in my view. I would have liked a much clearer explanation of the seventeen year rule right from the start. As it was, a lot of important information was handed out in casual conversational asides, without further explanation, or mentioned as an already understood thing, leaving me sometimes trawling through the book looking for obscure hints that I’d missed first time round. As a personal preference, I also would have liked a little more explanation about the Silvanii reproductive system. Now I understand why the author chose not to dwell on it, but it seemed to be rare for a Silvana to take a human husband, and each marriage only produced one daughter and one son. Is this the only way Silvanii have offspring? Or is there an asexual method as well, producing cloned daughters? Why are Silvanii all female anyway? And the whole daughter business boggled my mind. Well, OK, that one can stay mysterious. But lots of questions raised.
These are relatively minor grumbles. This is a beautifully written, lyrical book, with a wonderful love story and an enchanting setting. Not for the grimdark or sword-and-sorcery fan, but for those who enjoy a more traditional tale in the literary style of Tolkien’s era, this is a delightful read. A good four stars....more
This is a cracking story. Fantasy romance is a tricky format. It can veer from straight fantasy with a little romance on the side,Fantasy Review Barn
This is a cracking story. Fantasy romance is a tricky format. It can veer from straight fantasy with a little romance on the side, through to outright romance with a little arm-wavy magic or the occasional dragon thrown in for light relief. This book leans more to the relationship side of the equation, but there’s some solid world-building underpinning it.
Many elements of the story are quite conventional. Rowan is the teenage girl expected to do her duty and marry well, producing the babies in unexpectedly short supply in her country, Darmid. But she’s fascinated by magic, even though it’s illegal, and why does she have strange headaches? Aren is the royal from the neighbouring country, Tyrea, a powerful sorcerer whose even more powerful older brother now rules. When Aren is sent to capture a sorcerer from magic-less Darmid for experimentation, he meets Rowan and… Well, we can see where this is going, can’t we?
Despite the well-worn plotlines, the opening chapters draw the world and characters with deft brushwork, and if Rowan is a little too quick to help the injured Aren, and Aren is a little too easily drawn to Rowan, I can let that go for the depth of world-building below the surface. There are some nice details here: like the idea that eliminating magic in Darmid acts to weaken the magic in next door Tyrea, too. And women in Darmid are only fertile once a year. No wonder they have so much trouble producing babies. The author cleverly follows this through in logical ways: sex before marriage is positively encouraged, because it just might result in a successful pregnancy.
The middle part of the book sags somewhat, becoming a slightly dull travelogue, with various threats leaping out of the scenery to liven things up. In between dealing with these events, the two main characters angst about what they’re doing, and each other, and the future. The story is told from both Rowan’s and Aren’s point of view, in first person. Occasionally I found this confusing, but it did help to get under the skin of both characters. Both of them are smart and behaved sensibly, but Aren I found particularly fascinating. His background and history, his suppressed anger, his status as a loner and outsider despite his family connections - all made him far more interesting to me than Rowan, whose life was far more settled.
Aren’s history also made the romance difficulties work well. It’s a convention in a romance story that although the main characters are irresistibly drawn to each other, something prevents them from being together. And when one of them is a professional assassin and ruthless fixer-upper? Yes, I can see why Rowan might have second thoughts about a man like that.
The plot rolls along quite nicely, until… Look, I’m going to rant for a minute here, so you can skip ahead to the next paragraph if you want. So we have our plucky hero and heroine racing to escape a fate worse than death, chased by evil villains here, there and everywhere, things getting fraught, building nicely to a climax, and then what happens? There’s a ball, that’s what. Well, a party, anyway, with fancy frocks, and dancing, and general merriment. Guys, there are people out there wanting to kill you, probably painfully and very, very slowly - get a sense of urgency, for goodness sake. No, I get it, I really do, the two main characters have to have their Big Romantic Moment, but I do struggle with credibility here. As it happens, it was a particularly good BRM, so that’s fine, but please, authors, skip the frocks and dancing, OK?
The climax is a suitably dramatic confrontation with a fairly long-drawn-out post-dust-up scenario, which managed to bring some emotional resonance to bear without sacrificing common sense or betraying the characters of the principals involved. And needless to say, there are enough loose threads to continue the story into the next book. This is a particularly well written and well plotted fantasy romance, which finds a good balance between the two elements and has unusually strong characterisation. A good four stars. ...more
Warning: this is the fourth book in a five-book series, and for anyone who hasn't read all the previous books, there will be spoileFantasy Review Barn
Warning: this is the fourth book in a five-book series, and for anyone who hasn't read all the previous books, there will be spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.
When I first saw the title of this book, I deduced that the widow was Clara, whose husband Dawson was executed as a traitor in a previous book. Clara had a walk-on part in the first book, and her own chapters thereafter, but now she finally takes centre-stage, not necessarily as a player in her own right (although to some extent she is), but more specifically as the mother of sons involved in different ways in the ongoing war. So, the widow's house: not a physical house, but house as in family.
Clara is one of four point of view characters, to cover the full scale of the war that's been gradually building since book one. The four are: Geder, the Regent and spider-priest-motivated driving force behind it; Cithrin, the banker opposed to him for personal as well as ideological reasons; Marcus the soldier with a long, battle-scarred history; and Clara herself. The book follows the Game of Thrones principle, where chapters from different characters rotate, although here the rotation is quite regular. This has the usual disadvantage: a cliff-hanger at the end of a chapter can't be resolved until that character's turn comes round again, usually four chapters later. Authors, please don't do this, it's very annoying. At its best, the plot flows seamlessly from one character's point of view to the next, but mostly there's that little hiccup of adjustment when you flip to a new chapter, that where-were-we? moment.
When Abraham pitched this series, he offered either a three book version or this, the five book version. This is the first point at which I'm tempted to say: three might have been better. The actual events of this book could be written on half an A4 sheet of paper, and not using an abnormally small font, either. The story doesn't sprawl in the way that some other, very expansive, series do (George R R Martin, I'm looking at you...), but it isn't tightly written, either. Now, in the hands of a master wordsmith like Abraham, this isn't a problem. A chapter curls around you like smoke, warm and comforting (like Clara’s pipe, if you want the full analogy), and it's only afterwards that you think: nothing very much happened there. This is particularly obvious with Clara's thread, since she's thrown into the role of an observer of the war and not much else. I like Clara, but her plotline was stretched very thin here.
The author's great strength (OK, one of his many great strengths - can you tell I'm a fan?) is the depth of characterisation and so it is here. All the characters feel fully rounded and as real as anyone you could meet in real life. Even Geder, or perhaps especially Geder. In many ways he’s a villain of the first order, but also a deeply insecure and uncertain man. And some of his moments with Prince Aster, the heir to the throne, show him as a caring, even compassionate man, with a certain wisdom. His care for the pregnant wife of his best friend (and possibly only friend) is both moving and slightly creepy in its intensity. The previous books were littered with horrifying 'Geder moments' like the burning of Vanai, or the summary execution of his closest advisers, with the result that you tiptoe through Geder’s chapters wondering when he’s going to explode. He still has no sense of perspective, and puts far too much trust in the spider priests who have an agenda of their own. The most worrying aspect of Geder, for me, is that I actually like him, or, I suppose, pity and sympathise with him. He's done some terrible things, but he's also an enormously tragic character, and part of me desperately wants him to find a happy ending, to settle down somewhere to a quiet, obscure life with his books.
Cithrin, on the other hand, irritates me. She always has, although her juvenile behaviour in the early books was at least understandable by virtue of her age and social inexperience. Her sole function seems to be to do incredibly stupid things for most of the book, or to lounge around in a drunken depression, getting into trouble and being rescued by everyone else, and then pull a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute and have everyone proclaim her a genius. Two cities have fallen solely because of her stupidity, and she's not done yet. Pah. Marcus I like a lot, although he's typical of the stoical, worldly-wise, slightly cynical warrior type, whose experience keeps him out of a lot of trouble. And keeps others out of trouble too. But then I have a soft spot for stoical, slightly cynical warrior types. And I do like sidekick Yardem. Especially his ears. It was nice to find out a little more of their dramatic history, and highly entertaining when the pair of them turned up at Carse to have everyone say: ‘Yeah, yeah, sure you’re Marcus Wester and Yardem Hale… Whoa!’
While we're on the subject of characters, I’m a big fan of Vincen Coe, Clara’s servant-turned-lover, but please, Mr Abraham, will you stop beating him up? However, my absolute favourite in this book has to be Inys (and if you don't know who Inys is, go back and reread book three, last chapter). Everything he says and does is entirely believable, given his history and his nature. Plus he has some of the best moments in the book. Him and the pirates. I mean, pirates and a dragon - what are you waiting for, folks? Go out and buy this book immediately.
There are a few minor grumbles. The cunning men (sorcerers, basically) become even more useful in this book, but there’s no explanation of what they do or how it works. Much of their capability is dismissed as mere trickery, put on to impress people, yet their talent for healing seems to be quite real and rather useful. A little more detail about them would be nice. And a surprising grumble: my Kindle version had an astonishing number of typos in it, far more than I would expect in a major release like this (and this wasn’t an ARC copy, it was the actual day-of-release version).
This book feels far more like a transition than the previous ones in the series. Everything is being put in place for the final confrontation, but there were no huge out-of-nowhere moments, just some nice little twists that made me smile. And somehow it felt repetitious, both in phraseology (fingers were repeatedly laced together, cotton was fresh from the boll), but also in plot terms - the Cithrin plan, the dramatic escapes, the out-of-nowhere attacks, yet I never felt that the main characters were seriously at risk. Even Geder was milder this time round, still creepy as hell, especially over Cithrin, but perhaps less likely to explode at any moment, channelling his energies into his best friend’s wife and baby, and a clever little piece of engineering research. However, the important factor in this book was the shift in attitude. From being an unstoppable force, Geder and the spider priests now have vulnerabilities, and the opposition have plans and weapons. And a dragon. Inys wasn't the get-out-of-jail-free card that might have been expected, but he's still a wild card. I have no idea how this is going to end, but I can't wait to find out. Four stars....more
Way back in the seventies, there was a UK TV program called ‘The Survivors’. The premise was that almost everyone on earth had beenFantasy Review Barn
Way back in the seventies, there was a UK TV program called ‘The Survivors’. The premise was that almost everyone on earth had been wiped out by some kind of virus or illness, and dealt with how the minute number of people left alive coped. They passed through several stages: immediate survival, meeting up with other survivors, scavenging, forming larger groups, beginning to build sustainable communities and so on. Along the way, they dealt with deeper issues, like avoiding hostile communities and exploitation, and law and order: how do you deal with crime when you can’t spare the manpower for prisons, and the criminal may be an essential worker? It’s a dramatic theme, and must have been tackled a thousand times, in different ways, but there’s always room for one more take on it. This book starts in the same place, with some kind of unexplained flu-like illness that is invariably fatal. Fortunately a few people are immune, like Dani, the main character here. The plot covers her family’s attempts to flee to safety, then the struggle for basic survival, meeting up with a small number of other survivors, and the very first stages of long-term planning. It doesn’t quite reach to settled communities or the more difficult issues, but this is the first book in a series, so undoubtedly that will come later. You would think with such a well-trodden plot, this would be a predictable story, and in some ways it is, but that certainly doesn’t make it dull or dry. The early chapters, the cross-country escape bid, beautifully captures the tension and fear of Dani and her parents and sister as they try to get home. Then there’s the pathos of coping in isolation, without most of the trappings of the modern world, and having to do the sort of dreadful jobs that someone else always took care of - like burying bodies. Dani is a smart and resourceful young lady, and although sometimes her decisions felt just a little too clever, and she seldom made mistakes, that’s far better than being stupid. The other characters were well-drawn, too, but they fell rather too neatly into the good guy or villain dichotomy; I like a little more grey in my characters for preference. The ending fell slightly flat for me. It was hugely dramatic and a real page-turner, but it seemed to me that the villains behaved pretty stupidly, in a number of ways. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses, and accept that you’ve been outsmarted. Plus, waving guns around really isn’t terribly sensible when everyone else has guns too and there’s no hospital to patch up any accidents. Survival is the name of the game. But it all made for a breathlessly exciting climax. My only other slight grumble is that, since this is YA, the characters we spent most time with were all teenagers, which made me feel about a hundred and three. I am so far outside the target demographic it’s silly, and for that reason (and probably that reason alone) I felt little emotional engagement with the characters, even in their darkest moments. On the other hand, I read this from cover to cover in no time flat. It’s an engaging, well-written story with a clever array of breathless car-chases and dramatic escapes, intermingled with more introspective passages, very appropriate for the end-of-the-world scenario. Dani may be a bright girl, but she’s still, in many ways, just a kid, and the author doesn’t shy away from the desperation Dani feels from time to time. An enjoyable and thankfully zombie-free post-apocalypse story. Four stars....more