“Whilst not living up to its full potential, Heartwood is nonetheless a solid book. However its biggest strength is also its greatest weakness, as the first novel in the Elemental Wars is all about worldbuilding and as a result everything else suffers.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Chonrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood’s holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Heartwood’s holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace.
After the Veriditas, or annual Greening Ceremony, the Congressus takes place. The talks do not go well and tempers are rising when an army of warriors emerges from the river. After a fierce battle, the Heartwood knights discover that the water warriors have stolen the Arbor’s heart. For the first time in history, its leaves begin to fall…
The knights divide into seven groups and begin an epic quest to retrieve the Arbor, and save the land."
I’ve read lots of Angry Robot novels now and it’s rare that you’ll get to see a miss from them. I think I’ve enjoyed pretty much every novel from the publisher that I’ve read aside from maybe one or two that haven’t stayed long enough in my memory. Where does Heartwood come into this though? Does it fall into the hit category or the miss category? It certainly sounds like an interesting read, after all – who doesn’t love a bit of knights in shining armour fantasy every now and again? As it turns out though, Heartwood is difficult to place in either category. I’m going to say that in parts, Freya Robertson’s first Angry Robots book novel is amazing, but in other parts – it doesn’t quite hit the mark. I’ll discuss the positive parts of the book first, however.
The biggest strength of Heartwood is its vivid attention to world building. The world that the characters inhabit is fully fleshed out and fully detailed over the course of the novel, and the reader gets to learn about several things, certainly more so than your average fantasy novel. The first seventy pages or so are pretty much devoted to fleshing out the world before the plot actually kicks into gear, but it’s at this point you have to stop and ask yourself – when is there too much worldbuilding? Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? The answer in Heartwood’s case of course is a resounding yes, because although I liked the fleshing out of the world, the rest of the novel fails to meet the standards that Robertson has set herself with her strong world building and detail. This as a result has made more than one reader that I know not get through the book, but I was able to keep going anyway. It’s almost possible that Heartwood was just not the right sort of book for me despite the appealing aspect that fantasy brings to the table – and I’m sure that there are people who will and have enjoyed this novel more than I will.
To give you a detail of the extensive attention that Robertson has paid to the world building, let’s look at the countries that the world is divided into. Each have their own unique culture and features that are in some ways, less subtle than others. For example there’s one country, the inhabitants of Wulfengar are essentially evil. They’re all generalised under one banner – all women must serve the more dominant men etc and whilst stereotyping sometimes does help the reader get a better picture of what’s going on not all of it is done, and for the most part the world building may be good, and as mentioned before, it’s one of the novel’s saving graces – it’s just places like this where it doesn’t always hit the mark. Positive angles of the world development include elemental magic, with the purpose of knights being designed to protect a holy tree that holds the world together. There are several parts where the action scenes throughout the novel are quite good as a result, but there’s never really anything that really elevates this novel from a decent read to a spectacular one.
Of course, with magic – you always have to be wary of deus ex machina, and that is something that in parts, Heartwood suffers from. It’s used as way of speeding up resolutions and doesn’t always work, robbing the story of perhaps would it could have been if magic hadn’t played a good role. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good magic system in the veins of Brandon Sanderson, who always pays careful and deep concentration to them – but it doesn’t really work when the magic is used to wrap up elements of the plot as smoothly as it does here. And then there’s another problem that the book suffers from – the characters. They weren’t really engaging and captivating and I never felt compelled to root for any of them with the same support that I’ve rooted for other, more realised characters in the past. I finished the book recently and none of the characters created any lasting impression on me as a reader, which is a real shame considering some characters who are so well rounded that I never once forget their names.
There is still an audience for this book, however – despite its many flaws. I think another achievement of Heartwood that despite the fact that there’s more flaws than positive elements that I’ve listed above, it still remains a fairly strong read despite this. Whilst it’s nothing too special or even good, it’d be undeserving to label Heartwood as a bad book. I’ve read bad books before (Dan Brown’s Inferno and Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire) and Heartwood certainly doesn’t fall anywhere near those standards. It’s probably just not my cup of tea – even if I did enjoy parts of the world building and some elements of the storyline. And I’ll admit that I am interested in picking up the second book when I can as well – hopefully now that the worldbuilding is out of the way Robertson can improve on this book’s failings and create a better second act. Therefore it comes with a very cautious recommendation.
“An excellent second act in the Riyria Chronicles. Michael J. Sullivan’s The Rose and the Thorn manages to be even better than The Crown Tower, making this book, and the duology – one of my favourite reads of 2013.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
As soon as I finished The Crown Tower I knew I had to get into the second instalment sooner or later, and thanks to NetGalley, I didn’t have to wait, even if I did end up taking a break in the middle to read a different novel, after all – I didn’t want this series to be over too soon. Fans of the first book, or readers of The Riyria Revelations waiting to see if both novels are strong before delving in will be pleased to know that The Rose and the Thorn is just as excellent as The Crown Tower, and I don’t think Michael J. Sullivan has written a bad book yet with this spectacular second outing (story-wise, not publication wise – this is now their seventh novel) for Royce and Hadrian, allowing for a stunning conclusion that not only wraps things up very well, but leaves readers eagerly wanting to read The Riyria Revelations, whether they have or haven’t already read it. Even though I’ve read all of them, that ending really wanted me to embark on a re-read, especially as it wraps things up nicely, really setting the stage for Theft of Swords.
"TWO THIEVES WANT ANSWERS. RIYRIA IS BORN.
For more than a year Royce Melborn has tried to forget Gwen DeLancy, the woman who saved him and his partner Hadrian Blackwater from certain death. Unable to get her out of his mind, the two thieves return to Medford but receive a very different reception — Gwen refuses to see them. The victim of abuse by a powerful noble, she suspects that Royce will ignore any danger in his desire for revenge. By turning the thieves away, Gwen hopes to once more protect them. What she doesn’t realize is what the two are capable of — but she’s about to find out.
The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles are two separate, but related series, and you can start reading with either Theft of Swords(publication order) or The Crown Tower (chronological order)."
The characters have always been one of the high-points of this series for me and the main focus of Royce, Hadrian and to a certain extent Gwen DeLancy works wonders for the book, with some great character development that takes the characters from their early days in The Crown Tower to Theft of Swords, and actually proves that this is one of the rare cases where prequels written after the main series actually work. Whilst the first book may have focused on the origin of Royce and Hadrian’s partnership, this fleshes it out a bit more, really developing the key figures that continue to grow as characters over the course of the main Riyria Revelations series.
The Rose and the ThornThe Rose and the Thorn deals with a lot of characters introduced in this sequel that weren’t given as much page time in the first that might prove a bit daunting to readers who have not read the main series, but Sullivan allows for an interesting split on the focus between all of them, to the point where you never feel like there’s too much or too little of one character. The fleshing out of the characters and seeing their origins before the main series really is pulled of superbly, and I think that all people who want to write prequels for their main series could learn something from The Riyria Chronicles, as both novels in this duology are executed with very minimal flaws and easily provide the reader with some of the best fantasy works to hit shelves this year. The Rose and the Thorn will be in the upper half of my Top 25 novels of 2013 for certain, as not only is it a great tale on its own, but it also manages to beat The Crown Tower.
I was slightly surprised at just how different The Rose and the Thorn was from The Crown Tower. More world-building is on display here, but the book still manages to move along at a very fast pace after an initial slow start, where we find ourselves introduced to a completely new character, Reuben Hilfred – whose story seemingly follows a separate thread from the main events until later on in the book when you start to see things coming together, and his tale is an interesting break from the main event of Royce and Hadrian. The plot is strong and consistent throughout, and despite the fact that this may be a prequel, there are several twists and turns that you won’t be able to see coming even if you’re familiar with the Riyria Revelations.
The richness of the setting is great, as is the content of the overall storyline and The Rose and the Thorn proves to be a stunningly executed sequel that as I’ve already stated, resides among the best work that I’ve read all year so far. People who have read book one but not the Riyria Revelations should enjoy it as equally as those who are reading this in chronological order. Let me know if you’re reading this novel without knowledge of what happens in the main series – I’d love to hear if you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have – as so far, I’ve only heard perspectives from readers who have read the Ryria Revelations and your reaction to this as a newcomer would be pretty interesting.
THE RIYRIA CHRONICLES: The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn (less)
“Paul S. Kemp provides an entertaining and enjoyable ride through the lives of Egil & Nix. Another strong contender for the most fun book of the year, people who loved their first outing won’t be able to put this one down.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve had A Discourse in Steel sitting on my Kindle Fire for a while now after receiving an eARC, and for some reason, I never really got around to reading it until recently, despite the fact that I enjoyed the first book a lot. However, rest assured - A Discourse in Steel is as equally as enjoyable as The Hammer and the Blade, providing a fun romp that’s written with the confidence of a veteran author, and indeed – Paul S. Kemp is no stranger to fiction – his previous works include a Star Wars novel (Decieved, which I really enjoyed), a Black Library short story in Time of Legends, and has even been interviewed on The Founding Fields. So, if fun, action-packed page-turning adventures in a fantasy setting is your thing, then you should really enjoy this sequel.
"Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword and hammer-play for them!
But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild.
And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head…"
The plot of A Discourse in Steel isn’t complicated, and it’s pretty easy to follow, allowing Kemp to avoid being bogged down by attention to detail, and info-dumping, thus creating a fun sequel that doesn’t fall into the trap of spending more time exploring the world than actually bothering with a plot. It’s some of the best written fast-paced fantasy that I’ve seen, and if you’re looking to be drawn in and finding yourself unable to put the book down, then A Discourse in Steel and its predecessor will be the perfect books for you. Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t stop – and for the first time in a while, I was actually looking forward to bus journeys (where I read most of my eBooks) to finish this, and as a result, came very close to missing my stop more than once.
A Discourse in SteelEgil and Nix are as charming and as likeable as ever, and they’re really rootable protagonists. Nix himself has dropped out of a mage school, and Egil is a high priest, allowing for a fun duo that exchange a lot of witty banter over the course of the novel. This is easily one of the more entertaining books that I’ve read recently, and proves that you don’t have to write grimdark fantasy in order to tell an entertaining novel. Whilst this may be the second book in the series, if the author gets to tell more – it’s clearly not going to be the last, and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to more tales of Egil and Nix, and the world-building that is thrown at us in future books (whilst I mentioned earlier that it doesn’t overshadow the story, Kemp does manage to craft a very interesting world for the characters to inhabit).
The dialogue between the characters is clever and fun, and one of the highlights of the book. Kemp knows how to write humour and writes it well, and the style that fans loved in Hammer and the Blade will find that it hasn’t changed at all here, with a compelling plot that allows for a great variety of action sequences, escapades and adventures from Egil and Nix. Every situation they find themselves in they always seem to be capable of finding a way out – and as a result, A Discourse in Steel allows for a really entertaining read.
If you want a return to the lighter side of fantasy and are tired of all the grimdark novels that are hitting shelves recently (sure, some of them are good – but it’s nice to have a break once in a while), Paul S. Kemp’s Egil and Nix series will be perfect for you. Fun, witty, clever and enthralling – this is one series that you’ll love once you give it a chance. Kemp is easily the writer to look out for on the sword and sorcery scene at the moment.
EGIL & NIX SERIES: The Hammer and the Blade, A Discourse in Steel (less)
“An awesome, epic book. Unputdownable, engrossing and enthralling. A top notch Fantasy debut.” ~The Founding Fields
If you’re a fantasy fan, chances are you’ll have probably heard of David Gemmell and more than likely read at least one book by him. I can say that I actually own three of his Druss the Legend novels, but have only ever found the time to read Legend, which I really enjoyed. I don’t know why I got around to reading the next two books, but I still couldn’t help but marvel at his work. Naturally though, fans of David Gemmell will be wondering if Stella Gemmell can match the high calibre work of one of fantasy’s finest authors. And does she succeed? Yes. The City is mind blowingly awesome, managing to be one of the better books that I’ve read so far in 2013. It’s one of those novels that I couldn’t put down, and I came away wanting to see what book Gemmell could put out next.
"Built up over the millennia, layer upon layer, the City is ancient and vast. Over the centuries, it has sprawled beyond its walls, the cause of constant war with neighbouring peoples and kingdoms, laying waste to what was once green and fertile.
And at the heart of the City resides the emperor. Few have ever seen him. Those who have remember a man in his prime and yet he should be very old. Some speculate that he is no longer human, others wonder if indeed he ever truly was. And a small number have come to a desperate conclusion: that the only way to stop the ceaseless slaughter is to end the emperor’s unnaturally long life.
From the rotting, flood-ruined catacombs beneath the City where the poor struggle to stay alive to the blood-soaked fields of battle where so few heroes survive, these rebels pin their hopes on one man. A man who was once the emperor’s foremost general. A man, a revered soldier, who could lead an uprising and unite the City. But a man who was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured and is now believed to be dead…"
There is of course going to be comparisons made to David Gemmell, but it’s important to note that The City manages to be very superb indeed. Whilst Stella Gemmell has co-authored the Fall of Kings with David Gemmell, she’s never quite written a book on her own before, and The City ensures us that she can produce a top quality work on her own, rich with originality, strong characters and a captivating plot. Of course, this book is epic fantasy, but Gemmell manages to create a wonderful world in which it takes place. She captures everything from soldiers to Emperors and more, with a wonderful understanding of how characters work and what makes them tick.
All good epic fantasy books are immersive and The City is no different. The world-building is literally superb, with a believable creation enhanced with an inspiration from various eras of History, with most notably, a Roman-edged organisation of such things like military, and social standings, with a great tale that tells a tale that’s a lot more complex than David Gemmell’s Legend in plotting, with deeply flawed yet likeable characters and places them in a world that is as believable as the one that we live in.
The characters are, like the worldbuilding, a joy to read, but not quite as stand-out with times when they don’t feel as distinctive or as memorable as they should have been, probably due to the fact that we have a ton of POVs on display here. However. the amount of characters on display here also adds to the storyline, we get a wide range of perspectives to which we see the events unfold from, as the book deals with themes such as loyalty, revenge, honour and more – allowing for a complex and well crafted tale that mounts a strong challenge for one of the best fantasy novels of 2013.
The book also has the benifit of being a standalone, and the reader is not left hanging on waiting for a sequel as is common with most fantasy novels from debut authors. It’s refreshing to see an epic fantasy book that can be told as a single volume, and with such a sheer quality that is displayed here. If you’re a fan of the genre, then you should certainly consider picking this book up, for it is top notch.
“A well-researched, well-developed book – The Thousand Names manages to impress a lot. Count me in for Book 2.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
“Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.
To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.
The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.”
I don’t get to read and review enough military fantasy outside of the Warhammer Fantasy Universe and The Thousand Names came as a welcome treat for me, especially as it’s a subgenre that I really enjoy. The book has been receiving high praise for quite some time now, and the book seemed like right up my street, as the start of a series by newcomer Django Wexler. When this book came up on NetGalley I leapt at the chance to request it, and got stuck right in. Here’s what I thought:
To kick things off, let’s look at the main characters who (apart from Janus) share the third person narrative. At first, they might seem like traditional fantasy stereotypes – the honour-bound tough guy Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, the woman-disguising-as-a-man cliché in Winter Ihernglass, and the ambitious and enigmatic Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich. With the description I’ve just given you, take away the names and they could be anyone that you’ve seen before in any other fantasy book. However, what Django Wexler does well is that he really fleshes out the characters, making them memorable, flawed, likeable and very interesting to read about. The book has to deal with character development, world building, plot movement and pacing at the same time and it manages to get the characters spot on, handling the clichés so well that they would become clichés if they were written by someone else less talented. And it’s not just the characters that are handled well, either.
The world building on view here is fascinating, but I did have a minor issue with how Wexler handled it, but let’s get the positives out of the way first. The world of Khander is a desert-setting and something that readers don’t often see in fantasy novels nowadays, and could easily be comparable to a Middle-Eastern country a four or five centuries ago if you were looking for an example. The military theme of the book is really enhanced by strong, in-depth research allowing for an interesting background where you’re not thrown off by elements that feel out of place for the setting. And another thing, the setting actually plays a part in the book. I’ve read some books where the setting never seems to slow the characters down, and they never really take into account any of its hazards or how it affects them. This book doesn’t fall into that category, you’ll be pleased to hear – the setting plays an active role in the book as the characters have to deal with the desert terrain which becomes a problem quite often. The culture is explored in some depth here too, but (here comes a problem that I had with the book) we never really get to see the ‘other side’ if you will – aside from a few minor POV sequences that could have been fleshed out a lot better to the point where we could have even had a major character POV. However, All major POVs (think Marcus and Winter) are from the characters on one side of the war, and we never really learn a lot of the other side. Sure, this would have probably hampered the pace and meant more pages, but I’m hoping that Wexler can explore this in future novels.
The book itself moves along at a fairly solid pace, even if it does take a while to get going. I know I talked in the above paragraph about adding stuff into the book, but Wexler probably should have taken a few things out in order to trim it down a bit. If we’d have got straight into the good rather than the build-up, this book could have saved quite a number of pages. And of course, with the decision to use clichés, there are a few predictable outcomes that prevent this novel reaching amazing status. However, that doesn’t stop it from being very, very good – and despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Thousand Names a lot, and I can’t wait to see where Wexler takes the reader with future books. The Shadow Campaigns series is certainly something to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing where Wexler can take us with book two, which I will certainly be on board for.
“An excellent book. Unputdownable, engrossing, spectacular – you won’t want to miss this.” ~The Founding Fields
There’s a lot of grimdark fantasy out there at the moment. George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie, and Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy are three of the more notable books from the subgenre. However, when I approached Herald of the Storm, I approached it not with the sense that this would feel like a rehash of books that we’ve seen before, but with a sense of anticipation. Ford’s Kultus was well received by my fellow Founding Fields reviewers Commissar Ploss and Djinn24, and it was mostly well received elsewhere from what I’ve seen. And Herald of the Storm has already been receiving some pretty good praise so far from what I’ve seen. So I went in with anticipation, and the end result? Well, the end result was good. I actually really enjoyed this book.
"Welcome to Steelhaven… Under the reign of King Cael the Uniter, this vast cityport on the southern coast has for years been a symbol of strength, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout the Free States. But now a long shadow hangs over the city, in the form of the dread Elharim warlord, Amon Tugha. When his herald infiltrates the city, looking to exploit its dangerous criminal underworld, and a terrible dark magick that has long been buried once again begins to rise, it could be the beginning of the end."
There are several things to love about Herald of the Storm. If gritty fantasy is your thing, then you’ll enjoy it. Sure, whilst it may be in the standard fantasy format, debut novel in a trilogy to boot, the book’s setting is somewhat different than most. Rather than follow a variety of characters across the entire world, Richard Ford chooses to hone in on one city, or to be more accurate – a cityport. Steelhaven, and populates it with a vast amount of inhabitants, fleshing each of them out and developing them into more than just your average one dimensional, stock fantasy heroes.
Although the narrative is divided between multiple characters, The principal character is Janessa, daughter of King Cael, and focuses on Janessa’s role when Cael is, at the start of the story – off fighting a war. And therefore, even though the larger responsibilities of government are left to councillors of her father, Janessa still has to deal with the smaller scale bureaucratic duties. Many of the other seven characters however, could easily fit stereotypical roles, which by saying this would almost make me hypocritical by going back on my earlier statement about them being one dimensional and your standard heroes. But they’re not. Ford has taken a similar approach to what Whedon took with Firefly, and deliberately work within these predefined roles. However, it’s the strong level of storytelling that Ford brings to the table here – with some great character interaction, and some fantastic character development over the course of the book, and at the end – leaving the reader eagerly awaiting more, and what’s more – you’ll care about these characters. You won’t treat them like they’re just talking plot points designed to advance a story, you’ll treat them like genuine people. They’re that well developed.
Of course, in a grimdark fantasy, you’ll expect action – and that’s exactly what Ford gives us. It’s unrelenting, gritty, and moves along, taking no prisoners. Creating attention to characters as well as the action and handling both in a way that still leaves plenty of time for worldbuilding, Ford has managed to create the perfect balance. Whilst there may not be one ongoing, main plot thread that tangles all the little extras together, the book is very good at exploring different, subplots across the city. What we don’t get is a sense that there’s an overall story, but that’s pretty much one of the few issues that I had with Herald of the Storm, the only thing preventing it from getting top marks. However, with two books left, there is plenty of time to develop a main plot thread, but with the way that Ford handles everything else, you almost won’t care.
Therefore, despite its one small issue then - Herald of the Storm is a strong opener, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting Ford’s next book set in the city of Steelhaven.
“A wonderful third novel shows that Peter V. Brett can live up to expectations and provide a thrilling read that makes it a strong contender for best novel of the year already.” ~The Founding Fields
I’m a huge fan of Peter V. Brett’s The Demon Cycle, having been hooked on reading it a couple of years ago when I discovered the first two novels on a buy-one-get-one half price deal in Waterstones. The cover art looked awesome and they really stood out amongst the crowd, so I quickly snapped them up and devoured them – really enjoying the books. And then, the waiting began. So naturally, when this book was eventually published recently, it wouldn’t be too long before I managed to get a copy. The day that I got the book request from NetGalley approved didn’t just make my day, it made my week. I almost instantly started reading The Daylight War, and well, loved it. As I’ve mentioned in the quote, I’d even go so far as to call it one of the best novels of 2013 already, it’s certainly up there.
On the night of a new moon all shadows deepen.
Humanity has thirty days to prepare for the next demon attack, but one month is scarcely enough time to train a village to defend themselves, let alone an entire continent caught in the throes of civil war.
Arlen Bales understands the coreling threat better than anyone. Born ordinary, the demon plague has shaped him into a weapon so powerful he has been given the unwanted title of saviour, and attracted the attention of deadly enemies both above and below ground.
Unlike Arlen, Ahmann Jardir embraces the title of Deliverer. His strength resides not only in the legendary relics he carries, but also in the magic wielded by his first wife, Inevera, a cunning and powerful priestess whose allegiance even Jardir cannot be certain of.
Once Arlen and Jardir were like brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies prepare, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all: those that lurk in the human heart.
The book opens with a flashback, like The Desert Spear before it, only this time, rather than focus on Jardir, we’re focusing on Inevera, nearly thirty three years before the current events of the series, and we get to see her life as a child. However, we don’t spend as long with Inevera as we did with Jardir and soon we’re back with the promised couple, Arlen and Renna. It’s interesting to see that Renna is starting to follow Arlen on his path, despite the fact that she is meant to be the only person keeping Arlen in the world of men rather than having him thrust into the world of demons. Leesha gets a pretty heavy chunk of the book as well as her character is expanded upon much like the rest of the dramatis personae that we have seen grown over the course of the series so far. Renna Tanner gets a bigger role to play in this book than in the previous novels, and her character really develops here as she struggles to make herself able to keep up with Arlen, who is now more focused and in control of everything than he’s ever been, and it’s really interesting to read just how much he’s changed as a character since The Painted Man (or The Warded Man in the USA), as well as other characters who have undergone various developments.
As from what one might suggest by the title, the action sequences and the pace are increased in this book from the previous novels. Peter V. Brett has managed to capture the ability to hook the reader in and keep them turning the pages, and I was not be able to put this down although I did have to keep an eye on the charge of my Kindle Fire at times. The great thing about reading this novel on the Kindle Fire was that I could take it anywhere without carrying a massive hardback book around, therefore I was able to quickly load it up and start reading whenever I had a spare moment. A few may have complained about pacing issues in previous novels, but I think Brett has nailed it here. The Daylight War’s action scenes are nicely handled, as well as the book’s plot. And it ends on a cliffhanger as well. A very, very awesome cliffhanger that had to force me to put the book down for a few moments and think, “Did that just happen?” It’s a serious gamechanger in the series and proves that nobody, not even the main cast is safe.
And you won’t see it coming, which is especially good as many stories with Chosen One cliches are predictable and quite dull in places. This one isn’t though, as Brett weaves a powerful tale with a strong narrative, and whilst I may have initially believed this series to be a trilogy, I’m glad to see that there are more than three volumes. There isn’t any real drawbacks with this novel as a whole that I found, although I know that others have different opinions to me and have indeed read at least one negative review of this book. But for me, The Daylight War will most likely be the book to beat for 2013, and it truly is a terrific read.
THE DEMON CYCLE: The Painted Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War. (less)
“Gritty fantasy has a new and enthralling addition to its ranks. If you’re a fan of Joe Abercrombie or George RR Martin, then this is one you’ll want to have under your radar.” ~The Founding Fields
I first came across this book after hearing about it on Civilian Reader, and upon finding out that it was pretty cheap on the Kindle Fire (only £1-ish), I decided to snap it up and give it a try. After all, I love gritty fantasy, but with so many already established names in the genre, what new things could Scull bring to the table that we haven’t already seen before? I was interested to find out, and I ended up tearing my way through this debut tale. However, it’s not without its flaws though, and I’ll explain what they are towards the end of the review.
"This is a world dying.
A world where wild magic leaks from the corpses of rotting gods, desperate tyrants battle over fading resources, impassive shapeshifters marshal beasts of enormous size and startling intelligence, and ravenous demons infest the northern mountains. A world where the only difference between a hero and a killer lies in the ability to justify dark deeds.
But even in this world, pockets of resistance remain. When two aging warriors save the life of a young rebel, it proves the foundation for an unlikely fellowship. A fellowship united against tyranny, yet composed of self-righteous outlaws, crippled turncoats and amoral mercenaries. A grim company, indeed…"
As expected, The Grim Company is the opening volume in a new Fantasy trilogy, which bears the same name as its title. If you’ve any doubts about it being a weak addition to the already established ranks of dark fantasy then you should put them aside, for Luke Scull has crafted a debut tale that will keep you hooked right the way through, with a strong story, interesting characters, a harsh outlook on the world and a very interesting plot. Whilst this may not be the most original debut ever, The Grim Company’s biggest achievement is easily making you feel like you’re not reading an Abercrombie-knock off. The book is firmly its own novel.
Character wise, Scull delivers some tried and true archetypes such as Davarus Cole, a man who believes that it’s his destiny to be the leader, the most awesome character of them all and lead the people against the evil that oppresses them. However, Cole is actually not all that likable, and comes across as a bit of an arrogant prick at times, with a warped view of how things should work and often ignores what is happening right in front of him. We also get the likes of Eremul the Halfmage, a sorcerer spared by the evil ruler Salazar that followed a purge which left other magic users in disarray, Brodar Kayne, a man who was once Champion of the Shaman and is now in hiding from his former master, among others, who are an interesting cohort that, along with the plot of overthrowing the lord ruler can sometimes echo Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire, but obviously with a gritter tone.
If you were put off by Abercrombie’s novels or are one of the few people who don’t like A Song of Ice and Fire, then The Grim Company will probably not be your cup of tea. Even though the book comes across as too cliche from the description that I’ve just given you and the blurb, especially with the evil leader being named Salazar, you’ll find that Scull is in familiar territory, he knows what waters he’s treading in as do you. The book also benefits from being action packed, engaging and truly a page-turning read, and once you’ve started, you won’t stop. There are however, as mentioned earlier – a few shortcomings that prevent The Grim Company from matching the likes of Abercrombie and company.
The author tries to get across a very grim setting in his book, but sometimes, the dialogue comes across as awkward in places. It also doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, for we’ve seen everything in The Grim Company before. There’s nothing that screams new and original, however – if you want a fun read from one of the hottest debut authors of 2013, The Grim Company will probably be your best bet. I was considering giving The Grim Company a slightly lower rating at the start of the review, but I’ve decided that I’m actually struggling to find that many flaws in the book as I attempt to pick it apart in this review.
If you’re somebody who doesn’t mind reading the odd self-published book like myself, you could do a lot worse than D.E.M Emrys’ epic fantasy tale, It Began with Ashes. It’s strong, confident and creates an enthralling tale with likeable characters with their own personalities. The book itself tells the story of coming to accept yourself as who you really are, as well as exploring other details such as character development whilst jostling with world building and some awesome action sequences.
Peace in Wroge came at a price.
Wroge was divided by the Saive War. The Arneuton kingdom enslaved the Keltir clans into their invasion, and swept across the territory, converting and conscripting the weak, culling the strong. Five Years of war, the blood of four races, millions of deaths. The Arneut conquered. The Keltir were released from their imprisonment, but the Vikir and Narz were forever banished from Wroge’s borders.
Draven fought for peace. He fought another man’s war and paid for his freedom in blood. But even peace comes with its price. Taxes to another man’s king. Draven’s fight might have ended with the Saive War, but the struggle to afford safety for his family is far from over.
When the Vikir threaten Wroge’s northern border they come with a debt of their own. And it’s not taxes they’re after. They come because of the Keltir’s betrayal in the Saive War. They come from blood.
But Wroge’s fate won’t be decided by ageing warriors and old grudges. The lives of four young men, divided by peace, united by conflict, will shape the future of the war torn land.
‘It Began With Ashes’ is the story of how life’s greatest struggle is to accept who you are – a tale of broken promises, bitter grudges, and brotherhoods bound in blood.
If you have any version of a Kindle, or a way of adapting a Kindle-formatted book to suit your appropiate e-reader format, then you can get a taste of what Emrys’ works are like for nothing, in the form of the short story, From Man to Man. The pricing of It Began With Ashes is pretty strong as well, and although it may be short, it’s a great teaser for what’s to come in this novel, as it picks up from where it left off, exploring Draven, his family and a large dramatis personae that find themselves caught in the midst of an attack from the Vikir, an exiled warrior race. The book itself is great at handling the cast of characters, so that the Point of View switches never seem jarring and they seem to flow naturally.
Kale, Draven’s son, is one of the main characters in It Began with Ashes and is a very interesting character to read the POV of, whose experience is harrowed following the death of a young boy his age having been killed by a friend. His character is affected greatly by the death, and you – the reader will be as well, as the book itself establishes a dark tone that will continue throughout.
If you’re tired of pages of pages of exposition in your fantasy novels, then Emrys ignores that, getting right to the heat of the action and character development, and you’ll quickly find out that a large portion of the book is action dominated, at least half. Don’t let that put you off though, because I’ve already mentioned that there’s plenty of character development.
The world building is also something not to be looked down on, with most being compared through conversations with characters as opposed to the narration, with a strong pacing to boot that doesn’t feel like it’s either too fast or too slow.
There are some people who don’t pick up first novels in a series when future issues haven’t been released yet, and that is understandable, but with a low price for It Began with Ashes, it’s really something that you can’t afford to pass by, because despite the fact that there is clearly intended to be future books, the novel can probably be read as a standalone as the book itself doesn’t end on a cliffhanger.
So with all of that mentioned, if you’re looking for some self-published work for a low price and have an e-reader, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t pass this opportunity by.
“An awesome debut, if you’ve enjoyed the likes of Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson and Joe Abercrombie - Promise of Blood is a book that you’ll want to get on board for. Unputdownable.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.
It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king… Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
It’s up to a few… Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.
But when gods are involved… Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…"
I think if I were to do an award for debut novel of the year, then there’s no question about it – The first book in the Powder Mage Trilogy from Brian McClellan will almost certainly be up in the Top 5. It’s stunning, well crafted, compelling and engaging, with some well written scenes throughout the whole novel with a powerfully built world allowing to enhance the story and create a greater impact on the reader.
Whilst some may dismiss the opening of yet another fantasy trilogy, especially with all the previous trilogies that have come before The Powder Mage, - The First Law Trilogy (Initial three books) by Joe Abercrombie, The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks, and thousands of more fantasy trilogies out there right the way through The Lord of the Rings and beyond – there comes a point where the reader starts to wonder if fantasy has anything new, fresh and exciting to throw at the reader. And I will respond to that question with a firm yes. There’s always going to be new fantasy titles on the market, and Promise of Blood is among the best of the new debuts that I’ve read since my introduction to the fantasy genre, not just in 2013.
The book itself is fairly dark, certainly darker than Brandon Sanderson’s, but it never quite reaches either Abercrombie or Martin levels of grittiness. This is an excellent debut that manages to draw several different things across from a variety of genres – for example, there’s guns and technology here as well as magic. In that category, it very much falls in with the same sort of style of novels as Brent Week’s second series, The Lightbringer, and even to a certain extent the Warhammer Fantasy tie-in novels published by Black Library. Regardless of that however, – you will find yourself hooked in right from the start, and find yourself unable to put the book down as you are dragged on a fantastic adventure that will leave you begging for the next installment in the series, particularly when it comes to the awesome conclusion.
Promise of Blood is an epic read, and it’s one that starts of strong and gets better as the story progresses. The more you find yourself engaged in the narrative, the less you find yourself able to put it down. The world, the magic and everything is very firmly established and there is little room for anything that feels like it could be a “deus ex machina” moment. The characters are strong as well, adding another strength to an already impressive load of them, for the book’s characters are varied, diverse, creative and are, like all the best fantasy novels, flawed. They each have struggles that they must overcome, and the world itself is also quite different to the standard fantasy fare – having the feeling of perhaps a revolutionary France, especially when the King gets booted off the throne in the very beginning of the story, providing a great momentum for things to come.
It’s a complex and compelling debut, and although may not be as good as Abercrombie or Weeks, it’s very, very close. I think the only major flaw here is that the characters aren’t as memorable and engaging as the fantasy favourites – Kylar Stern, Logen Ninefingers etc, but Tamas, Taniel and Adamat are among the better crafted fantasy characters that a reader can be entertained by, and as a result – the book itself still manages to be a very strong read. There’s just one minor flaw that I’ve found that barely detracted anything from the reading experience.
“If you want proof that second novels are better than first outings, look no further than Seven Kings - Fultz has improved a lot from Seven Kings and although it may not be entirely perfect, Seven Kings shouldn’t be overlooked.” ~The Founding Fields
I read Seven Princes expecting something brilliant from John R. Fultz, but I came away dissapointed and it was only on a whim that I requested Seven Kings, the sequel – to review. And as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by what Fultz had to offer - Seven Kings manages to be everything that book one in the Books of the Shaper series should have been and more, keeping the reader enthralled and sticking around for volume three. I certainly enjoyed reading this book, but like I mentioned in the quote – it does have a few flaws which I’ll highlight on later in the review.
In the jungles of Khyrei, an escaped slave seeks vengeance and finds the key to a savage revolution.
In the drought-stricken Stormlands, the Twin Kings argue the destiny of their kingdom: one walks the path of knowledge, the other treads the road to war.
Beyond the haunted mountains King Vireon confronts a plague of demons bent on destroying his family.
With intrigue, sorcery, and war, Seven Kings continues the towering fantasy epic that began with Seven Princes.
Firstly, like Zachary Jernigan’s No Return that I reviewed earlier this week, Seven Kings (I still keep calling this book Seven Princes for some reason) is firmly in adult territory. It’s not for the squeamish, either – this book certainly delivers on the horror element of fantasy by managing to create, like the first book – a tale where nobody is safe and anyone can meet an unexpected end. It’s dark, action packed and very gory, with some twists and turns that are far from predictable. If you liked Princes then you should enjoy Kings even more than I did, because everything about this book is better than its predecessor.
Seven Princes is a book that could easily be read as a standalone and a reader would not have to worry about picking up the rest of the series, and Fultz has made sure with this volume to give people a greater incentive to read Book Three, Seven Sorcerers, by leaving the end of the novel as a way to set up the next act in this series. The characters are expanded upon, and we get to have multiple POVs from a variety of characters, the runaway slave Tong, King Vireon and his shape-shifting-sorceress wife Alua, Vireon’s troubled sister and her husband King D’zan are just a few of the large dramatis personae mentioned here, and at some point it can feel like you loose track of the characters and their adventures. The thing is with stories with such a cast, some stories can have problems getting the balance right between giving characters enough time to make them stick in the reader’s minds for long. The mains strength of A Song of Ice and Fire was that the characters are all so damn memorable, and I could list many characters from that series as opposed to Seven Kings where I can at most name five. That’s because they aren’t well developed enough to stand out and make the reader want to root for them, which is a real shame for the first book had this problem as well.
The action is well written however and the storyline is enthralling, as Fultz manages to expand on the world that he has created and although not in much depth of the recently read No Return by Zachary Jernigan, it is still an strong exploration of the world and the standard fantasy map that we see at the beginning only enhances the tale. Fultz has a strong prose and it’s clear that he has experience with it, and his use of language is good as well. Our Princes that we saw in the first book have also changed from the first outing of Fultz, and the author has made it so that nobody is perfect, and other characters don’t really know who to trust.
So with that said, will I be reading the next book in the series, Seven Sorcerers? Did Seven Kings manage to convince me to Fultz’s side completely? I still think that this book could have done with a few more tweaks in places, such as character development, the amount of characters included and a few more moments of originality added to the book. But aside from that, Seven Kings is stronger than its predecessor, and as a result, I will be seeing if Fultz can take the series one step further with Seven Sorcerers and build on where he went wrong.
“A great debut, a new voice to high fantasy has arrived.” ~The Founding Fields
The Red Knight has been on my to-read list ever since I first saw it on...more“A great debut, a new voice to high fantasy has arrived.” ~The Founding Fields
The Red Knight has been on my to-read list ever since I first saw it on Orbit’s Coming Soon page. Sure, I know – it’s epic fantasy, a genre that can either be really good or really bad depending on what books you read, and with a debut it’s often riskier than others. However, it wasn’t long before I found engrossed in the world of The Red Knight, and as a result, will be eagerly looking forward to anything else that Miles Cameron writes.
Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.
Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men – or worse, a company of mercenaries – against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.
It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.
The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with.
Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be a war…
Even though The Red Knight may be epic fantasy, it can at times feel similar to historical fiction – of course, there are enough elements to make it feel like epic fantasy – but it comes dangerously close to crossing the line into historical fiction at times. However, fantasy readers who love military fantasy should enjoy The Red Knight, as this is a tale about war – with several action packed encounters that are written really well.
“A Wonderful read. Three Books in, Daniel Abraham’s Epic Fantasy series is just as compelling as his and Ty Frank’s The Expanse. Easily one of the highlights of 2013.” ~The Founding Fields
Another year, another Daniel Abraham fantasy novel, another James SA Corey Novel. In the past three years, all books have managed to make it onto my Best of… lists, and it looks like this year is going to be no different. The Tyrant’s Law is compelling, epic, and a really strong third installment to the series that ranks as one of my favourite. There are several standout moments in this novel – and one of the best things about it is that the characters have really been fleshed out by this point, really memorable and have undergone large chunks of character development. Nobody that you saw in The Dragon’s Path is the same that you see in The Tyrant’s Law, and I really look forward to seeing what Daniel Abraham can throw at his characters in future instalments.
"The great war cannot be stopped.
The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it.
Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.
Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee.
Return to the critically acclaimed epic by master storyteller Daniel Abraham, The Dagger and the Coin."
Like the previous two books, The Tyrant’s Law is told in a style that George RR Martin fans will be familiar with. Each Chapter is focused on the Third Person POV of a Character, but by this point – especially if you’ve been reading The Expanse as well, you’ll be used to Daniel Abraham’s style – and you certainly won’t be flicking through various chapters to get to characters that you find more interesting than the other, for example – Geder’s story is as equally interesting as Cithrin’s, and Marcus’s tale is as awesome as Clara’s. He really draws you in and tells a compelling story, and at the end only manages to leave the reader wanting more.
The novel itself really focuses on the scale and diversity of the story that Abraham is telling – it runs across many genres. Love, action, epic, gritty,cultural analysis – These are some things that could take up a whole novel, yet Abraham manages to wind them all into one, with an unrelenting pace that readers of The Dragon’s Path and The King’s Blood will be used to. This is far from your average fantasy tale of heroes and Chosen Ones, and it certainly steps above the average gritty fantasy novel that looks like somebody was just simply trying to copy A Song of Ice and Fire. Its characters are unique and original, and the setting is wonderfully created. And we don’t have to wait five years for the next book.
The beauty of Daniel Abraham’s novels is that as well as being the third book in an ongoing series, The Tyrant’s Law could be read as a standalone without the reader having to go back and catch up on the first two books, but it’s probably best to start at the beginning, as you can tell that the books are clearly building on one another to create a vast plotline, and the story takes its time with the characters so that whilst you’ll find yourself turning the pages more and more, The Tyrant’s Law won’t be have the lightning-fast pace of other epic fantasies. Abraham spends some time analysing the characters and we continue to get a better connection of the characters in question. There is no ‘evil overlord’ cliché to be found here, and each of the main cast are far from perfect characters, the supposed heroes will not always make the right decisions etc, and this leads to an unpredictable atmosphere that not many fantasy novels have been able to capture.
Whilst the hype surrounding this series’ release may have perhaps died down since the first book, the series doesn’t get worse – in fact, in my opinion, it gets better. I really can’t wait to see where the series goes with future installments, and if the previous three books have been anything to go by, then book four in The Dagger and the Coin will most certainly be on my Best of 2014 list if Abraham keeps to the pattern of releasing a book a year for this series.
THE DAGGER AND THE COIN: The Dragon’s Path, The King’s Blood, The Tyrant’s Law. (less)