Sometimes book blurbs can do more harm than good for the novels they’re trying to promote, by placing crushing expectations upon them that might not be realized. In the case of The Facefaker’s Game, my inner skeptic’s alarm immediately went haywire at the description “for fans of Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch” which is one hell of an ambitious claim if I ever heard one. Then again, every once in a while it pays to give them the benefit of the doubt. While it’s true I went into this book with a healthy dose of realism to guard against the possible disappointment, in the end I shouldn’t have worried. This impressive fantasy debut by Chandler J. Birch definitely did not let me down.
The main character of The Facefaker’s Game is a fourteen-year-old boy with no past; one day, he just became aware of himself, standing in the middle of the street with no idea where he came from or even what his name is. Covered in soot, the boy decides to give himself the name of Ashes. Thing is though, he isn’t alone. Kids like him who just appear in the city one day with no memory are called rasa, and not surprisingly, few of them last long in a cutthroat crime-ridden neighborhood like Burroughside which is run by gangs. Ashes is lucky, if you could call him that; he is clever and quick, which means he is able to make just enough money from begging, stealing and cheating at cards to get by.
But then he gets on the wrong side of the crime lord Mr. Ragged, also Burroughside’s governor. For a while now, Ashes has been sheltering another rasa named Blimey, whom Mr. Ragged wants dead. Keeping Blimey hidden with the eventual goal of moving his friend out of Burroughside has its costs though, as it means Ashes has to steal more money, stay out later in the streets, and on the whole take more risks. One night, he takes it a step too far and runs afoul of the governor’s enforcers, but instead of meeting his end, Ashes is unexpected rescued by an Artificer named Candlestick Jack. Recognizing some magical potential in our protagonist, Jack decides to take the boy on as an apprentice, teaching him the mysterious art of light manipulation and illusion.
Of the many things that impressed me about this book, one of the first that jumped out at me was the quality of the writing. It might not be at the same caliber as the most seasoned authors, but this is Birch’s first novel and he clearly has a talent. His style is confident and easy on the eyes, making the story flow remarkably smoothly from one scene to the next. The pacing is strong and hit no lulls, making this one a relatively quick read for an adult fantasy novel that clocks in at almost five hundred pages. Birch also nails the mood of the setting, successfully portraying Burroughside as the rough, gritty, and merciless environment it is without painting it too darkly. Notwithstanding some of the grueling obstacles in our protagonist’s path, The Facefaker’s Game reads more like a fantasy adventure without the weight of cynicism dragging it down.
The book also features some memorable characters, despite many of them being examples of derivative archetypes. From Ashes (the orphan street urchin who turns out to be special) to Mr. Ragged (the evil and corrupt politician crime lord) and Candlestick Jack (the crafty yet benevolent master thief who takes in street rats to train them), you can’t help but feel you’ve met all of them all in some form or another before. Still, we know certain tropes have hung around the genre and stayed popular for so long, simply because the readership loves that stuff—the way I ate them up in The Facefaker’s Game. The author made me care about the protagonist and his friends, which I feel is the first and foremost goal a novelist should strive for, and to Birch’s credit, he also put a number of interesting spins on his characters, giving them back stories that made their personalities, motivations, and reactions feel very persuasive and real.
Story-wise, I thought this was tightly plotted for the most part, though several threads have been floated so far that have seemingly gone nowhere. There are definitely elements in here that could have been better incorporated, and it is my hope that any plot orphans and unanswered questions will be explored in a future installment. But even with its flaws, The Facefaker’s Game did not let me down. It’s an entertaining, fast-paced book that pulled me in effortlessly, especially since I adore stories about thieves, heists, and the creative uses of magic! Speaking of which, I thought Weaving and Stitching light and illusion was a fascinating basis for what Artificers do, and kudos to Birch for creating such an intricate and well thought magic system.
All in all, The Facefaker’s Game is a solid debut. I’m curious to see where Chandler J. Birch will take his characters next, and you can be sure I will be pick up his next novel....more
While this is only my third venture into the world of Pathfinder Tales, I swear the experience is only getting better with each book. And my latest read, Shy Knives, just completely stole the show.
Backing up a bit though, I was excited when I first learned that the wickedly funny Sam Sykes had been asked by Paizo to write a novel for them and that he would be joining the Pathfinder fun, but I think I would have jumped on this book even if I hadn’t been getting into the series already. I knew I was going to enjoy myself, but still—I had no idea just how much!
Shaia Ratani, Shy to her friends, is a scrappy young scoundrel who specializes in the kind of jobs that no one else can handle. For one thing, she’s not afraid to work outside the law. For another, she’s also not above getting her hands dirty. She has cheated, stolen, maimed, and killed—and though she doesn’t exactly condone or relish doing harm to others, it’s not like she can afford to regret her past decisions either. Sometimes a job is just a job, and nothing personal.
One day, Shy is approached by a young noblewoman with an interesting case. The Lady Dalaris Sidara is the sole remaining heir to a destitute house, her already precarious future shattered by the death of her betrothed just days before their wedding. They said that her fiancé had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, overseeing his family’s trade business at a caravan stop when it was attacked by a marauding band of centaurs, but Dalaris suspects that there is more to the story. With the other nobles watching her like a hawk, she needs someone resourceful like our protagonist to poke around and shake out the truth. Some jobs may require heroes, but this one definitely calls for a rogue.
I loved the characters in this book. Shy’s voice is as delightful as they come, with her sharp mind and sharper tongue. Sam Sykes did a wonderful job with her personality, finding that perfect balance between “hardened criminal” and “rogue with a heart of gold” so that Shy came across as lovable protagonist without being too mawkishly sentimental. She also won me over from the very first page with her clever wit and hilarious anecdotes and one-liners. I could probably fill a dozen pages with my favorite quotes, easy. In multiple places, this book literally had me laughing out loud.
Then there’s Dalaris. My favorite description of her comes near the end, from an observation by Shy herself: “There are two types of people in this world: tough people beneath a layer of tears and teary people beneath a layer of toughness. Dalaris, thankfully, was the former.” Despite the relationship getting off to a rough start, this unassuming and ostensibly meek noblewoman ultimately earns Shy’s respect and friendship, and it’s easy to understand why once you get to know her strength (as well as some mind-blowing revelations about her past).
Now that I have three Pathfinder Tales novels under my belt, I’m also struck by the variety of stories. Despite them all taking place in the great wide world of Golarion, the setting for many of the events in the Pathfinder RPG, my reading experiences have vastly differed each time. I liked that Shy Knives doesn’t take itself too seriously, keeping a light tone and injecting a healthy dose of dry humor (which even includes several tongue-in-cheek jibes about D&D groups/adventuring parties). I wanted a fun, swashbuckling good read, and that was exactly what I got. At the same time though, the book is also a testament to the increasing quality of media tie-in novels. Their popularity is a growing trend, and nothing to be sneered at. I think entertaining well-written books like this one will keep helping the genre gradually shed its stigma of being disregarded as derivative, unsophisticated, or too commercial.
The nice thing too about Pathfinder Tales is that you can pretty much jump in anywhere, as most of the books in this series are written to be standalones (even though some authors will occasionally return to their previously established characters for more stories). While I have no idea if more Pathfinder novels are in Mr. Sykes’ future, if he does decide to do another one I hope he’ll consider bringing Shy back for another adventure. I just adored her character. Her humor and charms made Shy Knives an absolute pleasure to read, though I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book high marks just for being so damn enjoyable and addictive—so much so that I devoured most of it in one sitting. If I thought hard about it I could probably come up with some flaws, but quite frankly, I was having too much fun to care. Bottom line, if you’ve been curious about Pathfinder Tales, wait no longer—Shy Knives is the one you’ve just got to, have to, need to read....more
I’m so pleased to say this was the ending I wanted and what this wonderful duology deserved. I think I even liked it more than the first book, even though I rated both books the same, because while Six of Crows may have come up short of my admittedly soaring expectations, Crooked Kingdom actually surprised me by shattering any doubts that it would deliver a satisfying conclusion.
By the way, if you haven’t picked up Six of Crows yet, avert thine eyes now because there may be mild spoilers for readers who have not caught up. We pretty much pick up right where we left off, so being a bit hazy on my memories of what happened at the end of the previous book, there was a brief period of confusion to orient myself to what was happening to all these characters. As you know, there are quite a few of them. First and foremost is the man of the hour, Kaz Brekker. As the leader of his own little gang of thieves, he’s taken it upon himself to plan a daring rescue of one of their own by the villain Jan Van Eck.
The crew’s only bargaining chip is the key to the powerful yet dangerously addictive drug known as jurda parem, but you can bet Kaz isn’t about to give that up so easily. Also at stake is his revenge on Pekka Rollins, the man who destroyed Kaz’s life and took everything away from him, but until they can get their teammate back, everything unfortunately has to be put on hold. Slowly, however, a plan starts to come together where they can potentially score everything they want and more—a payback and a payday in the same package, essentially—but only if they can manage to survive all the crazy schemes and hidden traps.
On an entertainment level, this one clearly wins. I felt the plot of Six of Crows stumbled over itself multiple times in its attempt to juggle the backstories of all these characters, and as a result, the big heist itself became overshadowed. Crooked Kingdom, on the other hand, had the advantage of being able to focus more on the action and adventure since we already got the character introductions out of the way. That’s not to say the complexities of their relationships and dynamics were diminished though, because if anything, I think those connections were only strengthened in this sequel. We only have to look at Kaz, Inej, Nina, Wylan, Jesper, and Mathias to see how far all of them have come since the beginning of the first book.
Weaving in more flashbacks, personal drama, and even surprise family reunions, the author has managed to grow these characters while still keeping up the tensions of the main story, and I feel she’s achieved this balance a lot better this time around. This is so important, especially when you’re dealing with as many as half a dozen POVs. It is very obvious when you have underused characters, like Wylan and Jesper in Six of Crows for example, or when you had Nina and Matthias whose roles were clearly there to provide romantic drama while doing little to advance the overarching plot of the first book. Happily, I found little to none of this frustration in Crooked Kingdom as all members of the crew kept their eyes on the prize for the most part, and they all had their important roles to play. Any detours into past memories or side plots were also kept to a minimum and integrated in a way that felt more natural. The pacing was also quick, powering through and hitting no slumps.
What we have here is more character development, as well as more thrills, and more suspense. Honestly, I have no cause for complaint. I know I had my issues with the first book, but I did say it was a great start with some serious potential, and I am glad that my anticipation for the sequel was supported because Crooked Kingdom in no uncertain terms met that potential. I also liked the ending, which was satisfying and provided closure without making it all sunshine and rainbows. It’s perfect in that it is a wonderful balance of joy and heartbreak. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Audiobook Comments: After my fantastic experience with the audiobook of Six of Crows, I once again opted to go with this format for the sequel. Needless to say I am quite fond of productions with multiple cast members, and I was glad to see that the production team had brought on no less than eight narrators, with many of them reprising their roles from the first book. It’s a feast for the ears if you’ve enjoyed other Young Adult titles performed by some of these narrators, and I’m particularly partial to Elizabeth Evans (of the Throne of Glass audiobooks) who does an amazing Nina, Lauren Fortgang (who narrated Bardugo’s other series The Grisha) who is great for Inej, and Fred Berman (whose gravelly voice I just adored from his reading of Morgan Rhodes’ Falling Kingdoms series) is simply perfect for Kaz’s chapters. Everyone delivered great performances....more
Meet Hope. At the tender age of eight, she became the lone survivor of a massacre on her small southern fishing village after watching everyone she has ever known and loved die horribly in an experiment by the emperor’s biomancers. Rescued by a merchant ship, she was then taken in by the ancient order of Vinchen warriors and taught their ways by Hurlo, their grand master who went against his order’s rules and trained the girl in secret.
Meet Red. Not long after being orphaned and left alone in the slums of New Laven, he woke up one fateful day to find himself held captive aboard a ship alongside the infamous Sadie the Goat. Together, the two of them made their daring escape, and Sadie was so impressed by the boy’s talents that afterwards she named him her sidekick and protégé and the spot.
Under the tutelage of the female pirate/con-woman, Red grows up to become one of the greatest, most quick-fingered thieves in the criminal underworld. Hope, on the other hand, has dedicated her life to becoming an honorable and disciplined Vinchen warrior, dreaming of one day avenging her murdered village. Aside from losing their families at a young age, the two of them have very little in common. However, it appears that their separate paths have ultimately led them to a shared purpose and enemy, and it’s not long before we see Hope and Red joining forces for the biggest fight of their lives.
From the very start, I was completely taken by both Hope and Red. While the two of them don’t even meet until nearly halfway through the novel (and that’s when the fun really takes off) I nonetheless had a great time getting to know each of them on their own. The beginning of the book is mainly focused on their early lives, detailing the children’s experiences growing up with the respective mentors. To me, this section almost reads like an in-depth character study for both Hope and Red, delineating their qualities and showing how their personalities were shaped by the different ways they were raised. Characters are one the most important aspects of a story for me, so I was beyond pleased at such an intimate portrayal of our two protagonists.
Jon Skovron has also created a massive, fully-realized world filled with countless nations and cultures. We get to set sail with Hope to visit a great number of these locales after she departs from the Vinchen order and takes a bodyguard position on a ship’s crew. In the north is a different dynamic, where society may be more built up and urbanized, but it is not without its problems like abject poverty and the disparity in living conditions between the rich and the poor. Red has always found himself caught between two worlds, disowned by the upper class but also not fully accepted by his fellow street gangsters and wags. Despite introducing his readers to a large number of sights and sounds, people and places, maritime slangs and street lingo, I thought the author did a marvelous job uniting Hope and Red’s individual storylines into a tightly woven plot.
Speaking of which, there was never a dull moment. Mixing grit with light humor, the writing style was incredibly easy to get into, helped by the story’s smooth flow and quick pacing. As well, Skovron’s experience with writing in the Young Adult genre can be seen in some of the character actions and plot elements, giving Hope and Red some crossover appeal (albeit reader discretion is advised given the strong language and graphic violence).
Truly, the only criticism I have is the pacing in the last one hundred pages or so, where I felt the solution to Hope and Red’s dilemma was presented too neatly, and the book was also wrapped up too quickly. Compared to the intro, where our protagonists’ lives were so lovingly and painstakingly described in all their particulars, the ending felt somewhat scant and haphazard, almost like Skovron was in a rush to finish. Beyond this one gripe though, I can really find no other major faults.
If you prefer character-driven tales and world-building that gives you the full picture, then you should definitely check this out. Hope and Red is the perfect escape for fantasy fans looking for a fun, entertaining and action-packed adventure. I can’t wait to read the next book in the trilogy....more
The moment I learned that Kate Reading and Michael Kramer would be performing the audio edition of A Gathering of Shadows, I knew this was the only format of the book I wanted. I’m a big fan of the audiobook power couple, who has narrated a bunch of my favorite fantasy series including Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I saw both their names attached to this sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic.
The story begins approximately four months after the first book. Without spoiling anything beyond what’s already in the publisher description, this is a relatively short time for the characters to come to terms with all that’s happened, considering the widespread repercussions. White London’s creepy rulers the Dane twins may have been dealt with, but that ordeal has nonetheless changed brothers Kell and Rhy’s lives forever. The antagonist Holland was also vanquished through the rift to Black London, left for dead with the shadow stone, the pesky thing that started all this trouble in the first place.
But when all was said and done, Lila Bard had decided to walk away, leaving Kell with only his memories and the guilt. This prompts Rhy to sneak Kell into the upcoming Element Games (which is kind of like this world’s Olympics of magic) in the hopes that it would cheer his brother up. Meanwhile, Lila has stuck around in Red London, meeting up with a pirate crew and becoming their best thief. However, her captain turns out to be one of the most talented magicians in the realm, and his intention to compete in the Games also steers their ship towards the capital. Little do our characters know, they’ll all be seeing each other again very soon—and unfortunately, that doesn’t preclude old enemies showing up as well.
The good news is, I liked A Gathering of Shadows more than the first book. I wouldn’t say A Darker Shade of Magic was a disappointment exactly, but I had also expected a lot more from V.E. Schwab, after she first blew me away with Vicious. Despite its unique premise and the excellent world-building, ADSOM was missing an edge somehow, and I could only point to the lackluster characters. In spite of their interesting backstories, Kell and Lila both suffered from having standard personalities and no remarkable presence. Still, I enjoyed the fast-paced narrative and the action-filled plot, and thought that ending set things up nicely for a sequel. I knew I was intrigued enough to want to continue the series, and it was my hope that the characters will finally grow on me.
And in a lot of ways, they did. I’m still not completely invested in Lila, but unless there’s an overhaul to her personality and she becomes less obnoxious, I doubt I ever will. She’s all about the grandiosity but weak on substance, and every time she opened her mouth to spout about running away from good things, I wanted to roll my eyes. Happily, Kell on the other hand has become a much more interesting character. The drastic changes he went through in the first book has transformed him into a protagonist I actually want to root for, going from the spoiled child who doesn’t realize how good he has it, to the man who self-sacrifices for the sake of others.
The story is also so much better! The Element Games was obviously the centerpiece of this novel, and I liked the excitement surrounding it. The only negative is how long it took to build up to the event, and the somewhat flimsy reasons for Kell and Lila to get involved. The insanity of the tournament and explosive action of the magician duels in the matchups are well worth the wait though, and the second half of the book is definitely a lot stronger than the first. Relationships between the characters are getting twistier and there’s also a side plot bringing back something from the past to haunt them again. Obviously we’ve not seen the last of Black London, and its rise will mean very bad things for all the other versions.
Plus, I think I made a great choice going with the audiobook version. With respect to Steven Crossley who did an excellent job narrating the first book, A Gathering of Shadows worked even better for me because of having two narrators. Michael Kramer read Kell’s perspective chapters, bringing the character to life. Kate Reading was great too, even though her voice was probably less of a match for the younger, less-refined thief Lila. There’s a reason why they’re two of my favorite narrators though, because they can make almost anything work.
Overall, I’m glad I decided to continue with this series because I was hoping I would like the second book better than the first—and I did. The abrupt ending was kind of cruel, but it was an effective cliffhanger to make me even more curious about book three. A solid sequel, and I look forward to see what will happen next....more
The boys are back! When I heard Michael J. Sullivan was going to take his next Hadrian and Royce adventure to Kickstarter in the summer of 2015, I happily forked over the cash to support this brilliant project by one of my favorite authors. I’ve read and loved every Riyria novel and I couldn’t have been more excited about The Death of Dulgath. As part of my backer rewards, I received an early digital copy of the book, but I later also picked up the audiobook version because of Tim Gerard Reynolds, the narrator who brings Sullivan’s wonderful characters and world to life.
I was not disappointed. The Riyria Revelations ranks high among one of my favorite fantasy series, so naturally when Sullivan went on to write two more books in The Riyria Chronicles, I read those too. Chronicles is meant to be a prequel series, comprised of stand-alone tales featuring Hadrian and Royce before the events of Revelations, and The Death of Dulgath is the third of these. As thieves for hire, our protagonists are always getting into trouble involving daring heists and other shenanigans, which is another reason why these side stories about their “time before” have always appealed to me, but in this latest novel, things take on a surprising twist.
This time, instead of being tasked to steal something, Royce and Hadrian are hired on as consultants…of a sort. In the province of Dulgath, the last surviving member of the ruling noble family is being targeted for assassination, and the authorities need Riyria’s expertise to help foil the plot. But of course, things are never as they seem. When Royce and Hadrian travel to Dulgath, they find a perfect little kingdom where everyone is healthy, crops grow aplenty, and it never rains during the day. Plus, the young Lady Dulgath whom they are meant to protect seems to know a lot more about the situation than she lets on.
For several reasons, I found The Death of Dulgath to be very different from the other Chronicles books, with the most obvious distinction being the story’s heavier emphasis on mystery. Royce and Hadrian do more investigating than anything else, and the pacing was markedly slower especially towards the beginning and the middle—though fear not, as there’s still plenty of action and adventure to go around, as well as a good number of plot twists.
But as usual, what I loved most was the character interaction. Fans of the series have always known Hadrian to be the one who wears his heart on his sleeve, while Royce is his polar opposite—ill-tempered, aloof, and untrusting. The Death of Dulgath catches our protagonists at an interesting time in their lives, set only a few years after they first met. Both are still learning how to work with the other, but slowly yet surely, trust is starting to grow. Let’s just say there’s a good reason why everyone calls this series the ultimate bromance; each story adds a little more to what we know about their relationship, which is another reason why the prequel novels are so special to readers who have followed these characters for a long time.
For this reason, I highly recommend reading all the Riyria books in publication order, starting with The Riyria Revelations series. You can then pick up any of the Chronicles books and enjoy them perfectly fine as standalones, but having read Revelations first really enhanced my experience with The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn, and now The Death of Dulgath. What’s more, Michael J. Sullivan peppers this book with a lot of references to the lore and history of this wider world. While you don’t need any of it to follow the story, it’s obviously much more fun when you recognize all the allusions. Also, it lets you appreciate just how big, vivid and elaborate this series is, and believe it or not, it’s still growing all the time—next year, Sullivan’s upcoming Age of Myth will be set in the distant past of these Riyria books, going back to this world’s ancient times. In fact, he even works in a teaser or two for it in the plot of The Death of Dulgath.
No question about it, this book is another winner, bringing back everything I love about Riyria: great characters, great setting, great story. I really couldn’t have asked for more. A must-read for fans of the series, and if for some reason you haven’t been initiated into the fascinating world of Riyria yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?...more
Owl is back, and things are more fun and explosive than ever in this sequel to Owl and the Japanese Circus, Kristi Charish’s debut featuring the eponymous former archaeology student turned international antiquities thief. I’m sure those of us who have read the first book are familiar with the character’s smart-alecky, rabble-rousing ways, and true to form, Owl gets into a heap of trouble again—except this time, it’s actually not her fault! Well, not all of it, anyway… Alix “Owl” Hiboux has always prided herself on being the best at what she does, but having a reputation isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Right now, someone out there is using it against her, plundering off-limit dig sites while trying to make it all look like her work. This has landed her in hot water with the IAA, the governing body that regulates archaeological sites worldwide, but our heroine has even bigger problems to worry about—the supernatural kind. Now Owl has got everything from vampires to sirens howling after her blood, and even her boss, the red dragon Mr. Kurosawa is not entirely convinced of her innocence. To prove that she had nothing to do with the thefts, Owl will have to go and recover the stolen artifacts herself and catch the real tomb raiders responsible, taking her on an adventure through some of the most dangerous and unstable places in the world, from the pirate-infested coast of Somalia to the mysterious City of the Dead in war-torn Syria. Fans of Owl and the Japanese Circus should find plenty to love again in Owl and the City of Angels, which brings back all the high-speed action and entertainment that made the first book so great. I was pleased to see that my favorite things about Japanese Circus—the archaeology, paranormal elements, supernatural baddies, and of course Owl’s favorite online game World Quest—are all reiterated in this sequel. Furthermore, Charish sets an even faster pace, and there’s no question about it, City of Angels is also bigger and more ambitious in pretty much every aspect. Perhaps the biggest improvement I noted was Owl’s character herself. Being a cheeky, foul-mouthed thief who makes impulsive, spur of the moment decisions, her personality was a sore point in a lot of reviews I saw for the first book. In my own review of Owl and the Japanese Circus, I also noted Owl’s complete lack of self-preservation skills and her tendency to spout insults at friends and enemies alike when she feels like she is up against a wall—which made it tougher for her to grow on me. However, I had a lot less trouble connecting to her this time around. Owl is still prickly and impetuous, but she has toned down her volatile attitude, becoming a lot more aware of her actions and even experiences an introspective moment or two. Love her or hate her, the fact that she is an ever-evolving and dynamic character scores huge points in my book. Granted, the story still has lots of over-the-top, far-fetched moments where you’ll have to suspend your disbelief, but if you didn’t find this to be an issue in the first installment, I doubt it will affect your enjoyment here either. Personally, the only reason why I rated this book a half star lower than its predecessor is because I felt the supernatural conflict dragged on a little too long for my tastes, and I was a little worn down by the time we hit the three-quarters mark. Still, while the plot could have used some tightening up, other than that, I could find few other faults with this wild sequel. In the end, it’s all about the fun. When it comes to delivering pure and unadulterated entertainment, Kristi Charish has scored another hit with Owl and the City of Angels, and you can be sure I’m looking forward to the next adventure starring its plucky “Indiana Jane” heroine and her group of fearless friends....more
Okay, I’m intrigued. Very intrigued. Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows may have fallen slightly short of my expectations, but it’s still great. And honestly, it was going up against a super high bar, considering the ridiculous number of good books I’ve read this year so far and the fact that I can be very finicky about my heist stories.
First though, let’s get something out of the way, since I’ve gotten asked this question a bunch of times: You don’t need to read or even be familiar with the Grisha trilogy before starting this book. It is set in the same world, but other than a few references to events and people from the other series, Six of Crows features an all new story and an all new cast of characters. Personally, that made me very happy. As much as I enjoyed the Grisha trilogy, it didn’t end as strongly as it started, and I was definitely ready for something fresh.
So here we find ourselves in the new setting of Ketterdam, a bustling trade city and home to a gang of thieves calling themselves the Dregs. Kaz “Dirty Hands” Brekker is their fearless leader and mastermind, willing to take on any job for the right price. When tasked by a powerful crime lord to rescue a scientist with a secret formula from the impenetrable walls of the Ice Court, Kaz goes forth and gathers his crew in preparation for the heist of a lifetime.
For better or worse, the heist itself actually takes a backseat to the amount of attention given to the members of the Dregs. This also means the plot is decidedly uncomplicated once you pare it all down, because the complexity is all in the characters. Probably a good thing too, when you have as many as six crew members to follow.
Kaz is the clever one, the one who makes the plans and takes care of the boys and girls in his crew. A child of the streets, Kaz’s background is one huge sob story, which lends sympathy to his thirst for revenge against the man he blames for his brother’s death. Reserved and coolheaded, Kaz also wears fancy-pants clothes and walks around with an ostentatiously well-fashioned cane due to a “childhood” injury to his leg (in quotes because right now he’s still all of what, 17?) Kaz is interesting, though whenever I think of him I picture a kid trying to play at being an adult, and unfortunately that whole persona tends to drive me crazy.
Then there’s Inej, also known as the Wraith. Her talents lie in being able to melt into the shadows. She has a pretty sad story too (okay, I’m just going to say right now, ALL of them have pretty sad stories. Seems like that’s Bardugo’s go-to approach for every single one of her characters) but out of everyone, Inej was my favorite.
Jesper is the sharpshooter, and he’s also the joker of the group. I don’t think he got near enough the attention he deserved, which is a shame because I really liked him. There was also this great dynamic between him and Wylan, the Dreg’s “outsider” who nonetheless found his way to a special place in my heart. Seriously, the two most interesting members of the crew with the best banter got shafted here, because the story decided instead to shine all the attention on…
Nina and Matthias. The Grisha and the Witch Hunter. Nina brings the magic and Matthias brings the insider knowledge of the Ice Court and its security systems. Together they bring enough YA clichés to fill an ocean. Normally, I am all for forbidden love and a romance between characters who start off hating each other’s guts, but these two were downright insufferable. Just shut up and make with the kissy-face already. Plus, Matthias was distractingly perfect. And Nina was distractingly awkward whenever she attempted her sexy act. Every time they interacted, I had to fight the urge to cringe because it all just felt so damn scripted.
Personally, I would have been happier with less drama, more action (more heist!) The story was also a little slow to take off, with a long and drawn out intro. Most heist stories typically use this time to focus on the planning and preparation, but Bardugo has opted for a different strategy, giving us background information on the characters in the form of flashbacks and memories instead. I really enjoyed some of these flashbacks (Inej and Kaz had great backstories) while others felt more like a distraction (Nina and Matthias), which makes me think your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about the various members of the Dregs. This is very much a character-focused story, which is great, but when you have such a big cast, I will invariably connect with some more than others.
And speaking of a big cast, the audiobook is also a fantastic format to enjoy Six of Crows. I simply adore huge productions that involve multiple narrators because each perspective character gets to have their own unique “voice”. Six of Crows features a whopping seven narrators, many of whom are big names in the world of YA audiobooks. Several of them I’ve had the pleasure of listening to their work in the past, like Elizabeth Evans (she’s great on the Throne of Glass series), Lauren Fortgang (from the Grisha trilogy audiobooks), David LeDoux (who narrated Sam’s chapters in Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver) and Jay Snyder (from Peter Clines’ Ex-Heroes). Everyone delivered fantastic performances, including the narrators who were new to me.
Bottom line, this is a great start to a series with some serious potential. It wasn’t exactly the type of heist story I expected, though it just as well Leigh Bardugo made it all about her characters because characters are what makes a good book. Even though I despised the corny romance, there are some wonderfully unique and memorable personalities here, and I’d like to see more of some of them in the next installment....more
Kristi Charish is an author after my own heart. First, her book Owl and the Japanese Circus stars Alix “Owl” Hiboux, a former archaeologist turned international antiquities thief. Having been an Archaeology student myself, I can’t in good conscience say I endorse the character’s tomb raiding and thieving ways, but heck, anything to do with archaeology will inevitably will catch my attention – and consider me on board with Owl’s whole “Indiana Jane” persona! Second, much of the novel takes place in fabulous Las Vegas, one of my favorite cities in the world. And third, Owl is a hardcore gamer and lover of RPGs, and it greatly intrigues me that her favorite online game World Quest might be more than it seems…
It doesn’t end there. There’s a lot more here that urban fantasy readers will really get a kick out of, from vampires and naga and nympths to more exotic supernaturals like Kami spirits. Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon masquerading as a human that first summons Owl to his lavish Japanese Circus Casino in Vegas to make her an offer she can’t refuse – retrieve a priceless artifact for him, and in return he’ll help Owl take care of a pack of vampires that have been dogging her steps for months and making her life a living hell.
Of course, things are never so simple. And this is why Owl hates working supernatural jobs. Together with her best friend Nadya and the charismatic and hunky ex-mercenary Rynn, Owl stumbles into one disastrous problem after another in the course of her world-wide treasure hunt, and it’s going to take all her wits to simply stay alive.
Thing is, Owl may have the brains, but her problem solving abilities are often hindered by her temper, impatience, and a trigger-happy mouth that has the unfortunate tendency to spout foul insults at anyone – friends and enemies alike – when she feels they have her up against a wall. As a result, Owl feels a lot less idealized when compared to a lot of her urban fantasy heroine counterparts, making her come across more flawed, real and human. That said, I doubt it’ll be easy to get through the book without feeling multiple urges to throttle her for being so foolhardy and bullheaded, or for not thinking things through and always charging head-first into danger without a plan. Still, while it might take a while for Owl to grow on you, her spunky personality also makes this one a fast-paced, energizing read.
The story is also a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the plot constantly moving from one action scene to the next, thundering along like a runaway freight train. There are a lot of moments where you have to suspend your disbelief, but nothing so extreme that it prevented me from enjoying myself. Also, as is the case with a lot of debut novels, there’s a rawness to the storytelling, some plot inconsistencies that cropped up every now and then (like, given the dangerous nature of the scroll Owl was tasked to find and the fact Mr. Kurasawa knew all about it, why would he even seek to find a translation?) and some minor contradictions (early on in the novel, Owl mentions looking forward about getting plenty of time to sleep on the plane, but later when on board, admits that she can’t ever sleep on planes) but since I read the advanced copy, I imagine many of these hiccups will be ironed out in the final.
All told, this is a great start to what looks to be a very different kind of urban fantasy. I’d like to see more of the archaeology and gaming angle, and I’m definitely interested in continuing Owl’s future adventures if the books keep up with the heavy action and fun. ...more
Another excellent Young Adult novel from Pyr, the first of what I hope will be Hexed series featuring more of heroine Luci Jenifer Ignacio das Neves – Lucifer for short. Based on the author’s comic of the same name which I’ve actually not read before tackling this book (but you can be sure it’s on my to-read list now), Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown has made me a new fan of Michael Alan Nelson.
The story begins with a Bloody Mary game gone wrong. What should have been a harmless prank ends up getting a high school girl snatched away by monstrous haggish creature. Her father, a police officer, goes to Lucifer for help after hearing that the young thief possesses supernatural talents that would help him get his daughter Gina back. Unable to bear the cop’s grief, Lucifer decides to help. After her initial investigations at the missing girl’s school, Lucifer ends up with some promising leads as well as a new sidekick – Gina’s handsome and popular boyfriend, David.
A great mix of action and humor with just a dash of horror, Hexed is an entertaining paranormal YA novel featuring a story that feels new and fresh. With a plot that’s fast-paced and addictive, this book is truly something special. I took to our kickass protagonist right away, charmed by her resourcefulness and laugh-out-loud wit. Lucifer is simply hilarious! I really enjoyed following her as a main character, even if I do find her name and the reason behind it (she was named for her two grandmothers, and she “honors” them by combining their first names like that) a little dubious, but I guess when it comes to her brand of dry dark humor, that’s probably as good an example as any. I like Lucifer too because she manages to pull off that take-no-crap attitude without coming off as a belligerent little brat. She may have a strong personality, but her kind heart and good intentions come through on every page.
I also love the secret mystical underworld of Hexed. As Lucifer is so fond of reminding us, she possesses no inherent magical power, but the tools she uses often do. She carries around a trick bag full of magical – and sometimes dangerous – gadgets and thingamabobs which she whips out whenever she needs a problem solved, and finding out what each object does is half the fun. Through some very intense scenes, we’re also introduced to what appears to be a very intricate spell system involving runes and symbols, used for anything from activating mirrors to other dimensions to exorcising demons from their hapless victims (bet you’re dying to know why Lucifer’s holding a stuffed bunny on the cover!) The supernatural baddies here can be pretty terrifying, like the filcher demons, witch-hounds, and the witches themselves, but they’re also fascinating. Lucifer’s harrowing journey to find and rescue Gina from the dead realm of Witchdown is not without its disturbing moments, but I couldn’t help it – I found myself utterly captivated by the whole story.
There are just a couple of issues I have to bring up; one is minor, while the other can be a deal breaker depending on your personal preferences. The first is something that struck me as unnecessary, which is the constant reminder that Lucifer is something “separate” and apart from the normal real world. Every few chapters is another wistful comment from her regarding high school life in general, how all that is out of reach for her but she still wants it badly. The other issue is the romance, and not just any romance. As Lucifer and David work closely together to get Gina back, feelings start to develop between them, despite David already being unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably spoken for. This particular story arc did make for a pretty startling twist at the end, but just a heads up if you find the idea of dallying with a taken guy unappealing.
Lucifer is not your typical teenage girl, nor is Hexed your typical YA. It was a very enjoyable, quick and fun read, and best of all it is not necessary to have read the graphic novel before diving in this one. You do get a feeling that there’s an incredibly rich back story there though, one that I’ll definitely have to go back and check out one of these days now!...more
Full disclosure: I was a beta reader for an earlier draft of Daughter of Dusk last fall. This is my review of the ARC which has changed so much since then; it always amazes and thrills me to no end to see the process of a book coming together, so I would like to thank author Livia Blackburne for the opportunity.
Daughter of Dusk is the sequel to Midnight Thief, the novel that first introduced us to the protagonist Kyra of Forge and her world of assassins, thieves and shapeshifting Demon Riders. Since the events of the last novel, Kyra has learned the truth of her heritage. Only those closest to her know her secret, including her close ally Tristam Brancel the former Palace Knight. But there is another who knows, one who Kyra fears she cannot trust. James, the ex-leader of the Assassins Guild is now in custody and behind bars, but what’s stopping him from selling out Kyra to buy his own freedom?
Meanwhile, Demon Riders continue to raid the surrounding villages of Forge, and suddenly Kyra finds herself in the unique position to do something about it. Angered by the ineffectual methods of the city’s council to protect their own people and the corruption in its ranks, she is driven to do something desperate and extreme. Torn between two worlds, Kyra now must decide how far she is willing to go to save Forge and prepare for the biggest battle of her life.
Daughter of Dusk is the next big step for Kyra. In the first book she was the young and naïve thief who simply looked after herself and her own, without much care for matters outside her own sphere of existence. In this sequel, however, her eyes have been opened. No longer is she ignorant of her own identity and power, and she’s discovered herself and what matters to her. The difference is very noticeable; Kyra takes initiative and makes a lot of her own decisions in this book, a far cry from the girl in Midnight Thief who was manipulated and led around by the older, craftier and more experienced James.
Even though not all her decisions are the best, there’s no doubt Kyra is the one calling a lot of the shots in this book. As a result, I think Daughter of Dusk has a more mature and overall darker vibe, especially when the plot drives Kyra to do some rather unsavory things. I mentioned in my review of Midnight Thief that it felt like that book was skewed towards younger audiences, specifically the upper Middle Grade range. In contrast, I don’t think I can say the same for this second book, which is more suitably Young Adult. There was a huge change in the story here from when I did the beta read, a choice that I think makes a lot more sense given how it better explains the motivation behind some of Kyra’s more drastic, brutal actions. There were also some twists that surprised me just as much as they did the first time around.
In addition, I liked that there was no true romance arc, so if that’s what you’re looking for in your YA, you’ll probably end up disappointed. In this case, I personally felt the understated love story elements actually helped rather than hindered the story. One of the reasons I enjoyed Tristam’s character so much is because of his down-to-earth nature and the fact neither he nor Kyra sidetracked the events of the novel (too much) with needless dramatics, though there was still the requisite arranged marriage plot point to throw a wrench in the works. Nevertheless, the absence of a full-blown love triangle makes me breathe a sigh of relief.
Overall, I found this sequel just as enjoyable as book one. There were some predictable parts, but in general there were more unexpected twists in book two. Compared to the earlier version I saw of this novel, the author has also really polished up the story, even if the ending remained slightly rushed and tied up a little too neatly. Despite these minor flaws though, this second volume did a great job developing its protagonist. Kyra truly came into her own in Daughter of Dusk, and it was a pleasure to experience her story. All told, Daughter of Dusk combined a good balance of action and fantasy to deliver a worthy conclusion....more
Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician able to travel across parallel worlds in a universe that has four different Londons: Grey London which is mundane and magic-less; vibrant Red London where magic is revered; oppressive White London where a tyrant rules the throne and magic is savage and something to be conquered; and finally Black London, a shell of a city no one speaks of anymore. When a dangerous artifact from Black London finds its way Kell, he and a young thief named Lila must team up to to save all the worlds.
Despite my middling rating for this book, I really did enjoy it. However, after the great read that was V.E. Schwab’s Vicious, I admit I was expecting something just as good or better, but this one just didn’t have the edge. What was missing? I’m not sure. The novel’s concept of multiple parallel Londons is brilliant and amazingly creative, and the book should have won me over based on that fact alone. And yet, behind that dazzling curtain, the plot itself is actually simplistic and rather typical, and I’m disappointed that after the deeply complex personalities/relationships Schwab developed between Eli and Victor in Vicious, her treatment of Kell and Lila (your standard outcast-street-thief-with-big-dreams character) proved instead to be relatively unremarkable here. In many ways, my feelings towards this book can be likened to my feelings towards Kell and his magical coat — in the outset, things look delightful, extraordinary, and full of limitless potential…but strip that away and our protagonist underneath doesn’t really stand out, nor does he seem to have much presence.
I don’t think listening to the audiobook version affected my enjoyment; in fact, I think narrator Steven Crossley’s performance actually enhanced it, making me like the book even more if I’d read the print version. From the attention this book got, I expected more, but I’ll also admit to being excited for the next book. The events in this set things up nicely for a sequel, and something tells me I’ll probably like it more as the plot and characters mature....more
And so with Covenant’s End, the Widdershins Adventures series draws to a close. I’m not sure how I feel right now. I want to gush, I want to cry. Needless to say, these books have been a tumultuous emotional rollercoaster ride ever since the very beginning. I’m no stranger to how author Ari Marmell likes to keep his readers on their toes when it comes to this series, so I know I should have been prepared for the way it ended. Still, I can’t help it, both my mind and heart are still struggling to digest this cocktail of bittersweet melancholy.
If you can, try read these books in order starting from book one, Thief’s Covenant. I think you’ll get the most impact out of the series this way, not to mention the stories get better and better with each installment. That said my favorite is still the second book, False Covenant, because it was the one that made me wake up and realize how special this series is. There are so many things to highlight here: the fact that these books are technically classified as Young Adult, yet are unlike any YA I’ve ever read (in a good way!); the fact that there is great mix between the light and dark, with plenty of humor balanced with some grim and heavy themes; the fact that we have an extraordinary premise based around the partnership between our protagonist and her own “personal god”; and of course, the fact that Marmell is utterly fearless when it comes to doing what’s right for his story – even if it means putting the heroine and her friends through the wringer. As someone who has become so invested in these characters, some of the plot twists can be downright hard and shocking for me to read, but in the end I enjoy the unpredictability.
The previous book, Lost Covenant, saw Widdershins on her sojourn in Lourveux after she made the choice to run away from Davillon rather than stay and put her loved ones at risk. This fourth and final book of the series sees the return of the prodigal thief, once she finally realized the foolishness of her decision. Accompanying her as always is the all-but-forgotten minor deity Olgun, hitching a ride in the head of his only worshiper.
However, coming home was not at all like what Widdershins had expected. Her old faction the Finder’s Guild isn’t anything at all like it used to be, and the whole of Davillon seems on edge, bracing for something terrible to happen. The truth, Widdershins discovers, is worse than she had imagined. It seems her arch nemesis Lisette has returned as well, but she is far more than just the crazy and embittered rival thief we remember. Lisette (still crazy and embittered) now also has the dark powers of an ancient supernatural evil behind her, and Widdershins finds herself outmatched. In the face of this new threat, Widdershins will need to mend old friendships and forge new ones if she’s going to have any chance at all to save the city and defeat her enemy once and for all.
Now this – THIS — is the Widdershins I know and love. After everything she’s endured, I could understand her decision to say good bye to her home and her friends, leaving all the painful memories behind her. But at her very core, she’s a fighter. And I’m very glad she’s finally gotten control over grief, enough to make her way back to Davillon for Covenant’s End. I’m also relieved her sense of humor survived largely unscathed, probably due in no small part to Olgun, who keeps her engaged in witty banter (that we can only hear one side of, which frequently makes it even more outrageous and funny).
The highlight of this novel was definitely the relationship between the heroine and her god, which has come a long way since the first book. It’s clear now that Olgun is more than just a helpful partner-in-crime and a source of humorous dialogue, and Widdershins is realizing too that he’s a huge part of her life. I’m at a loss for words to describe a friendship that’s so unique, but somehow Ari Marmell manages it here swimmingly. The danger and tension of the new threat in this novel brought out the sheer depth of Widdershins and Olgun’s love for one another, and I felt it profoundly.
Which, I should point out, didn’t make reading the ending any easier. Still, contrary to what Mr. Marmell writes in his Author’s Afterword, no, I don’t hate him right now. I’m not going to go into details because there will be no spoilers from me, but all I’ll say is that I’m heartbroken but not unhappy with the way things ended. In fact, I’m actually quite pleased. I think long-time readers of the series have known for a while that there are important questions that need to be answered, and situations that need to be resolved. The author is probably right believing that not everyone will like the ending, but personally I’m satisfied with the direction he decided to take. That and I’d already braced myself for it, knowing from experience that this series isn’t always sunshine and unicorns.
So, I guess this is good bye, Widdershins Adventures. Marmell has said that he would be open to writing more books set in this world and hasn’t ruled out more Widdershins stories if the fancy strikes him, but it is the end for this “Covenant Cycle”. Even if there are future Widdershins books, they will be very different – and you’ll understand why if you read this.
Sigh. Endings are always tough but I agree with the need to move on. I just know I’ll miss this series for sure, and of course, those gorgeous covers too....more
I was introduced to the world of Midnight Thief late last year when author Livia Blackburne offered me a review copy of the prequel novella, Poison Dance. After reading it I came to two conclusions. First, Ms. Blackburne obviously puts a lot of care and effort into her writing, and knows how to tell a great story. And second, if what I saw in her novella was any indication, the actual book is going to be awesome.
In Midnight Thief, we get to meet a couple of brand new protagonists: Kyra, the thief who barely manages to eke out a living by stealing or doing the odd job, and Tristam of Brancel, the newly promoted Palace Knight (or glorified Palace Guard, depending on how you look at it). If you’ve read Poison Dance, some familiar faces turn up too, like James, now leader of the Assassin’s Guild, who approaches Kyra with a lucrative offer. All she has to do is train with the guild, run a few errands, and he promises her that she will never lack for anything again.
Meanwhile, trade in Forge is disrupted as a clan of vicious raiders begin targeting the caravans to and from the city. These Demon Riders and their wild cats keep young Tristam and his fellow knights busy on patrol as gradually the attacks grow bolder and closer to Forge. On one fateful raid, Tristam and Kyra’s paths cross and their lives become irrevocably intertwined. Thief and Knight must join forces and learn to work together if they’re going to uncover a greater conspiracy rotting at the heart of Forge.
Though classified as Young Adult, the book feels like it could be aimed at younger readers, perhaps closer to upper Middle Grade. There is a strong thread of romance, but it isn’t a big part of the novel, nor does it come into play until much later. Tristam doesn’t even make his first appearance until after a handful of Kyra’s chapters, and it also surprised me how long it took for them to finally meet face-to-face for the first time. This struck me as an oddity, until I realized I didn’t actually mind. It’s nice to see a YA novel once in a while that doesn’t follow the formula, and we were able to get to know Kyra and Tristam a lot better individually without the overbearing pressure to thrust the two of them into a relationship right away.
The story was also in line with my thoughts on the target audience -- straightforward and suitably complex, if a bit predictable at times (there were a lot of not-too-subtle hints at Kyra’s “startling secret” about her past, for one). In spite of this, I still found this book greatly enjoyable and entertaining; the plot may not have held any unseen surprises for me, but the characters sure did. The dynamics were so intricate and layered that I never could determine which faction were the “good guys” or the “bad”, because nothing was ever so simple or black and white. In the end, I just gave up trying to put a label on anybody’s motivations and ultimately settled for rooting for Kyra. I liked her, and no matter what I knew I wanted to see things end up well for our talented young thief.
Which reminds me, if you haven’t read Poison Dance yet, I do highly recommend making the effort to pick it up first before tackling this novel. It’s not required, but it’s a short read and won’t take up much of your time. More importantly, the novella will help you see a certain character in Midnight Thief in a whole different light, and perhaps make him a lot more sympathetic in your eyes. It definitely served to enhance my experience.
If you’re looking for a good medieval era inspired YA fantasy and don’t mind a narrative that skews a tad towards younger readers, I would recommend this novel. It’s fun, adventurous, and strong on character development. ...more
I gotta hand it to Ari Marmell. His Widdershins Adventures books have this way of repeatedly stabbing me in the heart, but all I can say to that is "Please, may I have some more?" Lost Covenant became one of my most anticipated new releases this season, after the events at the end of False Covenant took my emotions on a roller coaster ride and left me wondering in awe about what our protagonist will do next.
It's clear, though, that Widdershins has made good on her plans to leave Davillon, to the sorrow of all her friends at home. Burdened with grief and guilt, she and her own personal god Olgun have a few things to figure out, seeking a solace that only time and distance can provide. However, while sojourning in Lourveaux, Widdershins inadvertently stumbles upon a plot against the last surviving branch of House Delacroix. Remembering Alexandre Delacroix, the nobleman who took her in and changed her life, Widdershins is determined to help save these distant relatives of the man who was like a father to her.
Widdershins and Olgun discover more about themselves in this book, which marks a turning point for the character and her pocket deity. There is no doubt she is a flawed and damaged protagonist who has chosen to run away from her problems, but that doesn't change the fact she is a fighter -- and a smart, able and competent one at that. Her background and personality is what makes her unique, and she's probably one of my favorite heroines in young adult fiction right now.
As usual, this latest installment of the series is a perfect mix of light and dark, balancing out the touching humor with plenty of horrors as well. Widdershins' internal conversations with Olgun, the god hitching a ride in her head, are as funny and outrageous as always, but this time many of their interactions are also tempered with a more somber mood as the partners-in-crime attempt to move beyond what happened in Davillon. In many ways, the personal turmoil within Widdershins is just as compelling as the main conflict in the plot, which is saying something because the ending to this book is INSANE. The suspense I felt as the characters fought to survive a hostage situation was only intensified by the difficult choices Widdershins had to make.
This book also served as a nice excursion away from Davillon, introducing some new players including fresh foes for Widdershins to fight. In terms of allies, Cyrille Delacroix was a great new addition, and he and our main protagonist made a great team. Still, this also meant I missed a lot of the characters I'd grown to know and love over the course of the series (with the bulk of my pining reserved for Renard Lambert, admittedly) which was my only dismay. We did, however, get a few glimpses through several interlude chapters that all is not well at home, with an enemy targeting those close to Widdershins.
Once again, I now find myself yearning for the next book (like I said, more more MORE please)! Lost Covenant was a satisfying and entertaining adventure, but I'll be glad to be returning to Davillon as well. Very much looking forward to Widdershins' homecoming -- and the world of pain she'll be bringing to the enemy threatening her friends....more
First let me begin this review by stating how much I liked the first book of the Widdershins Adventures series, Thief's Covenant. That, however, still left me quite unprepared for how much I enjoyed this book, its follow-up. To be honest, I'm still reeling from the ending, and feeling not just a little bit heartbroken, but only because of how the story impacted me so emphatically. A book that makes me feel like this, even if it's like a punch in the gut, surely deserves my admiration and compliments!
But more on that later, after I revel in how much fun it was to return to Davillon, catching up with Widdershins and her friends. The events of the last book have not left our protagonist in a very good place, however. The guilt over the deaths of two people close to her still weighs on her conscience, and she has taken to thieving again in order to support the beloved tavern she inherited. The minor god Olgun, whose worshipper-base consists of only Widdershins, is still a constant presence in her life, enhancing her abilities to sneak and steal.
Then, reports start coming in about a creature of nightmare stalking the streets. At first, no one is hurt, but soon the attacks turn deadly. The city guard are baffled and are in way over their heads. And as much as Widdershins would like to stay out of it, trouble always ends up finding her. Drawn into a battle against a supernatural terror, she must use all her wits to save her friends and Davillon against the greatest threat the city has ever faced.
That I liked this book more than the first one is probably an accurate assessment. Don't get me wrong, Thief's Covenant was no slouch, but there were some slow parts I had to get through before I started warming up to it. I guess one advantage of subsequent books in a series is that the story can start right away, without having to go through all the motions of explaining background or character history. Unlike my experience with the first book, I was drawn in by False Covenant almost as soon as I started.
Also, I think I remember calling this a "cute" series. Time for me to re-evaluate that, perhaps. Not that there aren't a lot of light moments in these books; I still find lots to laugh about, especially in Widdershin's fiery and impulsive personality, not to mention her humorous banter with Olgun. Once again, Ari Marmell does a fantastic job pulling off their strange relationship as well as the their conversations that to all outward appearances seem one-sided. I don't think I'll ever get tired of those scenes, which are an endless source of entertainment!
However, there's a darkness to this series as well, which I'm just now starting to fully realize and appreciate. False Covenant strikes a good balance between that and the lightness, injecting mystery and even a bit of horror into the story. I found myself downright creeped out at times. This second book really raises the stakes, taking things to the next level and keeping you on your toes because you never know what might happen next. Ari Marmell doesn't pull any punches here.
Speaking of which, the ending. Ugh. It's hard merely thinking about it let alone having to write about it, which is just as well because I wouldn't want to spoil anything. Definitely, the characterization has gotten a lot better, and I feel a connection to Widdershins, feeling as she does about the other characters around her whether they are friend, foe, or not-sure-which. The book keeps you guessing, while still developing those character relationships and even some romance. It was all very engaging, which is why I find myself now still feeling so stunned. Those final scenes were phenomenally well done and suspenseful, and the way things ended was totally unexpected.
This seems to be one of those series that gets better the more I read. I'm so glad I caught up in time for the third book coming out in December, because now I can't wait to see what comes next....more
After the events of The Scroll of Years, Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are back in action in The Silk Map, and this time on an even more exhilarating and perilous adventure. I promise you’ll never see anything else quite like these books, with its themes of East meets West and sword-and-sorcery fantasy with just a dash of the metaphysical.
While The Silk Map is the follow-up to The Scroll of Years, it can most definitely be enjoyed on its own. I can’t stop marveling at the ease with which the author can throw his readers into the middle of a situation but still manage to convey all the complexities and nuances in the relationships between his characters. In fact, The Scroll of Years was not the first time Gaunt and Bone appeared either; they had been starring in their own short fiction adventures for more than a decade now, but not having read those stories before tackling this series did not hinder me at all. Chris Willrich quite simply has a talent of writing extremely convincing characters, and upon picking up these books you can immediately feel the weight of the history behind Gaunt and Bone, partners in crime and partners in love.
But like all couples, they’ve had their differences and hit their rough spots. The story picks up once again in the faraway land of Ancient China-inspired Qiangguo, where Gaunt and Bone had taken asylum from their enemies. Gaunt had given birth to their son in the first book, but in order to save him from the clutches of evil forces, she and Bone had had no choice but to lock their child away in a pocket dimension within a magical scroll. Now that scroll has been lost, and together with their allies, our two protagonists must find a way to recover it and rescue their son trapped inside. Their journey leads them to the make a bargain with the Great Sage Monkey, a demi-god who knows of a way to retrieve the scroll. In exchange for her help, the minor deity asks that Gaunt and Bone seek the mystical land of Xembala and bring back the great treasure of the Iron Moths, that impossibly valuable material they produce called ironsilk. Their quest will involve traveling along the Braid of Spice, a fictional trade route that will lead them into the west.
Chris Willrich describes in the acknowledgements how this story was in part inspired by the history and tales of the Silk Road, which should already tell you what a gorgeous book this is. In antiquity, this route served as a bridge between the East and West, connecting people from all walks of life. The Silk Map brings to life a version of that diverse setting, blending a rich combination of fantasy and myth with elements from that ancient culture in its own unparalleled way.
Written beautifully in a literary and almost formal style, the prose is also something to be sipped and savored. I liked that there’s actually a lot of humor woven into the dialogue, sometimes hidden in sly references and wordplay, and if you blink you might miss it. While it’s true this made me take longer to finish the book, it is by no means a slow read. The Silk Map is a tale of adventure at its heart, and there is plenty of action and swashbuckling fight scenes interspersed with the quieter moments where you can sit back and enjoy as a character spins a yarn. Like The Scroll of Years, this book features poems and other stories within the larger narrative, often used to explain or expand upon the plot. Willrich’s writing style perfectly complements the speculative quality of these anecdotes, reminiscent of folklore and the legends told in the Far East Asian tradition.
For me, the highlight of The Silk Map had to be the interplay between Gaunt and Bone. Their relationship so far has been a journey as harrowing as the quest they have embarked upon to find their son. Their love will be checked, tested, and probed over the course of this novel and how they each come to terms with the conflict is as important as the other aspects in the plot, though no one can doubt Bone’s devotion to his partner, and of course, Gaunt shows us why it would be a mistake to underestimate the lengths a mother would go to for her child.
Interested in an Asian-themed fantasy or looking for a more subtle, elegant touch to your sword and sorcery without sacrificing the heroic element and adventure? Check out these books. The heady and sometimes dreamlike mix of history and mythology also make them an excellent choice. ...more
The Scroll of Years sees Chris Willrich taking his characters Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone into new territory, in more ways than one. To date, the pair of adventurers have appeared in a handful of short stories (and the first one is actually included in the back of this volume) but now the two of them are starring in their own full-length novel.
A dynamic dual and partners in crime, Gaunt and Bone are also lovers expecting their first child. Caught up in some trouble with Night Auditor assassins at the beginning of this book, the pair flee across the ocean to Qiangguo, a land very much inspired by ancient Imperial China. To protect themselves from enemies and other factions who already have designs on their unborn child, they will need all the help they can get, and allies apparently can come from the most unexpected of places.
There is much to be said about Chris Willrich's ability to make me feel so connected to his main protagonists, since I have not read the short stories and The Scroll of Years is my first introduction to Gaunt and Bone. Already, the two are in love and starting a family, which offers a very interesting kind of dynamic you usually don't find when picking up the first book of a series. It's not often that one gets a chance to read a fantasy novel from the perspective of a couple of parents-to-be, after all.
Quite frankly, it gave me positive feelings towards this book and its main characters right away, especially since the emotional nuances are always so close to surface whenever Gaunt or Bone find themselves in a quandary. On a personal level, Persimmon Gaunt's experiences as an expectant woman and then a new mother were humorous at times, and tugged at my heartstrings at others. Overall, these characters have a lot of depth and are just written so well.
The world in which the story takes place is also beautifully crafted, achieved without overt info-dumping. I have a great interest in Far East traditions, and to my delight the author has taken some Chinese myths and legends and incorporated them into this story, also creating some of his own at times to add to the richness of Qiangguo. Clearly, a lot of care was taken to blend fantasy, history, and his own research and knowledge, as evidenced by some of the stories and poetry found in this book, and even by simple things like the name given to this land of the Heavenwalls ("Qiang" meaning "Wall", "Guo" meaning "Nation").
The writing is also something I feel I have to remark upon, because the prose is definitely not of a typical style. Even so, this makes it no less beautiful or impressive in my eyes. It did take me a lot longer than expected to read this book, but only because Chris Willrich's style was something I felt really needed to be taken in slowly and savored. Because a certain level of attention is required to do so, this might make The Scroll of Years a difficult book to get into, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded by many subtle surprises in the writing. For example, I for one was not expecting much humor in this novel, but there were actually quite a few funny moments that came out of nowhere and made me laugh out loud.
All in all, I can safely say I cannot remember the last time I came across a book like this. Highly recommended for readers of fantasy who love a good action-adventure tale, especially those who might be on the lookout for something a bit different with an elegant and subtle touch....more
Our protagonist in Thief's Covenant is a young woman who wears many masks and goes by many different names. Once she was Adrienne Satti, an orphan taken off the streets to be raised as an aristocrat's ward, but soon after was forced to shed her old life to escape arrest for a savage crime she didn't commit. Now, she is known simply as the thief Widdershins.
And really, how could I not be drawn to a book starring a character with a name like Widdershins? Along with its impishly clever cover (I kept thinking I was holding the book upside down), it made me believe I was going to be settling back to a cute young adult novel, but to my delight it ended up being something so much more than that. It's true Thief's Covenant could be light and funny at times, but at others it was also quite dark, grim and heavy.
For instance, the book opens with a scene following a bloody and brutal massacre on page one, which instantly dispelled any sort of preconceived notions on my part. But this I considered to be a point in the book's favor, along with the fact that it doesn't seem to fall prey to typical Young Adult genre conventions (I for one thought the decision to forgo a romantic arc was brave but ultimately wise).
As such, I really think a wider audience can enjoy this without being worried about it feeling "too YA". Actually, I couldn't help but make comparisons to Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, not only for the obvious similarities like the subject of the orphaned thief and the past-present format of the novel, but because Thief's Covenant also contains the kind of unexpected plot twists and gut-wrenching story developments that are so characteristic of the Gentleman Bastard books.
Being such a slim volume, I was also pleasantly surprised at the richness of the setting and how layered the story was. The book takes place in a world where every person from the wealthiest noble to the grimiest street urchin worships one of the dozens of gods approved by the Hallowed Pact. Widdershins, however, is a follower of the almost-forgotten minor deity Olgun, but their worshipper-worshipped relationship is one that is unlike any other. Olgun is in fact a major presence in Widdershins' life, or more accurately, a rather major one in her head. Like I said, there's plenty of fun and cheeriness in this book too, and the playful banter between the two of them is a very good example of the humor you will find to break up the tension.
I only wish the story had been better paced; part of this is due to the aforementioned time jumps which occur quite frequently, with flashbacks to an earlier part of Widdershins' life almost every other chapter. On the one hand this was a very good way to give us better insight into her character and personality, and I find I really enjoyed her back story. On the other hand, it made the plot feel disjointed and gave the book a slow start, and because of this I couldn't get into it right away.
And yet, one thing I did notice was the carefully planned and measured way the chapters were laid out, done with such a subtle elegance that the events told in the flashback chapters would always relate to what was happening to Widdershins in the present. In this way, all the questions you'll have about her character and her history will eventually be answered. The steady doling out of details admittedly made this book a little tough to get through for the first half, but the rewarding second half made picking this book up well worth it in the end....more
I've been a reader for as long as I remember, but science fiction is still a relatively new genre for me. In fact, I don't think I started until I well into my high school years, and back then, I remember cutting my teeth on novelizations of the Star Wars prequel movies. There you go, my not-so-secret confession!
Obviously, I've branched out a lot more since those days, but I still retained my love for Star Wars books. To date, I've read a bunch by many different authors, and some of them have been better than others. Media tie-in novels have always been my guilty pleasure, especially when it comes to my beloved Star Wars, but admittedly the bar has never really been set that high. That's why whenever I do come across one that I genuinely like, I can't help but do a little happy dance.
And I'm definitely dancing now. Actually, I'd been excited about Honor Among Thieves for a long time, ever since I first learned that Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck will be working on a new stand alone Star Wars book under their nom de plume of James S.A. Corey. I adore their work on the Expanse series, and to hear that they would be writing a story about my favorite scoundrel was like a dream come true. Come on, James S.A. Corey and Han Solo? You just can't go wrong with a winning combination like that.
So you can see why I am so thrilled to say this book lived up to all my expectations. You can tell right away that the authors are fans of Star Wars and the characters themselves, because the first thing I noticed was how "right" Han sounded and felt in his dialogue and actions. He even felt true to the character in his internal narrative, all the way down to his growing affection for his new friends in the Rebel Alliance. This book takes place after the destruction of the Death Star but before the events of The Empire Strikes Back, so we get a real good look at how those experiences have affected and changed him.
The best part is, this is a Han Solo book through and through, and no doubt about it. Expect lots of his signature seat-of-the-pants approach to solving problems, the usual daring flyboy maneuvers, and of course a healthy dose of roguish humor. The plot is relatively simple, beginning when Han and Chewy are tasked on an assignment to extract a high-level rebel spy deep in Empire territory. Meet Agent Scarlet Hark, whose moxie might just give Han a run for his money. But as it turns out, Scarlet has uncovered delicate information about a new technology, one that can turn the tide of the war if only the rebels can secure it before the Empire gets their dirty hands on it.
I would say it's fairly predictable how things turn out, but then I think that is to be expected. We all know the war goes on in The Empire Strikes Back, et cetera, et cetera, so to an extent you can guess how everything in the story ends. Still, none of that manages to take away from the fun. Another thing I liked about this book is how deftly the plot involved all the main characters. One of my biggest problems with a lot of Star Wars books is how desperately some authors try to squeeze in all the prominent players, sometimes resorting to giving them obligatory sub plots that feel shoehorned in. Not an issue with this one, I can happily say. Despite Han Solo taking the center stage in this, Luke and Leia both also have their parts to play, and they actually are integral to the story.
Sure I may have my biases, being a big fan of James S.A. Corey and having a massive soft spot for Han Solo, but this is probably now favorite Star Wars novel, beating out Darth Plagueis, which is the former holder of that distinction and also another really great story. Star Wars books have certainly come a long way, and I look forward to seeing this trend continue....more
3.5 stars. We return to the adventures of Goldie and Toadspit in this final installment of the series, which picks up right where we left them in City3.5 stars. We return to the adventures of Goldie and Toadspit in this final installment of the series, which picks up right where we left them in City of Lies. The children return to Jewel after their harrowing escape from the kidnappers in Spoke to find that their enemy the Fugleman has taken over the city with his Blessed Guardians and an army of mercenaries.
It's showdown time now, and the Keepers will have to devise a plan to protect the Museum of Dunt and the people of Jewel. The Fugleman, however, has brought in a giant cannon, and is bent on taking over the city and destroying everything Goldie holds dear. To make things worse, Goldie had not escaped from Spoke entirely unscathed; after the effects of "The Big Lie", she holds in her head the personality and thoughts of a long-dead warrior princess. Day by day, Princess Frisia's presence grows stronger, threatening to take over Goldie's life.
And so, my journey with the Keepers Trilogy draws to a close, and with it, probably my last opportunity to enjoy Claudia Black's wonderful narrating work for a while. Looks like she's got a handful of other audiobooks under her belt, but I also hope she'll do more in the future; with her voice and talent, I think she would be perfect for urban fantasy.
As for the book itself, it hurts me a little to say this, but I wasn't as happy with it as I'd expected. It wasn't that the story was bad or that it didn't provide us with a satisfying ending to the trilogy. I just find myself viewing this book with an almost frustrating ambivalence, because I even now I'm trying to think of something--anything, good or bad, it doesn't matter--to say about this book and I'm struggling.
It almost makes no sense for me to feel this way; after all, the story was great -- the heroes overcome their trials and tribulations, honor prevails, everyone comes together in the end to save the city, and the bad guy is defeated while the good triumph, all that good stuff. It's a children's series after all, you know you'll get a happy ending and nothing's gonna come out of left field at you.
And maybe that's what it is. Not that I have an issue with books for youngsters having happy endings, but the fact I pretty much knew everything was going to work out in the end. Which is perfectly fine; like I said, it's how things should be, but I personally prefer more a little more uncertainty in my plot lines which is likely the main reason why I don't usually pick up books targeted for middle-grade.
But on the whole, these have been really great books. I probably enjoyed them even more because I listened to them all on audio, but I certainly don't regret my time with this trilogy one bit.
Okay, let's see if I can pull this review off without making it another gush-fest on my love for Claudia Black. As usual, her narration is fantastic,Okay, let's see if I can pull this review off without making it another gush-fest on my love for Claudia Black. As usual, her narration is fantastic, but for this second book of The Keepers Trilogy, I want to focus on the story because that's what I think really shines.
After the events of The Museum of Thieves, Goldie Roth has been offered the chance to become a Keeper of the Museum of Dunt. But then her new friend Toadspit's little sister Bonnie is stolen away, and so the two older children take off after the kidnappers. After a journey upon the seas, Toadspit ends up being captured too, and they all end up at the city of Spoke where the much-anticipated Festival of Lies is about to begin. Now Goldie has to save her friends while trying to survive in the middle of this bizarre place, made even stranger by the nature of the festival, where every day is "Opposite Day" and no one can be trusted.
This series is targeted at the middle-grade audience, so younger readers would probably appreciate it more, but I found this book to be quite enjoyable all the same. The story is a lot of fun -- short, but very cute. I think children will like that characters have to speak and act in a way that is the opposite of what they mean during the Festival of Lies, but it isn't done in such a juvenile manner that adults can't find it all very entertaining as well.
There's also an aspect of make-believe, role-play and "playing pretend" in this book that kids would probably enjoy, which also involves a very abstract magical idea that I'm still trying to wrap my head around (though I'm sure children would probably take for granted and wouldn't question too much). There just seems to be a lot more going on in this sequel in terms of fantasy elements and ideas, some that are just more intriguing and appealing to all readers.
The focus is mostly on the adventures of Goldie and Toadspit this time around, with the other adult keepers back in the city of Jewel and given an obligatory side plot to keep them in the series. Quite honestly, I didn't mind the story's greater emphasis on the children because in my opinion they're a lot more interesting to read about. The audiobook narration also does a good job of bringing them to life, along with the crazy city of Spoke.
Once again, if you can get your hands on the audio version of this book, I highly recommend doing so. This series would not have made even made it onto my radar screen if it weren't for Claudia Black's name being attached to the project, since it's not a regular habit of mine to pick up children's books (but maybe I should make it one, since my toddler is growing up so fast). Black's voice work is always top-notch, and so far these books have been great. I've already put my name on the waiting list for the final installment of this trilogy from my library....more
Museum of Thieves is a great middle-grade to young adult novel, but can most definitely be enjoyed by all. I suppose it would technically fit into theMuseum of Thieves is a great middle-grade to young adult novel, but can most definitely be enjoyed by all. I suppose it would technically fit into the category of dystopian fantasy, but while reading it I sensed more of a "magical" and "fairy-tale-like" vibe coming off from it.
Do yourselves a favor: if you ever get the choice between reading the book or listening to the audio version, choose the latter. Back when I was still an audiobook noob, I could never understand what the big deal was. So instead of reading the words off the paper, you're just listening to someone read them back to you. No huge difference, right?
Except there is. Now that I've had more than a hundred audiobooks under my belt, I can understand how the choice of narrator can make or break a story. Claudia Black, the narrator for Museum of Thieves is probably best known to sci-fi fans for her role in the show Farscape, but I recognize her more from her voice work for video games like Dragon Age: Origins or Uncharted 2. And knowing her talent for voice acting, I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised what a brilliant narrating job she did here.
Still, just because you have a seasoned actor doing the narrating, does not mean they will do a good job. In fact, I find that some of my favorite Hollywood actors and actresses have made for the absolute crappiest audiobook narrators. That talent they have on screen somehow doesn't translate well to this format. Because if the experience with audiobooks had taught me anything else, it's that, no, narrating a book is NOT just like reading back the words on paper out loud. You can easily screw it up.
However, Claudia Black handles it all like the pro she is. She's got the different voices down with her use of tones and accents, so never once was I confused as to which character in the book was speaking. She's also great with other effects like infusing her voice with emotion or varying her volume. She's also got the most sensual voice, and even as a straight and happily married woman I must admit that listening to her always gives me pleasant tingly chills down my spine. I think I could listen to her read forever.
But enough gushing about Claudia Black. Like I said, the book itself is a fantastic read, but this is one of the few cases where the audiobook narration makes it even better. Maybe it's the fact this book was meant for young audiences, but I just didn't find the characters to be that deep or well-constructed -- but again, one of those shortcomings that a good narrator can make up for. The setting is suitably fantastical, especially descriptions of the museum and all the wonderful treasures and places within. The story itself is fun and entertaining, even for adults, though its message of growing up and independence is admittedly more appropriate for younger readers.
Seriously, though, if you're interested in this and can get your hands on the audiobook...do it.
3.5 stars. Trudi Canavan is an author I'd been looking forward to read for a long time, which is why she was pretty high on my list for the WWEnd Wome3.5 stars. Trudi Canavan is an author I'd been looking forward to read for a long time, which is why she was pretty high on my list for the WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge. Thanks to my book hoarding habits, I found that I actually own the first books from both her Black Magician Trilogy and the Traitor Spy Trilogy and didn't know which to tackle first. Then I found out that the latter series is a continuing story of some of the characters in the former, which ultimately decided it for me. I always I prefer to read things chronologically and in publishing order, so The Magicians' Guild it was.
The book centers around the life of Sonea, a young vagrant girl caught up in the disturbance which occurs every year during the Purge, an event which expels all the city's poor, homeless, beggars and other undesirables from within its boundaries. Sonea sees a group of children trying to annoy the guild magicians in charge by throwing stones at their magical shield, and decides for fun to join in. In a moment of anger, however, the stone she throws somehow manages to pierce the magicians' protection, beaning one of them on the side of the head. Then everything explodes into chaos.
The Magicians' Guild immediately launches a manhunt for the little girl who so effortlessly foiled their shield spell, because it must mean she possesses magical ability as well. No untrained magic user can be trusted to roam unchecked around the city, for the results of that uncontrolled power can be dangerous for all. Not knowing this, Sonea flees and goes deeper underground with the help of her friends, but a time will soon come when she won't be able to escape anymore, neither from the magicians nor herself.
At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this. I spent a good chunk of the book wondering when the story will get to the part where the Magician's Guild and Sonea meet up with each other, so that they can finally get on to training her properly in the ways of magic. That's how these kinds of stories usually go, right? Then I realized that the hunt for her was actually the whole point for the entire first half of the novel, dashing any preexisting expectations I had for the plot.
Going to be honest here, the book still didn't quite hook me until the Magicians do eventually end up finding Sonea, and that was around the halfway mark. Everything that occurred before this point detailing the search and Sonea's struggle to control her magic felt like this huge, unnecessarily drawn out introduction, but the good new is, I started to enjoy myself a lot more. It's almost like, "Okay, now that all that's out of the way, we can finally get this show on the road." The conflicts in the plot started to get more interesting, and I found myself drawn to characters like Rothen, for whom I previously felt nothing.
It also wasn't until I finished this book that I heard this series had been re-marketed for the young adult market. If so, that actually made a lot of sense. Assuming that a YA audience probably wouldn't be as critical as I'm being, I thought the story and characters were strong but could have done with a little more depth, especially since a few sections of the plot felt thin to me and not very convincing. As general fantasy though, I liked this book well enough and I think it can be appreciated by all.
Rachel Aaron's The Legend of Eli Monpress is a series that has repeatedly popped up on my recommendations lists in the past; I swear every few weeks IRachel Aaron's The Legend of Eli Monpress is a series that has repeatedly popped up on my recommendations lists in the past; I swear every few weeks I'll be browsing through suggestions on my online book stores or Goodreads pages as usual and this blue cover will show up, with the man's face on it flashing his sly little smile at me. It's like he's saying, "READ ME! Come on, you know you wanna!"
Obviously, my curiosity gotten the better of me, or more accurately, World Without End's Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge gave me the perfect excuse and motivation to finally pick this book up and read it. And I'm happy to report, I wasn't disappointed.
The book begins with a kidnapping. Eli Monpress, the greatest thief of his age and also a talented wizard, has decided to pull off the greatest theft the world has ever seen, and what greater theft is there than the stealing away of a nation's king? His plans to increase his notoriety fall through, however, when he unwittingly brings about political turmoil that could threaten the kingdom and even the spirits of the land. Miranda Lyonette, the spiritualist tasked to hunt Eli, ends up joining forces with him and his friends to put a stop to the evil forces before they can destroy everything.
I've noticed that in recent years, the genre of fantasy has evolved towards being darker and grittier, and on the whole I feel it's a good trend. Still, every once in a while it's still nice to see something like The Spirit Thief that's fun, down-to-earth and makes you feel good after reading it. There's a lighthearted feel to the story, but there's also enough suspense in it to hook you. I for one found it very engrossing from the get-go.
I also found the magic system intriguing. The wizards in this world don't perform magic directly per se; instead they make requests or set up arrangements with the spirits that exist in everything from mundane objects like doors to the natural elements like the air, lava, or even full bodies of water. Miranda the spiritualist, for example, maintains symbiotic relationships with multiple spirits who serve her, and in return she provides them safe places to reside and lets them feed off her magic.
My only issue is a minor one. It has to do with the characters and a feeling that they haven't met their full potential. For one thing, the series' eponymous character feels merely like a side character, and while Eli is described as roguish and charming, I can't help but think of him as more cocky and annoyingly obnoxious. Maybe it has to do with how much he's constantly described as "grinning", and all I can picture in my head is that cover image every single time. The same goes for his companions Josef the swordsman and Nico the demonseed; both are very interesting, but don't seem to feature prominently enough for me to truly care about what happens to them.
My feelings for the characters not withstanding, this was a good start to what looks to be a series I definitely want to keep reading. If the rest of the books are as entertaining and fun as this first one, I think I'll enjoy it quite a bit.
The Riyria Revelations series may have wrapped up, but when it comes to this fantasy world and its characters, clearly there are still many stories toThe Riyria Revelations series may have wrapped up, but when it comes to this fantasy world and its characters, clearly there are still many stories to be told. Michael J. Sullivan fills in the details of the past first with The Crown Tower, and now with The Rose and the Thorn. Thanks to Orbit Books and NetGalley, I was able to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
While the first book told the origin story of the partnership between Royce and Hadrian, I thought this second one focused more on the birth of Riyria and the concept itself. Returning to Medford after a year of being on the road, the two thieves find that trouble has come upon Gwen Delancy, the woman who saved their lives after the harrowing events at the Crown Tower. The whole city is looking for one of Gwen's girls, a young prostitute who may have unwittingly stumbled upon a conspiracy to kill the king of Melengar and his family.
To be honest, I think the fact I was going to enjoy this book was already a foregone conclusion; to me, the romance between Royce and Gwen is one of those fantasy fiction love stories for the ages, and I was giddy with the fact that we got a glimpse into how their relationship first sparked and blossomed. This book also served to provide back-stories for some of the supporting characters in The Riyria Revelations, and we got to see appearances from familiar faces such as Reuben Hilfred and Viscount Albert Winslow.
That said, while I thought the The Crown Tower could be read as a standalone without having much knowledge of the six books of The Riyria Revelations, The Rose and the Thorn on the other hand might not be so easy to get into for newcomers to the world of Riyria, mostly due to the large number of characters and lore it introduces in the opening chapters. Still, it's not such a big avalanche of information that it would be overwhelming; I still have no doubt that the book would be enjoyable to people who haven't read the original series, but it'll just be more to take in.
In general, though, readers who already know the names and the political climate in this period of the books involving the Church of Nyphron will probably have more reasons to find this book exciting. I for one loved it. From the description I thought I would be getting a lot more about Royce and Gwen, but even then I was not disappointed when I discovered their story was just a part of an overall bigger picture. So many past events that I'd been aware of from The Riyria Revelations have now been given a new life and significance.
In sum, this book basically gave me more than I bargained for, and in a good way. I generally love to read these kinds of "world-building" novels that add to an existing story or series, so really, both these The Riyria Chronicles books were right up my alley. I hope Michael J. Sullivan will be open to writing more in the future, even if they aren't necessarily about Hadrian and Royce. As he's shown with this book, even the supporting characters from his world of Riyria have interesting stories to tell.
There are many different kinds of fantasy: epic fantasy, dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, etc. It's hard to label the Riyria RevelvatiThere are many different kinds of fantasy: epic fantasy, dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, etc. It's hard to label the Riyria Revelvations series as any of these, though. If I had to, I think I would coin my own term -- down-to-earth fantasy, a compliment I don't often get a chance to bestow. The author set out to tell a great story with great characters; there is no pretension, and what you see is what you get. That in itself really makes this series stand out for me. While dark fantasy is all the rage these days, and as much as I enjoy a good gritty tale myself once in a while, it's still refreshing to be able to read something like this -- an uncomplicated and no-nonsense adventure fantasy.
That isn't to say it is not without its surprises. In fact, Heir of Novron is probably the best out of the three omnibuses precisely because it ties together all the threads in the previous books, and more than a few revelations come to light. It's clear the author had the events of all six books mapped out before he even started writing them, and everything that happens is part of an overarching grand plan. So of you're the kind of fantasy reader who prefers tackling series only when they are completed, then this is definitely for you. Likewise, it is doubly recommended if you are sick of long, dragged out multi-volume series that make you question whether or not the author even has a clue where to go with the story.
But back to why I think Heir of Novron is so great: it is actually a collection comprising two books, Wintertide (book 5) and Percepliquis (book 6). Wintertide was as I expected, a "bridge" book that was relatively short, but does its job filling in some of the story and setting up for the grand finale. It is a good book, but like I said, shorter and more to-the-point when it comes to the plot.
Percepliquis, on the other hand...WOW. A classic quest tale of a group of adventurers setting off on a long, harrowing journey, this is also the book that ties everything together and finishes things off with a bang. And here's the thing I've noticed with a lot of fantasy -- the last book doesn't always live up to the rest of the series. But I'm happy to say this was absolutely NOT the case here. In fact, Percepliquis was probably my favorite, the best of all the books. I already mentioned how I liked that everything came together and that there were no loose ends. It is for the most part a happily-ever-after series, perfect if you prefer unambiguous and lighthearted endings. Still, not everything ends up perfectly for all the characters; there were a few setbacks for our protagonists Hadrian and Royce, and a few deaths that I did not see coming at all, a couple of which really upset me, but that only goes to show the depth of the connections I have developed for the characters. And sometimes, bittersweet is best.
And finally, I think my love for this series increased tenfold the moment I came to realize that so many hints had been dropped, so many seeds had planted during the course of the series, finally to come to bloom in the last book. I can't really talk about any of them here, of course, as that would just spoil things, but it was definitely one of those "The Sixth Sense" moments. My mind was just completely blown. I must have asked myself "How the heck could I have missed THAT?!" more than a dozen times. While I don't usually reread books I've finished, a reread may be in order for this series in particular, just because I want to know what else I might have missed the first time around. Now that I have finished the last book and know how everything ends, I have a feeling I may see everything in a different light....more
Come to think of it, "Rise of Empire" is a pretty apt name for this middle omnibus. In the two books it contains, the bad guys increase in power and sCome to think of it, "Rise of Empire" is a pretty apt name for this middle omnibus. In the two books it contains, the bad guys increase in power and strength, gaining the upper hand while our heroes suffer several setbacks. I can't help but be reminded of the second movie of a certain sci-fi trilogy. No one loses any hands though.
One thing I'm really enjoying about this series so far is that the plot is always moving forward, and things are always happening. There isn't much padding to these books, thus I am never tempted to skim, not even the lengthy bits that fill in the history and mythos behind the world because every piece of lore information is important. I like that the author gets right down to business, in general cutting out all the superfluous junk without skimping on the details.
That said, I felt the pacing was a bit off in this third story. Certain bits felt rushed, especially towards the end with the final climactic battle, which I felt was over and done with much too quickly. One of the important fight scenes even happened "off-screen" while we were following another character's point-of-view. I couldn't believe it when it was all over, and when the fact finally settled in, I had to admit it was a bit of a let down.
Of course, the last page of this story had me all riled up again. Warning: this author has a knack for making you want to drop everything after you finish and pick up the next story right away.
The Emerald Storm:
Luckily, reading these omnibus editions meant I had the next story right at my fingertips, how convenient!
This story was much more interesting, though I was at first unsure of why certain plot threads were unraveling the way they were. It just seemed like the author wanted an excuse to send Hadrian and Royce on to the high seas, until I got close to the end and it all came together. In any case, this adventure was a bit different, as most of it occurs aboard a ship as our heroes travel to a far away land to save their king and Melengar from imperial takeover.
I'm still enjoying the characters, especially Hadrian, who has been growing on me with every single installment of this series. I like how his character and Royce's play off each other, but the two men are different enough and bring their own unique skills to the table, keeping things in these stories interesting. Everyone in these books seem to have a role to play, even some of the supporting characters we met in The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha who return to make an appearance and are central to the plot. Mr. Sullivan obviously has everything all planned out, and I am very interested to see how it'll all turn out.
Final verdict: averaging out my thought and feelings on both stories in Rise of Empire, this edition probably gets a 3.5-4 stars from me. I really liked the second story, but wasn't so keen on the first (though it wasn't bad by any means!)...more
A team, a partnership, working together...the Elves have word for it in the world of these books -- they call it "Riyria". If you've read Michael J. SA team, a partnership, working together...the Elves have word for it in the world of these books -- they call it "Riyria". If you've read Michael J. Sullivan's excellent Riyria Revelations series already, you'll know that Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn weren't always the dynamic duo we know and love, and that they certainly didn't start off as friends. Now finally, with the story of The Crown Tower, we get to see how it all began.
I was honored to be able to read a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Orbit and NetGalley! Being quite the fan of Mr. Sullivan's Riyria books and given the fact that Hadrian and Royce's "origin story" was one that was hinted at throughout that entire series, being able to read this was one hell of a real treat.
The great thing is, even though The Crown Tower can be considered a prequel of sorts, it can also be read as a one-shot. We are introduced to Hadrian, a jaded and young directionless soldier returning home from the wilds of Calis after hearing about his father's death. He agrees to meet with Arcadius, an old friend at the university who claims to have a message from Hadrian's father before he died. Arcadius, however, inexplicably pairs Hadrian up with Royce, a depraved thief whose mistrust of everything and everyone is akin to that of a dog that has been kicked too often. The two men are sent on incomprehensible task to steal a book...which sounds simple enough, if only they can learn to work together without killing each other first.
For newcomers to the world and characters of Riyria, this book will be a great starting point. Returning fans will probably be even more thrilled, as it basically has all the details about Hadrian and Royce's first ever job together, and answers questions about how these two men -- who arguably are complete polar opposites of each other -- became a team. As an added bonus, we even get chapters focusing on Gwen, who ranks up there among my list of strongest female characters I've ever come across in fantasy fiction.
These are characters I've come to know well, and it's just so great to be able to return to them again, even if it's going back in time. My only regret is that Gwen's sections feel a bit rushed and a little glossed over, though rationally I can kind of see why I found this to be the case. Her presence in this book is definitely required, but at the same time the main focus must remain on Hadrian and Royce's quest. My excitement levels and hopes are lifted, however, for The Rose and the Thorn which is the follow-up to this, and it looks like it'll have a lot more Gwen and maybe it'll mean a deeper and more prominent role for her to play.
The thing I love about The Crown Tower is that it continues to read like all of the other Riyria novels in that they are fun, action-filled adventurous fantasy stories that have a traditional, straightforward and down-to-earth feel-good vibe. Hadrian and Royce are ever the source of good banter, even at this point where they still hate each other.
The book also has a feel of a puzzle piece that simply "fits", falling into place and filling out the timeline of the Riyria books without feeling forced or tacked on, unlike certain prequels of certain franchises I won't deign to mention here. You can tell with The Crown Tower as with all the books in the Riyria Revelations that the author has a grand plan, that everything happens for a reason and the presentation of it all is smooth and logical. The point is, I think this book would be great for any fan of fantasy, but if you've also read and loved the Riyria Revelations, this is a MUST-read....more