Beautiful World of Books – Special

Welcome to a special month-long edition of the Beautiful World of Books, where I showcase one of my favorite series of all time! Now I know that some of the rest of you have your own opinions on whether or not this series is all that great or not (but it is, and that’s that;) —but hopefully you’ll be okay as we spend a few weeks examining the covers that we’ve seen over the course of this 15 book series!

As this is such an expansive and world-renowned series, I’ll be covering it in quite a few posts, starting with the first four books—Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, and Shadow Rising—along with the prequel, New Spring. After that I’ve a tentative schedule I’ll be looking to follow, but if you know anything about me it’s that schedules and I often have… an issue.

  • From the Two Rivers (Books #0-4) – Thursday, April 14th
  • Early Special Editions (Books #1-2, mostly) – Thursday, April 21st
  • The Rise of the Dragon (Books #5-9) – Thursday, April 28th
  • The Art and Lore of the Wheel of Time – Thursday, May 12th
  • The Breaking of the World (Books #10-14) – Thursday, May 19th
  • Recap and All together (Books #0-14) – Thursday, May 26th

So, please come back tomorrow for the start, or stay away while I rant about how much nostalgia I get from this series. Haha kidding—I promise I won’t do that, like, too much…

Also, just a note, I won’t be talking about the Amazon series at all, mostly because I haven’t seen it. And don’t plan to. You see, I have it all imagined and pictured a certain way in my mind, and I’m not interested in seeing it done up any other way. But if you want to tell me about it, that’s cool. I’m just not going to watch it.

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.

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?

Engines of Empire – by Richard S. Ford (Review)

Age of Uprising #1

Fantasy, Epic, Steampunk

Orbit Books; January 18, 2022

575 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

4.4 / 5 ✪

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

While Torwyn was once a nation based on the will of the Wyrms—five great dragons that granted men magic and ruled the doors of life and death—it is now powered by the might of industry.

And industry is booming.

But industry is only as good as the people that run it—and in Torwyn, industry is run by the Guilds; chief among them the Archwind Guild, whose guildmaster now occupies the Emperor’s throne. Only a step below them sit the Hawkspur Guild, run by the Emperor’s only sibling, Rosomon. It is around Rosomon that the story resolves—her and her three children.

Conall, the eldest son, is dispatched to the frontier, where he hopes to earn honor and fame through military valor. Instead he finds a desert full of enemies, be they human or demon. The sands also hide a conspiracy, one that hints of a coming revolution, one that may shake the empire to its core.

Tyreta, the eldest daughter, the future Guildmaster of the Hawkspurs, is sick of duty. She’s not her brother, and constantly feels the weight of responsibility. A webwainer, she can control and wield the power of pyrestone—a geological component vital to the Empire’s burgeoning industry. When Tyreta is dispatched to visit Torwyn’s overseas colony of New Flaym, it might be just the escape she has been seeking. Or it might change everything for her, including in ways she never thought were possible.

Fulren, youngest son and brightest star of the family, is a talented artificer, one that is destined to lead the Guilds into the new age of industry. If he survives to see it. After being assigned as an escort to a foreign dignitary, he soon finds himself accused and condemned of murder he didn’t commit. A crime that may just start a war.

Industry drives the future of Torwyn. And the future seems bright, for now. But whispers in the Empire’s darkest corners tell of something more: of revolution, of rebirth, of the rise of an enemy long forgotten.

In many ways Engines of Empire is high fantasy at its best. A rich, immersive world, built on the backs of its strong leads, and equally strong characters. A lovely steampunk setting that blends magic with technology, and that pits the new ways against the old. A plot that plays at speculation, at fears, at rumors of revolution, and even darker whispers of unknown evil at its edges. It all comes together to tell an amazing story, one that I had absolutely no trouble tearing through once I got into it.

The problem is that I didn’t get into it right away. While I appreciated that the story was driven by alternating POVs of the same one family, it was this style that somewhat dampened my enjoyment. See, in a story of technology, one that tells of discontent and possible revolution, of an industry built on the backs of the working class, it’s important to see at least some of what the working class is dealing with. The Hawkspurs are each different, each see the world their own way and each want something different for their place in it—but if there’s one thing they’re not it’s underprivileged, downtrodden, working class. I would’ve liked to see at least one POV from the commonfolk, to see what life was like out of a position of inherent power. This is my main issue with the plot, one that really kept me from getting immersed in the story sooner.

That said, it’s also really my only complaint.

The story is a great one—interesting, entertaining, faced-paced at times and slow-built tension at others. There’s not a lot I can say about Engines of Empire, other than you really should read it. There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of this book, and I’m happy to say it was entirely warranted. I’ve read R.S. Ford before; his first series, Steelhaven, was a bit of a mixed bag—partial world-building and mostly human characters, some combination of dark and epic fantasy that never quite figured out what it wanted to be. It’s a good story, but one that leaves something to be desired. It’s been seven years since Steelhaven finished, and it seems that Ford has spent his time since well. Engines of Empire begins a much different series, one with stronger leads, stronger world-building, and a more immersive plot. It’s not that I hated his previous works—it’s more how much I love this new universe. Can’t wait to see where the story goes from here!

The Age of Uprising continues with Book #2, Engines of Chaos, presumably out 2023.

Blood of the Chosen – by Django Wexler (Review)

Burningblade & Silvereye #2

Fantasy, Scifi, Epic

Orbit Books; October 5, 2021

415 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.8 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many, many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a lovely, physical ARC! This in no way affects my partiality, or my cynicism. All opinions are my own.

Please beware minor spoilers for Ashes of the Sun.

No need to reread or browse Ashes of the Sun just because you’re a bit foggy on the details! I mean, you certainly could—it’s still a damn good read—but should you not wish to, Blood of the Chosen comes with a series recap and character cast up front. Love these; even if you’re up on the series, I love them being there, so the author doesn’t have to spend the first few chapters intermittently setting the stage while recapping the previous.

Where Ashes of the Sun was my favorite book from last year, Blood of the Chosen is a letdown—it’s not quite as good. This is pretty much like finding a golden idol buried in your backyard and complaining that unlike the last one, this one isn’t quite as shiny. Blood of the Chosen is an amazing read in its own right! (Just not quite as good).

Fresh from the battle for control of Deepfire (and possibly the continent), Gyre returns to the ghouls a failure. Their leader dead; Kit mostly, pretty much dead; and the plans to overthrow the Order pretty much just as likely. But not only does he aim to spin this defeat off as a minor setback, Gyre thinks that he can even talk them into giving him a ton of ancient tech and weapons and money and turning him loose on the southlands to gain allies and blacken some Order eyes. He even may succeed in doing so, after a fashion. But even if he convince the ghouls, uniting the rebel factions in Khirkhaz won’t be so easy. And defeating the Order—less so.

Maya remains with the Order, although she’s a bit unsure of her position there. Meeting with Gyre seems to have caused some cracks, however slight. These are only widened after Maya is sent on a mission to the Forsaken Coast, north and west of Deepfire, to find an Order archive long lost. Lost after the region was overrun by plaguespawn. What she finds here may yet renew her faith in the Order—or shake it to the core. For while she might doubt some of their policies, Maya knows the Order holds the world’s best interests—as well as her own—at its forefront. Unless of course, they don’t.

Where Ashes of the Sun began this amazing journey of brother and sister, Blood of the Chosen continues it. Like Deepfire, Khirkhaz has its own share of ancient relics—both those with obvious meaning and others whose use has been lost to time. The backdrop (the setting) may be different, but is no less vibrant. A few familiar faces come along for the ride, too. In addition to Beq, Varo, and Tanax on Maya’s end, Sarah and Kit have joined Gyre as well. Along with these old characters come new ones—each carrying an interesting amount of mystery and depth as well. While the siblings remain center stage and the cast around them fluctuates, it’s still unclear as to just who may steal the show.

It didn’t take me any more time to get into this than its predecessor, but unlike Ashes of the Sun, there was a small but noticeable lag in the middle. A minor side mission, for each character. While Maya’s did actually pertain to the overarching plot, I can’t say for sure that Gyre’s did. Instead, this stands out as the one baffling choice amidst an otherwise tremendous sequel.

There are some heart-pounding moments in this entry, but some hilarious ones as well. I loved, I laughed, I… never cried, but I did have a lovely time regardless. The action, the romance, the… whatever Gyre and Kit have—all of it was interesting and immersive and exciting. There was a heavy dose of mystery in the air, and not all of it from Maya. While her turn through the archive did sort of steal the spotlight away from Gyre’s second revenge crusade, the two managed to share the focus more or less evenly otherwise. And with that ending…! (The ending was quite good) I can’t wait to see what they get up to in the third!

Supposedly this is just a trilogy, but I’d quite like to see a bit more of the world. While Gyre and Maya’s story might be about to come to fruition, I hope the world itself will have more stories to tell. Unless it up and ends in the third book. In which case, if it’s anything like the rest of this series, it’s sure to be an incredible, bloody, steamy, heartwarming ride! I can’t recommend Burningblade & Silvereye enough—anymore than I an wait until Book #3 is out: at the moment titled Emperor of Ruin, release date TBA.

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!

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.

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!

Murder at the Kinnen Hotel – by Brian McClellan (Review)

Powder Mage Universe #0.3

Fantasy, Novella

Self-Published; November 24, 2014

75 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

5 / 5 ✪

Special Detective Adamat may be best detective in all of Adopest. His Knack grants him a photographic memory, one that he utilizes to the extreme, always focused on the bigger picture. The foremost detective of the Twelfth, he’s recently been transferred over to the First Division on the request of Hewi, his previous Captain, when she herself was promoted.

But things work differently in the First, and Adamat has always had issues repressing his gift. Why bother, when you’ve the most impressive crime-solving mind alive? As his world becomes obfuscated by politics rather than facts, Adamat is assigned to a murder at the Kinnen Hotel. It seems an up-and-coming businessman has derailed his promising career by murdering his mistress. But as Adamat digs into the case he uncovers a web of conspiracy, extortion and deceit. It may well be the case that makes his career—if it doesn’t kill him first.

A pleasant, if somewhat bloody introduction to the Powder Mage Universe, the novella provides a glimpse into Brian McClellan’s fantasy world—one that has spawned six full-length novels with over twice as many shorter works to go along with them. After all, what’s better than a good old fashioned murder mystery, albeit one with a few variables and eccentricities thrown in?

My second time through, and this novella delivers yet again. It does exactly what it’s intended to do—entertain, stoke interest in the Powder Mage series, and leave the reader thirsty for more. Although it’s fairly short (only about 75 pages), Murder at the Kinnen tells a complete, contained, finished story that is well thought out and engrossing.

While I’m not a huge fan of paying full-price for any book (while understanding that it’s important to support authors by actually, like, PAYING for their work), Murder at the Kinnen Hotel is worth it in my book. It’s around $3 US if you buy it straight up, but is also one of those you can pick up on sale for a buck or two. Even though it’s only 75 pages, the story’s good, interesting, unique, and it serves as a good intro to the universe—or, instead, some backstory into one its premier characters. Alternatively, you could spring for the novella collection, which again McClellan himself often puts up for sale, but retails at ~$10. I can guarantee you that this will not be the last you hear of this collection from me.

The only questions you’re left with are how much more do you want, and how long are you willing to wait for it?

The Coward – by Stephen Aryan (Review)

Quest for Heroes #1

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Angry Robot; June 8, 2021

411 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#AngryRobot) for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

First, I owe an apology to Angry Robot (who kindly provided me with the ARC)—because I thought I’d published this review but just flat out didn’t. Whoops. My bad!

I first read Battlemage half a decade past—my introduction to Stephen Aryan—and immediately fell in love with the world he’d created. Now, six books and 5 years later, The Coward takes us outside of that original world that Aryan had created and on to a new one. And a new adventure.

A decade ago Kell Kressia set out with the greatest heroes of his generation to stop the Ice Lich and save the world. They succeeded, but the cost was great. He returned alone, scarred and broken, haunted by the things that he had seen and had done. Now, ten years later Kell lives as a simple farmer, hidden in the corner of Algany with only his horse Droga for company. But recently even he has heard tell of stirrings in the frozen north, and a rumor that something has taken up residence in the Ice Lich’s old castle.

It’s not long before the King sends envoys to summon Kell to the capital. They want him to return to the north and defeat this evil once again. The first journey nearly broke him. Only after ten years and hundreds of miles separating him from it has Kell managed to recover—though the horrors he faced continue to haunt his dreams. Another journey would destroy him. Even still, a shadow stirs in the north. And it’s up to Kell Kressia to stop it.

The Coward includes a pair of quest lines, drawn out across multiple POVs. One involves the legend that is Kell Kressia as he makes his way north once again. The other, Mother Britak in the city of Lorzi. Now the one with Kell is quite obvious. The title character upon his titular quest. It is this quest line that the story lives and dies on. Mother Britak however…

I mean, I know what her POV is for. It’s in there to set up Book #2. But has fuck all to do with #1. I mean that literally—apart from a few details of note, mostly in Part 1 (there are 3 Parts to the book; Part 1 takes about 120 pages)—Britak’s storyline has nothing to do with Kell’s own quest, and doesn’t even have the decency to resolve itself by book’s end. And it’s got one of those “One True Faith” tropes, where the church ends up being completely wrong and borderline evil, which I find overused nowadays. As I said, I’m sure it’s setting up the second half of this duology, but in terms of the here and now: it really doesn’t have much to do with the story.

In the last twenty years there had been a steady decline in the number of faithful. People were busier than ever with family and other commitments. That was the reason he’d heard most often but those were just excuses. The truth was, believing in something abstract was difficult.

Luckily, the Coward isn’t about Mother Britak. It’s about Kell Kressia, and Kell’s story kills. It’s quite enjoyable. I really liked it. The world, the characters, their motivations and intentions—it’d be a borderline 5 / 5 from me without all that Britak nonsense. Honestly I have no notes regarding Kell’s storyline. None. Outstanding fantasy. A bit dark, a bit epic—and a whole lot of adventure!

TL;DR

The Coward is an outstanding adventure fantasy following hero of the land, Kell Kressia, on his return voyage to the north. He will save the world, or die trying. Or, alternatively, he’ll just piss off and let the kingdom solve it themselves. I really have no issues with the storyline revolving around Kell. A little darkness, a wee bit of danger, a pinch of epicness—and one borderline worthless POV following Mother Britak. Her story rarely intersects with Kell’s, and can only be setting the table for the followup plot in Book #2. As good as I found Kell’s story, her’s was simply pointless. I mean, it’s written well and she’s interesting enough—but it barely connects and it’s Kell’s that steals the show. Luckily, it’s Kell’s that takes up the overwhelming majority of the novel. Still, there’s more than enough here for me to heartily recommend the Coward. A great adventure with excellent characters, heroes, action, and adventure. The one misstep that is Britak is not enough to ruin the good time.