Tristia is a nation overcome by intrigue and corruption. The idealistic young King Paelis is dead and the Greatcoats – legendary travelling magistrates who brought justice to the Kingdom – have been branded as traitors. But just before his head was impaled on a spike, the King swore each of his hundred and forty-four Greatcoats to a different mission.
Falcio Val Mond, First Cantor, with the help of fellow Greatcoats Kest and Brasti, has completed his King’s final task: he has found his Charoites – well, one at least, and she was not quite what they expected. Now they must protect the girl from the many who would see her dead, and place her on the throne of a lawless kingdom. That would be simple enough, if it weren’t for the Daishini, an equally legendary band of assassins, getting in their way, not to forget the Dukes who are determined to hold on to their fractured Kingdoms, or the fact that the heir to the throne is only thirteen years old. Oh, and the poison that is slowly killing Falcio.
That’s not even mentioning the Greatcoat’s Lament…
Like most people, I loved the first novel in the Greatcoats series, with Sebastien De Castell’s debut novel being one of the best books of 2014. So naturally, I was incredibly excited when the second book, Knight’s Shadow, turned up in the post and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. As it turned out, this book turned out to be just as excellent as the first one, offering another strong contender for the best book of the year when it inevitably reaches its end. There’s so much good stuff here that will appeal a lot to people who have already read the first novel, and if you enjoyed that then you’ll probably love this book as well.
Picking up where the first book left off, Knight’s Shadow again follows the story of Falcio Val Mond, the First Cantor, who has now found one of the King’s Charoites. Along with Kest and Bratsi, fellow Greatcoats, Falcio has to protect the thirteen year old girl, who’s not quite what they expected, from the many who would see her dead in order to place her on the throne of a kingdom without a king. Of course, in the life of a Greatcoat, this is never going to be easy, because they have to deal with not only the Daishini, a band of assassins that’s just as legendary as they are, but also Dukes determined to hold onto what’s left of their Kingdoms. And to make matters worse, Falcio is succumbing to a slow poison, and doesn’t have that long left to live. So it’s safe to say that the odds are stacked against them.
The story itself is a bit longer than the first novel, Traitor’s Blade, and as a result took me a bit longer to get through it but I still enjoyed every minute of what I read. De Castell has successfully proved that he’s not just capable of putting out one good book, and is able to bring the second to the table in an incredibly good way. Narrated in first person once again by Falcio, the story itself is very cleverly plotted and will be instantly familiar to those who loved the first book. The pace itself is good as well, as the increase in the pagecount does not necessarily allow for a slower read, as Castell manages to keep the stakes high throughout the novel.
The character development is handled pretty well over the course of this book with the main action being centred on Falcio Val Mond as one would expect. His character continues to get fleshed out and he continues to be incredibly well developed as Castell puts his character through the wire time and time again. It helps that the writer handles dialogue extremely well so that we get to see some fantastic interactions between the different characters in this book. And on top of that, the action is also extremely well written, with some great scenes that help make this book a must read.
Knight’s Shadow is a book that should live up to your expectations. The world-building continues to be excellent and the multiple villains featured are just as interesting as the protagonists, with the book taking a darker turn than the first. Much like the first novel, it’s very comparable to the incredible Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and if you want some Musketeers (or Musketeers-esque stories) and the BBC’s series isn’t doing it for you (I jumped ship after the first episode), then Knight’s Shadow is certainly worth a look into. Therefore, much like the first , it’ll probably be one of the best book’s you’ll read this year, coming highly recommended.
The capital has fallen... Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away. An army divided... With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son. All hope rests with one... And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed...
THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC is the epic conclusion that began with Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign
The Powder Mage Trilogy has been one of my favourites of recent years in terms of epic fantasy. Both Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign featured on best of the year lists and I was eager to see what Brian McClellan would do with the final act, The Autumn Republic. Would he fail to deliver a satisfactory ending or would he knock it out of the park like the previous two novels? I was kind of worried going into this book if it would deliver or not, but rest assured, The Autumn Republic quickly blew any previous expectations out of the water and delivered an excellent finale that cements this trilogy as a ‘must read’ for anyone looking to read more fantasy, and also will have readers looking forward to see what McClellan comes up with next, as he most certainly will be an author to look forward to even once this has concluded.
Field Marshall Tamas has returned to his country to find its Capital, Adro under control of an invader for the first time in known history. He doesn’t know the difference between friend and foe anymore and to top it off, his son is missing. And on top of that, any reinforcements that he might be getting are several weeks away. There’s also talk of mutiny in the Adran Army, who have the Kez bearing down on them and are cut off without any clear leadership. This mutiny is about to include Inspector Adamat, who’s drawn in with the promises of finding his kidnapped son. And then – Taniel Two-Shot, having been turned on by men that he once counted as friends, has to protect the only chance that Adro has of getting through this war.
All of these three characters get good, definitive conclusions to their story that is handled very well. Tamas, Adamat and Taniel Two-Shot have all been great, well developed characters that we’ve been following over the course of the past three books and it’s great to see that McClellan gives them plenty of pagetime in the final act. We got to see new sides of characters explored here that weren’t necessarily touched upon before, with Tamas being developed a bit more and characters like Bo, Nila and more also improving. It’s good to see that the balance between character development and action sequences is handled well here, and neither is overlooked as the book flows pretty well with there never being a dull moment. The Autumn Republic is very much a book that you’ll want to make sure that you have as much time to read it in one go as possible, because once you start, you won’t want to stop. It’s that good.
The world that the characters inhabit continues to be one of the most fascinating things about this series. The use of magic is really intriguing and it’s great to see just how well it’s handled here. You can tell McClellan’s put an effort into fleshing out his world because it really shows, and with McClellan managing to develop it this well without slowing down the pace is great to see. If anything, this is one of those rare cases where trilogies actually get better as they progress – making The Autumn Republic superior to the previous two, even if the previous two were pretty damn good already.
The exciting, tense and unpredictable finale gave The Powder Mage Trilogy a very satisfying conclusion indeed. The different perspectives of the characters are all interesting and it’s great to see that McClellan spends enough time with them. If you loved the previous two books then chances are, The Autumn Republic won’t disappoint. As a result, this book comes Highly Recommended, and I can’t wait to see what McClellan comes up with next.
"The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.
Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire's most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.
Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it."
I wasn’t too keen on The Emperor’s Blades, the first novel from Brian Stavely’s The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, and I wasn’t initially planning on reading the second book, but given the vast amount of praise that the sequel was receiving with positive reviews from pretty much everywhere, I thought I’d give it a shot and I certainly wasn’t disappointed, with this novel emerging as a strong contender to be among this year’s best come the end, even though it is only the start of February.
The book itself follows from the aftermath of the first novel, with the Conspiracy against the ruling family of the Annurian Empire far from over. Thebook continues to follow the adventures of Adare, Valyn and Kaden, all caught up in their own troubles which are rapidly escalating as each character continues to get plenty of development. Adare is on the run having escaped the Dawn Palace in the aftermath of the coup, but has nowhere to turn to with few people willing to trust her until she starts to claim that she’s being touched by Intarra, the patron goddess of the empire. But to make matters worse, and unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn has joined up with invading barbarian hordes, a threat so terrible that it is forcing the rivals to combine against a common foe. And finally, caught in between the two, is Kaden, the rightful heir to the throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with two mysterious allies.
If you’re looking for an example of a sequel that beats the previous book in terms of quality, then The Providence of Fire is certainly one that I’m going to point you in the direction of. It’s a step up in every sense, of the word, bigger, wider and more expansive with greater attention to not only characters but also the world that they inhabit. What could have been a book designed to only set up a third installment instead becomes a defining novel that pushes this series into the status of “must-read” novels. It’s just that good.
The book itself gives Adare plenty of things to do after she spent much of The Emperor’s Blades doing little whilst Valyn and Kaden got up to all the action. Her part in The Providence of Fire turns out to be one of the most exciting and engaging, with Adare shaping up to be one of the more enthralling characters of the book with a great element of political intrigued added to her, and it’s good to see that the development of the character has really paid off. On top of that, her supporting cast is fleshed out as well with plenty of interesting characters that help give her section of the story a massive, welcoming improvement.
With The Providence of Fire being larger than The Emperor’s Blades in terms of page count, there’s a lot to work with. As well as Adare, we spent plenty of time with Kaden and Valyn and all of these characters get some great development as their parts become more interesting and more engaging as this book starts to have a greater feel of epicness than the first. There’s a sense of urgency, unpredictability and several moments of great tension. It’s what The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins, and those of you who know just how better the former film was to the latter then you’ll know what to expect from this book.
For such a large novel some writers can fall into the trap of making parts drag, particularly towards the middle section, when they expand their world further, but Staveley makes no mistake here and keeps the pacing spot on for the most part. There are a few transitional problems that don’t quite work as well as they should, but despite this, they’re only minor issues and won’t detract from your reading experience as a whole.
As a result,The Providence of Fire is very good indeed. It’s a far superior second novel to the first one, and if you were put off by The Emperor’s Blades (or even if you loved it), then I can strongly recommend that you give Staveley’s The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne a second shot. Because trust me, you won’t regret it. Expect this to feature on the top 25 books of 2015 come the year’s end for sure. It’s such a shame that the next novel doesn’t come out until 2016.
“An excellent novel that will pull you in with an imaginative world and fascinating characters. It’s one of those books that you won’t be able to stop reading, and it’s one of those books that definitely lives up to all the hype.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
You’ve got to be careful when you’re chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past and criminals disappear into thin air.
The murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent’s past has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners.
Only one woman may be willing to peruse the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.
Robert Jackson Bennett has been one of those authors who I really should get around to reading more of especially with the praise that he has received for all of his novels. As of the time of writing this review I have only read The Company Man, which I ended up really enjoying. However, it wouldn’t be until City of Stairs when I would return to Bennett’s work, and was really glad that I was able to check it out because I was quite simply blown away with it. I know I’ve been praising a lot of books that I’ve been reviewing lately, (Peter F. Hamilton’s The Abyss Beyond Dreams and Steven Erikson’s Willful Child) but the fact is, they’ve all been good books. And City of Stairs is certainly no exception to that rule as Robert Jackson Bennett steps out and knocks it out of the park.
The city of Bulikov once boasted the powers of Gods and had the ability to conquer the world. However, the mysterious deaths of its divine protectors has meant that the city has fallen into a shadow of its former self, and now Bulikov is simply just another outpost of a new world power with strict laws on censorship among other things.
This is where we meet Shara Divani. On paper, she’s an average diplomat sent by the authorities of Bulikov’s enemies. However, in secret, Shara is an expert spy, tasked with finding out who killed an innocent historian, Dr. Efrem Pangyui, who shouldn’t really have anything to hide. But little does she know that she’s about to stumble out of her depth, and the Gods themselves might not be as dead as everyone thought they were…
First off, there’s a lot of world building on display here. It takes the reader a while to get into the novel but trust me, don’t let that put you off. It’s well developed and well created, with some great attention to detail on display here. Bennett has, as far as I am aware, has never written an all-out fantasy epic before, with Mr. Shivers, The Company Man, The Troupe and American Elsewhere all being very different reads but it’s good to see that Bennett has continued his spectacular form across to a different genre from what we’ve come to expect from this writer.
Although the pace doesn’t quite pick up until midway through, City of Stairs is still an excellent success. You’ll find yourself immersed in the world that Bennett has created here and his characters are just as strong. Sigrud, Shara’s ally, is just as awesome and one of the novel’s clear standouts. Although Shara is the main character, Bennett makes his secondary cast leave a distinctive impression on the reader and that is excellent to see.
This is one of those books where once you get into it, you won’t be able to stop. It’s engrossing, captivating and engaging and is at this rate, on course to be one of the better novels of the year. There’s just so much good things about City of Stairs that it’s hard to ignore, and you’ll be blown away by just how awesome it is. There’s a good reason why everyone’s talking about this book, and believe me, you won’t want to miss out on the hype.
"A fun sword and sorcery romp with an excellently developed world, Blood and Iron is a good read that fans of the genre will enjoy, with some excellent character development that will keep readers entertained even when this book might not be the most original on the market today." ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Set in a richly-imagined world, this action-heavy fantasy epic and series opener is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus.
It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn't even begin to understand.
Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn't last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen's court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire's caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both."
Jon Sprunk is a writer whose work I’ve been wanting to read for a while now so that when I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of his first new novel since concluding his debut trilogy, I dove straight into it and ended up really enjoying the book. Sure, it may be problematic in places and has plenty of flaws, but at its core, it is an entertaining, action packed and fun read that reads a lot quicker than most fantasy novels on shelves at the moment, and will leave you eagerly looking forward to future instalments in the Book of the Black Earth series.
If you read a sword and sorcery novel you’ll begin to notice that the genre shares a few things in common. However, despite the fact that Blood and Iron may not be the most original thing ever, like Paul S. Kemp’s Egil & Nix series for Angry Robot Books, it still manages to be lots of fun and incredibly entertaining – with the benefit of a richly detailed world that doesn’t come at a cost to the pace.
Meet Horace – a soldier from the west. He’s fighting in the Great Crusade against the people of Akeshia. However, something goes wrong and he ends up being pressed into service as a slave – before his latent sorcerer talents are uncovered and he becomes a member of the Queen’s Court. He’s also the main primary character of Blood and Iron – but not the only one. The third person narrative is split between Jirom, an ex mercenary now a Gladiator – and Alyra, a spy in the Court who uses the fact that she’s a slave for cover. Horace’s main struggle is against the empire, determined to free slaves from its iron grip.
Despite a relatively slow start, the book will pick up and move along at a quick pace once you get stuck into the narrative. I found myself flicking through pages desperately wanting to find out what happened next by the end, but despite this it took me a while to really connect to the characters. However, as well as the fun element that comes with the sword and sorcery genre – the book also benefits from a rich, fleshed out world that is one of the book’s highlights – you can see why it’s one of the first things that’s mentioned on the blurb. The comparisons to Spartacus are also justified as well, and it’s quite easy to spot the connection if you imagine what it had been like with a sword and sorcery twist.
Sprunk utilises a masterful narrative skill to keep readers engrossed in the series – people tired of all the characters in fantasy being white males will be relieved to see that there are several POC characters in this book as well – with narrative Points of View. Sprunk adds the diversity to a book successfully and gains bonus points in that regard.
The narrative is split between four main characters, two of each gender. Their meetings, interactions and development are very interesting to watch unfold – and Horace and company are very well developed. All four have a lot of attention put into their character growth and the end result is a success.
The book itself may be a little too predictable when it comes to the romance angle. It’s one of the problems in the book that should have really been improved on given the quality of the plot – and never feels as interesting as the main bulk of the narrative. This and the fact that there are multiple clichés inside also drag down the novel’s narrative in places – but despite this – Blood and Iron is still an engaging read.
Has it made me want to pick up the sequel? Sure, why not – I’ll certainly give it a try. However it doesn’t quite deserve to be at that top level of fantasy just yet, and it’ll be interesting to see how Sprunk’s work improves in future installments.
“An excellent novel that’s one of 2014’s best. Joe Abercrombie is one of fantasy’s strongest authors no matter the target audience, and Half a King is an incredible success that fans of both adult and young adult fiction alike will enjoy.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…
Joe Abercrombie is one of my favourite epic fantasy authors so there was no way that I was going to miss Half a King, the start of Abercrombie’s latest series, The Shattered Sea. His First Law Trilogy is amazing and the standalone novels of Red Country and Heroes have been superb as well. It’s good to see that Half a King was no different, and if for whatever reason you haven’t jumped on the Abercrombie bandwagon yet, then this is the perfect place to start.
Prince Yarvi, the main character of Half a King and its main narrator, is a crippled teenager who was put on the throne following the death of his brother and father. It’s a position that he never expected to be in, but when he was betrayed and sold into slavery, he’ll do anything to win it back. Suffering from a handicap since the start of the novel, it allows an interesting and unique lead character as rarely you will find a novel featuring a major character with a disability such as Yarvi’s. Abercrombie handles it incredibly well and gives it that strong voice that keeps the character sympathetic as well as packing enough punch to hold the story.
Despite the fact that Half a King may be young adult, it is certainly one of the darker young adult novels that I’ve read and that is no surprise when you consider Abercrombie’s adult fiction. Despite the darker tone, the novel is very much a coming of age tale, and you can tell that although it sounds like familiar ground (I mean, how often have you heard a coming of age young adult fantasy book been described to you before?) but Abercrombie adds an interesting twist that keeps this book feeling fresh and at no point over the course of the novel did it feel dull. Abercrombie has a captivating way of engrossing readers and he did not disappoint at all, and as a result I wouldn’t be surprised if Half a King were to end up in my Top 10 books of 2014 come the end of the year.
I breezed through Half a King in three separate sittings, limited only by the length of my bus journey. If I didn’t have a stop to get off, I probably would have kept reading (I almost did towards the end) because the novel reads like a thriller, and you’ll be turning the pages desperate to find out what happens next, which is rare in a fantasy where attention to detail can often bog down the pace. Not so with Half a King. There is plenty of world building and you get enough details to keep you going but don’t let that put you off. The balance is handled well and Abercrombie, a veteran author, rarely puts anything wrong.
There are so few young adult novels that manage to maintain a certain level of unpredictability all the way through and Half a King is very much one of those. Its constant twists and turns, ramping up to a higher level near the end, had me hooked from start to finish and I couldn’t see what was coming next. The fact that Abercrombie manages to juggle all of these elements as well as allow for some great character development makes Half a King a must read that can’t be ignored. It’s just that good.
Even if there was nothing new about the coming of age premise, the way Abercrombie executed the narrative made the book compelling and engaging. It focuses more on the characters than the plot, and gives plenty of room for Yarvi and the others to grow. The villains are fleshed out as well and it’s great to see what Abercrombie has done with this. It’s always a bit of a risk when an author moves out of his traditional stomping ground (yes, Abercrombie may still be in the fantasy genre, but young adult fiction is a different beast to adult fiction entirely) and the author has adapted confidently, handing the new element well. As a result then, this book comes highly recommended, and if you’re a lover of fantasy in general then you can’t go wrong with Half a King. Let’s hope the rest of The Shattered Sea continues to be this impressive.
“If this isn’t your most anticipated debut novel of 2014, then you’re doing it wrong. Traitor’s Blade may well end up going down as one of the strongest first fantasy novels of recent times – it’s an absolute stunner that you can’t afford to miss.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.
All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…"
Every so often as a book reviewer you stumble across a book that absolutely blows you away in terms of sheer quality. Brain McClellan and Brian Staveley and more have been relatively recent debut novelists and have really impressed with their first novels, but Sebastien de Castell absolutely steps up and knocks the ball out of the park with a stunning first novel in the Greatcloaks series from Jo Fletcher books, and instantly makes him a must watch author with his confident narrative that is a guaranteed place on many reader’s best of the year lists, even though we’re only in March.
Traitors-BladeThe book plants the reader in the head of Falcio, the first Cantor of the Greatcoats – an organisation that’s trained in fighting arts and uphold the law of the King. Once renowned as heroes, they’re now scattered and persecuted as traitors – having stood and watched whilst the Dukes took the kingdom, with their King’s head impaled on a spike. As you can imagine, the tables have turned – and the Greatcoats are far from what they once were.
The book itself is easily one of the most fun reads that I’ve had so far this year, and can claim that title as well as the bet debut novel. The book itself is a swashbuckling adventure romp, and will have the reader gripped to the page right the way through. There are clear hints of The Three Musketeers in the book itself – and there’s several instances of amusing witty banter throughout the book that works – not coming across as forced or out of place. The book shares more similarities with urban fantasies due to first person narrative with the short and to-the-point sentences rather than the long-winded often-third person structure that is a common theme in most epics.
If you’re not sold on the book already then it’s publisher - Jo Fletcher Books should really sell it for you – it’s rare that you’ll go by the publisher over the author but Jo Fletcher have not put out a bad book yet – at least in my perspective. Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne novels have been exceptional, as well as Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns. So far this is pretty much the only publisher that I’ve read that has a 100% track record with me as a reader – and almost anything that they put out will catch my interest regardless of the genre. Only a few other publishers can do that as well – Angry Robot and its imprint Strange Chemistry are two more. So whether this is your first Jo Fletcher book or you have read every title – one thing’s for sure, Traitor’s Blade manages to feel fresh and gripping despite having a relatively unoriginal premise.
Also, it’s rare that I point this out in a review, but how awesome is that cover? I didn’t even need to read the blurb before tearing into this book once it arrived, and it instantly stood out from the crowd of to be read books with its striking design. If I’d been browsing in a shop this would have definitely been an impulse buy – and it’s something that based on the sheer quality of the book I’m not looking like regretting any time soon.
The action is well written and there are a variety of fight scenes that don’t feel odd or cumbersome – running smoothly with the strong, page-turning pace of the rest that the rest of the novel provides. We get to see a superb level of plotting on display as well – something that quite a lot of debuts suffer with. The book also wraps up with a strong conclusion – and means that it will be a long wait for the next book, which based on the quality of this one – will certainly have readers coming back for more.
The characters are well developed, interesting and flawed. It’s no surprise that Falcio is the most memorable character of the lot – but there are a lot of other fleshed out characters as well. The book doesn’t fall into the trap of casting women in merely ‘damsel in distress’ roles either, and puts them in a variety of roles.
On the whole then, Traitor’s Blade is a stunning debut novel from Sebastian de Castell that has already guaranteed its place on the Best of 2014 lists and could possibly end up as the best debut novel of the whole year – it’s absolutely incredible stuff.
“A very promising fantasy debut that impresses with a confident narrative, however it suffers from poorly written female characters and plenty of repetition and a tendency to over explain certain elements. Despite this though, The Emperor’s Blades for the most part, is actually an incredibly solid read.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"When the emperor of Annur is murdered, his children must fight to uncover the conspiracy—and the ancient enemy—that effected his death.
Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.
Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.
Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral."
Another year, another epic fantasy debut. Some have been successful and others have been a disappointment, but Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, the first book in the Chronicle of the Unhwen Throne series, is a mixture of both worlds. On one hand, it has a great plot with an enthralling narrative that will really hook you in. It’s compelling, and the world is well developed with some mostly good characters. But nothing is perfect though and The Emperor’s Blades actually slips up in multiple areas such as its treatment of female characters and its use of repetition.
TheEmperorsBladesMost fantasy books that we’ve seen have started with the death of a King/Emperor/leading Monarch and this book picks up the paces, focusing on his children who are intent on uncovering the conspiracy. You get Valyn, a aspiring warrior of the Kettral, who is probably the most likable of the three siblings. There’s also Kaden, sequestered for eight years in a mountain monastery in order to learn the discipline that he needs to become the next Emperor as well as keep him hidden from the enemy. And there’s Adare, who is the sister of both Valyn and Kaden and gets the least amount of pagetime in the book that spends most of its focus looking at the struggles of Valyn and Kaden, and as a result she comes across as the least developed character of the lot.
However, there are problems, namely when it comes to the competency of the lead characters, Valyn and Adare in particular. Yes, they may not waste time doing what many fantasy novels struggle to avoid, having the characters whine and angst for most of the novel doing pretty much nothing else, because they at least get the job done, working hard to see it through. However, the competency is where the biggest issue is with the principal leads – Valyn lacks the ability to make important decisions, and he also suffers from the fact that he’s not a great team leader – something that you’d expect a character who has years of training as one to be good at. The other culprit is Adare, and what is frustrating is that in the few pages that she gets – she isn’t able to put her political skills to good use, unable to control her impulsiveness when it comes to speaking in public. Like with Valyn, Adare is experienced and highly schooled, or at least that’s what we’re told, but we don’t really see much proof to back it up. It’s a case of telling and not showing.
It seems for every bad thing about The Emperor’s Blades though is that there is something to enjoy about it. Staveley’s world building is very strong – richley detailed and you get a good sense of what’s going on – the book doesn’t struggle in the establishing of the scene – you’re thrust right into a fully-realised world that you can tell has been developed beforehand rather than just made up on the spot, as Staveley goes deeper into the world in one book than many fantasy writers do in a whole series, and whilst yes it does mean that the wordcount is long, it’s balanced by the fact that the pace is pretty quick. There aren’t any moments where you want to skip a few pages ahead because parts of the book has become too boring – it’s engrossing and highly captivating reading as a result.
And it isn’t long before we’re back at a negative element again. One of the biggest problems, if not the biggest in The Emperor’s Blades is its handling of female characters, and this is where it will be a make or break for the reader – some will enjoy the book regardless but others will be completely turned off by it.The only two women who are mildly tolerable are viewed with scorn and suspicion by the respective narrators, whilst the rest are treated either as damsels in distress or people to have sex with. It’s a vital flaw that prevents The Emperor’s Blades from reaching the four-star count or higher, which is a real shame as if there had been a few more developed female characters the book could have easily been one of the better novels of the year given its quality in other areas and this is something that any future books in the series need to turn around.
There’s nothing new brought to the table in terms of originality, and crucially, despite its many flaws - The Emperor’s Blades still manages to be mostly well written with confidence and has all the ingredients to create a novel that will be enjoyed by a great many. However, if you want strongly developed female characters and don’t mind large amounts of repetition, then this book isn’t going to be for you.
Review closer to publication date. This was my second Terry Brooks book and in all honesty I liked the first one more but the name of the title escapeReview closer to publication date. This was my second Terry Brooks book and in all honesty I liked the first one more but the name of the title escapes me. This was a decent read though, just I'm still struggling to see why Terry Brooks gets so much praise. Maybe I'll have to try out some of his earlier books. ...more
“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 ...more