Equinox – by David Towsey (Review)

Standalone / Noob #1

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Head of Zeus; May 12, 2022 (UK/EU)

368 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

6.5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

In a world where identity changes with the rising and setting of the sun, you can never know who to to trust, or just what anyone is hiding. With two beings within the same body, relationships between night and day have been stretched to such an extreme that they might be different worlds altogether. But when one personality changes to another—the world remains the same.

Christophor Morden is a special investigator of the King of Reikova. Awoken early one night, he is called to the city prison where he’s confronted by a grisly sight. A young man has ripped their eyes out in a fit of madness—though the madness might be justified. Why? Well, because behind their eyeballs, teeth were growing.

What Christophor hopes is an aberration turns out to be more common than any would like to admit. Rumors and strange tales out of the south—of witches and magic, of demons and unfaithful, of a war brewing on the kingdom’s borders. But the only thing he can substantiate are the teeth. The teeth are very much real. And they didn’t come into the boy’s eye sockets naturally.

And so he is dispatched to Drekenford—a village on the southern border—to hunt down whatever’s responsible for this dark magic. But what he finds there will cost Christophor—in more ways than one.

Alexander understands his night-brother’s call as a special investigator, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. A musician himself, Christophor’s day-brother often haunts the common houses, theaters, and taverns of Esteberg, where he plies his trade. Yet when Christophor is sent south, Alexander has no choice but to follow. Though what he finds there may cost Alexander more than his trade. For when his night-brother unearths the witch, Alexander will end up doing everything in his power to save her, the King’s justice be damned.

The unfaithful lose sight of themselves;
The sword shrivels to flakes of snow;
The law devours its history;
The stone moves on water;
The broken heart bleeds gold.

The more time I spent in the world of Equinox, the more it grew on me. Starting out as a fairly generic city in a generic world, it instantly loses points with the recycling of various real-world subjects to cover where its own world-building breaks down. I’m really torn on this—it’s very much a love/hate relationship; there’s a really good story within and what it does well is done really well, but… well, you’ll see.

Catholicism is the dominant religion of the kingdom, a fact that isn’t remotely explained despite all the questions it brings to mind. Did Christ have a night-brother? Is the whole night/day cycle mentioned in scripture? Is this actually Earth rather than a different world? None of these are answered. In fact, the author seems to go out of his way to avoid these questions, as any debate that comes to center on religion at all gets shut down quickly. The whole night/day cycle suffers the same fate—and so we never get more than the barest glimpse into why or how this system works. While it’s a fascinating concept, the lack of literally any explanation surrounding it ruin what could’ve been an innovative and unique twist.

Honestly, with the amount of questions the system alone raises that are completely ignored, I feel like I could write a whole new book. While I’m assuming that’s the reason the author doesn’t address the subject at all, it just comes off as lazy. He should’ve addressed one or two of the more important points, rather than completely ignoring them all.

For example: how does the body function on zero sleep? Is the day/night thing recent, or eternal? How does an unchanged Earth religion account for literally any of this?

Throughout the text, the various day/night personalities complain about their counterparts. Like it’s a new thing. Like it’s not written into religion (which, if it had been around very long at all, it must’ve been). Grrrraaahhh—writing the review for this is making me rage at the dozens of unanswered questions I have about the concept. Which I’ll try not to address any further.

At its heart, Equinox is a story of witchcraft and witch hunting. Chistophor lives in the shadow, but walks with the light—having arrested 34 witches over his lifetime. And yet this might be the most dangerous of the lot, as it puts he and his day-brother at odds. Despite my issues with the world, the unanswered questions, the characters, the development, the unanswered questions—I know that there is a good story somewhere in here. Even with all the issues I had bouncing around in my head, I never once thought of abandoning this. I was able to buckle down and focus on the story, and let it drink me in.

And so brings the third book in as many days that I’m on the fence about. I had some issues with this book (okay, LOTS AND LOTS of issues), but I legitimately enjoyed it too. There were some parts that were a bit cringeworthy, but they were few and far between. The day/night cycle was fascinating, despite being unformed and unfounded. The world was interesting as well, despite being a bad copy of Earth. The end was good, despite the ending being a bit confusing and hectic. I love the cover, but I’m not sure it’s worth the price. If you were going to rip it off and stick it on the wall—…maybe? But as a book to display… I’d really prefer if it were better.

The Bladed Faith – by David Dalglish (Review)

Vagrant Gods #1

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; April 5, 2022

470 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

8 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit for sending me a lovely physical ARC! And additional thanks to David Dalglish for taking the time to chat with me a bit more about it! All opinions are my own.

How did one weigh one atrocity against another?

According to David Dalglish, this is his 20th novel (something I’m not going to measure or question at all and just go with)—and what better way to mark the occasion than with a review…? Okay, okay, I guess I could’ve got him a gift or something. Might have to, after this goes live. Because while I did quite like the book, it wasn’t quite the adventure that the Keepers was, nor the chaos of Shadowdance.

But we’ll get into that later.

When Prince Cyrus was twelve, the Everlorn Empire came to his shores. A quick and decisive battle later, his fleet was demolished, his city burned, his gods defeated, and his parents killed. Taken prisoner to legitimize the Empire’s rule, for two years Cyrus was paraded about as the captive prince, until the execution of his gods gave him an opportunity to escape.

Now, holed up in the Thanet countryside, Cyrus is given his one chance to strike back at the Empire that took everything from him. The fledgling resistance—such as it is—needs a figurehead to legitimize their cause, and the former prince is perfect for the job.

But, his road to revenge isn’t to be an easy one. For while the island needs an heir, the path to freedom is not paved with diplomacy. Not entirely, at least. Instead Cyrus is secretly trained to be a killer: a god of blood and fury, wielding twin sabres and hidden behind a skull mask and cloak.

The Vagrant rises to protect Thanet, and to see its invaders to the shores.

But not all is as it seems. Cyrus’ god-given right to rule is not as solid as he once thought, and the mantle of the Vagrant isn’t the heroic role he imagined. Soon he will discover the real weight of his duty—and the price of his vengeance.


“You took from me everything I loved. My parents. My kingdom. Even my gods. I can’t unmake the loss, but I can make you hurt. I can make you afraid.

“And you will come to fear me, monsters of the empire. You will fear the Vagrant Prince when he comes to reclaim his crown.”

He lowered his swords. A smile cracked his stern expression to match the one on his mask. He laughed to himself, mood unable to remain serious for so long.

“Hopefully.”

As tales of vengeance go, the Bladed Faith is the start of a pretty good one. An impressionable boy willing to do whatever it takes to avenge the deaths of his parents, his gods, his kingdom. Willing to kill for Thanet’s freedom, even at the expense of his life. But the deeper he goes down the rabbit hole, the more he questions it. The more he learns, the more it haunts him; the lives he’s ended, the path he’s taken, the secrets he’s found. There’s a very real sense, throughout the book, that Cyrus is keeping it all together through sheer force will, maybe bound by scotch tape and bits of string. His mental heath is way past questionable even before he was imprisoned by the invaders that destroyed his whole world. That he’s just going to come to pieces at some point, some point soon. And the secrets that he learns—I mean, I can’t give anything away here, but it sets up an epic conclusion, one I truly did not see coming.

And while it’s great to see an author address the health and stress and mental battles coming with killing so much (and that becoming a “heartless killer” isn’t something that a person can just turn on and off with no repercussions), I would’ve actually liked to have seen a bit more of it. Let me explain. When you really get into it, the Bladed Faith boils down to two key aspects: fight scenes, and the exhaustion that comes after. I mean, yeah, there’s some set-dressing, some political intrigue, some world-building and lore and whatever else. But the key moments—especially after the halfway point—boil down to the fight, and what follows it.

It’s really hard to complain about the fight-scenes. It’s not like some books where that’s all there are, or others where they are too few and too far between. Plus Dalglish writes them so well! There a good amount of battles, scraps, prowling rooftops, ambushing soldiers, screwing up and having to fight their way out. When the battle is raging, the battle-lust is high. But when the red leaves their eyes—especially for Cyrus—the aftermath is near as intense as the actual fight. That said, it feels… incomplete, somehow. See, there’s usually a cutaway between the fight and the exhaustion that follows. A break in the narrative that occurs just at that point where it goes from “kill kill kill” to “what have I done?”. I think that’s one of the reasons it never felt really fulfilling to me. The other being that none of Cyrus’ heartfelt moments after seem to come to fruition. And while I understand the reasoning behind the latter, I don’t so much for the former. When it works—as it does quite often—there’s nothing to complain about. When it’s done well, it really gets you thinking, considering the story from a new perspective. But it doesn’t always work. There’s a… for a book that strives so much to detail the emotions of its protagonists, this seems like a strange tactic. Just a break when emotions are running their strongest, or their weakest; when the battle-lull sets in, and the lust fades. Yes, there’s plenty of time spent examining what happens after, but it’s “some time after”, not “directly after”. I suppose what I’m objecting to (as it’s not even that obvious to me) is the break in the range of emotions. We’ve had the highs of the battle. Then there’s a break. And now we’re dealing with the lows of the experience. This is predominantly what I remember happening (there are a few that go: highs of battle, then a lull, then a break, or lull to full downturn, but really nothing that encompasses the whole thing)—I suppose all in all, it seems a rather minor thing to harp on, but in a book that seems to spend so much time on the emotions of becoming a hardened killer, it really doesn’t ever seem to focus on the entire range of emotions.

For the resistance against such an enemy as the Everlorn Empire, whose borders span pretty much the known world, the tiny isle of Thanet is the perfect setting. We don’t have to focus on the world in its entirety. There aren’t a lot of unconnected POVs placed strategically amidst a vast sea. We focus on a little island a hundred leagues from the mainland, and the whole of the story takes place here. While there is lore about the rest of the empire, especially the farther we get on, the reader only has to really focus on Thanet. I really liked this; I thought it worked really well. While I was curious about the larger world (I always am—I can’t help myself), I was happy enough to concentrate on this one part of it so long as the story centers there. Now the author has hinted that the Vagrant Gods trilogy could just be one piece of a much larger tale—one that surely would involve a glimpse of the much larger world—there are no specifics at this point. And while I will admit that some fantasies that span the entire globe do turn out to be AMAZING, they can be quite overwhelming at first. And some readers can burn out on them quite quickly. The smaller, more centralized story here shouldn’t suffer the same. And while some readers will invariably DNF this, it’s likely not the number had it been a universe-spanning, millennial-long tale of truly epic proportions.

TL;DR

I’m not sure what the future holds for the Vagrant Gods, but I know I’m on-board for it. While it’s not the perfect execution in my mind, the Bladed Faith deals with far more than the stabby-stabby bits of an impressionable youth turned hardened killer. There’s quite the range of highs and lows, emotional and mental fortitudes, and long, hard looks at oneself within. And though the emotional range is a little lacking to what I might’ve liked, it’s far more than that of other books and media where our protagonist flips a switch between killer and average guy like it’s nothing at all. This story of vengeance takes place in the secluded corner of a truly vast empire, and rarely stretches beyond its shores. Yes, there is a bit of lore and history of the Empire and its wars, but for the most part our attention remains glued on Thanet. And I loved that. I thought it worked quite well as the introduction to a possibly grander story. It doesn’t overwhelm or distract the reader with dozens of POVs over thousands of miles; it concentrates on this little isle, so long as the story centers here. Which it does throughout the Bladed Faith, at least.

I’d also suggest carrying on after the main attraction to read the author’s note. These are hit-and-miss, often little more than kudos to everyone who made the book possible (which is great, I’m not criticizing them), but Dalglish’s often include much more. The writing process; his state of mind; how the story evolved, sometimes even through publication. I always love reading these, and this one is no different. In it, he describes the tale that the Bladed Faith could have been. What it started out as, and how it became what it is. Honestly, I’d love to post the entirety of it, but I’ll have to talk to the author first. Or, you know, you could just buy the book and read it then;) I will have a little Q&A later this week where I ask things about what this series could’ve been, and why it wasn’t—so maybe check back for that in the meantime.

Seven Deaths of an Empire – by G.R. Matthews (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Solaris/Rebellion; March 29, 2022 (paperback)
Solaris/Rebellion; June 22, 2021 (ebook/hardcover)

550 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

9.5 / 10 ✪

“There is no right and wrong, no black and white. Life is not such a simple thing.”

Think Gladiator, but with magic.

General Bordan was born into nothing, but after a life dedicated to the Empire, he has achieved what little thought possible. He governs the army, the might of the Empire. Other than the Emperor and his kin, he may well be the most powerful man in the Empire. But he is also its most loyal servant.

When the Emperor is killed fighting the tribes in the north, Bordan must do all he can to protect the heir to the throne until the Emperor’s body is returned to the city. Then, with the amulet of office in hand—and the powerful magics within under their control—the heir can ascend the throne and assume control of the Empire. But until then nothing is guaranteed. Rebellion is brewing in the countryside. Assassins lurk in every shadow. And worse, politicians surround the royal family, hiding forked-tongues behind their honeyed words and silky smiles.

Apprentice Magician Kyron and his master are assigned to the late Emperor’s honor guard, tasked with seeing the body home to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by many of their own folk, the magicians are both revered and hated in equal measure. But magic is necessary for this task, for keeping the body from decay requires it. And so their presence is tolerated, if little else. But with many leagues between them and the capital, Kyron and the guard face the greatest danger of all. For whomever controls the Emperor’s amulet controls the succession—and the Empire is not lacking in those hungry for power, be they foe, or friend.

“If you stopped struggling to get free, the guards would not beat you,” Astenius pointed out.
“Life is struggle,” the warrior said.
“We only stop when we are dead,” Emlyn finished and the warrior’s gaze snapped around to her.
“Who are you to know the sayings of the forest?”
“I am of the forest,” she answered.
“Yet you stand with them,” he accused.
“Not through choice.”
“Then you struggle.”
“I am not dead yet,” she answered.

“Why attack us?” Astenius asked once more.
“You are here to be attacked,” the man answered.
“How many of your warriors were with you?”
“Not enough,” the warrior answered.
“How many more are there?”
“More than enough.”

“Are you sure you wish to do this?” Astenius said to the trapped warrior.
“I struggle,” the man replied, gritting his teeth.
“I applaud your bravery,” Astenius said, sweeping his hand to point at the brazier, “but your stupidity astounds me.”
“Life is disappointment,” the man said.

Seriously, Seven Deaths of an Empire reminded me so much of Gladiator that I often found my self picturing events from the book overlaid with scenes from the movie. The battle against the tribes in the forest. The legion’s return to the capital. While there’s no fight in the arena, the novel does include a Colosseum, even though we never get a good look inside. Fact is, Seven Deaths of an Empire was ripe for the picturing beneath scenes of Gladiator in no small part because—as you will see once you read it—the world was inspired heavily by the Roman Empire.

Only with magic.

The magic system is quite a basic one, but as enthralled as I found myself with the story, its lack of creativity never really bothered me. This adheres to the law that the only ones who can wield magic are those born with it. This in part seems to be why magic users are hated, feared. Jealousy breeds resentment, they say. And the church and magic never really gets along—in this world or any other.

The two POVs were quite good at getting the story across, each in their own way. Kyron is a bit young, a bit whiny—but this is his coming-of-age tale, and he’ll grow on you once you get used to him. His character might even develop over the course of the story. Bordan, on the other hand, is an old hand. He’s guided the heirs to the Empire for years, as he once was like kin to their father. He is patient and humble, and though his faith is not what it once was, he has faith in the Empire above all else. This is his true strength, but also his greatest weakness. Unlike Kyron, this story does not serve as Bordan’s beginning. It is his swan song. But will he live to see the Empire crumble, or die keeping it intact?

There are a lot of questions that come up over the course of the story, as the past is hinted at and slowly revealed; as loyalties are tested and friendships forged; as the Empire is caught in the wind, and teeters on its foundations. There are many vines in this, and not all will end up bearing fruit. Still, it was quite a thing to see them all come together at the end—and, while not all is cleared up, the overwhelming majority of my questions were answered. All the big and burning ones are, at least. In writing this review a week or two later I was able to come up with a couple that weren’t returned (though I really had to think about it), but none kept me up at night after finishing the story.

TL;DR

Seven Deaths of an Empire may be 550 pages, but to me it went by in a blink. Although it did take a little while to get going. But where it took me 3-4 days to read the first hundred pages, it took me one day to read the rest. Two very strong leads (though they’re both men; it didn’t bother me, but then I typically connect better with male characters, being a guy and all) made the story no effort at all to get into. It’s so reminiscent of Gladiator that I found myself overlaying scenes from the film with the world I’d constructed in my mind. The forests of Germany. The roads of the Empire. The obelisks and Colosseum and wonders of the capital. It really is quite like the Roman Empire but with magic. A thoroughly engrossing read, almost the whole way through. I took a couple points off for the build-up, but clearly nothing that ruined the story for me. Thoroughly recommended! Just don’t expect a happy, sunny story—as this is a dark fantasy, very occasionally bordering on grim.

Return of the Whalefleet – by Benedict Patrick (Review)

Darkstar Dimension #2

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Self-Published (Kickstarter Edition); December 12, 2021

length/page count N/A

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.0 / 5 ✪

Please beware minor spoilers for Flight of the Darkstar Dragon (Darkstar Book #1)! Or maybe just check out my Review for Flight of the Darkstar Dragon first;)

Just what is the price of survival?

This is the very question First Officer Choi Minjun and her crew have been trying to answer. For months they’ve been trapped in the mysterious Darkstar dimension, with its violet oceans and glowing fish, floating rocks and peculiar gravity, turtlemoths and gigantic dragon alone for company. They’ve made a kind of home for themselves with the rift’s only other human resident—Brightest, an old man who was been living in the dimension for decades—but it is a far cry from New Windward.

Although… they’re not technically “trapped”. Min and the crew of the Melodious Narwhal can leave whenever they want. In fact, they’ve been doing it for months—traveling to and from the Darkstar dimension via the numerous rifts that orbit the star itself. Unfortunately, while these rifts visit upon untold worlds, none of them will return the crew to their home.That can only be reached through a particular rift, one that only comes once every few years. And until it does, the Narwhal will be staying put.

But Min and the crew have been busy.

There’s not enough to live on in the Darkstar dimension. Other than a few tiny islets and oceans full of tasteless, glowing fish, the place is fairly sparse. Thus the crew have been busy scavenging from other dimensions—while chronicling their experiences within.

While traversing the rifts is rife with danger, it is also myriad in wonders. The best example of this is the Whalefleet: a race of interdimensional travelers sailing across the sky upon the backs of massive, luminous whales. Their passage has continued for months; a constant and aloof, untouchable by the crew despite their best efforts.

But it turns out Min and her crew weren’t alone in the dimension after all. When a mysterious force reaches out and attacks the Whalefleet, the crew is faced with an impossible choice: stand-by as these peaceful travelers are wiped out, or intervene and risk the attention of the ancient horror that haunts the Darkstar—one not even the dragon is willing to face.

“He?” Min said, looking at Loom again, unable to find any… features that would suggest a particular gender. “Loom is a ‘he’?” She lowered her voice, feeling the colour rush to her cheeks. “How can you tell?”

“Silly. He’s glowing green, isn’t he? Clearly a boy.”

If you haven’t read any of Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld before, know that his novels often have an eerie, unsettling feel, complete with dark overtones and a story that doesn’t always work out too well for anyone. It’s often not bleak enough to be grimdark, but it’s certainly not your classic “and they lived happily ever after” fantasy. It’s dark fantasy-horror, pure and simple. When Flight of the Darkstar Dragon released, it seemed as though the author might be graduating to something else. This book featured a perilous but triumphant story, with themes of hope and perseverance playing a major role. But if you took that as a sign the author was turning over a new leaf, Return of the Whalefleet has just adequately dashed these hopes.

But while Book #1 seemed to be presenting the Darkstar as a temporary prison, it was one with limitless potential for adventure, exploration, and discovery. Sure, there would be danger, but also thrills, boons, and maybe even a new way home within the rifts. And if everything else failed, the crew could always escape to the (relative) safety of the Darkstar.

Only the Darkstar isn’t the haven that it appeared. Sure, there’s the dragon the size of a small moon to consider, but it turns out the real horrors have always been there, lurking just out of sight the entire time. There’s definitely more of a horror vibe to Flight of the that seemed to be absent from Return of the. But again, if you’ve read the author before this series, this shouldn’t surprise you. And shouldn’t disappoint either.

It’s not a huge leap, and one that returning fans should take in stride. I found that this darker overtone made the place seem like more of a challenge, more a test of survival than the adventure its predecessor depicted. It’s a little like the jump from Lord of the Flies to Pincher Martin. If you loved one, you probably loved the other; but which did you enjoy more? Both are about survival, but one has much more to distract the reader from this—and the other is much darker. But even if I were challenged, I’m not sure I could say which I enjoyed more. Yes, I know they’re unrelated story-wise, but both books are in the same vein and by the same author. Plus they relate really well to the question at hand. That being: Flight of the was inauspicious but ultimately hopeful while Return of the is much more morose albeit with the same adventure and thrill—but which is better?

While I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as I did its predecessor, it wasn’t down to the darker twist to the tale. Instead, it’s how the story seems to get sidetracked from the main event, particularly by exploring the rifts themselves. And this shouldn’t be the case, particularly because there’s no reason this should be a problem. If the plot to this was simply “explore and survive” á la William Golding—I’d be down with it. But the main setup at the end of Flight of the Darkstar Dragon really implied that the Whalefleet would take center stage—something that the title itself all but confirmed. And yet, we’re too distracted to notice it for way too long.

The beginning and the end focus on side issues, details that—while interesting—don’t directly connect to the tale Return of the is trying to tell. That being the return of the Whalefleet. Also I think the buildup in the previous book about the Whalefleet’s majesty and awe was a bit of a letdown, as this just didn’t wow with its description of the travelers’ procession. That said, had Flight of the not built my expectations quite so much, and the title of Return of the made me anticipate these more—I don’t think it would’ve let me down quite like it did. Just like I doubt I’d’ve noticed the off-topic distraction but for the book’s size. Yet there’s more than enough to love about Return of the Whalefleet: new allies, new enemies, new adventures, history and development of our returning cast and crew. The ancient horrors themselves were a particular favorite of mine; the entire buildup was amazing, but when they were described in detail it cast a noticeable chill up my spine. The haunting descriptions of these will stick with me, I think, more than so many one-offs in other books. Not that these are a one-off—that remains to be seen.

TL;DR

If you’d never read Benedict Patrick before, you might be forgiven in thinking that the Darkstar series took an abrupt 180 from its start in Flight of the Darkstar Dragon. If you had, on the other hand, the creepier, darker tone to Return of the Whalefleet shouldn’t surprise you. In fact, it might even come as a relief; a sign that the author still has it, can still tell a spine-tingling tale. Either way, this entry certainly marks a turning point for the series. But just where it’s headed exactly… I don’t know. Despite the change of tone (or perhaps because of it) this is still a great read. While held back by a slightly longer detour from the main plot than you might see in other books of its length, when the author does focus on the Whalefleet and the story surrounding it, I had no problem becoming immersed in it. The setting continues to be vibrant (albeit a wee bit more shadowy than before), the plot intriguing, and the overall adventure a thrill. While it’s not quite as good as its predecessor, I have no problem at all recommending Return of the Whalefleet! If you’re new to the series, I would definitely start with Book #1, but returning fans should be able to dive right in. Look out for Book #3—The Game of Many Worlds—hopefully releasing sometime in the next year. Can’t wait!

The Long War – Beautiful World of Books

I’ve read A.J. Smith only twice before—having stalled in the middle of not one, but two of his series’ sequels. The trilogy he’s currently writing is the Form & Void trilogy, but the one that started it all was the Long War tetralogy, a series of epic, dark fantasy novels Smith wrote; set in a world he created over several years of tabletop gaming. While I’ve been having issues getting into the books themselves, the world is very finely crafted and vividly imagined. And while I continue to hear good things about the series, I’m not sure this is a story I’ll ever experience to fruition.

But I can show off the covers.

The Long War

To be honest, while I find the cover of the Black Guard somewhat interesting, the next two—the Dark Blood (#2) and the Red Prince (#3) (not to mention the Tales omnibus)—are rather boring. Weapons, by themselves, are a bit overplayed in fantasy books, and maybe as a result somewhat pedantic. That said, I quite like the axe adorning the cover of the World Raven. It’s probably my favorite of the four.

Form & Void

These all stick to the same basic sea-theme, but since they’re waaay less generic than the Long War covers. And I kinda like how well they go together.

I’m still planning on continuing the Form & Void trilogy (I need to restart #2, The Sword Falls sometime soon), but I might not ever come back to the Long War. I know Drew would be somewhat disappointed in this decision as I seem to remember him really liking this series, but has anyone else read it? And what do you think? Also, what’d you think of the covers—favorites?

Fantasy from Richard S. Ford – Beautiful World of Books

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Engines of Empire, I’ve decided to move some things around and feature the fantasy novels of Richard S. Ford on this week’s BWoB. To date the English author has published 7 fantasy novels (including the forthcoming Engines) under an extensive variation of Richard S, R.S., or Richard Ford. He also has an ongoing historical series out under the pseudonym Richard Cullen, but we’re going to skip those for now.

Steelhaven

As some of you are no doubt aware, I’ve recently finished Steelhaven—to mixed opinions. Anyway, there are six English language covers for these books: two for each. The colored ones grace the original Headline covers, while the white ones one from the reissued kindle editions.

War of the Archons

War of the Archons is the second series from Ford, and one—while languishing on my TBR—that I’ve yet to get around to actually reading. Thus I can only judge these books by their covers alone, and… well, I judge them to be a little better than the first series. So, by the transitive property… the books must be a little better? I’m sure that the math there is solid, so it must be true.

Age of Uprising

Now going into the most recent book here, I was curious to see if any of these series connect. If they’re set in the same universe, or involve any of the same characters however, I haven’t seen any indication of it. So I’m pretty sure they’re all different. And this IS probably my favorite of them all, so I guess it stand to reason that this would be my favorite book of his to date!

But I guess you’ll have to check back Tuesday the 18th to find out;)

Have you read any of these? Which do you think you would, if any? And how do you like those covers?

Lord of Ashes – by Richard S. Ford (Review)

Steelhaven #3

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Headline Publishing; May 7, 2015

341 pages (Paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for Books 1 & 2 of the Steelhaven trilogy. Also language and violence.

Review of Herald of the StormReview of The Shattered Crown

One very important note on this series: it’s called the Steelhaven trilogy for a reason. Yes, the characters take center stage, but wherever they are and whatever they’re doing—the city is always around them. It is in every shot, every scene, every moment. While the story may wend back and forth between the POV of all the characters, it’s the City of Steelhaven that the series is concerned with. And this is more important than ever, for the moment we’ve been waiting the entire series to see has arrived: Amon Tugha, displaced prince and would-be King of the Riverlands has come to pluck the jewel for his crown.

As his army sets up before the city gates, despair covers Steelhaven like a blanket. There is no escape from this battle. For there will be a battle; Amon Tugha’s forces are not content to simply starve the defenders out. They mean to take the city by force—whatever the cost.

Waylian hasn’t slept in days. But with the army on the city’s doorstep, there is much to do—not that he understands any of it. But his mistress thinks it’s important, so Waylian is quick enough to try it. The worst that can happen is he’ll die painfully, and after all, there’s always been a pretty good chance of that happening.

Rag has survived, somehow. But with the city sure to fall, it can’t be for much longer. When the Guild calls on her to complete a task, what can she say? While this new job will most likely get her killed, with the city locked up tight there are even less places to hide than usual—and nowhere to run.

Nobul and Regulus stand on the city walls. Around them the defenders quake in their boots, one loss away from a complete massacre. But each man means to fight til the end—one for honor, the other for blood.

Merrick has joined the Wyvern Guard, while Kaira remains beside the Queen. Together they form the elite guard for the castle itself; essentially the last line of defense. But while the Raven’s Guard may be content to wait for the enemy in their castle, Janessa is not. She has picked up her father’s sword and means to lead the city’s defense—no matter the danger.

“I think we’re fucked.”

All in all, it was a pretty good end. But it’s important to note that the trilogy is about the city itself. Vital, even. So much so that I’ve mentioned it again. See, if you go into the final book thinking that there will be a certain amount of resolution at the end… well, you might be disappointed. Steelhaven’s fate will definitely be decided. The other characters… less so. Yes, there is some resolution—most, even—but it is not universal.

Going in I thought that this was the last nail in the trilogy, but upon reaching the end I figured that it had to be like one of the JAbercrombie efforts—where subsequent books help expand upon the story of Steelhaven, and resolve some of the characters’ destinies that don’t end here. But while Ford has a couple more trilogies in the works, neither seems to have anything to do with this world. Now I could be wrong (hope I am, in fact), but I don’t think I am.

So while the end itself is a tad disappointing, the journey there is an entertaining one. Again, the characters feed off one another; their threads overlapping and interlinking and weaving in and out while coming together to complete the tapestry itself. It really is quite something to see how it all comes together. We find a few familiar (if surprising) faces, and many of our old faithful ones. Most of the sub-plots are resolved, and nothing too great is left hanging at the end. This was a good read, an entertaining one, but by no means perfect. I know I’ll see more from Ford in the future, and hope that his quality of storytelling can only improve from now on.

A must-read for readers who’ve made it this far, or for fans of the author. For anyone still on the fence… not sure what to tell you. Do you like dark, realistic fantasy where there’s no such thing as “happily ever after”? Then you might like this. But only time will tell.

If you’re interested, Engines of Empire, the first book in Ford’s new series—the Age of Uprising—comes out next week: on January 18th! Maybe check it out.

Firesky / Chronicles of Stratus – by Mark de Jager (Review)

The Chronicles of Stratus #2

Fantasy, Dragons

Solaris (Rebellion); December 7, 2021

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

Firesky

13hr 56m (audiobook)
544 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

Chronicles of Stratus

994 pages (ebooks)
26hr 50m (audiobooks)

5 / 5 ✪

Infernal Review

Evil is motivation. You cannot ward against motivation, only the acts that they motivate.

This was a troublesome review to write. The formatting alone was a nightmare. See, I loved the book, but there were some issues that made it different from my normal reviews, so I had to change up the style I usually employ. Let me explain.

The English release of Firesky, the second and (most likely) final installment of the Chronicles of Stratus, works to complete the journey that began in a desert surrounded by vultures, so many moons before. In Infernal we follow Stratus, who does not know who or what he is. Following the revelation of his true nature at the end of Infernal, Firesky begins with a reckoning.

The problem is that other than this revelation, there’s no reason to break at the end of Infernal. The overarching plot is not resolved. No storylines are resolved. The only thing that changes is that now Stratus knows who and what he really is—and while the former might be a surprise, the latter is something that he’d been suspecting for some time. Therefore, I’d suggest treating the Chronicles as two parts to one whole. Two books in a single installment, like how the Lord of the Rings is split into three, or how the Stormlight Archive books are usually split in two (in Europe, at least). If you read it like this, with just a break in the middle, it removes 90% of my complaints about the books. Still, if you decide to read them as two distinct works, Firesky has a helpful recap to remind you of what happened before, so you can just jump right in.

So, honestly, I can pretty much just end right now with a 5 ✪ recommendation that you go out and get the Chronicles—since they’re both out and can be read as one.

So, just go get it.

Go on.

Still here? Might as well do a recap of Firesky, including some very minor spoilers. If you want to avoid these, just skip to the TL;DR.

We begin with Stratus. The Dead Wind. The Destroyer.

The from waking moments of Infernal, we knew that Stratus wasn’t human. While we weren’t absolutely sure of what he was until the end of Book #1, the signs were all there for us to follow and likely by the end wasn’t a very startling revelation to anyone.

Regardless, in the interest of spoilers—since I’m treating the Chronicles as one volume separated into two parts—I’ll just skip the revelations and set the scene.

One enemy has fallen. But they were just a pawn of the bigger threat, one that Stratus has already faced before. It was this foe that led to him waking in a strange form with no memory, a battle he could only run and hide from rather than fight. But there is no running this time. And nowhere to hide.

Stratus wants revenge. And he will get it, one way or another.

Okay, so after that incredibly vague recap, we’re set to start Book #2. Firesky wraps up Stratus’ journey quite nicely, and rounds out the adventures of his allies as well. While there may be room on the end for one of these allies to take over the narrative, I think we’ve wrapped up Stratus’ journey.

TL;DR

Honestly, even if you follow the obvious signs and blurbs between Books 1-2 and discern Stratus’ secret, it’s still a great read. Think I had him pegged a quarter of the way through Infernal and the adventure was still amazing! In fact, my biggest issue with the first entry is how it ended—how it just left off following our somewhat startling revelation—and if you consider the Chronicles as a single volume it removes all of this. Actually… that’s the ONLY thing I have to complain about. Otherwise, Firesky was a 5 star read. Taken as a SINGLE entity with a break in-between, the Chronicles of Stratus is a 5 star book, one that I recommend to any lovers of fantasy around! Again, go get it!

Audio Note: I LOVED Obioma Ugoala’s performance as Stratus! Sometimes an narrator just reads a book—using their same tone of voice with the same inflection throughout. But sometimes a narrator seems to connect with the characters on a more personal level (the 1st person POV really seems to help with this one) which helps bring them to life all the more. Ugoala was able to manage both Stratus’ subtlety and obtuseness not to mention his inhuman humor in a way I found just so perfect! I would absolutely recommend this as an audiobook, one that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did!

Beautiful World of Books – The Works of Benedict Patrick

Five from Yarnsworld, two from Darkstar—all of them from the same artist, Jenny Zemanek. Say what you will about the content, the realism, the use of color, or even the books themselves; they are certainly distinctive.

Benedict Patrick may have created this beautifully dark series, written the books, and brought the whole thing to life through the power of suggestion and the written word—but it was the artist herself that took this series, this world and really gave it a face. Or six faces, to be exact.

The Darkstar series quite literally stars the stars. Here, both the Dragon and the Whale curl around the star that is the center of their dimension.

If you’ve not read these, I’d heartily recommend—well, half? I’ve read 4 of the 7 that are out, and am eagerly anticipating Return of the Whale Fleet, a book which I adore the cover of. Which are your favorites? And have you read any of this week’s books?

Hope everyone has a good weekend!

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.