Book Loot – September Edition

Not a huge haul this month, but maybe it’ll give me an opportunity to catch up on some ARCs I’ve missed, maybe read some more of the Yarnsworld books or some stuff off my 2020 TBR. Or maybe there’ll be a late addition or two from my outstanding requests (I can hope—and there even was one last month). Oh, that and Fable, by Adrienne Young, (which comes out September 1th) which I’ve been looking forward to but got rejected every time I tried to beg for a copy. No matter.

ARCs

The Awkward Black Man – by Walter Mosley (US • 9/15) (UK • 10/1)

A collection of stories from amazing author Walter Mosley. I’m cautiously optimistic, as I’ve enjoyed his mystery fiction, but hated his science fiction. This is one author my Dad introduced me to, so even if I don’t like the stories, maybe he will. The good thing about an omnibus collection is that even if you don’t like one, maybe you’ll like another. Thanks to Grove Press for the eARC!

The Seventh Perfection – by Daniel Polansky (9/22)

An amanuensis (essentially a secretary-slave) of the God-King sets out to unravel one riddle central to the core of his reign. If she somehow completes her work, all of his rule might fall. But as she has achieved all Seven Perfections in order to become the God-King’s servant, it begs the question—can anyone really stop her? Much thanks to Tor for the copy! (Hopefully this means they’re warming up to me.)

The Kraken’s Tooth – by Anthony Ryan (9/30)

The Pilgrim and Seeker return in this sequel to A Pilgrimage of Swords, where the Pilgrim now seeks to claim a mythical blade for… some reason. I found the first entry unexpectedly entertaining, so my hopes are a bit higher for this second one. Many thanks to Subterranean Press for the ebook!

Bystander 27 – by Rik Hoskin

Some kind of vigilante meets Punisher is what sold me. When ex-Seal Jon Hayes’ wife is killed in a clash between two costumed super-“heroes” (well, one hero and one villain), he must step out of the shadows to get the vengeance he craves.

My first physical ARC! The first thing I did when I got it was text my family and friends—none of which responded with any kind of joy or excitement whatsoever. But I was still excited. Even though it’s already come out; I missed the period where I should’ve read it on NetGalley, so am stoked to get a second chance at it! Big thanks to Angry Robot for the copy!

Purchases

Havenfall – by Sarah Holland

I actually used my audio credit this month, on a YA I’ve been meaning to read. For Maddie, summers at the Inn at Havenfall are her only escape from the nightmare that is her regular life. Located at the crossroads of worlds, the Inn is a refuge for those that would seek to protect the world, and even those who seek to destroy it. But when the truce of the Inn is broken, Maddie must rush to restore the peace before war breaks out. And she must do it all while somehow convincing her uncle to keep her on after the summer. That is—if there’s an Inn to return to. Actually not bad so far, the YA romance isn’t very cringe-worthy even.

To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl – by Benedict Patrick

The final delivery from his Kickstarter back in June, Taniwha Girl is essentially the sequel to Benedict Patrick’s Where the Waters Turn Black. While I haven’t gotten to it yet, as previously mentioned, I hope this is the month I get to do a deep dive into Yarnsworld. While his debut was a bit of a mixed bag for me, I hope that this is one of those worlds that gets better with time and experience.

Life

So, work is starting back up here soon, which is nice. Though there’re a lot of new COVID rules which are just going to be a pain. Well, enforcing them is at least. But I know that it’s important, and that all the rules have been explained to the parents already, so that most of the hoaxers have been weeded out already (and yeah, there were a fair amount, actually). Thing is, I found that all my winter programs have been canceled, along with my part-timer, so I need to find something else after October. Which sucks, but oh well.

I also have some medical appointments and procedures (nothing too serious, mind) in early September, so I may just be MIA for a week or so around that time. Or I might just miss a week do to incurable lethargy, who knows?

Ink & Sigil – by Kevin Hearne (Review)

Ink & Sigil #1

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Del Rey; August 25, 2020

336 pages (ebook)

4.0 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Al MacBharrais is a man blessed. A Scottish widower in his sixties, he runs a legitimate print shop in Glasgow. He is also a sigil agent for Brighid—the First of the Fae—he uses magical inks in order to create and employ powerful sigils that can affect both the mortal and supernatural worlds. He uses these sigils to police the Fae that enter our realm illegally, protecting the world from those rogues who would do it wrong. In addition to this rather pedantic craft, he is also endowed with an extraordinary mustache, which he waxes daily and trims with utmost care.

But Al is also a man cursed. He suffers from a mysterious anathema: anyone who is exposed to his voice for even a few days will grow to hate him. This makes his voice a rare treat—one that he barely hears himself. Al communicates mainly through text-to-speech apps so that his few friends and colleagues don’t come to despise him.

We join MacBharrais’s story already in progress. When his apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead—the seventh such of Al’s apprentices to have kicked the bucket—having choked on a raisin scone, Al comes to learn that the wee lad had something of a secret life he’d hidden from his master. A life… of crime.

In fact, Gordie was trafficking Fae; luring them from the realms and then trapping and selling them to a mysterious third party. Which Al finds out as he arrives at Gordie’s flat to find a wee pink hobgoblin in a not-pink cage. One who is royally pissed at being locked up, and not as disappointed in Gordie’s somewhat untimely demise.

This particular hob—who goes by the name “Buck Foi” (yes, really)—will come in handy if Al is to solve the mystery of the Fae trafficking ring which will take him from Scotland’s magical underworld to the Scottish Highlands and beyond. Also involved are some ghastly hounds, a goth battle seer, and more than a few cool sigils of power. It’s sure to be a fun ride.

And it was a fun ride, more or less. I was never a huge fan of Atticus O’Sullivan (Hearne’s most famous character), the Iron Druid. Don’t think I even made it halfway through the first book before I DNFed it. So… less than a huge fan. Al MacBharrais by contrast is a lovely old character. A Scottish gentleman in his mid-sixties, Al is a breath of fresh air to the Urban Fantasy genre. Though the druid was technically older, he was an immortal who was forever young. Most protagonists in Urban Fantasy seem to either be not strictly mortal, or young. Al, by contrast, is mortal, over the hill, and not as annoying (as Atticus, at least). His communication through a text-to-speech app was also an interesting twist, one that worked nicely in the story. His cast of friends and allies were mostly entertaining and interesting—especially Nadia (his assistant, or his manager, sometimes both)—though I confess I grew a bit tired of the wee pink hob by the end.

Like most intro Urban Fantasies, Ink & Sigil has trouble sticking strictly to the story, and occasionally gets distracted by pushing pieces of lore directly related to the characters. Flashbacks and whatnot. Instead of boring us with these too early on, Hearne waits borderline too late, when we’re invested in the story before springing them. This did not help the story’s pacing, but I guess it was an attempt to get the reader to care more about the spin-off characters. An attempt that was… so-so effective. Some of the flashbacks I liked, one I hated. It didn’t come at the right time, in my opinion, but maybe the book was too short for the flashbacks to come any sooner. Nothing ruined, here. More of a typical UF wandering debut.

Ink & Sigil is a charming spin-off, set in the world of the Iron Druid. If you’re fresh from that series, or in search of a new one, you could do much worse than giving Al MacBharrais a try. I’d certainly recommend it.

TL;DR

I was never a fan of the Iron Druid. After I tried and failed to get through Hounded three times—I read Ink & Sigil in under a week, with hardly any objections. Al MacBharrais is not your typical Urban Fantasy lead. He’s in his sixties, mortal, both blessed and cursed, and in possession of just the most lovely mustache. While he does share a world with the Iron Druid, the two could not be more different. I had few issues with the text—none of which were deal-breakers—and am glad to announce that the positives easily outweigh any negatives. In fact, would happily read a sequel. Looking forward to one, even. Furthermore, no prior knowledge of Hearne’s books is needed, as I had no problem understanding things. Recommended!

In the Shadows of Men – by Robert Jackson Bennett (Review)

Novella

Horror, Supernatural

Subterranean Press; August 31, 2020

120 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

In the desolate wastes of West Texas, In the Shadows of Men finds two brothers down on their luck, looking to cash in on the oil boom. To do this they need to renovate the old Moon and Stars Motel, sold to them by a cousin who wanted nothing to do with the place. As the younger Pugh and his brother, Bear wade into the wreck, they find its dusty halls and empty rooms strangely comforting, at least at first. But after a while, little Pugh begins to notice a disquiet about the place. Apparitions haunt his dreams; a looming man in white, young Mexican women, and an almost palpable feeling of lust and desire. Soon these thoughts begin to infect more than just his dreams—and that’s when things get stranger still.

The brothers find a hatch in one of the rooms: a steel door padlocked from the outside. As neither can discern the combination lock, they try to forget about it and move on. But once unearthed, it proves to be a mystery that just won’t die. Especially when the local sheriff comes by, teasing them with information on the history of the place and its owner—their great-uncle—Corbin Pugh.

Their own father was a devil of a man, but supposedly his uncle was something else entirely. What kind of man was Corbin Pugh, and what was the secret he was hiding? And how badly do the brothers want to find the truth, when it means they can never unlearn it?

My first question is what kind of person would think that moving to Texas would solve all their problems?

Well as they’re both from Texas, I guess this point is moot. West Texas is far removed from Houston, which the younger Pugh has just left. The story takes place in a small, lonely town, a suitable setting for just such a ghost story. And while little Pugh isn’t a terrible narrator, he’s not not the best lead, either. In fact, as neither brother is a conversationalist, the story often skips ahead days or weeks at a time, even after unearthing some new piece of the puzzle. While he’s pegged as the less inquisitive of the two, Bear seems to be more interested in solving the puzzle than his brother, who typically finds something curious and then goes and doesn’t think about it until a week later. Who finds a golden puzzle piece only to wait until a week later to see where it might fit?

Though the stoicism of the narrator works against the story, I felt it also prolonged the mystery in a way, which helped the atmosphere surrounding it. There was a greater sense of anticipation, a bigger building of tension. Though while the build was more enjoyable, I would’ve liked it to’ve been longer, or more intricate. Also, the conclusion itself was slightly underwhelming. So, yes, it hurt in some ways, but helped in others. All in all, the story evened out. Definitely a good read—though it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression.

On an unrelated note: I really hate when we don’t learn the narrator’s name. We learn his brother’s name, his uncle’s, his wife’s and daughter’s—but not his own. Annoying. And harder to write a completely coherent review.

TL;DR

In the Shadows of Men was an entertaining enough read, considering a sped through it in less than a day. It’s the mystery, if nothing else, that drove me through it, as neither the story nor the premise are particularly original or interesting enough to carry all the weight. But a dark tale, full of supernatural elements, a mystery that needs solving, and a man whose life is in desperate need of an escape—all combine to make this an enjoyable (at least in some ways) horror-thriller. It’s a good, quick read, just don’t expect it to leave much of a lasting impression.

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill – by Sophie Hannah (Review)

The New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #4

Mystery, Historical Fiction

HarperCollins; August 20, 2020 (UK)
William Morrow; September 15, 2020 (US)

346 pages (ebook)
8 hr 54 min (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to HarperCollins, Willam Morrow and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

It is 1930. Hercule Poirot is traveling by coach to the illustrious Kingfisher Hill Estates when he uncovers a murderer. Prior to the tale’s start, Richard Devonport had written the famous detective and requested he come to the Estates to investigate the murder of his brother, Frank. A year previous, Frank had fallen to his death within the Devonport’s house of Little Key. The incident was ruled a murder, with Richard’s fiancée Helen as the prime suspect. Helen has been arrested and is awaiting hanging, as the authorities are convinced of her guilt. But Richard is not as convinced.

But on the coach to Kingfisher Hill, Poirot uncovers yet another mystery. A woman is convinced that she will be murdered if she sits in a certain seat. To allay her fears, the detective switches seats with her. Putting him next to a woman that later confides in him that she herself has committed a murder. But when the woman disembarks before he does, will Poirot be able to find her again? And how can he solve a murder that he knows all of the details of, yet none of them names for?

This is all before reaching Kingfisher Hill Estates, where another murder mystery awaits. One that may be connected to the hysterical woman, may be connected to the self-confessed murderer, or may be an entirely separate mystery entirely. All that is certain is that Poirot and his associate Catchpool are in for a difficult week, one that they’ll never forget.

First off, Hercule Poirot doesn’t ride in coaches. That’s a thing—look it up.

As a fan of Agatha Christie’s original Hercule Poirot, when Sophie Hannah originally revived the series, I was somewhat dubious. But as we approach the fourth book in the renewed series, I figured it was time to give it a try. By book four, Hannah has had time to fine tune her portrayal of the Belgian detective. And she does a pretty decent job of it. But as I’ve mentioned previously, there are exceptions to this.

All in all, I actually found the book enjoyable, though it took me a bit to warm up to it. This is helped quite considerably by the narrator—Julian Rhind-Tutt—who did such an incredible job as Poirot, that I had to double-check that David Suchet wasn’t actually involved. While I had issues with the depiction of Poirot himself, the mystery is really quite a good one; enjoyable, challenging, interesting, full of twists and turns. As a mystery, I’d say it’s probably a 4+ star read. As a continuation of Agatha Christie’s classic detective however—it leaves a little to be desired.

As Hastings occasionally was before him, Edward Catchpool acts as a friend and narrator for the brilliant detective—one that, while he infrequently picks up on Poirot’s hunches, is most often in the dark. It took me quite a bit of time to warm up to Catchpool enough that I didn’t find him simply exhausting. He’s a bit of a dry narrator. I mean, Hastings wasn’t exactly colorful and interesting. He was English. Old Empire English. But Catchpool seems to be a bit more of a bore, in addition to being even slower on the draw. He is frequently behind Poirot in even the most obvious of deductions, though every now and then he has his moment. It’s done this way for a reason—to make Poirot seem more impressive and amazing. But while Hastings was a captain in the British Army, he was no detective. Edward Catchpool is supposedly an Inspector of Scotland Yard, so he really should be less hopeless.

Poirot just feels different. It’s mostly little things; the bit about the coach, the perhaps inflated sense of superiority. He doesn’t mention any bit of his history beyond that of Hannah’s last novel. There’s actually little I can pinpoint exactly. Poirot seems nearly (nearly!) normal. His ego, his methods, his attention to detail, his cleanliness are all on point. Combined with Cacthpool’s dry witticisms, it’s almost like the old Poirot is back. It’s like running into an old friend, but their recollection of history is different and some of their mannerisms are wrong. But they look the same, they talk the same, and more than anything it’s good enough to have them back that you don’t want to look too closely lest you be disappointed.

TL;DR

Like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot looks like you remembered, sounds like you remembered, and is more than anything a sight for sore eyes. Provided you don’t look too closely. Otherwise you’ll unearth a slightly stranger looking Poirot—one that shares much in common with his predecessor, but is subtly different. Nothing too overt here, but his mannerisms, his inflated sense of ego, his peculiarities, his knowledge of and regard for his own history—are all off. If you take the mystery as it is, it will seem an interesting, twisting, and often exciting distraction from the world. But should you look too close, you may just find a doppelgänger masquerading as an old friend. Someone that has nearly fooled you once, but won’t again.

Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey (Review)

Both covers are good, though I probably prefer the UK’s

The Ascendance #1

Scifi, Space Opera, Fantasy

Skybound Books; July 7, 2020

384 pages (ebook)

4.0 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Skybound Books and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

A planetary assassin from an all-women sect that wields a forgotten tongue as a weapon, Elyth was taught that her actions save lives and protect the universe from conflict and evil. Her order, the House of Ascendance, have been taught the Deep Language since they were young. Combined with the Herza—soldiers that wield advanced technology—they make up the two arms of the Ascendance, which rule the galaxy as a whole. Over millennia they have honed it to root and strife and dissidence from within, protecting the Ascendance from threats.

Elyth is a true believer, one that will do everything in her power to serve the Empire’s vision, even if it means giving her life in the process. Fresh from a successful mission to quell a planet on the verge of sedition, Elyth is sent to Qel, a world possibly infected by the Markovian Strain—a corrupted version of the Language, thought to have been wiped out.

See, there’s a reason why only women are trusted to learn the Deep Language. Years prior, a man named Varen Fedic began using the Language for evil, attempting to dominate the Empire for his personal rule. Though it started on Markov, the strain soon boiled over to other worlds, and the corruption spread. Together, the Herza and House were able to defeat and destroy the Strain, but its legacy of terror remains.

And so Elyth is sent to Qel to investigate.

Unfortunately, nothing goes to plan. When her ship crash-lands on Qel, Elyth is hunted like prey, barely able to get a sense of the world she has come to investigate. But that which she does only builds her disquiet. For whatever is happening on Qel is truly strange and mysterious, but despite all the warnings she received regarding the corruption of the Strain, Elyth begins to suspect what the House taught her—while certainly its truth—perhaps wasn’t the full story.

As with many other reviewers I’ve seen, I was quickly impressed by the world-building. From the very first chapter (which gives a taste of both the Language and the Ascendancy), I had no trouble imagining and detailing the adventure unfolding. Posey does an excellent job building up the world (or worlds), the hierarchy of its empire, and the ancient—yet still enigmatic—Deep Language. While I was prepared for it to be just another attempt at blunt words-of-power magic, it somehow manages to convey something more, an intricacy that’s intertwined with the foundations of the universe. What follows is a curious blend of space opera scifi and sorcerous fantasy that I enjoyed on two levels, and think will appeal to fans of either genre.

Unfortunately, the world-building is not without its flaws. While early on we are treated to a decent history lesson on the foundations of the world, throughout the text there are references that made me think that the author was holding out on me. While the Markovian Strain plays a huge part in the story, the history of the Ascendancy itself felt lacking—as it was hard to tell just how old or noble they really were. Though it’s not absolutely necessary to the events on Qel, I really feel it would’ve been helpful to compare the evilness of the Strain to something. Being told something is evil isn’t always enough; it’s often important to relate how or why it’s bad. While it…. urrrgghh. Okay. While the world-building was excellent, it often felt as though the history of the Ascendancy as it related to the story was lacking. Or incomplete. Does that make sense? It didn’t contract from the story, but felt like it was missing out on an opportunity to really bolster it.

Elyth is a strong lead, and her character development—while not the best ever—was quite something. A true believer from the outset, it’s interesting to watch her evolution as she discovers that while she was told the danger of the Strain, perhaps it wasn’t the whole truth. She’s a loyal and stubborn servant, but also an inquisitive and independent one. While she does whatever she can to fit her discoveries within the lines of what she believes, she never discounts anything out of hand, despite what it means for those beliefs. And so her evolution is interesting—whether it be progression or regression, even sometimes both.

I had little issue getting into Every Sky a Grave, but a slight problem in the middle. Action, stealth and tension war with philosophy as to which controls the pacing, but neither wins out. As such, the pacing was a bit odd at times, making it easy for me too rattle off fifty pages, only to take me a half hour to get through a dozen. While I never struggled to read this, it’s not exactly an action-packed thriller. There are periods of action, yes, but it’s all balanced with stealth, mystery, philosophy, and more. That wasn’t an issue for me, though it might be for you.

Though the conclusion wowed me (there was even a certain LOTR moment that brought chills), the lead-in to it was hit and miss. There were some unlikely events, some great ones, and even one that was a head-scratcher. All in all, however, it was a great adventure.

TL;DR

Every Sky a Grave combines in-depth world-building with strong dialogue and fascinating character progression to tell a tense, gripping story that somehow manages to incorporate both fantasy and science fiction, while committing to neither genre. The mysterious Deep Language is a unique magic-system, while its space-opera roots are evident in the world and its characters. With a strong female lead and an interesting story you should have little trouble getting into the read, though its second half struggles to decide between philosophy, action, and stealth—which really makes the pacing odd. At times I tore through pages, while others I had to read and reread sections to make sure I understood them. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed Every Sky a Grave and look forward to the continuation of this new series, Posey’s best start since Three!

TBR – August

Currently Reading

Magebane – by Stephen Aryan (Age of Dread #3)

Magic is bad. That’s pretty much the tune of this series, if you haven’t been keeping up. The Age of Dread trilogy comes at the end of the Age of Darkness one, so essentially we’ve had six books leading up to this point. I have to give it too Steven Aryan—this one’s been hella entertaining and I can’t wait to see how it all comes out. This may not be grimdark, but it’s certainly more than a bit dark, and definitely a good enough series for me to recommend.

Top TBR for August

At the moment, Crownbreaker will be the next physical book on my plate, as finishing up series is starting to be a priority for me. I’ll definitely miss Kellen and Reichis, but if there’s ever a pair that could use an ending—happy or otherwise—it’s these two. Now, I had to stop Vengeful when my library loan kinda broke, so Havenfall looks like my next audiobook. I’m hoping this YA adventure will prove an interesting diversion from life (somewhat realistic as I’ve heard, but not much). Another series summary is Where Gods Fear to Go by Angus Watson, which features such lures as telekinetic sasquatch, annoying but entertaining Vikings, and well, other things. I’ve enjoyed the series thus far, and am certainly looking forward to the conclusion. I could probably put Blood of Empire on every single TBR for the year as I’m both excited to read it and frustrated that I haven’t gotten to it yet. The Autumn Republic is one of my favorite books ever, so I’m hoping that BoE will live up to its unreasonable standards.

TBR Finished Since Last

They Mostly Come Out at Night – by Benedict Patrick (Yarnsworld #1)

Age of Empyre – by Michael J. Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #6)

• Network Effect – by Martha Wells (Murderbot Chronicles #5)

Of the three books I’ve finished off my TBR in the last month, Age of Empyre was the one that felt most satisfying. Though I probably enjoyed Network Effect more, there was just something about finishing off a series—especially one that spanned six books—that felt more special than continuing one other and starting a third. I start a heck of a lot more series than I ever finish, so when I’m able to go beginning to end on something that entertains me throughout, it’s quite the feeling of accomplishment. While there were some ups and downs, the Legends of the First Empire had a lasting appeal to see me through to the end, along with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. Unrelated: If you’re wondering where my thoughts on Network Effect are, I um, haven’t gotten to them yet. It was good, though. That enough?

In other news, my gaming burnout continues, as I’ve unsuccessfully chucked a bunch of titles at it without anything sticking. I’m also sleeping a lot. Like, 10 hours a day a lot. Now, most people might have a problem with wasting their lives or something, but sleep is elusive enough for me that I don’t mind it at all. In fact, if I had another hour in the day, I’d probably try to spend it asleep. Plus with work (supposedly) starting again soon, I’m sure I’ll be losing it sooner or later.

Read anything off this month’s TBR? Thoughts, opinions, complaints? Anyone like sleep as much as I do? Hope y’all are doing well!

On Tap 8/09

I’m not even going to talk about the world right now. It’s still there. And full of people. Anyhow, reading:

Currently Reading

• Vengeful – by V.E. Schwab

Sequel to Vicious regards individuals that escaped death, but came back changed; extraordinary. Just not necessarily good. Jeremy Arthur is doing his best to bring this to life thus far, though the ultimate plot has yet to evolve. Unless it’s just wossname dying—in which case… meh.

• Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey

Planetary assassins wielding ancient power take center stage in this universe-spanning space-opera. Just getting back into it after a month away.

Up Next

• Havenfall – by Sara Holland

An Inn at the crossroads of four realms and a girl sworn to protect it. But when a dead body is found, Maddie must solve the mystery of the death before the peace is broken.

Gaming

• No Man’s Sky

Yeah, I waited for a bunch of the free updates before trying this. I’m hoping it’ll prove more of a successor to one of my all-time favs, EV Nova. So far, there’s a lot of exploration, a lot of crafting, but not much of any kind of guidance, like a plot. Not that it’s bad, but… am I missing something?

The Hidden Life of Ice – by Marco Tedesco (Brief)

Science, Memoir, Non-Fiction

The Experiment; August 18, 2020

160 pages (Hardcover)

2 / 5 ✪

Goodreads

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to The Experiment and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

I requested Hidden Life of Ice because I was expecting a scientific explanation of Greenland and ice floe and the climate change that’s resulting in its disappearance. What I got was not nearly as interesting.

Hidden Life of Ice reads like a field notebook crossed with a memoir, at least if that field notebook was full of random fun-facts that you could use to impress with at trivia. Despite it being centered in Greenland, there’s very little—almost nothing really—about ice. Prior to Chapter 9, ice is only described in any length once. And for that only about in one or two paragraphs. There’s a decent amount of history—the discovery of Greenland, and its settlement; the Northwest Passage, and extinction; the birth of the universe. There’s a bit of astronomy, physics, global warming, and geology. There’s a decent amount about the author and his team, their lives before, their time in Greenland. Just very little about ice.

There was a little about the Thule, the Inuit, the Vikings—the history of the human habitation of Greenland, that was of passing interest. Though mostly it was about the Vikings and their colonization of the land. And about its naming. Then later about its use and importance to scientists. Nothing too in-depth and nothing too interesting, sadly.

My favorite part was the brief (and I mean brief) time that the author talked about englacial flow. This is a bit like an aquifer, an underground river, just through a glacier as opposed to permeable rock. It sounds so cool! Even the author seemed impressed and amazed when he described it—only to lose focus to some other non-ice topic a few sentences later.

If you were to read this hoping for something in depth on Greenland and ice, prepare to be disappointed. If you were after a decent memoir filled with random facts about random Greenland-related topics, I guess this is the book for you. I found it boring and dry. I thought the story meandered aimlessly when I could find a story at all. But then I was expecting more about glaciology, ice science, maybe hydrology and physics. So long as you don’t go in with expectations like mine—hopefully it’ll provide a decent read.

The Black Song – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

I prefer the UK cover version, but that’s just me

The Raven’s Blade #2

Epic, Fantasy

Orbit; July 28, 2020 (UK)
Ace; August 4, 2020 (US)

498 pages (ebook)

4.2 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Beware Spoilers for the Wolf’s Call and minor spoilers for the Raven’s Shadow trilogy.

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit, Ace and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

The Stahlhast have laid waste to an entire continent en route to the Merchant Kingdoms of the far east. Kehlbrand, the true Darkblade, thinks himself a living god—though his divine power comes from his connection to a certain stone, one that is inured with the Dark. With this power he controls a vast army of fanatics and mercenaries, murders and rapists, along with the righteous and those simply seeking glory. Together they’ve proved unstoppable, carving a trail of blood and ashes from sea to sea. And nothing can stop their conquest of the Merchant Kingdoms, and maybe even the entire world.

Nothing, except maybe Vaelin Al Sorna.

Known to the Darkblade as the “Thief of Names”, Vaelin has yet to prove much more of an annoyance than a gnat provides to a dinosaur. But with his allies on the run, his own army in disarray, and one of his truest friends dying; the tides are about to turn. For the Blood Song—the same song he lost so many years before—is again within reach. For with his last breath, Ahm Lin has offered up his own blood so that Vaelin can regain this precious gift. A gift he cannot face the Darkblade without.

But when Vaelin drinks his blood, the song that comes is not his own. It is vile and tainted, a tune that demands death above all else: a Black Song. But while this gift might yet save the world from the Darkblade, it will surely doom Vaelin Al Sorna.

My history with Vaelin is somewhat complicated. I loved my introduction to the Fifth Order back in 2013, and Blood Song is still one of my favorite books. Tower Lord, on the other hand, was… okay. Not a bad read, but not great, either. But when compared (and as a successor) to Blood Song—it was terrible. I honestly hated the turn the series had taken so much that I didn’t even bother to read Queen of Fire. Still haven’t, even.

When Anthony Ryan chose to return Vaelin as the sole lead last year, I was cautiously optimistic. Optimism was quickly followed by relief and love. While I didn’t like the Wolf’s Call quite as much as Blood Song, it was a damn good read. The Black Song is to the Wolf’s Call that the Wolf’s Call was to Blood Song. That is—it’s a great read, but not quite as good. But not anywhere near the disaster that I found Tower Lord.

The world-building itself is kinda lazy. It borrows very heavily upon earth itself. The Stahlhast and Steppe parallel the Mongols and their Steppe. The Merchant Kingdoms (and Cantons) represent China, Japan, Korea and the like, down to their very names and historic attitudes. The Opal Islands are a continuation of South Asia to even Oceana, with their jungle and mythical beasts.

The setting is similarly lame. It’s pretty much the Mongoliad in the world of the Raven. An unstoppable horde rolls over everything in its path, in its quest to conquer the world. The living god, the connection to the Dark, the later stages of the book—all these are new and interesting. I was more forgiving of this in the first book because of the Steppe. I’ve always been a sucker for Mongolian and Tibetan culture and civ. While I like China and Japan and such too, it’s harder to avoid the comparisons now, and how they’re pretty much just the same civs with different names. Like, all of them.

It’s the same great story, though. Vaelin is a little more stoic than he was at the beginning, but nowhere near as cold and aloof as we saw in Tower Lord. The Song itself is intriguing. Rather than an old friend come home, it’s a different tune—one that takes a different telling—something that demands chaos and blood, instead of the orderly one seen in the first trilogy. Where Al Sorna has changed, the Song has as well, and it lends a different… vibe to everything. Where the Wolf’s Call dipped into the iron will and horse culture of the Steppe, the Black Song is definitely a book about kings, emperors, and courtly politics. I mean, it’s not ALL politics or anything. If it was, I wouldn’t’ve read it. There’s action, violence, intrigue, adventure and more—but there’s also courtly etiquette and politics.

My favorite part of the book is Part 3, where we explore the Opal Islands a bit. Due to spoilers, I obviously can’t go into much detail, but there’s jungle, myth and legend, the unknown, and adventure galore. The ending is truly innovative, but can also come off as odd. I mean, a lot of the stuff in Part 3 caught me by surprise, but not in a bad way. It even feels an adventure at times—which I loved, but that’s me. It reminded me of Uncharted (the game) where… actually, never mind, I can’t because spoilers. Sufficient to say it has a different vibe than the other two parts and leave it at that.

TL;DR

The conclusion to the Raven’s Blade duology, the Black Song introduces some new plot mechanics, characters and settings, while retaining the war, antagonist, and overall feel of the Wolf’s Call. With a great story and excellent protagonist in Vaelin Al Sorna, it’s a book I could read over and over happily enough for years to come. While a much better successor to the Wolf’s Call than Tower Lord was to Blood Song—the Black Song isn’t perfect by any means. The setting and world-building are honestly just lazy. As we explore what’s pretty much just Asia, there’s much to take in. Politics mingle with action and war; violence, bloodshed and courtly pandering alternating in a pleasant mix. Despite the near-constant change in setting, I never felt the pacing lag, nor did the story ever bore me. It was good, consistent, and Al Sorna-y. A must read for all Vaelin Al Sorna fans—if you liked Wolf’s Call, you shouldn’t have any trouble.