Charmcaster – by Sebastien de Castell (Review)

Spellslinger #3

YA, Fantasy

Hot Key Books; May 17, 2018

417 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

Very little in Kellen’s life seems to be going his way. Counterbanded by his own blood, exiled by his kin, hunted by his people—Kellen has had his fair share of ill fortune. And so when he finds himself hunted by hextrackers in the middle of a sandstorm in a barren expanse of desert, he obviously assumes the worst. And yet, not all is as it seems. For when he and Ferius work to save the life of their pursuer, Kellen gets a surprise. One in the form of kiss.

Charmcaster sees Nephenia join the fold, signing on as the fourth member of Team Kellen. And yet her appearance is hardly the good news the team has been looking for. No, it seems that she only was able to find Kellen because there are sooo many other mages trying to kill him. And yet, her arrival heralds quite a bit more than the feelings of love and terror with Kellen. For something amazing is occurring within one of the smallest nations on the continent, Gitabria. Here, a community of scientists and inventors have produced something truly remarkable: a mechanical bird.

Spies and diplomats alike flock to the symposium where sight of this mythical creature awaits. Each are willing to part with exorbitant amounts of coin in order to buy such a wonder, or more, learn how it was made. But the bird holds a dark secret buried within, such that many will kill to cover it up. And yet, as so much comes to light, the world itself might be in the balance.

And yet how could something so small set off a war? Kellen and the gang investigate.

Charmcaster is another fun, exciting, interesting read from Greatcoats author Sebastien de Castell. As of now I’m four books in to this series of six, where each book is as exciting as the last. Kellen, as always, exudes a certain combination of sarcasm, hope and ineptitude to attract even the most discerning of readers, and backs it up with enough action and espionage to keep them entertained through to the end.

This third entry further cements Kellen’s standing as an outlaw spellslinger, while also further enhancing his character’s means and ability. Charmcaster is an excellent example of character development, as Kellen is once more forced to adapt and evolve, using tools and tricks to distract from his lack of magic. Nephenia’s appearance adds even more to Kellen’s development, as Shadowblack—while I thoroughly enjoyed it—did little in the way of romance. But with his love interest from Spellslinger back… Kellen is free to… um, whatever he does. Wouldn’t call it romance, exactly, except in the awkward teenage way of teens who are especially awkward when it comes to romance. So… not a terribly romantic romance, but an entertaining one.

The story is… pretty good. While it lacks the intrigue and polish found in the first two books, Charmcaster is by no means bad. It’s just, well, not as good. Interesting if not intriguing intrigue. Too much cloak and dagger but too little mystery. It delivers the same snappy, entertaining dialogue as in previous books, while providing an enticing if not heart-pounding adventure.

TL;DR

The short of it: Charmcaster is an interesting, entertaining entry to the Spellslinger series. One that takes great strides to develop Kellen’s character, while doing much less to further the overarching story. The return of Nephenia does wonders for the romantic aspect of it all, in the sense that 1>0. It’s certainly worth the price of admission, or the $7ish I paid for it. An entertaining adventure that one can probably burn through multiple times with no regrets. I certainly have none in buying it.

On Tap 09/28

Currently Reading

• The Buried Giant – by Kazuo Ishiguro

This week’s audiobook, very little to say so far about this classic-feeling fantasy. Something about an amnesiac binding, a few far-flung warriors, and mystery. Huh, hope it’s good!

• The Land You Never Leave – by Angus Watson

With Where the Gods Fear to Go coming out in December, it must be time to dive back into not-America with some oddity-Watson madness and one of the greatest character names of all time: Finnbogi the Boggy. Loved the first one, hope the 2nd continues to impress!

• A Time of Blood – by John Gwynne

After spending half the year on my TBR list, it’s finally time to continue the story of Drem, Riv and the rest of the Faithful in the Banished Lands. I loved the Faithful and the Fallen series, while A Time of Dread failed to measure up, I’m still excited!

Up Next

• An Easy Death – by Charlaine Harris

Gunnie Rose #1 pretty much popped up on my radar this last week. A thriller set in a post-apoc, fractured USA sounds pretty much like a win, and has me envisioning a better Darwin Elevator for some reason.

Additional TBR

  1. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Lays of Anuskaya #3)
  2. Sky in the Deep – by Adrienne Young (Sky in the Deep #1)
  3. Blade and Bone – by Jon Sprunk (Book #3 of the Black Earth)
  4. The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker (Tide Child #1)

Reviewed Since Last

A Little Hatred – by Joe Abercrombie (Age of Madness #1)

Age of War – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #3)

Fallen – by Benedict Jacka (Alex Verus #10)

Limited Wish – by Mark Lawrence (Impossible Times #2)

To Do

Well, I still have some ARCs to get through, though I’m not buried in them lately. So I thought I’d try to make some tangible TBR progress. Still behind on reviews, too. And with the return of my part-time seasonal and Nanowrimo looming I might stay behind. But… we’ll see.

Is there anything I should have on my radar? Or has anyone read any of these listed? Let me know, please!

Limited Wish – by Mark Lawrence (Review)

Impossible Times #2

Time Travel, Scifi

47North; May 28, 2019

222 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

The new Mark Lawrence time travel epic confused me past the point of… confusion. Not that that’s unusual. I’ve a physics background and can often follow the math to a point. That point was not in Limited Wish. I mean, I’d never even heard of half the principles in this book but… I digress.

Nick is 16, a budding genius, working on a time-altering project in Cambridge beside to his idol, Dr. Halligan. Following the events of the previous year, his hair has grown back, his leukemia’s in remission, he’s lost a girlfriend, and made several new and interesting enemies. Not bad for a teen, right? As Limited Wish opens, we find Nick easing back into his old life as just one more unrecognized genius. But that is about to change. Thanks to a previously unsolved proof, one famous professor, and the power of cancer, Nick’s stock is on the rise.

That is, until he attends a garden party. And his world changes forever.

Demus is back, as is a new time-traveler—doppelgänger for Helen, a cute girl Nick’s met at Cambridge—that Nick knows nothing about. But she knows him. As the story progresses, we find out more and more about time travel, the fate of the timelines, and more about 80’s music and D&D than some of us thought was possible. And the travelers themselves have their fates revealed.

One Word Kill was based on a strength of story and characters. While Limited Wish may have the theory nailed down (I honestly couldn’t tell you, but that Lawrence dude seems pretty smart, so) and the characters are stronger than ever, I found it was the story that suffered. I mean, a little. It was entertaining and all, but… well, time-travel novels tend to tie my brain in knots. Especially those that have their theory really down. Granted, I prefer them to the half-assed ones or whatever the “traveling through history” thing was in Paradox Bound—but I find that they still tend to detract from my enjoyment. Additionally, I didn’t think that this round’s main and D&D narratives melded as well as One Word Kill’s did. They were kinda related—but it was sometimes a stretch.

While I may have additional issues with the 2nd Impossible Times, I also have additional praise for it. The characters—mostly thorough and thought-out in OWKill—have evolved into something more, something truly believable. With one absolutely enormous caveat: the main villain. I didn’t really like Ian Rust in the first book. Thought he was pretty much around because the story needed a villain, but wasn’t believable at all. Charles is worse. I feel like he’s only around for the same reason, but isn’t the strong, believable person that Ian was. Which is just sad. Anyway, excepting Charles, the characters of LWish are what brings the story alive. From the interactions between Nicodemus and his D&D party members, to the group that collects when his cancer returns, to the love-triangle between Nick, Mia and Helen—the book’s strength is in its characters.

TL;DR

Limited Wish is an entertaining sequel that nearly lives up to its predecessor, yet fails to improve upon it. Pack with interesting characters, mind-bending time paradoxes, and entertaining pitfalls, it may be just what you need to break yourself out of a reading slump. However, a subpar story, unrelated D&D mashups and a villain that’s just stupid ridiculous may prove a setback to others. Free for Amazon Prime members means it’s probably worth a shot if you’re on the fence. But I’m hoping for better from the Impossible Times series when Dispel Illusion drops in November.

Spotlight: Q&A with Tyler Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse

Tyler Hayes is an American author living on the West Coast. His debut novel, The Imaginary Corpse, was released through Angry Robot on September 10, 2019. I really enjoyed my trip to the Stillreal (you can find my review HERE). Always late to the party, I missed his initial release Blog Tour, but managed to get in on the action (if a bit late) enough to get a quick Q&A with the guy.

• So, first off, how’s it feel to have your first novel published? Gotten used to seeing your name plastered on books and billboards yet?

I’m not sure there’s a portmanteau dense enough for how good it feels. It’s a mix of a rush of energy, a rush of anxiety, and a tingly feeling like I’m in a slightly cooler alternate universe.

• The Stillreal is quite the amalgamation. A contrast of different cities, worlds and characters. Where you can think around from Playtime Town to the Heart of Business to Avatar City and beyond. What helped inspire this unique setting?

The Stillreal is cooked out of the Dreaming as portrayed in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, the Dreaming as portrayed in the tabletop RPG Changeling: the Dreaming, and my memories of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. The tone is heavily influenced by the bittersweetness of all those things, plus the noir writings of Raymond Chandler (though Tippy is at core more Hercule Poirot or Kurt Wallander than he is Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade – his empathy is tuned a bit higher) and the Super Nintendo RPG EarthBound.

• Tippy—sorry, Detective Tippy is one of my favorite characters in a long time. A yellow, triceratops gumshoe that enjoys root beer and long rides in the dryer. Where the heck did you come up with this amazing Friend?

His roots lie in an actual stuffed animal and an actual game of Let’s Pretend. The original Tippy is a stuffed yellow triceratops who lives on my nightstand and has been with me for thirty years. It only felt natural for him to become the main character of this novel when the plot and world started rolling in my mind.

The root beer sprung organically from my mind as a kid-friendly alcohol equivalent, a way of hinting at the arrested development Tippy deals with and the tropes that are crafted into his identity.

Him using the dryer for self-care both came from the scene explaining his relationship with the rain – if a stuffed animal gets wet or dirty you have to clean it and dry it off, right? – and a childhood memory. When we’d go to my grandmother’s house when I was a little kid, I’d have my bath (or later shower) when we got there after a long drive, and then I’d sit down in front of the heating vent in her living room to dry off. I still associate the feeling of heated air on my skin with a sense of relief and comfort, and I passed that on to Tippy.

• And the Detective Stuff?

I wanted to give Tippy something equivalent to Sherlock Holmes’ “mind palace” of information specifically dedicated to the business of private investigation, or a sort of baked-in version of the epiphanies detective characters are always having in mysteries and procedurals. It felt like a logical creation of a small child who has a detective imaginary friend, but not the life experience to understand how the character he’s based on are making the kinds of mental leaps they’re shown to make. To a kid, it could look like magic, so for Tippy, it is.

• The conclusion of The Imaginary Corpse was somewhat open ended. Any chance of a return to the Stillreal in the future?

I’m really hoping so! I have a sequel written and ideas for another sequel queued up, too; whether or not I get to do those really depends on the success of The Imaginary Corpse.

• I eagerly await the official stuffed companion Tippy—yellow as the morning sun, gumshoe cloak about his shoulders, clutching a root beer in one… hoof? Hand? Whatever triceratops’ have. When can we expect it?

I actually raffled off a custom Tippy stuffy at my launch party [Note: I didn’t win]. After he’s out in the world, though, I’m hoping we get swamped with demand and that official stuffy is immediately put into production.

The original Tippy stays with me, though.

• Let’s say that for some reason you aren’t writing. Maybe your wrists are broken. Maybe it’s carpal tunnel. Or maybe you just needed an off-day. What’re you up to?

Assuming my hands are working, I’m sleeping in, taking myself out to breakfast, getting a mani-pedi, and then reading and playing some board games. Probably exercising at some point, too.

And finally: congratulations for your success, sir! Thanks for taking time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to indulge my ludicrous questions. I expect great things from you in the future. Good luck with the extended blog tour, signings, and further and future writing!

Thank you so much for saying so, I really appreciate it! Take care of yourself and I’ll be hoping you hear from me again very soon.

So, that’s that. You can catch up with Tyler Hayes over at Angry Robot, or hit up his Instagram or Author site. Maybe also check out the Imaginary Corpse. I liked it, maybe y’all will too.

Book Review: Fallen – by Benedict Jacka

Alex Verus #10

Urban Fantasy

Ace Books; September 24, 2019

304 pages (ebook)

5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Berkley, Ace and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

SPOILERS – for the events of previous Alex Verus books, especially Marked!

Fallen is the tenth entry in the Alex Verus series, and while the story has definitely taken a darker turn, the future of the series has never looked so bright. Or, y’know, the final two books or so.

It took me roughly two days to read this—admittedly short novel—in which time I didn’t get much else done of value. I devoured Fallen like a Hawaiian pizza, digging through its bones (pizza bones) in the time it usually takes me to start getting into a story. Now, there are several reasons for this, but put quite simply: Benedict Jacka has really hit his stride. True, he had nine books to perfect it. True, he waited until quite near the end of his planned 12-book series. True, none of his books are all that long. But Jacka has nailed it in Fallen, which I can’t say enough about.

After the events of Marked, Alex is left in fear of a secret he has to keep at all costs. But also, he is in love. Finally having confessed his love for Anne, life has become livable for a time. Happy, even. But all things must change, and Alex has learnt this lesson enough to expect it.

For when the Council finds out—and they also seem to find out—Alex is forced to choose between the two most important things in his life: Anne, and the person he has spent his life trying to be. Turns out not to be much of a choice at all.

Fallen presents a much darker backdrop than many books before it. I know Bound was only two books prior, but Fallen puts it to shame. A dark, depressing read was not at all what I needed, particularly following right on the heels of A Little Hatred—but Fallen provides just enough hope to see its readers through, while immersing them in the tale in the way only a 1st PPOV run story can.

This features an immense cast of characters. With nine books building to this point, turns out there’re a lot to choose from. While the main cast has stayed pretty consistent recently—with Alex, Anne, Luna, Variam and Arachne leading the way—several factions and sides each have contributed their own. Allies and enemies both have turned over, Alex proving to be a dangerous man to consort with. And yet there are some prominent mainstays. Richard Drakh, Alex’s former master. Keeper Caldera, Alex’s once-partner, once-friend. Landis, Variam’s former master. The Light Council. The Dark Cabal. Supernatural creatures, mages, adepts and sensitives galore. Jacka always seems to sneak a few surprise cameos in, and Fallen is no exception.

The characters, especially their arcs, come to a head in Fallen. Alex’s own—which was by no means uneventful up to Book 10—absolutely takes off. A rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts. Tragedy, heartbreak and hope punctuate not only Alex’s own story, but those of his friends and allies. Even his enemies begin to show their human side; blurring what has always seem a good-evil battle for Alex’s soul.

It was the story that blew me away. Desperate, dark and thrilling—it was an electrifying read from cover to cover. The beginning (the first 10%) read the slowest, but the following 90% seemed to race by. Now, Fallen is only a 300-odd page book. Though few of the previous have been much longer. And, as with many of the Alex Verus series, it’s definitely worth a reread.

TL;DR

I loved Fallen. Best thing I’ve read this year, hands down. And if you’ve read the first nine Verus books, this one’s a no-brainer. It does not disappoint. In fact, I enjoyed it on so many levels, especially with the build-up the previous books began. Possessed of an thrilling story, deep recognizable characters, fantastic character development and growth, and a satisfying—if surprising conclusion—Fallen is all I wanted from the series and more. And with only (probably) two more Verus books beyond it, we’re boiling down to a truly epic conclusion.

Book Review: Age of War – by Michael J. Sullivan

Legends of the First Empire #3

Epic, Fantasy

Del Rey; July 3, 2018

403 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

Spoilers! – Contains minor spoilers for previous Legends of the First Empire books.

Age of War was a gripping, thrilling mid-series conclusion to the Legends of the First Empire. Sullivan states in his foreword that he’d initially planned the series as a trilogy, before changing his mind. As such, many of the threads conclude in this volume. These threads include a couple of big-name deaths, an unmasking, and the end of a particular era. But the beginning of another.

I loved the Age of War… mostly.

From page 194 on, I was enrapt in an epic fight to the finish—and then I threw the book at the wall. I did, too. Only the third time I can remember doing that. Luckily it hit a chair first, and didn’t get badly damaged. Even more luckily, it wasn’t an ebook. See? This is why physical books are important.

The point is… uh. The book was really, really good until it suddenly wasn’t. It’s not the writing, plot or anything I usually object to this time, however. Just pissed at Sullivan, I am. I dislike people who kill off my favorite characters cruelly—even if they have a good reason. I’ll get over it—eventually… probably—enough to read the Age of Legend. Makes me feel better that in the afterword his wife specifically says that she implored him to rewrite the ending to (no spoilers) a far less callous conclusion. He didn’t, and SHE was pissed at him. But as I said before, HOPEFULLY he had a good reason.

Up until that point… yeah. It was really, REALLY good.

After the events of Age of Swords, Nyphron leads the combined human armies to Alon Rhist, with the intention of bolstering their position. Persephone leads her people onward, fearlessly, much to the disappointment of her closest ally, Raithe. But following a bloodless battle, the two (Nyphron and Persephone) appear as heroes. Saviors. The last, best chance for humanity. But the alliance between the Instarya Fhrey and the Rhunes is a tenuous one. And it would be further strengthened by a marriage. Between the two most powerful leaders. And all Persephone has to do is turn her back on Raithe.

Meanwhile, the war is not exactly going smoothly. The humans are untrained. The secrets of iron are still unrevealed. The Fhrey don’t kill Fhrey. Even the Miralyith, instigators of this little… genocide thing, would prefer the war to be over by now. So before the fighting can begin in earnest, the sides need to prepare. And as winter gradually turns to spring, war looms on the horizon. Threads will be sewn (weaved?). Battles will be fought. And the most important choice one woman has ever had to make might just turn out to be an afterthought.

Mawyndulë… is kind of a wild card. I’m haven’t been completely sure how he fits into everything yet—other than a way to relate the story from the Fhrey point of view—a trend that continues through Book #3. I will say that he’s been more entertaining in the last two books, something I hope will continue through the end of #6.

There are a lot of competing subjects for best thing, but I’d say that the characters win. Specifically, the character development. My throwing the book at the wall, despite what it says about that specific chapter, the action that caused it, the… whatever—indicates that up until that point (or maybe through it) I was reeeaally invested in the story being told. But it’s the characters that carried me to that point. Specifically their development, growth, and the intermingling of their arcs. I mean, I still kinda hate the guy for what he did, but the way he did it—in particular the build-up to the moment—was masterfully done.

As with any other Sullivan book, the characters and story and threads are pretty much solid. My main concerns before have involved the detail, language, or—as in the last Legends entry—the cheapening of inventions that took thousands of years to perfect. That particular device, I’m happy to report, has been fixed in Age of War. I mean, we can’t do anything about what happened in Age of Swords, but we’re not doing it anymore. The language, again, is a non-issue. Sullivan always uses a common language, so, if you’re into that—great! The level of detail is rather lacking in AoWar. Shelved, I suspect, to focus on the characters and overarching plot, I assume. Because it’s that that steals the show.

TL;DR

Age of War is a very immersive, very gripping read that at some point will likely turn very frustrating. Try not to throw your e-reader at the wall. That would be bad. Maybe try a physical book instead. The story, pacing and plot-lines are all top notch, but the characters steal the show. A must-read, even for people who will hate the way it ends. Like myself. For while it might sour your opinion on the matter for a few days (or a few weeks), you’ll get over it. And then want to read the next one.

Age of Legend—Book #4—came in summer 2019. Book #5, Age of Death, is soon to join it: due in late fall of 2019 for Kickstarter backers and early 2020 for everyone else.

Book Review: A Little Hatred – by Joe Abercrombie

Age of Madness #1

Grimdark, Fantasy, Epic

Gollancz; September 17, 2019

480 pages (ebook)

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orion Publish, Gollancz and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

A Little Hatred is the 10th full-length novel by Joe Abercrombie set in the First Law world. Where Red Country saw the rise of expansionism, so does Hatred see the rise of Industrialization. Although, where this age of industry and innovation see the rise of many great miracles, they are built on the backs of the working class, and on flesh, sweat and blood. So, so much blood.

If you were thinking that the dawn of a new age possibly meant the dawn of a new Abercrombie—you really weren’t thinking clearly. I actually had a similar thought upon reading through, at a point where the plot-lines had tied up fairly well and each character had a nice (and if not “happy”, then) aesthetically pleasing end. Then I realized I was only at the 80% mark, and remembered who I was dealing with.

Industrialization has come to Adua. In the capital, Savine dan Glokta stands out as the most feared woman in the nation—even more so than Terez, Queen of the Union. Not only is she the only daughter of “Old Sticks” Arch Lector Sand dan Glokta, but a cutthroat businesswoman, with her finger in every pot. Prince Orso, meanwhile, the Crown Prince and only son of Jezal dan Luthar and Queen Terez—is a worthless disappointment. Known as a wastrel, playboy, drunk, whoremonger, the Young Lamb is possibly less loved than Savine, though definitely more hated. The Union may be a hotbed of industry, though the underclass is restless. Bull Broad thought he was done with war after Styria, but with a war brewing in the north, the eyes of the elite are soon to be distracted. And a war of another kind is stoking closer to home.

The North has come to Angland. Black Calder has tired of waiting for the Dogman to die and pushed Scale to invade. And when the Northmen, led by Calder’s son, Stour Nightfall, come knocking, the Union moves to engage. Rikke, daughter of the Dogman, is blessed with the Long Eye. Errmm… or, cursed with the Long Eye. Or… HAS the Long Eye? One o’ those. But the future isn’t exactly helpful if you don’t have a clue to what it means. Luckily, she has allies. Unluckily, they’re like the Young Lion, Leo dan Brock. An inspired leader, if a selfish, arrogant one, he’s as pretty to look at as he is to bed. Clover is an uninspired warrior. A Named Man, he gained his name in the Circle. And then lost it, only to gain another. But when he’s pressed into war, he may gain yet another name, and this one might be the worst of all.

Darkness, intrigue and war ravage the world. Where there is war, there is blood. And where there is blood, there are heroes. And those other ones.

The character arcs and progression are evident in ALHatred, though I’d almost really separate them into pro- and regression arcs. Meanwhile, the plot and story both remain strong, sometimes powerful enough as to convince me I had lived it. After a decade plus of this, this Brit really knows what he’s doing.

Now, up to this point Abercrombie hasn’t exactly been all sunshine and daisies. But A Little Hatred is more than just a little depressing. There’re terrible people, and just mostly terrible people, and some only kinda terrible people—but they’re all just people. Oh, and they’re all selfish bastards.

I think this is my biggest issue with the book. Self-interest—more than anything else—ruins pretty much everything. I mean, a little self-preservation isn’t a bad thing. And some people are always going to be self-obsessed. In previous efforts, many of Abercrombie’s characters have been. But not in ALHatred. Because they all are. Every single character is a selfish bastard at one time or another, and most for pretty much the entire book. For the most part, it’s a book full of terrible, depressing people. Now, you may argue that this’s just Grimdark at its finest. Which, yeah… I guess. But it’s just not realistic. Not everyone is going to be a self-obsessed bastard. Except that in this case, they are.

As always, Abercrombie presents a dark rendering of the world. But while I found the industrial world of the First Law to be vibrant and interesting, realistic to a scary degree, immersive to almost the same amount—its characters fall well short. I had absolutely no issue picturing the world. So much of the book is rendered in gory detail, the scenes the text creating in my mind’s eye brought me chills. There’s one I remember best of all: a beggar set amidst the runoff from a textile mill, dye and filth mixing freely in the water, while behind her the city burns. It’s such a haunting image of progress, innovation, revolution. The world leaps forward, but once more leaves the common man behind.

TL;DR

A Little Hatred presents a level of realism unheard of in fantasy on all fronts—save one. The level of detail was truly astounding, as I was swept from a scene of majestic beauty, to one of tortured triumph, to the aftermath of a gruesome battle, and beyond. The overarching plot and each character’s story are almost as amazing, trailing through the murk as the world industrializes. A dark book, Abercrombie has not changed in the slightest. Though he may have lost some in transit. The characters, his bread and butter, seemed hollow, self-obsessed husks of humanity. Puppets rather than ‘men inhabiting this otherwise real world. While not his strongest work, A Little Hatred is definitely worth a read, whether you get it new or used. Even more so as it begins a new trilogy: the Age of Madness.

A Little Hatred is due out September 17, 2019 in both the US and UK. The next entry, The Trouble with Peace, is expected next year.

On Tap 09/13

Currently Reading

• The Dark Blood – by A.J. Smith

After the Black Guard, I raved about the world, but didn’t like the story. Now that we’re back for #2, I’m hoping the story will improve. And that I’ll love it. I AM sure the world-building will continue to impress, so… Fingers crossed!

• Fallen – by Benedict Jacka

The 10th of a planned 12 Alex Verus novels (if you didn’t know that, sorry to ruin it!). Things are really heating up in the story, finding Alex with a love interest, and more power than he ever wanted. #10 takes place one year later, finding Alex fighting to keep everything he holds dear. I can’t wait to get into it!

• Shadows of Self – by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve been rereading the Wax & Wayne books on audio (from my library fyi), and so far they’re just as good as the first time through. The reader (Michael Kramer—from Way of Kings and Eye of the World) is a good one, and everything’s still in Mistborn swing.

Up Next

• The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker

This sounds like a cross between Marc Turner’s Dragon Hunters (which I loved) and John Gwynne’s Banished Lands (which I loved MORE). I put it off a little to finish A Little Hatred and Fallen on time, so I’m reeeeally anxious to start it now!

• In Shining Armor – by Elliott James

Been reading a lot of epic, high and dark fantasy lately, which means it’s time for more urban and scifi. Book 4 of the Pax Arcana looks like just the thing! Doesn’t look like we’ll get anything beyond #5 (as the author’s gone dark), though, so I hope the next two provide a good wrap-up.

To Do

I still have some reviews to get through, as I’ve a backlog from my vacation still. Also, there’s the release of a Q&A with Tyler Hayes, author of the Imaginary Corpse (find the review here!) on September 23. Maybe it’ll provide a little traffic, but I’m really just hoping that some of you find it interesting!

Reviewed since the Last (09/04)

The Forbidden Library – by Django Wexler (Forbidden Library #1)

Bloody Rose – by Nicholas Eames (The Band #2)

The Ember Blade – by Chris Wooding (Darkwater Legacy #1)

Additional TBR

  1. A Time of Blood – by John Gwynne (Of Blood & Bone #2)
  2. Metro 2035 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro series #3)
  3. Sky in the Deep – by Adrienne Young (Sky in the Deep #1)
  4. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Lays of Anuskaya #3)
  5. Street Freaks – by Terry Brooks

Book Review: The Ember Blade – by Chris Wooding

Darkwater Legacy #1

High Fantasy, Epic, Dark Fantasy

Gollancz; September 20, 2018

832 pages (HC) / 30hr 40m (AU)

5 / 5 ✪

The Ember Blade combines the typical coming-of-age fantasy with a bit of something dark, in order to create an epic debut that fails to fall under either category—yet somehow succeeds in both. Early on (for the first 10 hours or so), I was convinced that this was your general light vs. dark tale, complete with ancient evils, a chosen one, and third-party horrors awaiting to devour them all. And yet towards the latter half of the tale, it morphed into something more. Something different.

It begins with Ossia, a once great nation laid low by the Krodan, subject to Krodan rule for so long that freedom is little more than an idea. Enter Aren, a merchant’s son, obsessed with everything Krodan. Their language, their history, their law. Even the young love of his life is Krodan. They have no chance of being together, however, as Aren, as hard as he tries, is not Krodan. Enter Cade, son of a carpenter, obsessed with stories. Tales of illusion and grandeur, greatness and adventure, fame and fortune. And especially Ossia. A free, independent Ossia. Two unlikely friends against the world.

And yet when the Krodan law comes down upon them, their friendship is tested. Aren’s father is arrested for being a traitor and slain, Aren and Cade sent to a work-camp in his stead. Not only is Cade’s friendship with Aren in jeopardy, but Aren’s fascination with all things Krodan is as well. And yet with the help of some unlikely allies, they escape the camp. But… to what end? For there is something bigger than just their story between them now, and Aren and Cade—caught up in it—find themselves playing a much grander game. One that may just end with their finger in a Krodan eye, and the first piece to a free, independent Ossia. For the young prince of Krodia is due to be wed, and at his banquet shall fall the Ember Blade: a symbol of Ossian nationalism. But can Aren and Cade and their newfound allies begin the dream of a free, unified Ossia, or will they be crushed under the heel of the Krodans once again?

First and foremost, this is a coming-of-age fantasy. The main characters, Aren and Cade, definitely grow and change over the course of the text. It’s their character growth that makes the Ember Blade a success, above all else. The dynamic of their friendship is tested time and again—sometimes it bends, maybe even breaks. And yet persists throughout the entire book. Even when they’re not speaking it’s that dynamic that drives their story, whether Wooding means it to or not. I mean, there are other factors in play, too. Of course there are.

I mentioned earlier that I struggle to classify this as anything more than a coming-of-age story. I mean, it is SO MUCH more—I’m just not sure where to start. It begins with the classic CoA fantasy vibe. Light against dark, battling ancient evil with their team of misfits and mentors. An oppressed people trying to overthrow a tyrannical power. A true underdog story.

But then, something changes.

I’m not exactly sure when it happens. It begins with a crack here. A crack there. The great and noble dream of Ossia may not be that noble at all. Krodia may not be the horrid power we once thought. And slowly the realm of heroes and villains is slowly replaced. By that of people—humans—just trying to do what they think is best. The lines blur from black and white, and occasionally the story gets downright dark.

I, uh, really enjoyed it.

Chris Wooding tries something new, here. Blends it with something tried and true. And it… works. I mean, the Ember Blade may not be for everyone, but I think it will appeal to more just through its split nature. It’s not a classic good and evil battle. It’s not a grimdark piece, where everyone’s inherently selfish and the world just sucks. It’s not a clean split, a dark fantasy, or much in-between. It’s… hard to pin down. But I’d say it’s a blend of High and Epic, with just a splash of Dark. And it works. Very well, in fact.

If you needed a further reason to read it, it’s the characters. There are several POV chapters throughout, each with their own strong narrators that have their own history, morals, strengths, weaknesses and depth. In addition to Aren and Cade, there’s the freedom fighter Garric. The Druidess Vika. The prisoner Grub. The survivor Ren. A bard, an exile, a lieutenant and more. Can’t say I was thrilled to read each’s POV, but I was actually fairly well invested in everyone’s. Didn’t hate any of them, even. Each with depth of character, arcs and change and growth and regression.

A detailed world, it gave me just enough for my imagination to fill in the rest. A powerful story, though lacking in subtlety. A pretty good chunk of text—800ish pages. Or, if you’d prefer an audiobook like I did—30-odd hours. And I didn’t have any problem getting through it. No lags, as it were. Not much disinterest. For such a long book, it really kept me entertained throughout.

TL;DR

The Ember Blade is an immensely entertaining coming-of-age fantasy, set in an interesting, well thought out realm. It defies traditional light vs. dark, good vs. evil plots, instead choosing the middle ground; while committing to neither high nor dark fantasy in its telling. The text is jam-packed with POVs, each as deep and intricate AND entertaining as the last. I can’t say there was one that I was dreading, one that I had on auto-skip as I usually do in these long epic debuts. While I can’t promise that you’ll enjoy all your time reading this monster, I will predict you’ll find something you like within—something that will likely see you through to its conclusion.

TBR – September

Currently Reading

The Dark Blood – by A.J. Smith (The Long War #2)

A book I’ve had my eye on for a while ever since finishing The Black Guard. Which I… didn’t really care for, actually. But after posting my review of #1, A.J. Smith contacted me saying he was sorry I didn’t like the book and hoping I’d give it another try in the future. So, here we are! Hope it’s good!

Top 4

  1. A Time of Blood – by John Gwynne (Of Blood & Bone #2)
  2. The Obelisk Gate – by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth #2)
  3. City of Stairs – by Robert Jackson Bennett (Divine Cities #1)
  4. The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley Beaulieu (Lays of Aunskaya #3)

Next 4

  1. Saint’s Blood – by Sebastien de Castell (Greatcoats #3)
  2. The Thousand Names – by Django Wexler (Shadow Campaigns #1)
  3. In Shining Armor – by Elliott James (Pax Arcana #4)
  4. Blade and Bone – by Jon Sprunk (Book 3 of the Black Earth)

Last 4

  1. Queen of All Crows – by Rod Duncan (Map of Unknown Things #1)
  2. The Last Mortal Bond – by Brian Staveley (Unhewn Throne #3)
  3. Old Man’s Ghosts – by Tom Lloyd (Empire of a Hundred Houses #2)
  4. Babylon’s Ashes – by James. S.A. Corey (The Expanse #5)

TBR Finished in 2019

  • Spellslinger – by Sebastien de Castell (Spellslinger #1)
  • Age of Swords – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #2)
  • Ex-Heroes – by Peter Clines (Ex Series #1)
  • Bloody Rose – by Nicholas Eames (The Band #2)
  • Metro 2033 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro Series #1)
  • Time’s Children – by D.B. Jackson (Islevale Cycle #1)
  • Blackwing – by Ed McDonald (The Raven’s Mark #1)
  • Revelation Space – by Alastair Reynolds (Revelation Space #1)
  • Flex – by Ferrett Steinmetz (Flex #1)
  • Lost Gods – by Micah Yongo (Lost Gods #1)

So far a pretty good year for the TBR pile! Hopefully I’ll get through a dozen or so by year’s end. I’ve been paying pretty close attention to it, though, as it’s been stacking up really bad in recent years.

Btw dunno who started the trend of posting the TBR, but I came upon it at Niki Hawkes’ site.