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Book Review – Seven Blades in Black

I had never read anything by Sam Sykes, but I liked the description of this book. It featured a woman with a sword, a magical gun, and an attitude, so I thought I might like it. I did acquire this book to review as a courtesy from Net Galley.

Seven Blades in Black is the first book in a new series by Sam Sykes, but you can read the first book on its own and get a solid story. While the main plot isn’t over (by far, I’d guess), the main action of this first book is brought to a close.

Sal the Cacophany is a bounty-hunter with a tragic hidden past. She has tried to put her anger aside so that she can live through each day, but she keeps a list of names of those who wronged her in a pocket, waiting for the day that she can satisfy her vengeance. Meanwhile, she spends her time seeking out renegade Imperial mages known as Vagrants. Having served in the same capacity in her own past, she uses her knowledge to track them down, kill them using a magic gun, and then gathers the Dust from their remains, selling it for profit.

At the beginning of the book, Sal is held captive by the Revolution and is questioned by Governor-Militant Tretta Stern just before her planned execution. The two great powers in the world (the Imperials and the Revolution) have been at war for a long time with little regard for the civilians who struggle in the desolate Scar. Most of the novel is written as Sal relates her recent activities to her captor, forestalling her execution by a few hours and then a few days.

Sal’s tale starts as she tracks down Daiga, a nearby Vagrant. After their fight, she searches his tower and finds a note implying that Jindu, one of the names on her list, is recruiting Vagrants for something sinister. She realizes that she may have a chance to find him this time and the story follows her in her pursuit of her former associates.

Sal inadvertently ends up with two companions: Liette, an artificer and her former/current lover, and Low Sergeant Cavric Proud, a Revolutionary officer who is at first forced to pilot a gigantic armored tank-like device, but later stays because he begins to see his glorious Revolution through a perspective.

While the subject matter in this novel is dark and the protagonist is violent and vengeful, there is a lot of fun in the pages. I mean, Sal rides a giant bird named Congeniality and throws sarcasm around more than is good for her. Her gun, the Cacophany, is a powerful weapon, but also has a sinister aspect to it, communicating to her and becoming upset if she doesn’t kill often enough. But her sword is a plain blade and she has named him Jeff.

This is a long book that requires some attention throughout, but was a satisfying story in a unique setting. When the ending unfolds and the truth of Sal’s past is revealed, I was surprised to find her able to function as much as she does. Her backstory is heartbreaking and with knowledge of Jindu’s goals, she can’t escape confronting it, even beyond her goal of revenge. I’ll definitely pick up the next one in this series.

You can find Seven Blades in Black through my Amazon affiliate link if you’d like to support my blog. There is also a related novella (The Gallows Black) which could supplement your reading, or serve as a sampler before you jump into the longer book. Find other books by Sam Sykes below:

Find more of my reviews here.

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Book Review – Eridani’s Crown

Eridani’s Crown is a stand-alone fantasy novel by Alex Shvartsman. I received this book as an advance copy to help with proofreading, as I’ve known Alex for a few years through a local critique group. Alex was able to bring this book to publication through the help of Kickstarter.

Eridani and her brother Danchu are the crown prince and princess of Kozhad, a small city-state in the continent known as The Heart. At the beginning of the story, they are studying in Skond, a larger neighboring kindgom. When their home is overthrown and their parents are murdered, the two siblings are forced to flee and manage to stay barely ahead of their pursuit. After betrayal leads to Danchu’s murder, Eridani swears revenge against those who took her homeland.

When further events bring Eridani’s quest to a halt, she seeks the aid of a sorceress. As in much of fantasy, magical assistance has a high price, but at the time, Eridani doesn’t worry much about that. She plunges forward and leads her people to a series of victories.

Eridani is faced with a series of tough decisions that bring her goals into conflict with her loyalties. I can’t write anything more detailed about the plot without giving too much away at this point. She faces a prophecy brought on by her dealings in magic, but refuses to treat it as a serious consequence.

The events that unfold later become more unsettling. Eridani comes to learn what price she has paid for her power, and how the prophecy has affected her. While this story appears to be a more traditional fantasy tale in the opening sections, it turns into more of a character study as it progresses toward a bleak ending.

I prefer more upbeat stories in general, but the author does a good job in convincingly portraying the changes that occur with Eridani. I found myself rooting for her to win, but then even when I didn’t agree with her decisions, I still sympathized with her until nearly the end. This book will likely appeal to those who prefer a more grim take on traditional fantasy.

Fortunately, if you missed the Kickstarter, you can still pick up a copy as an e-book or in print. Use my Amazon affiliate link, and help support my blog, or check out some of Alex’s other books below.

Book Review – Blood of Tyrants

Blood of Tyrants is the eighth book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, and takes us to yet another part of the world, following Laurence and Temeraire as they continue to fight against Napoleon’s expanding empire.

In this book, there is a bit of a disconnect at the opening. Laurence awakens after washing up on foreign shores. He has no memory of the last eight years of his life — that portion that contains Temeraire and his life as a naval aviator. What could have been an exciting scene, as he is swept overboard in a storm, is left out and we begin with Laurence as he has to figure out what happened. He turns out to be in Japan, where he taken in and cared for, but is also a prisoner.

Some of Laurence’s actions as he tries to take in the oddities of Japanese culture are entertaining, but overall this part of the book was slow and ultimately has no bearing on the greater plot of the series.

While Laurence has been lost at sea, Temeraire refuses to give up hope that he still lives, but cannot begin to know where to look for him. The remaining crew and dragons head to China, where they have political business.

Of course Laurence and Temeraire are reunited eventually, and the story moves on to two other geographically distinct sections. While the overall plot moves forward, the book at this point feels like a series of novellas.

Even with the disjointed structure of this book, the series continues to improve following the chore of reading Tongues of Serpents. Familiar characters return, and the story moves back to a more direct conflict between Napoleon and the other world powers. While this still wasn’t as strong a book as the first three in the series, it sets up a reasonable expectation that the author can wrap the story up in one final book.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Dark Prophecy

Dark Prophecy is book #1 in the Soul Storm series by Ann Gimpel. I had read an earlier version of this book shortly after its release, and the author released a revised version of this series a few years later. Since I had never finished reading the series *and* one of my goals for the year is to finish reading series, I picked up this book to re-read before delving into the next two.

My original review was written about the first version of the book, and can be found here under the title of Psyche’s Prophecy. I can’t say that I picked up on any major differences in terms of the character or plot, so I’m simply reprinting my review below.

In Dark Prophecy, author Ann Gimpel takes us to a near and possible future in which resources are scarce and rolling blackouts and gasoline shortages are increasing. Amid this burgeoning dystopia, psychotherapist Lara McGinnis stays busy, counseling disturbed teenagers, OCD patients, and couples with marital problems.

The story immediately takes on the trappings of a thriller before delving into the fantasy aspects that are at the heart of this mixed genre tale. Dr. McGinnis learns that patient Ken Beauchamp is abusing his pregnant wife and steps in to offer the woman assistance. Her help comes nearly too late. Mr. Beauchamp puts his wife in the hospital in critical condition, disappears from the authorities, and begins a course of stalking and retaliation upon Dr. McGinnis for her interference.

In her private practice as a psychotherapist, Lara has found that her long-time ability to read auras has always been handy. However, she has more frequent and disturbing visions as the conflict with Mr. Beauchamp and the unpredictable blackouts across the city continue. On top of this, a graduate student, one of her other patients, and even her live-in boyfriend, Trevor, have all had a common dream. Lara tries to solve this mystery while everything around her spirals deeper into chaos and her visions become darker.

The first half of this book kept me up at night, both as a page-turner and in sympathetic fear for Dr. McGinnis. This is a very good thing if you’re a fan of that type of story, but if the thought of having a stalker break into your residence will give you nightmares, then you may want to read this only during daylight hours.

As the story progresses, Lara must face who she is and what her paranormal abilities mean. There are dark forces at work other than Ken Beauchamp, and ancient mythologies turn out to have real relevance to modern life. Lara and Trevor’s characterization sparkled as they confronted new facets to Lara’s power and the inevitable changes to their world.

In the second half of the book, I felt like the tension lagged. Although to be fair, it was more like the type of tension changed, because this is where the fantasy aspects became heavier. A lot of information about magic, witches, and power is introduced that seems more like buildup for the next volume.

While there is a definite conclusion to this book, there are also many questions left unanswered. Dark Prophecy is the first book in a trilogy and I’m reading the second volume, Dark Pursuit, right now.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Crucible of Gold

As one of my reading goals for 2019, I planned to finish reading several book series that I had enjoyed but never completed. One such series was the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, which brings dragons into the military of the Napoleonic Wars. I found that the sixth book (Tongues of Serpents) really dragged, so it took me a while to get back to the series.

Crucible of Gold is book #7 and picks up from the end of book #6 with Laurence and Temeraire still exiled to Australia. But this time, instead of wandering through a mainly uninhabited land, he is finally sent off to do something more interesting.

The French expansion now threatens Spain and Brazil, and Laurence is thought to be the best person to negotiate with the Tswana people as they threaten the Portuguese leaders in Rio. With Australia deemed reasonably close to Brazil, Laurence and Temeraire are sent off via ship for the New World. Of course, things do not go as expected, and one tragic event galvanized the story and made me truly wonder where it was going once more.

Eventually, they encounter the Inca and make a series of narrow escapes. The different human-dragon interactions and the variety of cultures was one of the more unique aspects of the story at this point. Much of the rest of the book involved travel from one place to the next, with a generally less focused story than the early books.

Interestingly, I found that starting with this book, each installment becomes less of a self-contained story. Each volume has a more indistinct ending and flows into the next book. At the same time, there are also larger jumps between places and time within one book.

This was still a better book than Tongues of Serpents and gave me hope for the last two books.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Fortress of Gold

Fortress of Gold is the second book in the Magicians Gold series by David Harten Watson. I had read the first book, Magic Teacher’s Son, when it came out, and you can find my review of it here.

The story opens with our protagonist, Pran, leading an expedition from the land of Eldor to the legendary kingdom of Earth. Magicians on Eldor have been fighting a desperate battle against an invading army from Marakna, where death-fueled sorcery is commonplace. When the enemy steals all of the gold that is vital to powering their white magic, the Eldoreans are defenseless.

Pran travels with a group of friends: Jelal, an experienced spy who looks to be 12 years old as a result of a spell accident, Samir, a friend and cousin, and Vitina, an enchantress whom Pran has fallen suddenly in love with. This journey was foretold in a prophecy in Book 1, and I was excited to see how it would unfold.

The plot was interesting enough and there is some definite appeal in watching the characters fumble through the culture shock of earth. It takes a while to get going as the heroes get oriented, but then the action was entertaining and enjoyable.

A few new secondary characters arrive to help Pran’s group, and I liked getting to know them. The main goal of the story turns this book into a heist tale, which was also fun. While magic can often be used to overcome any obstacle, the rules that the author has put in place in his story allows the heist to still be a significant challenge while imbuing creativity into the escapade.

One downside to this book was that the romance aspect between the characters didn’t feel real enough to me. Pran has fallen in love with Vitina, and this sudden infatuation could be blamed on the aftereffects of a healing spell she cast on him in the previous book. However, when a love triangle develops, it doesn’t feel like something that has grown organically from their interactions.

I know there’s supposed to be a third book, but I don’t know when it will be released. I’m curious to see how this wraps up, so I’ll be looking for it in the future.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Spinning Silver

After reading Uprooted, I had to pick this one up next, and I’m glad I did. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik is another sort of fantasy and fairy tale blend, but this one feels like it is based slightly more in our world than Uprooted. The two books are stand-alone novels and are not related, so you don’t have to worry about reading in a particular order. You can read my review of Uprooted here.

This story follows three women and their intertwined stories. The book starts out from the perspective of Miryem, the Jewish daughter of a small village moneylender. Her father doesn’t do a very good job at moneylending, so Miryem helps out, saving their family from poverty.

Her actions draw the attention of the Staryk, an elf-like people who travel a magical road through their lands and are tied to the winter and snows. The Staryk king hears of Miryem’s ability to figuratively turn silver into gold and tasks her to do the same with his Staryk silver. She takes up his challenge and uses her creativity to solve problems.

Wanda is the eldest child in a poor farming family. Together with her two younger brothers, she struggles to keep food on the table while their abusive father drinks away what little coin they have. Miryem calls upon Wanda’s father to repay their debt, and since he lacks coin, he sends Wanda to work for the moneylender’s family. While their relationship starts out simple, eventually Wanda’s story is wrapped up in Miryem’s fate and the fantasy realm of the Staryk.

Irina is the third main character and is the daughter of the Duke in the larger city near Miryem’s village. Irina comes into the tale when Miryem’s Staryk silver catches the eye of the Duke. The tsar enters the story at this point, and turns out to be one of the antagonists of the tale when we learn that he is possessed by a demon.

The three women’s stories are woven together into a masterful plot that brings together several conflicts while each woman challenges her traditional role in this culture. The dual nature of this world resonates throughout the book, with human versus Staryk, human versus demon, and winter versus spring, all important themes. The enemies that the women face are not as simple as they originally seem, and the outcomes of events are unpredictable and fascinating.

I truly enjoyed this book as much as Uprooted, but it is a different kind of story, focused more on the human characters and their own struggles. This is one of my favorite books this year.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – The True Queen

The True Queen is the second novel by author Zen Cho, and is a sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown, which I previously reviewed here. I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Set in Regency England, this book features the protagonist from the first book, Prunella, now Sorcerer Royal of the nation, but in a secondary role. The main story follows Muna, a young lady from distant Janda Baik who was taken in by Mak Genggang, a powerful sorceress that also makes a reappearance from the Sorcerer to the Crown.


Muna and her sister Sakti awaken on a beach with no memories of their past. They soon find their way to the household of Mak Genggang, where Sakti becomes a student of sorcery. However, both of the sisters appear to have been cursed, and when their plans to fix their ailment themselves go wrong, Mak Genggang is forced to send them away to England for their own protection.

During their journey, the sisters travel through Faerie, and Sakti disappears. Muna emerges into England alone and swears to find her sister, but also doesn’t trust the English sorcerers enough to tell them exactly what happened. Muna still manages to discover Sakti’s location and launches a daring plan to save her, taking Prunella’s friend Henrietta Stapleton along in her adventures.

Muna is a charming and tenacious heroine, but her ignorance of the customs in England add to her challenges. Despite this, I found that I liked the earlier Sorcerer to the Crown better than The True Queen. The ending wrapped up the story, but I felt a little confused with how it turned out in regards to Muna. I’ll still look out for any more books in this series though.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Uprooted

I had first read one of Naomi Novik’s books when I started the Temeraire series several years ago. I struggled to finish Tongues of Serpents and put that series down for some time. Then I kept hearing things about Novik’s two newer books (Uprooted, Spinning Silver) and I thought I’d give one a try.

Uprooted is a unique fairy tale story and I found it to be an enthralling read. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Julia Emelin. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the narrator’s accent, but once I became more involved in the story, it became easier to follow and fit the main character well.

Uprooted follows Agnieszka, a young woman in a small village near to the dread forest, where evil things live and sometimes emerge to bring magical blights and steal away the unwary. The Dragon, a mysterious wizard, protects the valley’s villages from the depredations of the wood, but every ten years, he takes a young woman away to his tower. While she is returned at the end of her service, seemingly unharmed, these women never stay in their former homes and leave for pursuits in distant lands.

This time, everyone knows that the Dragon will choose Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. She is beautiful, kind, and talented, and he always chooses the “best” the village has to offer. Despite this knowledge, Agnieszka cannot come to terms with Kasia’s fate, so she grasps her friend’s hand as the Dragon examines the girls on offer. The Dragon’s attention turns back to Agnieszka, and for reasons known only to the mage, he chooses her instead of Kasia.

Seemingly imprisoned at the top of the Dragon’s tower, Agnieszka tries to adjust to her new fate. Her days are filled with strange lessons and the Dragon is hardly hospitable. Yet her journey in this book is mesmerizing as she learns of her own powers. Kasia remains an important character through the book, and Agnieszka plays a careful game with the Dragon, princes, other wizards, and the dangers of the wood.

The entire novel felt like a fairy tale, but moved from a smaller story of a girl and a wizard to one that involved a greater struggle between good and evil and the entire kingdom. The character of Agnieszka makes a wonderfully stubborn and willful protagonist who values her friend Kasia and her village over rules and proper behavior. At the same time, the evil in this book was terrifying, but also with an undercurrent of melancholy.

Uprooted was one of the best books I’ve read this year, and so far is my favorite of Novik’s work.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Graphic Novel Review – Monstress Vol. 3 (Haven)

I’ve been gradually working my way through Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda and while I’m enjoying this series, the third volume was not my favorite. You can find my reviews of Volume 1 here, and Volume 2 here.

Monstress Volume 3 (Haven) follows our anti-hero protagonist, Maika, as she begins to come to terms with her demon and their shared powers. The plot resumes in the city of Pontus where a magical shield protects the inhabitants from outside dangers.


However, the Pontus shield is inoperable and Maika is enlisted to help repair it. At the same time, her companions explore the city. The fox-child Kippa discovers other fox refugees, and while she searches for her family Master Ren meets with his nekomancer bosses who have their own ideas about what he needs to do.

Pontus is attacked while Maika struggles to help protect the city. She delves further into her past and her heritage and I think she has grown more accepting of the demon inside of her.

Brief episodes of back story are interspersed with the main plot, as well as glimpses of conversations and events in other lands with side characters. It all became rather confusing, especially when taken together with trying to follow all the lore of the Elder Gods.

The spectacular artwork continued to draw me into this world, despite the muddled plot. I’m particularly enthralled by the variety of creatures.

While I intend to keep reading this series, this volume was not my favorite, mainly because I found the details hard to follow. Perhaps other readers would enjoy the mystery of it, but I like more concrete information.

Read more of my reviews here.

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