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Book Review – Red Seas Under Red Skies

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. You can read my review of it here. (Please click on my Amazon links to help support this blog.) In keeping with my recent goal to finish or catch up with series that I enjoyed, I set out to read the next two books.

This review is for Red Seas Under Red Skies, book 2 in the Gentleman Bastards series. You should read the first book as it is important to know what happened to the characters before this one. However, the plot of this book is relatively contained and doesn’t absolutely require knowledge of the past events.

Locke Lamora and his best friend Jean Tannen have fled their home of Camorr in the aftermath of the events in book 1. Now destitute, Locke sinks into a drunken depression and resists Jean’s attempts to rouse him. They eventually start anew in the island city of Tal Verrar, known for its gambling and games. The story is told in alternating timelines to depict this, much like in book 1.

The two thieves flaunt the rules, of course, and scheme to break into the legendary vaults of the Sinspire. At the same time, they are recruited to work for the Archon of the city in a way that they cannot refuse. After trying to play both sides against each other, the plot leaps to the Sea of Brass, where Locke and Jean have to pretend to be pirates, never having sailed a ship before.

Of course their ruse doesn’t fool the real pirates, and things just get more interesting from there. I have no idea how all of these plot threads were brought together at the end, but somehow they were. The ending was satisfying but also heartbreaking, leaving some things up in the air for the next book.

The pirates are basically the best part of the book. There’s swashbuckling, sword-fighting, sailing, and ship battles! The characters were great, and the author works Locke and Jean into their lives perfectly.

I have already read the next book, The Republic of Thieves, so look for that review soon. Despite the devastating events that occur, there is much humor and enjoyment to be found in these books as Locke and Jean scheme to outdo themselves with each successive heist.

Read more of my reviews here.

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Book Review – Master of Sorrows

Master of Sorrows by new author Justin Travis Call is the first book in a fantasy series (The Silent Gods). I received an e-book of this novel from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Please click on my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

I picked this book up because I loved the cover and the description in the blurb sounded very unique.

You have heard the story before – of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.

But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same?

What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?

This concept was in line with some ideas that I’ve had for some of my own fiction and I love to subvert some of the typical fantasy plots and themes. However, I found that this book didn’t do enough in that respect.

Annev is a young man who lives in a strangely isolated village, where he studies and trains to become an Avatar of Judgement, along with some of his best friends. This training involves solving obstacle course-like puzzles, practicing combat skills, and learning about artifacts and magic. However, the use of magic is forbidden, so the goal of the Avatars is to search out dangerous magic items and lock them away so that no one can use them.

As Annev nears the end of his training, the rivalry between him and other students heats up, as the rules state that only one acolyte can graduate to the level of Avatar. Annev has to pass his trial, but feels guilty that if he succeeds, then his friends must fail. He searches for a way to bend the rules while keeping ahead of his enemies.

This part of the book took much longer than I had thought it would. Most of the story occurs in Annev’s village, and we never get to see much of the outside world. The main narrative is broken up by short sections that relate the mythology of the gods, but I had trouble making this relevant to the current events in the book (although it does come together more at the end).

Overall, Master of Sorrows read more like a traditional fantasy quest-style tale than I had wanted. And while Annev has some dark aspects to his character and a huge secret, he is still a good person at heart. He tries to do the right thing all along, and while that engenders sympathy and makes me want to root for him, I’ve read that story many times before.

Master of Sorrows is the first book in a series but still reaches a satisfying conclusion to most of the events relevant to this volume. The greater story still needs to be told, and Annev’s ultimate fate is still unknown.

Read more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Fire and Blood

I had heard mixed reviews about George R. R. Martin’s latest book, Fire and Blood after it came out, so I approached this one with some apprehension. Sitting at 719 pages, this was going to be a long read.

Fire and Blood is the first half of the history of the Targaryens after fleeing old Valyria and arriving in Westeros. The book is written as a history rather than in a direct narrative style, which may make it a difficult read for some.

I enjoyed the book once I got into it far enough. Despite the way the author has chosen to tell this story, it is still *quite* a story. The Targaryens are all unique characters, and you get to spend enough time with each of them in this book to become invested in many of the outcomes.

Much like reading The Silmarillion, many names are similar within the Targaryen families, so it is helpful to reference the family tree at the back. I wish that the book had also offered a chart of which Targaryens had claimed which dragons, as this became confusing to me in the later half of the book.

Toward the end of this book, we learn about what happened in the Dance of Dragons, the Targaryen civil war. This tragic tale is supposedly the basis of HBO’s current Game of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon. If HBO will allow enough of a special effects budget, I think this will be a fantastic story to watch.

Fire and Blood is only the first half of the 300-year history prior to A Game of Thrones and I’m looking forward to the next part. Use my Amazon link to pick up your copy here. Or if you’ve never read any of the books, start with A Game of Thrones here.

Read more of my reviews here.

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.

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.

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