August 2021

To say we have a busy month is an understatement. This month is so packed with releases that I forgot about a few of the ARCs I’d received. I mean, there is NO WAY I’m finishing them all this month. Heck, I might not get to them all before the end of the year. So there will be some picking and choosing which to read—which is something I really like to avoid. But, oh well. Can’t avoid it sometimes.

ARC

The Godstone – by Violette Malan (8/03)

Untitled Series #1 / Standalone

Goodreads

Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin’s Practitioner’s vault. Arlyn can’t ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can’t allow it to be freed.

Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.

Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.

Shards of Earth – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (8/03 US)

Final Architects #1

Goodreads

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared—and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects—but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Devil’s Fjord – by David Hewson (8/05)

Faroe Islands Mystery #1

Goodreads

If the new District Sheriff, Tristan Haraldsen, thought moving to a remote village on the island of Vagar would be the chance for a peaceful life with his wife Elsebeth, his first few weeks in office swiftly correct him of that notion.

Provoked into taking part in the village’s whale hunt against his will, Haraldsen blunders badly, and in the ensuing chaos two local boys go missing. Blaming himself, Haraldsen dives into the investigation and soon learns that the boys are not the first to have gone missing on Vagar.

As Tristan and Elsebeth become increasingly ensnared by the island’s past, they realise its wild beauty hides an altogether uglier and sinister truth.

Paper & Blood – by Kevin Hearne (8/10)

Ink & Sigil #2

Goodreads

There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

Bloodless – by Preston & Child (8/17)

Agent Pendergast #20

Goodreads

A fabulous heist:
On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.

A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.

A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.

The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan (8/24)

Covenant of Steel #1

Goodreads

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

Twenty-Five to Life – by R.W.W. Greene (8/24)

Standalone

Goodreads

Julie Riley is two years too young to get out from under her mother’s thumb, and what does it matter? She’s over-educated, under-employed, and kept mostly numb by her pharma emplant. Her best friend, who she’s mostly been interacting with via virtual reality for the past decade, is part of the colony mission to Proxima Centauri. Plus, the world is coming to an end. So, there’s that.

When Julie’s mother decides it’s time to let go of the family home in a failing suburb and move to the city to be closer to work and her new beau, Julie decides to take matters into her own hands. She runs, illegally, hoping to find and hide with the Volksgeist, a loose-knit culture of tramps, hoboes, senior citizens, artists, and never-do-wells who have elected to ride out the end of the world in their campers and converted vans, constantly on the move over the back roads of America.

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (8/26 EU)

Revelation Space Universe

Goodreads

Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past.

Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything … utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong.

There’s a lone survivor.

And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

Ranging from the depths of space to the deeps of Pattern Juggler waters, from nervous, isolated communities to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera from an author at the top of his game.

Other Releases

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (8/03)

Rise and Fall #1

Goodreads

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Music

Not aware of any interesting releases this month, but I don’t follow music like I obsess about books—often I don’t pay attention to what’s happening until they’re already out. So here are a couple songs that came out last week. The first is by German alt-rock band Flash Forward, the second by Italian EDM-Celtic-Folk outfit The Sidh. While Syl is a good song and all, if you’ve never thought “what would happen if I added bagpipes to EDM” then Utopia is a must-listen!

btw I’ve noooo idea what’s going on in this video, so don’t ask me, eh?

Gaming

Still working on Disco Elysium as I had a system crash which wiped out all my saves from all my games and I had to start over from scratch. Which… not ideal. It’s taken me some time to get back into it. So four days into my first impression of Disco Elysium I had to restart it. “Disappointment” is an understatement. And not just for this game, but about 90% of my library on the PS4. I have a few online backups but for the most part it’s all gone.

Anyway, I’ve taken to some other Indie games to distract me—a number of which I’m working on posting something about, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been playing through Islanders, This War of Mine, Northgard, Fez and Hyper Light Drifter based entirely on what I feel like at any given time. Hopefully more to come on these later!

Currently Reading

The Godstone – by Violette Malan

So far this has been a good read—I’ve some issues with it, I must admit, but I’ll probably still recommend it (at least, judging by how it’s going right now I would). I’m at ~70% mark so probably no review out by the 3rd, though hopefully it won’t be too long a wait.

A Gathering of Ravens – by Scott Oden

This month’s audiobook is sure an uplifting one. A well reviewed grimdark fantasy, it’s something I’ve been after for a while now. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is the right time for it. The world over here is looking slightly bleak, and this isn’t exactly going to cheer me up. But then, who says that’s what I’m after?

Life

Pretty apocalyptic out west. I’ll have to remember to include a photo later this week. There’s a major drought going on, and recently we’ve been plagued with the fires that have been running rampant in California since last year. The only reason it isn’t worst is that winter is a thing here. But as fire season rolls around in 2021 we find that fire season actually started a month earlier than usual and likely won’t be over any time soon. Maybe not even after the first snow—which I genuinely pray happens in August this year. Last year first snow waited til September 5th, but this year we need it more.

The smoke has been awful. In the unhealthy range straight for the last two weeks, it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon either. Not a great time to work outside. But with half our staff leaving on August 1st, it’s just going to get busier. And I’m behind on reading as it is. With the nine releases this month I’m anticipating—all of which I have copies for—…well, it’s going to be a challenge for me to finish probably around three. At the moment I’d guess the Godstone, the Pariah and… maybe Paper & Blood? I’ve no idea. I guess we’ll see.

And I didn’t even mention COVID yet. Actually, I’m going to skip it. It ain’t looking good—enough said.

Any of these or other releases you’re excited about? Books, games, music, whatever really. How’s the smoke where you live? Anything else new—let me know!

Made Things – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Steampunk, Novella

Tor.com; November 5, 2019

187 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Coppelia is a thief, and a rather poor one at that. An orphan known primarily by her street name, Moppet (a name she hates, by the way), she cons, tricks, and occasionally gets her hands dirty in order to make ends meat. Recently her luck has been on the rise, however, due in part to a few little friends she’s made.

But these are no ordinary friends. Arc is made of metal, Tef of wood. Both are about a hand tall, and expressionless. They are made things, not born. And they are entirely their own.

Their partnership with Moppet is a tenuous one. It mostly works—and is best when not questioned. But when their patron makes a startling discovery, these two Made Things must choose whether to extend their association to a fellowship, or let it fall by the wayside. And it’s an important choice, too. For not only is Coppelia’s life on the line, but that of her entire city may be as well.

Made Things was an entertaining, distracting little adventure that I mostly enjoyed, though I found it a bit disappointing, at least by Tchaikovsky standards.

It just didn’t feel… complete. I mean, Made Things does tell a complete story. It’s an adventure with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The conclusion is good, and I didn’t have any nagging questions after the credits rolled. The problem is that the middle feels somewhat scarce. Tchaikovsky is typically great at world-building, at bringing even the shortest stories alive. But this feels a little hollow, like a film set, or a tourist trap; there’s the backdrop of a city, it just doesn’t have any substance to it.

Now the story within is a good one. A ragamuffin with an ace up her sleeve—an ace in the guise of two homunculi with their own secret agenda. There’s a thing that happens and leads yon urchin down the edge of a blade, whereupon her former partners must decide whether it’s in their best interest to save her or let her go. There’s a lovely bit of humor within, while the author subsequently delivers a tense, dramatic tale.

‘ There were rats, or at least a rat had chosen her cell as its final resting place, and probably others would come to pay their respects in due course. There were fleas, perhaps also in mourning for the same late rat. ‘

But even the best story can’t make up for a blasé setting. And to be honest, Made Things doesn’t have the greatest story. It’s a good one, to be sure, with interesting characters and a fascinating premise. There was a good idea here. There’s still more than enough here for me to recommend it, just maybe don’t expect a golden egg inside the shell. It may be tasty, or it may still grow into a chick, but it’s still just an ordinary egg.

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.

The Emperor’s Railroad – by Guy Haley (Review)

The Dreaming Cities #1

Post-Apocalyptic, Fantasy, Scifi

Tor.com; April 19, 2016

173 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

3 / 5 ✪

Quinn is a knight of the Angels. Armed with a six-gun and two swords—one for killing the living, another for killing the dead. Abney is one of the last two survivors of New Karlsville (his mother is the other), fleeing for the safe harbor of Winfort. Quinn has agreed to escort them there, for a price.

The world has changed—as you’ve likely gathered. The Great War changed everything. Turned cities to glass, and others to dust. But the world is even more dangerous than just that. The dead do not stay dead. The living don’t stay that way neither. There be Angels, and dragons.

The road to Winfort will be long and hard. But with Quinn by their side, Abney and his mother might just make it.

My second time through this one, and still I think that it took its sweet time getting moving. The world is quite nice when it starts rendering in, but again it takes its sweet time. It’s like a DOS prompt that takes forever to load properly, but once it does is quite enjoyable. Actually… yeah, the entire book is like a post-apocalyptic or fantasy DOS game. The main problem with it is that books aren’t used to being games, and so that first 50 pages where nothing really happens are more of a letdown. Which—if you’ve only got 170 pages to tell a story—is quite a long time to wait.

Okay, okay. SOME things happen in that first 50 pages. There’s the origin story of how all this began—told from Abney’s POV. Now, it doesn’t tell us what happened to New Karlsville. No, that comes later. It also doesn’t tell us Quinn’s story. It just tells us how Quinn and the two refugees meet. Which, to be honest, is a bit dry and a bit light on details.

Once the story gets going, however, it’s quite the tale. Set in quite the world. A fantasy meets post-apocalyptic setting, complete with swords, guns, trains, dragons, angels, and the undead. And there’s more too—some of which you’ll meet should you continue the series. In general, I found the second story preferable to the first, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And it’s good to meet Quinn before getting too far along with his story. Because while this is told from Abney’s POV—it’s Quinn’s story. And not a bad one at that.

The whole thing has kind of a Metro vibe to it (the games, not the books—so a perilous scramble through the apocalypse, not a metaphysical stumble through it), which isn’t a bad thing. Exodus, in case you’re wondering. And if ever you can come close to describing a Metro game in your stories, you’re doing something right.

TL;DR

It’s quite a quick read once you get into it. Quick, but enjoyable. I have the ebook version that I got for a buck; and I’d easily call that worth it. Recently I picked up a paperback from my local library, and it’s more than worth the time spent there. While the Emperor’s Railroad isn’t the best story you’ll ever read, most of that’s down to the sluggish start. I’d recommend it—in part because I know Book #2 is better than #1. While 3/5 means it’s not great, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours by any means.

The series continues with Book #2 of the Dreaming Cities—The Ghoul King, at the moment the de facto conclusion to Quinn’s adventure. Guy Haley maaay return to the series at some point, but right now he’s busy industriously churning out 40K novels for the Black Library.

A Desert Torn Asunder – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Review)

Song of the Shattered Sands #6

Fantasy, Epic

DAW; July 13, 2021 (US)
Gollancz; July 22, 2021 (UK)

528 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

5 / 5 ✪

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

Beware spoilers for the Shattered Sands #1-5

Where can we go when all is lost?

The reign of the Kings has been interrupted, but not all is lost. Though Queen Alansal of Mirea now sits atop the Tauriyat, two of the original Twelve Kings still draw breath in the desert. And both Husamettín and Ihsan remain with the Royal Fleet, committed to retaking the city.

Queen Meryam’s blood magic has been burned from her, yet her ambition still burns strong. Armed with the body of Goezhen and the blessing of the younger gods, she seeks out the Hollow—where the elder god Ashael was bound eons prior. But will waking him deliver her all the power she’s ever desired, or will the god’s wrath fall upon the desert instead?

Elsewhere in the desert Çeda and Emre prepare to confront the Alliance about Hamid’s betrayal, but to their horror the tribes have agreed to unite under his banner. Even as the pair arrive, the Alliance readies to sail to Sharakai—to raze the city to the ground.

Even as the Kings, Mirea, Malasan, the Tribes, and Ashael all converge on Sharakai—the gateway beneath the city continues to expand. Though Davud and his allies are attempting to close it, so far they’ve had no luck. And soon nothing will stop the younger gods from stepping through into Further Fields, leaving the mortals to pick up the remnants of they shattered world.

‘ When at last the fields do wither,
When the stricken fade;
The Gods shall pass beyond the veil,
And the land shall be remade. ‘

Well, it’s been a long and immersive voyage—one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed! With the sixth and last book in the Song of the Shattered Sands—A Desert Torn Asunder—so many threads that’ve been built up over six books (and more novellas) set to converge for the first and final time. As with all grand fantasy adventures, so much COULD happen that it’s next to impossible to know just what will. Going into this I had a general idea—one that proved to be somewhat correct, albeit pathetically limited in imagination. There was just so much going on here! And when it all came together… it was amazing.

This was the perfect ending.

Okay, okay, it wasn’t absolutely PERFECT, but after six books and so many hours of growth and imagination, a few minor issues along the way couldn’t derail it. In fact, there were so many touches and details that I loved, to be honest I don’t remember what any of my gripes were.

As with the previous books, I would rave about the characters, the world-building, the intricacies of the plot, the attention to detail, and more, but instead let’s focus on the gods. Up to this point we’ve known the gods (the younger ones, that is) are the ones pulling the strings. They’ve been behind the scenes until now, but lately have begun to assume center stage. And as such, there are so many details about them in A Desert Torn Asunder that I loved. Let’s begin with Ashael. He was so much more than what I’d expected. So different—and yet not. The elder gods are all more than I’d’ve guessed—detailed yet mysterious.

This holds true for the younger ones as well. They’re still mysterious, albeit less so, with their deeds now at the forefront of the story and their intentions well known. There are so many things I could talk about, but I want to focus on one little (non-spoilery) thing. The way they come and go, each in their own way. Bakhi slashes a line in the air, which he departs through like a portal. Rhia arrives in a flash of moonlight, and Tulathan departs the same way, except hers is done by sunlight. Thaash turns to stone which crumbles to dust as he departs—dust that is scattered by the desert winds. Nalamae appears and vanishes in a swirl of sand. Each of these touches I found incredibly imaginative and had no problem picturing them. As with so much in this series, my imagination hardly knew where to stop; the story ran wild through my mind.

TL;DR

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the Shattered Sands, especially this conclusion to the series. A Desert Torn Asunder is the end this series deserves. So many threads come together that literally anything could happen and frequently does as the desert people all attempt to save their home. Save it, or rule it. If you haven’t started this series yet (perhaps waiting for all the books to be released), well, now’s the time. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. But I can only hope. Whether this is the final time Bradley Beaulieu will revisit Sharakai I cannot say—though there’s still room for more in this world. As for myself I know that I’ll return to the series time and again.

Infernal – by Mark de Jager (Review)

Chronicles of Stratus #1

Dark Fantasy, Fantasy

Solaris; November 26, 2020

450 pages (ebook)
12hr 54m (audio)

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Rebellion, Solaris and NetGalley for the eARC! Any quotes are for demonstrative purposes only, included to help showcase the level of detail and writing style that the author employs, and may not be included in the final, published version. All opinions are my own.

Stratus wakes in an unfamiliar body, an unfamiliar place, with no memories of how he got there, where “there” is, or who he even is. All that he knows is that his name is Stratus—and that a demon lives within him.

Armed with just this knowledge—and a powerful yet volatile innate sorcery—Stratus begins a journey of self-discovery. This journey will take him through Krandin, recently decimated by war. A land that proves less than welcoming to a hulking dark-skinned stranger with amnesia and a powerful hunger. One that includes both horse- and human-flesh.

As Stratus slowly pieces together his history, he discovers a land full of both allies and enemies, some of them from his very past. He also discovers a dark power threatening to engulf the land—a land that despite himself he has begun to care about. But is it worth enough to him that he will help save it, or will Stratus let all fall to darkness to slake his thirst for vengeance?

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

I’m a bit of a sucker for the amnesiac trope: the one where the main character has no idea who they are and has to piece it together while the world tries to kill them. Interesting enough at the outset, the mystery just ramps up when Stratus’s demon emerges and starts compelling him to strangle horses or describe just how familiar (and tasty) human flesh is.

The narration really helps bring the story to life however, and I can’t rave enough about how great Obioma Ugoala is as Stratus. It lends an impressive voice to this very personal tale, one that just fits so well!

Over the course of the story, Stratus is tested and developed as a character as he slowly discerns his identity. He isn’t alone in this but his is by far the most extensive. It makes sense as this is his tale, but I would’ve liked to see more from the characters of Infernal other than just the two or three that really evolve over the course of the story. Still, those few are strong enough to carry the tale—as most of it falls squarely upon the shoulders of Stratus himself.

The only real issue I had with Infernal was the ending. Yes, I see why it ended in the manner it did (and you will too, should you read it). It makes perfect sense, and really cuts out on the right foot to set up Book #2. That being said—we left a decent amount unresolved. Part of the story is complete, yes, and part of it is just starting. But part cuts out in the middle, with no real resolution even hinted at.

TL;DR

Infernal is an excellent new addition to the fantasy genre, one that makes very few mistakes over the course of its 13ish hours. Stratus is a strong and fascinating character, one whose story you’ll surely become invested in over the course of the tale. The places he goes, things he does are not widely done in fiction, but are passed off as if they’re completely normal. The narrator is excellent and I cannot recommend the audio version of this enough! The only real issue I had was with how much is resolved at its end. Yes, there is an excellent reason it ends like it does; and yes, part of the story is concluded while still setting up Book #2—but I still feel more could have been resolved. It was just very abrupt.

Despite this hiccup I’m definitely looking forward to the Chronicles of Stratus #2—Firesky—due out November 23, 2021.

Also thanks to Rebecca at Powder & Page for recommending this! I thoroughly recommend it further.

The Lights of Prague – by Nicole Jarvis (Review)

Standalone (?)

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Vampires

Titan Books; May 25, 2021

413 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

4.25 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books and NetGalley for the eARC! Any quotes are for demonstrative purposes only, included to help showcase the level of detail and writing style that the author employs, and may not be included in the final, published version. All opinions are my own.

Prague, 1868.

The quiet streets of Prague hide a secret, one that haunts these passages in the dead of night. Ancient and mythic beasts lurk in the shadows, preying upon anyone unfortunate enough to be out past sunset. And only those paid to bring light to the city’s dark stand between the monsters and their prey.

Domek Myska is a lamplighter—a profession both dedicated to bring light to the darkened streets of Prague, but also to protect its citizens from the evil that walks it. With the advent of gas lamps, the lamplighter presence in Prague has changed. While the lamps themselves keep the night at bay better and longer, fewer souls are required to keep this army of lights burning. And where there are fewer lamplighters, there are more monsters. With little to no backup, Domek is forced to rely on his own wit and skill to survive the night, with stakes of hawthorn and daggers of silver to help even the odds. But when he discovers a strange jar one night on the corpse of a pijavice (a vampire), the young lamplighter discovers there’s more renaissance in the city then just that of gas lamps.

Lady Ora Fischerová is a permanent fixture amongst the city’s upperclass, but an enigmatic one at that. She’s known as an eccentric widow—having lost her husband a decade prior—albeit a beautiful one who hardly looks as though she’s aged since his passing. That’s because Ora harbors a secret of her own, hidden beneath layers only won by coin and eccentricity. She’s a pijavica, but lives a low-key life for one of her kind preferring venison and pork blood to that of humans. But while she calls some humans friend, some others would only see her as the demon that hunts in the night. Enter Domek, and a mutual hot-blooded attraction between the two. Neither knows about the other’s secret, but with the way things are going, it won’t be long before they find out. And what will happen when the cards fall—will either survive to see another sunrise, or will Prague itself fall into eternal darkness?

For the jar, and its wisp occupant, Kája, represent a new weapon—a hope and danger both. But could these fortunes be reversed? And whom (if anyone) would Domek trust to make that distinction?

With an atmosphere drenched in darkness and steeped in blood, The Lights of Prague represents the best of historical fantasy, combining a killer story, deep and meaningful characters, with a lush if claustrophobic setting. The backdrop of 1860’s Prague was breathtakingly beautiful: a city on the cusp of change from fire to gas; a city drenched in shadow but clinging to the light; a city built on the ruins of another that came before it, with the beings of the night lurking within. From tight back alleys to gilded opera halls to the mansions of the elite to the slums of the Jewish quarter, Nicole Jarvis sets the stage incredibly well! If not for the strength of its characters, I’d say the setting was the story’s strongest asset.

Prague did not know Domek, did not need him, but his life was overlaid on the ancient streets in watercolor, the patterns sheer and impermanent.

But the characters are quite well done as well. Both Domek and Ora are well-fleshed, with their own history and motivations, intentions and ideals—so that while they may want in one another’s pants and/or gowns, they don’t necessarily want the same thing for Prague. And while the two may fall on the same side now and then, they definitely aren’t that way all the time. I loved their interactions—be they hot and heavy, violent, or even casual—and it was this that kept the story from ever feeling too weighed down or stagnant, even toward the end when the action-sequences sometimes threaten to override the plot. While Domek isn’t the brightest tool in the river, he makes up for it with his deep- and well-thought-out plans, his ingenuity and stubbornness. Ora’s just pretty amazing—no notes! But where these two are so strong, I found the supporting cast was a bit hit and miss. Some characters seemed deep enough to carry their own POVs, while others felt too hollow to be little more than set dressing. The POVs definitely carry the load, however, so there’s relatively little to complain about, story-wise.

TL;DR

1860’s Prague provides an incredible backdrop for any fantasy adventure, at least when one plays it up as well as Nicole Jarvis does. The city was resplendent, despite the story mostly taking place in the dead of night, where the streets are quiet, dark, and claustrophobic, and the atmosphere one of tension. While the story might get a bit iffy later on, the interactions between the two POV leads Domek and Ora provide more than enough of a reason to press on. Turns out, the characters are just as impressive as the world-building. Come for the vampires and dark atmosphere, stay for the romance, action and characters. Heartily recommended!

I’m not sure if The Lights of Prague will remain a standalone or spawn a series, but the ending sets up a possible future if the author decides to go down that road. Best just to read it now.

Where Gods Fear to Go – by Angus Watson (Review)

West of West #3

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Orbit; December 3, 2019

499 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for the first two books in the West of West trilogy

Finnbogi has grown up. During a journey where he fought two rattlecondas unarmed, controlled an army of pigeons with his mind, and made love with multiple women none of which has wanted to talk to him again—the lovable oaf has finally grown a pair and demanded a new nickname.

Now, as Finn the Deep, Finnbogi is slightly more experienced, but still the stupid, horny teenager we’ve come to know and love. But, as the Wootah and Owsla cross the Shining Mountains into the Desert You Don’t Walk Out Of, shit’s about to get real. Or, as real as it can when you’re being chased by Telekinetic Sasquatch (Sasquatches? Sasquatch?).

What’s worse, upon reaching the far side of the mountains, the gang discovers something more terrifying than yetis with mind-bullets: flash floods, tornados, and hordes of terrifyingly huge monsters. And should they survive all of these terrors, the crew will have to figure out how to defeat a goddess who’s already killed all the other gods. Worse, they have to do this all WHILE saving everyone else AND not letting them all die.

Should be easy. Provided they don’t kill one another first.

Well, the end of the West of West trilogy comes both too early for my liking, but also too late. I’ll miss Finnbogi, Sassa, Wulf, Sofi, and the gang, kinda like how I miss how I’m not a dumbass, immature, constantly annoying teen anymore (incidentally, that’s also why I won’t miss them). But also in more legitimate ways. They did some growing up over the course of this trilogy, did the gang. And not just Finnbogi. And not just the Hardworkers. The Owsla have changed too. If you’re after a series with loads of lewdness, swearing, hilarity—but also excellent character development—look no further!

The hilarity and action were pretty much on par with the other books in the series, but there was a serious overtone to everything. The end of the world is looming, and the Wootah are faced with the decision of whether to grow up or die young. And while that’s not an issue for some of them, others may find it harder.

My favorite character remains Ottar. The little savior of the world is proving to be quite adorable—something that you really should’ve noticed on day one—and the hardship thrown on him by the world doesn’t seem to get him down. Sure, he’ll have a bad day (as we all do) but then will shrug it off like the champion he is. So while Finnbogi features some of the more embarrassing, hilarious, and somehow inspiring moments—Ottar has some of the more heartwarming ones.

In the evenings, they ate cactus and Nether Barr’s lizards. Grilled to a crisp, the reptiles were tasty. The old lady helped Ottar make his own net and the boy delighted in failing to catch lizards. When he finally did trap a little striped one with a long tail, he studied it carefully then let it go.

The biggest problem I had with Where Gods Fear to Go turns up at the end of all things. I called the biggest twist, turns out, but not the finer bits of it. And the finer points were rather a letdown. It didn’t ruin the series for me, nor the book even, but rather soured the conclusion a bit. But here—months after I finished the book—I more remember the conclusion for its epic and dramatic twists, battles, romances, and occasional action-packed cutscenes. There are a particular few that come to mind. Point is that while the biggest twist may’ve soured the ending a bit in the short term, it didn’t ruin the series for me past that. I’d totally go back and read it all again (time permitting)! And I’d like to think I’d enjoy everything just as much the second time around.

TL;DR

Where Gods Fear to Go concludes the West of West trilogy, where Finnbogi, Sassa, Sofi, and the rest of the Wootah and Owsla continue their journey west—over the Shining Mountains and across the Desert You Don’t Walk Out Of to the Meadows, that place where the world is ending. And there’s certainly a reason behind it all. Big monsters and natural disasters abound—with a damned goddess at the center of it all. Like its predecessors, WGFtG is heavy on the action, sex, phallic puns, language and hilarity, but with more of a heavy overtone. It’s like the text keeps reminding them: “hey, the world is kinda ending and all, maybe focus on that?” But even the darker twist can’t spoil the fun this story brings. If you haven’t read the series but are intrigued and aren’t bothered by any of the above—hey, maybe give it a try. And if you’ve started the series but not finished—hey, maybe do that. It’s totally worth a look.

The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon – by Benedict Patrick (Review)

Jenny Zemanek is the artist for this amazing cover—she actually handles all of Patrick’s covers.

Darkstar Dimension #1

Fantasy, Adventure

Self-published; October 5, 2019

236 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Min’s first command was supposed to be an easy one. The First Officer has a ship, a seasoned crew, a straightforward objective. A simple voyage of scientific discovery with a likely captaincy awaiting upon return. But somehow Min has screwed it up. And the worst thing is that she’s not even sure how.

One minute she and the crew of the Melodious Narwhal were sailing through the heavens east of New Windward. The next they are plummeting towards an unfamiliar, shadowy sea far below. For somehow the magic that powers the skyship has been drained.

Even should they survive the fall, Min and the crew will find a world of endless twilight, with an onyx sea that spans the entire horizon—and even stretches to the sky above. Here, the sable sea is filled with luminous fish, a violet and neon sun that hangs in the center of the void, and an old man that calls the dark and Tyrian dimension home.

Also, there’s a dragon the size of a small continent.

To escape the Darkstar Dimension, Min must draw upon all the lessons from her training, explore the dimension and bring all its resources to bear, hobnob with the locals, and somehow escape the hungry dragon that seems deadset on the bite-sized morsels that have stumbled into its home. And even then—it may not be enough. For who knows what secrets the Darkstar holds, and the price one must pay to learn them?

So… this was a pleasant surprise! The Darkstar Dimension is a basically a rave. A shadowy sea full of purple glowsticks and glowing fish. A bunch of people running around under a vibrant neon star, trying not to get eaten by a huge dragon. There’s mayhem, murder, mutiny—all that’s missing is trance music.

The sense of adventure is amazing. The Darkstar Dimension is a mystical and mysterious place, full of wonder and adventure to be had! And that’s even before we get to the rifts surrounding it—passageways to unique worlds, each one more interesting than the last. The Darkstar Dimension itself steals the show however, as even now I can envision this electric amethyst world when I close my eyes; swim in the oceans amidst a school of glowing fish, or hitch a ride atop a turtlemoth. I’d compare it to Doors of Sleep, but with a fantasy-theme instead of the other’s science fiction. We get to enjoy more of the adventure and wonder in this compared to Doors, as the places and sights all weave into the story quite nicely, rather than taking a backseat when the plot takes center stage.

It’s not a perfect ride, as the story is frequently too convenient, and occasionally like something out of a movie, skipping from action-sequence to action-sequence (particularly later on). Neither of these things bothered me much, though. Honestly, my biggest complaint was that time often slowed way too damned much to be realistic—something that’s done to give the characters more time to assess a situation and find a workaround. I’ve really no serious issues with The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon, and cannot wait to read the next one!

TL;DR

I picked up Flight of the Darkstar Dragon from Benedict Patrick’s Kickstarter last year. It was included along with all his Yarnsworld stories in a kinda “complete works bundle” thing. I honestly forgot I had it for a while, and didn’t know it was unrelated to the rest for even longer. After generally enjoying most of my time in his Yarnsworld novels, I expected Flight of the Darkstar Dragon to be an interesting little read, maybe even enjoyable. But I never expected it to blow me away. Where Yarnsworld focuses on the horror and the creepy folktales, Darkstar focuses instead on the adventure and the unknown. There’s still a tense atmosphere and a riveting story, but it manifests in a very different way. Rather than struggling to picture some barely-formed horror that goes bump in the night, this had me flying through violet skies on the back of a massive dragon while neon fish floated all around. Exploring new worlds and meeting new creatures while all the time anticipating the return to the lovely-rendered Darkstar Dimension afterwards. While I can’t promise you’ll like it, love it, or adore it—I will say that if your experience is anything like my own, you won’t regret the time you’ve spent in the Darkstar Dimension. And furthermore, you’ll jump at the prospect of going back. Incidentally, the Return of the Whale Fleet—Book #2 of this particular series—is currently live on Kickstarter, and it’s just a matter of time until we can return to this incredible world!