Beautiful World of Books – The Faithful and The Fallen

If you haven’t yet read the Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne… well, you really should. I can’t recommend it enough. Though in all fairness, it’s a bit lacking on good female leads, especially in the first book. That’s my only complaint. I know other people have more, but for me it’s one of the perfect coming-of-age series. My favorite character, however, happens to be a middle-age to later outlaw battling through a mid-life crisis. Hardly coming of age.

Anyhow, the more I read of this series, the more I want to add the physical versions to my bookshelf. As it stands, I have the paperback copy of Wrath (Book 4), but none of the prior three. Thus, I’ve been shopping around a bit and recently stumbled across this version, courtesy of Broken Binding.

Hardcover. Numbered 1 to 500. Ribboned. Edging. A complete set of finely printed masterpieces.

The covers haven’t changed any from the preexisting form, but all in all the Faithful and the Fallen tetralogy has never looked better. I mean, it looks pretty sweet, and would be the crown jewel addition to my bookshelf.

Thing is… I’m not really a “crown jewel” type of person. I’m more a “the crown is nice but sell the jewels and buy more regular books” type.

Still, I’m tempted.

Less so by the 140 quid pricetag. Even more by the £62 shipping charge. $300 for a set of three is… well, it’s not happening. Pretty sure I can get the first three used for $25-30 total—let’s go with that.

Still, let’s admire those covers again.

City of Songs – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

While this picture is a little grainy, the real-life version is quite lovely.

The Seven Swords #3

Fantasy, Epic, Novella

Subterranean Press; September 30, 2021

160 pages (hardcover)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Publisher (and Twitter @SubPress)

4.8 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Subterranean Press and Anthony Ryan for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Beware Spoilers for A Pilgrimage of Swords and The Kraken’s Tooth (Seven Swords books 1 & 2)!

Review of A Pilgrimage of SwordsReview of the Kraken’s Tooth

The third entry in the Seven Swords begins much as the one before it did. Fresh off the decimation of Carthula, Pilgrim (Guyime) and Seeker are fleeing the destruction of their wake while also traveling toward their hearts’ truest desire. In his case another of the seven demon blades, while in hers a daughter long lost. In this they have been joined by another pair: former slave Lexius, now wielder of another of the Seven Swords, inhabited by his wife—he seeks her freedom; and Mareth druid sellsword Lorweth, whose motives and secrets are entirely his own.

They travel to Atheria, the fabled City of Songs. The Shining Jewel of the Third Sea. Governed by a Council, the city is truly ruled by the Exultia Caste—the obscenely wealthy who wear masks to convey their godly status to the rest of the unwashed of the city. Here, Guyime hopes to find another of the demon blades, while Seeker hopes to find her daughter. Instead, they will find nothing but plots, lies, blood and chaos. For Ultrius Domiano—the very man the need to see—lies freshly slain, and it’s up to the Wanderers to find his killer.

Only then will they find the answers they seek.

The Seven Swords have been consistently entertaining, despite their short format. Three outstanding novellas, each telling a complete story while deferring to the next in the sequence to continue the overarching tale. As much as I’d like a full-length Seven Swords story, I honestly think it works perfectly in novella format. The obvious comparison is Murderbot; something great in short form that may or may not work as well in a longer one (Network Effect was good, but I’d say not nearly as good as any of the novellas).

As for the story of City of Songs—it’s a good one. Who doesn’t love a murder mystery? Especially one where the stakes are high. To get the answers they seek, Guyime and Seeker must solve the mystery, which is properly mysterious and immersive. After I finally figured out what was going on, one main mystery still remained. Well, two, I suppose. The why of it was an interesting point, but the main mystery was more than enough motivation to keep reading. A mystery that persisted up until the very end.

TL;DR

Very good tale. And it continues the overarching plot very nicely. I don’t really have any notes or criticisms. Just that while this is a contained adventure, knowledge of the first two books is really helpful to reading it. Luckily Subterranean Press has two hardbacks with your name on them (or ebooks, if you’d prefer). I’d definitely recommend this series, and hope it continues to deliver!

The Liar of Red Valley – by Walter Goodwater (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Horror

Solaris; September 28, 2021

368 pages (hardcover)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly provided an advance copy of this in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my rating or review. Special thanks to Solaris and Rebellion for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Don’t Trust the Liar.

Don’t go in the River.

Don’t cross the King.

Red Valley, California isn’t like other towns. Sure, there are schools and grocery stores and restaurants. There are parks and businesses and bridges. There are forests and families and livelihoods. But there are also some things in Red Valley that aren’t in the rest of the world.

There are things that aren’t human, but aren’t exactly inhuman either. There are things that go bump in the night, but have been convinced not to do so here. Are are beings as old as time, and some things even older. There are rules that you don’t break, not if you want to live. And there’s power, power to rule the world—or remake it.

Sadie is just another small town girl. Born into Red Valley, she’s now well on the way to dying in it. A waitress at a local diner, Sadie’s life isn’t exciting or notable in the least. Except that she’s the only daughter of the Liar—and the Liar has power.

Not power like the King, but not insignificant either. When her mother dies, Sadie is forced to confront this power directly. For she is now the new Liar, and her mother’s power is now her own. But what is it, and how does it work? While her mother never explained the power to her, Sadie knows the basics. Someone comes to the Liar. They have money, and something about the world they want changed. They tell the Liar what they want changed, and supply the Liar with an offering of blood to do it. An offering that often enacts another price entirely. Ofttimes it’s something petty, something superficial. The more inconsequential, the cheaper it is for them. But something is missing from this, something that Sadie needs to know. Just where does the power come from, and how does she harness it?

Something she’ll have to find out quickly, for it’s not long before people come a’calling. The sheriff wants to use her new power, while the town junkie wants something else. And when the King calls on her, Sadie knows it can only get worse. But what is the real purpose of the Liar, and is it a fate Sadie even wants to share?

While I’ve most often seen this classed as ‘horror’, I didn’t find the Liar of Red Valley terribly “horrifying”. It was an interesting—and entertaining—fantasy debut, one that makes you think about the origins of power, authority, and the things that go bump in the night. The main thing I latched onto out of the official blurb was the “inhuman” aspect. Now there’s just enough of this in the book to make you think—but no more. I really would’ve liked to explore more of the things that bump in the night, not a mere one or two that show up in the text.

It is an entertaining read, fortunately. Entertaining with quite a few plot twists. Including one in particular that’s head and shoulders above the rest. It’s a doozy of a twist, one that both makes you think and makes you buy into the story like never before. Not that the story was a drag before that. This was never a difficult one to read. With a lively plot, a relatable lead, a decent supporting cast, a number of mysteries to solve, and an intriguing setting—the Liar of Red Valley had so much to love, and more.

Sadie’s mother is central to the plot, but we spend the entire book trying to learn more about her. She was a power in Red Valley, one that might have even rivaled the King itself. But what was her power? How did she control it? And what was the great Lie she told that everyone wants to get a hold of? It’s really a book of mysteries, not horrors. And the answers to those mysteries and more are just inside!

Beautiful World of Books – The Shattered Sea

Recently, I revisited the Shattered Sea by Joe Abercrombie. Of course I’ve only read the first, but they have the rest at my local library. Now, my library has the classic US Del Rey covers, which are pretty, but when I looked this series up recently I noticed the Harper Voyager covers are even more impressive. Though they could be better—just imagine them with a bit of gloss and foil.

Del Rey covers are left, Harper Voyager on the right.

Half a King

Half the World

Half a War

I remember enjoying Half a King, but not continuing with the series. Think I got distracted. I do need to get back to it, though, as I’m pretty sure what happens in there is canon. Is that right, or no?

Iron Widow – by Xiran Jay Zhao (Review)

Iron Widow #1

YA, Fantasy, Scifi

Penguin Teen; September 21, 2021

399 pages (ebook)

Goodreads • Author Website

4.8 / 5 ✪

I did not pay for this book. I was very kindly granted an advance copy of it in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Penguin and Netgalley for the ARC! Hopefully the author will forgive me—especially after I post said review to Goodreads and/or Amazon with a rating;)

Iron Widow is the debut by author Xiran Jay Zhao. And if you don’t know how to pronounce that, don’t worry I’ve got you covered.

Here’s a crash course if you’re new to pinyin:

• ZH is pronounced like the ‘dg’ in “fudge”
• Z is pronounced like the ‘dz’ in “Adz”
• Q is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in “China”, only toward the front of the mouth
• X is pronounced like the ‘sh’ in “Shiny”, only toward the front of the mouth
• C is pronounced like the ‘ts’ in “cats”

Honestly, I could’ve just kept going, but these are the basics—let’s not go overboard. So now let’s butcher her name. If you guessed: something like “She-ran Jay Jow”—you’re on the right track. If you said it perfectly first time: nice! If you guessed: anything else—keep trying!

Right, the book. Iron Widow is a retelling of the Empress Wu Zhao who served as consort for the Tang dynasty and later seized control of the throne leading to the Zhou dynasty, during which she ruled unopposed. The book is the beginning of a retelling of her life.

Only with giant pilotable gundam-like chrysalises. And aliens.

Huaxia sits on the edge of extinction. The Hunduns—sentient mechanical aliens that have overrun the lands north of the Great Wall—have pushed humanity to the brink.

The remnants of the Han survive only through the grace of the great Chrysalises—huge husks made of spirit metal capable of transforming into fighting machines. When the two pilots—one a boy (nanhaizi 男孩子), one a girl (nühaizi 怒孩子)—combine their qi within the Chrysalis they are able to force it into metamorphosis, resulting in a huge fighting robot. Though this grants the pilots the power to repel the Hunduns from their land, it usually results in the death of the girls. This is seen as a sacrifice worth taking, in order to assure the survival of the human race. Plus, they’re only girls.

Wu Zetian is born upon the frontier, near the Great Wall itself. Should the Chrysalises fail, her family would be one of the first to fall. And she was born (and ultimately kept) in order to die.

As her sister did before her.

And so Zetian follows her elder sister (jiejie 姐姐) into the army, joining the ranks of Yang Guang’s concubines—who wait on his every whim, offer themselves to him freely, and are taken into battle with him, most often to their deaths. Again, as Zetian’s 姐姐 did before her.

But unlike her sister, Zetian isn’t here to make some sacrifice, noble or otherwise. Instead she has her heart set on vengeance—for her murdered sister, for thousands of dead girls before her, and ultimately for herself. For even should she live long enough to kill Yang Guang—what then? She’ll still only exist in a world set against her, one where she’ll carve a place for herself—in blood.

You are here to provide comfort and companionship to one of the greatest heroes of our time. From this day onward, you exist to please him, so that he may be in peak physical and mental condition to battle the Hunduns that threaten our borders. His well-being should be the most prominent subject of your thoughts. You will bring him meals when he is hungry, pour him water when he is thirsty, and partake in his hobbies with him with lively enthusiasm. When he speaks, you will give him your full attention, without interrupting or arguing. You will not be moody, pessimistic, or indifferent, and—most importantly—you will not react negatively to his touch.

This book is steeped in both sexism and racism. The misogyny of the classical world has been well documented of course, but here’s another crash course on China (zhongguo 中國), which take things a bit further. Being born a boy was a huge responsibility. You were the hope of your family, your bloodline. You were supposed to succeed in the exams, in life, marry into a good family and produce a (male) heir. You would then take care of your parents and manage their estates. If you were born a girl, you had to hope your parents didn’t kill you because they wanted a boy. If they let you live, you basically did whatever they wanted to ensure that you fetched a good dowry, which would be used to help your brother pay his way into a good family. Then you were someone else’s problem, but should never forget your parents/family should you somehow make it big. You were subservient to your father, then your brothers, then your husband, then your sons. At no point were you ever in charge of your own destiny. Maybe don’t google this.

“I’m so tired of being a girl.”
“Yeah, if you were a boy, you’d be ruling the world by now.”

Likewise, if you were Han, then you had a natural step up on the competition. If you were anything other than Han, you were a barbarian. Often even subhuman. If you were half-blooded or quarter-blooded non-ethnic Han you were often seen as inferior. Han nationalism is generally on par with white nationalism in terms of exclusionism. Of course, this is the only instance of racism ever in history, and therefore is quite notable. Seriously, DO NOT GOOGLE THIS—you won’t find anything remotely heartwarming.

The overwhelming sexism here takes center stage, while the racism is kinda glossed over. I hope that we get to it more later in the series, though. Xiran Jay Zhao doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture for female life back in the annuls of history, but it’s probably pretty realistic. There’s a reason there’s a huge gender imbalance even nowadays—as the number of men heavily outweighs the number of women.

In terms of a fantasy book, Iron Widow is a damn good one. I mean, it’s a whirlwind of blood, tears and chaos, but one hell of a ride all the same. Zetian quite the character. I legitimately believe she’d bathe in the blood of her enemies. She’s got a bit of a demon in her; willing to do anything in order to achieve her ends. She also has a warm, sensitive side (though it’s a little overshadowed by the whole “demon” bit)—which she shows in touching scenes with Yizhi and Li Shimin. I’m honestly not sure what kind of a romantic she is. All in all, Zetian is complicated. She’s entirely human, but also a vengeful goddess born of pure chaos. As I said, quite the character.

The romance is a thing—leaving me undecided whether I bought into it or not. Despite her assertions that “the triangle is the strongest form of geometry”, I’m still not sure what it was that Zetian really wanted. It seemed to me that both male leads were head-over-heels, willing to die for her, while she was more “well, I like them but… meh”. Again, I hope that this is something that gets cleared up in Book #2.

The gundams—or chrysalises—are more like zoids than mobile suits. Or… a bit of a cross between the two. I envisioned them as gigantic seed-pods that could digivolve into mechanical fighting robots based on the qi of their pilots. Maybe more like a “Big O” kinda thing.

TL;DR

From gundams to aliens to emperors, there’s A LOT going on in this story. And while I didn’t love every minute of it, I loved way more than enough to recommend it. Wu Zetian is a monumental task of a retelling, but Xiran Jay Zhao has a winner here. For while it’s not all accurate, it’s certainly a perspective with a twist; a story that finds the future Empress as a poor farm girl with a taste for vengeance, blood, love, and ambition. An amazing coming-of-age tale that devolves into pure chaos and is somehow better for it.

Note: If you want a soundtrack while you read this book, the author suggests that you just go listen to the Pacific Rim soundtrack on a loop. An excellent idea:)

The Witch’s Storm – by D.B. Jackson (Review)

Thieftaker #5 / The Loyalist Witch #1

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Lore Seekers Press; May 16, 2021

105 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Contains spoilers for the Thieftaker Series Books 1-4

Boston, Fall 1770. Ethan Kaille, former thieftaker, now lives a quiet life as a tavern keeper with his wife Kannice. Once a loyalist, he now supports the Sons of Liberty following the Boston Massacre. So when the Sons stop by with a problem, Kannice practically shoves him out the door to take the case.

Lately, the Sons have been plagued with death threats, all stemming from the trial of the Captain Thomas Preston, commander of the Boston Massacre. In fact, both the prosecution and defense have been receiving threats should they continue with the trial. And lately, there have been incidents with no explanation, which can only be the cause of magick.

Luckily, conjuring is Ethan’s forte, and he jumps into the case with renewed fervor. Because, the thing is… Ethan really missed being a thieftaker. Prowling the lanes, plying his trade. On the wrong side of the law, Sephira Pryce, helping the working men and women of Boston live out their lives are well as possible. He’s just falling back into the old groove when the conjurer strikes.

And in a moment Ethan is overwhelmed. This new witch’s power dwarfs his own, and even worse—she knows who he is. But can Ethan step away from thieftaking entirely now that he’s just come back to it, and can he really give up the cause of liberty? Or will he press on, risking ending up just another corpse floating facedown in Boston harbor?

Thus begins the Witch’s Storm, Part #1 of the Loyalist Witch.

I’m honestly going to have trouble rating this anything lower than 5 stars. It was just soooo good returning to the world of Thieftaker. Even better to read something new. Nonetheless, this was a great read. So good in fact that I went through it in a day.

There were some minor inconsistencies between this and the previous stories, but nothing that really affects the story. Even though Boston seems a touch less vibrant and detailed than normal, I’d chalk it up to the novella and its length. Not that this is an adequate excuse, but just being back in 1770’s Boston was enough to settle most of my qualms. It was amazing walking the streets of Boston again with Ethan Kaille.

If you’re a fan of the series: the Witch’s Storm is a must-read. It expands upon Ethan’s saga, and tells a never-before-seen story in the Thieftaker universe. Obviously, it’s the first of a trilogy of novellas known together as “the Loyalist Witch”, but tells a complete story on its own. It does seem like it’d be rather important to read some of the Thieftaker stuff first instead of jumping right in here, but a new reader wouldn’t be completely at sea. It’s $3 for the ebook, but that was an acceptable price to pay—if you think of the three novellas of the Loyalist Witch as one novel, it’d be $9 for the book which is just about average. But otherwise I can’t recommend it enough and I cannot wait to read the next one!

The Loyalist Witch continues with The Cloud Prison, out June 22, 2021.

Beautiful world of books (and Music) – The variation of the loyalist witch

Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth—and as it stands, final—Thieftaker novel to date, was released 6 years ago, in 2015. Since then, we’ve had only one publication starring Ethan Kaille: an omnibus of short stories that had mostly been published before, but were now collected into a single volume. If (like me) you’d already read most of these stories, you’ve been over half a decade without new Thieftaker. Now, we fans haven’t been completely deprived of reading material since. Of course, there’s always something good to read if you dig a bit. Nowadays, there’s more than enough fantasy and science fiction and whatnot to dig through. But D.B. Jackson has also been busy. Since July 2015 (when Dead Man’s Reach was published by Tor), dude’s published five novels: two Justis Fearsson urban fantasy books under David B. Coe, and the Islevale Trilogy under the pseudonym D.B. Jackson. He’s also put out some other bits and bobs—just no Thieftaker.

When I interviewed Coe back in 2019 regarding the release of Time’s Demon, second in the Islevale Trilogy, I had a chance to ask him about Thieftaker. More specifically its future. He assured me that the series is far from over. That he still has plans to return to it, even if he has to self-publish.

Well, I’m happy to announce that a new Thieftaker triptych has been released, courtesy of Lore Seekers Press, a subsidiary of Bella Rosa Books—neither of which (if I’m honest) I’ve ever heard of. But that’s hardly surprising. There’re bound to be tons of publishers that aren’t on my radar—YET. Anyway, that’s three associated novellas, all best enjoyed together. Or, maybe it’d just be a trilogy of novellas, together composing The Loyalist Witch.

And, well… I say “announce”, but these have been out for more than a month already. The first of these novellas—The Witch’s Storm—was released on May 16, with the second—The Cloud Prison—out just five weeks later on June 22, and the third—The Adams Gambit—released five weeks later still on July 27.

I bring these up for a couple of reasons: 1) because I love Thieftaker, and 2) I wanted to focus on the covers for the Loyalist Witch, which are three variations of the same artwork.

You see this a lot in music, really. Indie studios will frequently recycle artwork which they’ll use for a number of different bands under their label. There’s a decent chance you’ve seen this before, depending on how many small time bands you listen to. For example, if you’re familiar will Soul Extract—an electronic metal artist that I’ve featured in some of my monthly swag posts—you’ll notice that he’s done this a lot. Like A LOT. FIXT, the label he’s signed under, has recycled multiple album covers. One in particular has been used for more than a dozen different bands. But that’s not the point. The point is a variation of the same cover, albeit with different colors. Above is an example from Soul Extract, before we get to the main attraction. That’s ten different album covers (9 for singles, 1 the main album, Solid State) out of a single picture. TEN! Comparatively, D.B. Jackson seems just lazy doing three.

Now, I’m sure there’s a term for this, but I don’t know what it is. Anywho~ back to our scheduled post:

May I present, The Loyalist Witch, a series of novellas divided into three parts. Now, since I haven’t yet read these—YET—I can’t tell you if it’s basically a novel split into three parts. But I’m leaning towards yes. I know that The Witch’s Storm, #1, is 105 pages long and The Adams Gambit (#3) is 107. I’m assuming the middle one, The Cloud Prison, is a comparable length, but I’m not sure. I don’t know how closely they relate, nor if it’s just a single story split into 3 parts. I’ll of course report after reading them—something I definitely plan to do.

If you’re interested in purchasing the novellas for yourself, they’ll run you about $9 (for the complete set) on Amazon. If you’re new to the Thieftaker universe and intrigued, might I suggest starting at the beginning? Last time I checked, the ebook of the same name, Thieftaker, was $12. But it’s been out for a decade or so, so you’ll probably be able to find a loved paperback for a third of that—or maybe even find it at your local library for free!

Voidbreaker – by David Dalglish (Review)

The Keepers #3

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Orbit; February 11, 2021

458 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for The Keepers Books 1 & 2

Incidentally, maybe check out my reviews of Soulkeeper and Ravencaller before you read this one, eh?

The awakened monsters have claimed half of the Cradle, and set siege to Londheim itself. Shinnoc son of Cannac seeks to atone for his father’s death, the whole of the Dragon-sired following in his wake. ‘Men have begun to flee the city come night, leaving the city weakened and ripe for the taking. But still the monsters sit, for within the city another war rages.

The Forgotten Children have taken over a district of Londheim and driven the humans out. Here they wait while tensions grow ever higher. The dam may yet break, but not while Devin Eveson has anything to say about it. Though he is no longer the Soulkeeper he once was, instead taking a more liberal, cavalier approach to just what constitutes a “monster”. Adria—the Chainbreaker—has turned further still from the church, to the point where she is no longer sure which side of the conflict she’s on. Though it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s a side all of her own. But when the Goddesses themselves come calling, which side will each Eveson choose? Will it be a common one, or will the siblings fight to the death for ownership of the Cradle?

Meanwhile, Dierk, Jacaranda, Tommy, Brittany, Wren, and Janus all have chosen a side, if not a common goal. Each has their own agenda independent of this war, one that will surely come into conflict with their chosen leaders. But as alliances form and shift and fade, which side will end up on top—and is there any room for the losing side in the future of the Cradle at all?

We seek peace. We seek sleep. We seek oblivion.

Voidbreaker wraps up the Keepers series, another by David Dalglish that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. While I quite liked the Shadow dance hexalogy, I have to admit its books were a bit hit-or-miss. The Keepers may only have half as many entries, but it commands way more consistency between them. Nothing under 4-stars, with both Ravencaller and Voidbreaker yielding perfect 5/5’s. I so enjoyed this series, yet I’m only slightly disappointed it had to end here. Because while I could’ve read another three or four or eight novels in the same world, Voidbreaker gives the series the end it deserves. A damn good one.

I really enjoyed how the characters of Devin and Adria evolved. Sure, there are others as well—Jacaranda, Sena, Logarius, Janus and more—but these two central figures helped guide the plot from the beginning, and as their motivations change, so does the direction of the story. At first it was Us versus Them. Then the lines began to blur. By this point in the series, I’m not even sure whose side anyone thinks they’re on—let alone where their allegiances actually fall. The thin red line has to be blurred to the size of a demarkation zone, and coated red from the blood of all that have fallen to progress this far. I’m not sure what side I would be on, let alone what the “right” one is.

I mean, Crksslff (Puffy) is on the right side. We all know that. It’s just where everyone else falls that is confusing. Incidentally, the little firkin remains my favorite minor character. It plays its part in this story, to be sure, and plays it well. Just waiting for the spinoff that’s sure to come now.

A few minor hiccups over the course of the text could not dull the majesty that chaos hath wrought. For this tells a story of pure chaos. Dark, bloody, epic, desperate, hope-inspired chaos. And it’s glorious. About halfway through, the air of tension escalates to full-on SHTF. And just keeps at it. The whole latter half of the book was a dash through fire, a desperate fight to the finish, a last stand with but the most-unlikely glimmer of hope. And it’s truly a treasure. An incredible read. One of my books of the year, surely.

Beautiful World of Books – The Song of the Shattered Sands

The recently completed Song of the Shattered Sands featured six central novels, one triptych, and a half dozen or so shorter novellas all set in the same world. Well, all set in the same desert, all more or less relating to the overarching plot. While the US covers attempted to capture an image of Çeda as the face of the rebellion against the Kings, the UK covers focused more on her essence. A more indistinct warrior bearing twin sabers, often surrounded by thorns. While the US covers were often more varied in substance, in content, and even in color, I still vastly preferred the UK ones to them. In part the reason was that I found them less cartoonish—and the US Çeda (especially post-Book 3) didn’t meld well with how I imagined her.

When I started this post, I figured I’d showcase the UK versions—my favorite—but I ultimately decided to include both, so that you can compare and come to your own conclusion. Not that I liked ALL the UK versions better, but I definitely preferred them on the whole.

Twelve Kings in Sharakai

With Blood Upon the Sand

Of Sand and Malice Made

A Veil of Spears

Beneath the Twisted Trees

When Jackals Storm the Walls

A Desert Torn Asunder

In researching this, I figured out that the US artist changed quite a bit, beginning with Adam Paquette for Twelve Kings, then to Donato Giancola for With Blood Upon the Sand. Donato Giancola returns for Veil of Spears, and Micah Epstein takes over for the final three books. Maxime Plasse has drawn all the maps needed for the series. While René Aigner handled the interior illustrations of Of Sand and Malice Made, he also collaborated with Shawn King to perfect the cover as well. Meanwhile, Laura Brett illustrated the entire series of Gollancz covers.

The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

Covenant of Steel #1

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; August 24, 2021

561 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Born into a whorehouse of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe was raised as an outlaw by the infamous Deckin Scarl. Always quick with a word or a knife, Alwyn was outlaw material at its finest—something that he’d never lose even after becoming a military man. But while fighting under the banner of Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman with apocalyptic visions and the heart of a warrior, he’s seemed to find his true calling.

But that’s the thing about one’s calling: it takes time and living to find. And while Alwyn might just be better at this than he was as a criminal, can any man, no matter how talented, truly overcome life as an outlaw to become a knight? Or will he be stuck in the gutter forever; just another failure with a blade, robbing peasants in a lonely forest?

Bit of a quick recap for me, but I didn’t want to spoil too much. Thing is, despite what was spoiled by the brief—the bit about the King’s army in particular—Alwyn’s life was a mysterious delight to read about, never knowing where the former outlaw would turn next. From friends and companions, lovers and assets, rivals and foes, the people in Alwyn’s wake are what define him. The author’s ability to build deep, flawed, relatable characters pretty much paves Alwyn’s path for him.

Anyone can start in the gutter. It’s not that hard. Raising one’s self up from there is the challenge. And staying alive long enough to do so. It’s quite the journey told here—something almost up to the breadth of Blood Song, be it without all the time spent as a student of the blade. Instead of a military society, Alwyn must rely on his wit, his reflexes, his allies, and his need for vengeance to keep him going.

One of the main differences between Alwyn and Vaelin is that where al Sorna is a leader, Alwyn Scribe is not. Rebecca (from Powder & Page) pointed this out so well in her review. Of how it’s so different from someone rising to become a hero, a leader. How he plays the supporting role so well. She pretty much nailed it. So while it’s his life we live through this, the telling takes on so much of the echoes of whom he chooses to follow in it. Deckin Scarl, Ascendant Sihlda, Evadine Courlain. I mean, there’s time where he’s on his own too, but often it seems that Alwyn simply attaches himself to famous or ambitious folk. That it’s not about how he changes the world, it’s about how those around him will shape it.

”Much preferred him as a miserable sod,” Toria said, her face souring further as she emptied the purse’s contents into her palm. “Four sheks and a quartet of dice. My fortune is made.”

For a bit of the book Alwyn is alone. I mean, while he attaches himself to the infamous, he keeps only his own counsel. But for a good chunk of it he relies on the wisdom of his friends to keep him on track. In particular, of Toria and Brewer. You know how one of your friends is always the angel on your shoulder while the other plays the devil? Of course not. Because people aren’t like that. While some may be less honorable or savory than others, they’re all human. With their own faults and opinions. These two (as well as a few choice others) color the way Alwyn lives near as much as whatever mythical figure he’s following. It’s for the best then that neither one makes a very good angel—more entertaining that way.

An excellent start to what I’m sure will be an excellent new series—provided there’s no Queen of Fire in it. I want the next one so badly now it hurts! Many thanks to Anthony Ryan and Orbit for sending along a review copy!