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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 – 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.

Book Review – Revisionary

Revisionary is the fourth and last book in the Magic Ex Libris series from Jim C. Hines. I haven’t read any of the author’s other series, but I found this one to be a lot of fun, so I’ll keep Hines in mind for future reads. I listened to the audiobook edition of Revisionary, narrated by David de Vries.

You can find my review of book 1, Libriomancerhere.

My mini-review of book 2, Codex Born, is here.

And my review of book 3, Unbound, is here.

Libriomancy is magic that is drawn out of books, and libriomancers study and catalog the contents of books so that they can access exactly what magic they need. By this fourth volume in the series, readers are well-acquainted with this form of magic and the array of supernatural creatures that co-inhabit our world.

Once secret, the existence of libriomancy and a variety of monsters was revealed to the public at the conclusion of the third book. In this next installment, our protagonist, Isaac Vainio, has become the public face of magic for the mundane world. Once a porter, his position has shifted to put him in a leadership role at the New Millenium center, a magical research facility outside of Las Vegas that focuses on humanitarian and medical uses of libriomancy. Part of his responsibilities include testifying before Congress about the role of magic in recent events and its potential use and misuse.

While Isaac and the Porters try to persuade the public of the benefits of magic, a group of inhuman assassins strike and take out several political advocates of anti-magic legislation. When Isaac and a close group of friends try to investigate, they must unravel a conspiracy that encompasses humans and libriomancers and threatens the entire world.

Isaac balances his investigation of the conspiracy and continues his research, all while staying in touch with his estranged brother’s family about his niece’s upcoming magical healing. Interludes in the novel show that his powers as a libriomancer have changed as he communicates with a reanimated Gutenberg by reading a secret autobiography of the Porters’ founder. As the story progresses, he must come to terms with his own identity as a libriomancer.

This book (and the entire series, really) was a lot of fun. The author’s familiarity and love of the fantasy and science fiction genres is clear whenever the characters use libriomancy. The plot brings together all the characters from the earlier books, some in new roles. The stakes were higher as the conflict had a more worldwide effect. The overall feel of a darker book that began in Unbound continues with more dire consequences, and not everyone survives.

The ending of Revisionary wrapped up a lot of plot threads and while it doesn’t rule out future stories in this world, I had to wonder about whether I could expect more books in the series or not. A quick search of the author’s blog revealed that he is not currently planning more after Revisionary. However, for completionist fans of the books, a short story (Chupacabra’s Song) and a novelette (Imprinted) set in this world are available.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the third and final volume in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. I read this as an e-book, and while this wasn’t my favorite book by the author, I found it to be an intriguing series that finally brought the reader to an understanding of the strange world of the Stillness by the end.

The Stone Sky won the 2018 Hugo award for Best Novel, making Jemisin the first author to win this accolade in three consecutive years. Follow these links to find my reviews for the first book (The Fifth Season) and the second book (The Obelisk Gate).


This book begins immediately after the events in The Obelisk Gate, so it’s going to be hard to avoid spoilers if you aren’t caught up to that point. Read on at your own risk.

Essun has survived after activating the obelisk gate, but has found that she must now pay the same price as Alabaster when she uses orogeny at this point. Her body is being gradually transformed into stone. Each time this happens, she lets her stone-eater companion, Hoa, consume the inert flesh to relieve her of its weight.

Hoa features a greater part in this final book as he tells us of his origin. He was not always a stone-eater, but even in his previous form he had never been accepted as a normal part of society. Finally, we learn what happened in the distant past and how the world came to be the way it is.

The third part of this book follows Nassun, Essun’s daughter, as she comes to terms with her the ability to change the world and possibly end it for everyone. While her mother seeks to heal the world and repair the damage wrought by humans, Nassun sees salvation in complete destruction of humanity.

Once it is clear that mother and daughter have both similar but opposing goals, their stories converge, building to a final conflict. Schaffa exists as a father-figure to Nassun in this book, continuing his transformation and showing how even the Guardians have been victims through history.

I enjoyed this series, but I wonder if I missed some of the finer points while struggling to figure out how the world worked. One example is that I didn’t understand why Essun would partially turn to stone for using orogeny after she had activated the obelisk gate. I think it may be fun to re-read all of the books to catch those details on a second read, but I don’t often have time to do this. (Too many books, too little time!)

If you’re looking for fantasy with a unique setting, world-building, and realistic characters, then this is a great series. Themes throughout the books include looking at oppression of different races and classes, suppressing history, and a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Read more of my reviews here.

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