One Dark Window – by Rachel Gillig

standalone

Fantasy, Gothic, Romance

Orbit Books; September 27, 2022

392 pages (paperback)

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DNF at 92 pages

As is usual for my DNFs, this will be a fairly quick review. If I don’t like something—unless it annoys or offends me on a truly rant-worthy level—my thoughts on it are typically pretty succinct. In this case, I just didn’t meld well with it. It never claimed my attention in the first place and then just couldn’t hold it as the pages began to turn.

I mean…

Well, this was an absolutely frustrating book. Strange, uneven pacing. A plot told in starts and stops. I never understood the cards, which were such a big part of the plot (in the beginning at least). I didn’t like the romance—which had barely even begun by the time I DNFed it.

I’ve seen an incredible variation in the ratings for One Dark Window among people that I know (and whose opinions I really, actually, somewhat care about). Among the rest of everyone—it’s a hit. Overwhelmingly praised, albeit with quite a few non-rating DNFs. If you read this to the end, odds are you’ll like it. Love it, even. But if you don’t love it, it probably won’t hold your attention.

I’m actually tempted to believe that there’s a decent read here, if you can find it. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t for me. And if I’m not enjoying something, I won’t push through it in search of what everyone else can see. I don’t see it—and that’s enough for me.

I can’t thank Orbit enough for—not only granting me access to a digital ARC—but also providing me with a lovely physical copy. Sorry I didn’t like it, but that’s the chance you take, I suppose. This particular copy will be donated to my local library so that it will hopefully fall into the hands of someone(s) who will give it the love that it deserves.

The Oleander Sword – by Tasha Suri (Review)

The Burning Kingdoms #2

Fantasy, Romance

Orbit Books; August 16, 2022

480 pages (paperback)

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9 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit for the lovely physical ARC! All opinions are my own.

Once an exiled princess and maidservant met in the darkness, and love was born.

Now prophesied the nameless god’s heir to the throne, Malini comes to take her place as Empress of Parijatdvipa, a position her brother Chandra isn’t likely to relinquish without a fight. In fact, he’d much rather she his sister’s blood stain the grass than welcome her home. But while Malini continues to collect allies in her fight, her victory is far from assured. As long as Chandra still controls the imperial throne, the army will follow him. The priests of the mothers—dead set on Malini giving herself willingly to the flame—will never recognize her claim. And so, the closer she gets to the capital, the closer the Empire comes to all-out war.

A war Ahiranya wants no part of.

Scarcely a year after expelling Chandra’s forces from their borders, thrice-born Bhumika and Priya now rule the Hirana as Temple Elders. While Bhumika rules as the representative of the Yaksa, Priya remains on the periphery—attempting to combat and control the Rot. But between pressure from the former rebels and the creeping plague, they have their hands full. Even without a war on their doorstep.

Despite both their standings, Malini and Priya’s destinies are intertwined. So when her Empress eventually calls, Priya’s heart stutters at the very thought of a reunion. Yet a shadow lurks in the recesses of her heart. Has Malini called for her as her true love, or her greatest weapon—one to be used and cast aside when it is no longer needed?

But despite Priya’s best efforts, the Rot is spreading. And something moves in the deathless waters, something that she can sense, but cannot see. Something that will change the fate of the Ahiranya and Parijatdvipa forever.

He watched his sister walk around the ceremonial wedding fire, garbed in resplendent red, and thought, My country is dying.
He watched her bow for the garland, and thought, Our father is dying.
He watched her as she lowered her head for the wedding garland, and thought, My sister will die.
And there is nothing I can do.

I mean, the beginning wasn’t great, but it could’ve been worse. I think a recap would’ve helped ease us in to the absolutely rough high-school-worthy romance told through the passing of notes behind the teacher’s back.

Ooof, that ending though.

In terms of a start to a fantasy epic, it’s not the best. But far from the worst. Leans into the sapphic romance, so if that’s your thing you’ll probably not mind. If you’re not a romance buff, it’s a bit of a slow burn, which thankfully takes off as we reach the plot in earnest (shortly before hitting the hundred-page mark). Not that the romance ends here, just it takes a back seat to the war on Chandra—the villain throughout most of the text.

If you were hoping for a new villain to despise, don’t worry, as Chandra isn’t alone. Though he will command most of your attention of the nearly five hundred pages. But muttering gives way to rumor around the halfway point; you begin to get a glimpse of where the series might be heading in the future. And Chandra—while still the main focus, the center of attention—isn’t alone anymore. Don’t get me wrong, this is still his book; if you’re not a fan of his Vaas-style villainy, it may be a long grind to the end.

…which is where we’re going next. Because… well, I’m not totally on board with it. The end, that is. It’s not bad per say, just—a bit of a cliffhanger that makes you remember it’ll take Tasha Suri at least eight months to write the final installment. Plus publishing and all… well, we’ll just be stuck on this for another year. Also, I’m not 100% clear with the motivations here, but we won’t get into that. Spoilers and all.

Now that I’m done with my minor concerns regarding the beginning and end, let me rave about that middle bit. Now, I’m not the fastest reader, but I read it in a day (from about the 150 page mark on). And it kills.

I mean, I have no criticisms or notes. None. For around four hundred pages the story was wholly immersive, thoroughly entertaining, almost an obsession in itself. Maybe more than “almost”. I enjoyed the first book but this one blew me away.

It’s really hard on its characters, though. Tasha Suri really owes her characters a break. But if she did that, Book #3 would just be a polite discussion over tea, so… well, maybe there’ll be a happy ending and everyone will live happily ever after?

Yeah, or maybe not.

Ymir – by Rich Larson (Review)

Standalone

Science Fiction

Orbit Books; July 12, 2022

391 pages (paperback)

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7 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit for the lovely physical ARC! All opinions are my own.

A dark, otherworldly retelling of Beowulf takes place on a dystopian ice-world where the company owns and tells all. A tale of two brothers separated by time, space, and bad blood. Yorick hunts monsters—specifically the eyeless grey terror known as the grendel, that lurk beneath the earth on many company worlds. He left home early, after a spat with his brother that cost him his jaw.

And now he’s back in the one place he hoped never to be again: the ice-world Ymir.

Thello is a mystery. In Yorick’s mind, his homecoming would coincide with his brother’s apology—that or a fight to the death—but upon landing Yorick finds neither. In fact, he hasn’t seen Thello at all, instead greeted by a company man Dam Gausta, his former mentor, the woman who ushered him into the company; and a hulking red clanswoman, Fen, who clearly wants to gut him at first sight. At first Yorick thinks that she must know him—but no, he’s been gone decades, and the Butcher that Cooked the Cradle must be assumed to be well and truly dead by now.

Without his brother, there is only the hunt that matters now.

But this grendel is different than the mindless killing-machines Yorick has dispatched in the past. Beneath that cold, clammy skin there is definitely a very alien mind at work, but there is also something disturbingly human to it as well, something Yorick recognizes and knows all too well.

Thello.

Written in the style of Takeshi Kovacs, Ymir takes a fast-paced, minimalist story designs of Richard K. Morgan and applies them to a Beowulf inspired tale, complete with nordic themes and terrifying grendels. A dark, gritty tale takes place on both sides of the ice of Ymir, even plunging deep underground in pitch-black tunnels where only those desperate or alien live.

The pacing itself is strange, but it is what the story makes it. It’s the way the story is told; in glimpses—with chapters so short we might as well be visiting the story as opposed to spending a book’s length with it. We jump from action to action, spending just enough time to progress the plot—but no more.

While I loved the dark, gritty feel of the ice-world Ymir, there was never enough of it to go around. When you’re only spending one to five pages in the same place, it’s hard to get a real sense of worth from it. Thus, instead of a full-body immersion, this was like a bath taken in quick dips, where you get a shock of cold that eventually builds up into a deep freeze, but only after a long period. It was an interesting way to tell a story—and not one I entirely enjoyed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative between the two brothers, though it didn’t last as long as I’d’ve expected, coming to a cliffhanger well before the close that felt like a foregone conclusion rather than a mystery by the time it was resolved at the end.

TL;DR

While there was more than enough to like about Ymir, very little about the tale wowed me. It did prove a great read and a good story besides, as well as an interesting and unique retelling/tale based heavily on the epic Beowulf. But there was just too little there: too little time spent in any one place; too little depth on any of the supporting characters; too little backstory on the company, the grendels, Ymir itself, anything of the world to make it feel real. Overall, while I enjoyed pretty much everything I saw from Ymir, I’d’ve liked to have seen more of… pretty much all of it. For what is a tale told in glimpses than no tale at all?

The Martyr – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

Covenant of Steel #2

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; June 28, 2022

526 pages (paperback)

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9.0 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit for the lovely ARC! All opinions are my own.

Devotion is inherently nonsensical

Once an outlaw and vagabond, Alwyn Scribe has moved up in the world. Former scribe of the Covenant Company, he now serves as spymaster and sworn protector of Lady Evadine Courlain, the Risen Martyr, whose visions of the apocalypse—called the Second Surge—have divided the kingdom around her.

Evadine’s status as a living martyr has put her at odds with both the Crown and the Faith. Though behind her stand rank upon rank of her converts; barely fed, untrained, fanatics. The Crown and Covenant possess enough of a standing army to make a bloody fight of it, should it come to blows.

Which it has not—yet—as Evadine remains a loyal subject. It seems there exists a plan to see her dead without a bloody revolution, as soon Alwyn and the company are dispatched to Alundia to quash a rebellion; a faith that sees Evadine as more of a whore and heretic than her own. Here they are set up in a ruin and commanded to raise the King’s banner, distribute a list of traitors for deliverance, and hold until the King arrives with his army. Such is basically a death-sentence and all know it. But what choice do they have?

Here Alwyn finds more than just a war for the faith, a division of kingdoms. While he’s never been sure what to think of Evadine—whether she is a sycophant or insane—he knows she remains sworn to a better future. Despite their link, (or because of it) maybe that is something he can follow, to the end.

A man who isn’t truly a king stands ready to greet a woman who isn’t truly a martyr.

I have often reflected upon the notion that the worst thing about having true friends is missing all of them when they’re gone.

The Pariah was one of my favorite books of 2021, an introduction to Alwyn Scribe: outlaw, pariah, prisoner, scribe, liar. The Martyr takes Alwyn in a different direction. Heck, it opens with him as a knight. Well, kind of a knight. In fact, it actually opens with him laid up with a cracked skull and a hallucination taken up residence in his head. It’s quite an up and down for old Alwyn, beginning at the outset of the Pariah, and I am happy to report that it carries on throughout the second book. Never a dull moment.

A nicely paced novel cobbled together with solid world-building, fascinating characters, and an interesting premise—yeah, it ticks all the boxes for me. There is a slight pacing issue over the second half, and the story took me a good while longer to get into this time around, so I didn’t love it quite as much as its predecessor—but all in all it’s another marvel. The mystery of the Sack Witch grows to another level, as does Evadine’s status and what it means for the continent. Alwyn’s status, on the other hand, often changes chapter to chapter. Never a dull moment, as I said.

And… yeah. I’m not really sure what else to say about this. It’s good. Read it? I mean, that’s pretty much my recommendation, especially if you enjoyed the previous one. And if you didn’t enjoy the previous one… why not? Read it again and enjoy it this time. Then read the Martyr. I cannot wait to see where the story goes from here!

The Stardust Thief – by Chelsea Abdullah (Review)

The Sandsea Trilogy #1

Fantasy, Retelling

Orbit Books; May 17, 2022

538 pages (ebook)

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9.5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

After reading this the only thing I regret is not trying to get a physical ARC of it. Although, I suppose that’s what money is for, right?


King of the Forty Thieves, they called him. Hero. But the strangest was the third title, which he’d never heard before: the Stardust Thief. It was worse than the other titles because it was proof that everyone knew what Omar truly was: a man who stole jinn lives. A killer dressed in silver blood. ‘

In a world of desert and shifting sands, Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant—a collector and dealer in rare and illegal magic items. As her trade implies, Loulie avoids the spotlight, doing business on the black market or in the shadows. Something she and her enigmatic jinn bodyguard Qadir have been managing for years. But when she inadvertently saves the life of the sultan’s youngest son, her trade is brought to the forefront. Forcibly.

The sultan—grateful for the Merchant saving his son (twice, in fact)—offers her a reward: her life, in exchange for a mythical jinn artifact lost somewhere in the Sandsea, its sands the border between jinn and human lands. The artifact, a wish-granting lamp, is worth a kingdom—if it exists at all. And should she returns with the lamp, Loulie will be showered with gold—you know, if it exists. Return with out it, however, or attempt to flee, and her life will be forfeit.

To aid the Merchant in this endeavor—as well as make certain she doesn’t try to flee—the sultan sends his youngest son, the same Loulie twice saved, along with an elite guard.

But surprisingly, the lamp turns out to be more trouble than just being mythical, lost, and infamous. And Loulie’s path more treacherous. Ghouls, rogue jinn, demons from the past, jinn hunters, enemies and allies, and the shifting and enchanted sands of the Sandsea are but some of the obstacles the foursome face. Yet Loulie really has no choice but to press on, lest this quest be her last.


Legend had it that after slaughtering the marid, the humans hung their corpses from the tops of the cliffs, and there had been so much silver blood running down the rocks, it had transformed into a cascading stream of water. Sometimes, when Loulie stared hard at the streams winding through the city, she thought they glittered like stardust.

It was beautiful, and it was horrible.

In the Stardust Thief, jinn bleed silver. Wherever their blood falls, life blossoms. It has the power to paint the desert green, heal wounds, or even restore the dying to life. This twist, along with so many others, prevented the book from being both a straightforward retelling, and a facsimile of so many others.

It also prevents the landscape from becoming too… dull. Tans and browns and reds and oranges aren’t necessarily dull, but after a while they do kinda make one long for a blue or two to break up the monotony. Maybe that’s why kohl was so popular. Point is, bleed a jinn or ten around one spot and you’ve got yourself a new forest. Or an everlasting river, as seen in the above excerpt.

As with really good reads, it’s hard for me to talk about what exactly I loved most about the Stardust Thief. I mean… there are just soooo many things! The retelling of various legends especially—not only those incorporated into the plot, but also those included as legends in their own right and told via storytellers, or in interludes—gave the world a tenuous connection to our own, while never confusing just which side of the looking glass the reader was on. It’s good to see so many tales from One Thousand and One Nights included in a single work, not just a retelling of Ali Baba or Aladdin or Shahrazad or the like. Yes, I know that other books aimed to do the same, but I’d argue that by in large, the results were nowhere near as good.

I feel like I should mention the characters too, but I’ve no idea where to start on them. Their depth is impressive, as each and every lead has a thorough backstory—both based in legend and written lore. I was really impressed at just how well they all worked together; amidst the chaos and battle there were hints of unlikely friendship and romance, though you could never tell just who was threatening to fall in love with whom.

TL;DR

This seems entirely worthless, as the review part wasn’t very long and mostly had to do with me gushing about how much I loved the story. Yeah, so that’s pretty much it. Whole-hearted recommendation, hands down. But is it worth the…? Yes. Are you sure? What about the…? Yes, that too. And the audiobook? Not sure about that, exactly. This one supposedly features a full cast, and even one terrible voice-actor can ruin the whole thing. But if I could just direct you back to the other forms of text, maybe try one of those.

Yeah, so I’m gonna wrap this up, as it’s pretty much just me rambling. Read this. It’s sooo good! The only downside I can think of is that you’ll have to wait another year for Book #2.

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind – by Jackson Ford (Review)

The Frost Files #1

Paranormal, Scifi

Orbit Books; June 18, 2019

497 pages (ebook)
13hr 24m (audiobook)

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3.5 / 5 ✪

If you hadn’t guessed already by the title, and you’re not the kind of person who reads books that swear, like, a lot, maybe skip this one. Just saying—I did warn you.

Being a secret agent isn’t a bad gig, but it’s not the life Teagan Frost wants. Sure, she can move shit with her mind—but she’s so much more than just that. She’s got hopes and dreams and ambitions, and being a sideshow for the government isn’t one of them. Still, it’s better than being dissected, which is the only other legitimate “life” she has access to. But at least that option is closed off—at least for now.

But when a body turns up on site at her last job, killed in a way only she could ever have managed, dissection is—somewhat literally—back on the table. Now, the ambitious telekinetic has 20 hours to clear her name, a deadline not even the government seems likely to honor. Soon enough, her team is on the run, with only Teagan and her PK the reason they haven’t been caught yet.

At least it’s only the government that’s chasing them.

Or it would be if not for the rogue telekinetic she’s chasing, the notorious LA gang she’s pissed off, and the army of police that have been on the lookout for her ever since the murder. Now if only she could focus on that and not worry about her love-life getting in the way, or her past coming back to haunt her, or her friends falling into danger because of her own choices… she could maybe have a normal life. Maybe.

I’ve never actually finished a book by Rob Boffard before. Figures that the first one I do get through, it’s written under a pseudonym.

The Girl Who Could Move Shit with Her Mind isn’t exactly a literary masterpiece. It’s a good bit of high-octane, heart-pounding action. It’s a thriller that doesn’t let up, but a thriller all the same. Swearing ain’t exactly an art form, but even if it were, this book wouldn’t exactly be a work of art. Still, the writing’s not bad, the dialogue isn’t bad, and the plot sure isn’t bad either. None of these things are terribly innovative, but it’s still an entertaining read.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Teagan has been falsely accused of murder and has one day to prove her innocence. She has to call in every favor, cut every corner, and make every gamble she can in order to yada yada yada. Again, it’s not that this is a bad read, it’s just that it’s not very inventive or creative. Other than the bit about a telekinetic, it’s basically every thriller that’s ever been written. Which is all just a way to say that it better at least be entertaining.

Which it is.

I got through The Girl That Could in about a week, listening to it in my downtime approaching Christmas, partly because I was stuck at home with little else to do but read. And it was interesting, entertaining, and immersive. I didn’t pick it up because I was after something deep or thought-provoking, which is good, because it’s really not those things. This was a good, quick, entertaining thriller that does a lot of things right, despite not being terribly creative nor having an immaculate prose.

That said, the romance was a bit of a miss. With everything leading up to it, and everything else going on, I didn’t feel like there was really a chance for anything all that romantic to get a foothold. And the way that it ended, when it was finally given some time to, like, be romantic, was a joke. In some sense, it’s good that I didn’t sell out on the romance from the very beginning, because when it finally was given some time—and fell flat—I wasn’t surprised.

TL;DR

I’m going to keep this pretty short. If you’re after a thoughtful, intricate, and drawn out mystery, complete with deep, erudite characters and an innovative plot—this ain’t it. If instead you’re after a quick, entertaining thriller, with enough violence, language, and action to keep you immersed—yeah, this certainly fills that void. I wouldn’t expect it to win any literary awards or anything. I would buy this one, and the next (which I have, by the way), and schedule the two for sometime when I needed something quick, entertaining, and not too deep.

Audio Note: I quite enjoyed the narration of Lauren Patten! In fact, I doubt that I’d have enjoyed this book as much as I did without her behind the mouth of Teagan. She really sold Frost’s casual do-not-give-a-fuck attitude, even in the points where her character was completely freaking out. And I hear that she’s returned in the second installment, Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air, which I’ve already gone out and purchased.

Chinese New Year 2022 – Year of the Tiger

恭喜發財!新年快樂!

The Year of the Tiger starts today, so if you’re celebrating I hope you have a good day! I was trying to decide what kinda New Year’s feast to have, but then I started having stomach issues, so it’s probably not going to happen. Even worse, there’s no moon cake!

But I’ll live.

It’s been a terrible January. Stress from my job, my family, my friends, my life… I’m really sick of it. Here’s hoping that this month (and this year) is better.

Currently Reading

Somehow I read NINE books in January. Don’t expect that to happen in February, Lunar New Year or not. I also DNFed one that I’ve mostly seen glowing reviews for. Currently I’m working on three books, which is my limit at once, provided each is in a different format.

For audio I’m reading The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg, the second installment in the Kørner & Werner series (the 3rd is out later this month), which is included with subscription to Scribd—the audio streaming service that I’ve only recently discovered. I’ve just started Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham, which the lovely folks at Orbit were kind enough to send me a physical ARC of! It starts a new series which I’m very much looking forward to getting into; Book #1 here centering upon a woman named Alys. And finally there’s Return of the Whalefleet by Benedict Patrick, which I have early in ebook form via the Kickstarter that ran last summer. It’s the second book in the Darkstar Dimension, and one that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for some time (so much so that I couldn’t wait for my physical copy to arrive and decided to start it early).

ARC

Bluebird – by Ciel Pierlot (2/08)

Standalone

Goodreads

Many thanks to Angry Robot for the lovely and unexpected copy of Bluebird! I’m not sure when I’ll get to this one, but hopefully before Scifi Month in November. I’m not well versed on this, but I seem to remember there are four factions, one of which is Rig, a gunslinger, lesbian, and lone entity fighting against the control of all three others. Despite my disquiet surrounding this, the book may very well have the best cover of any releasing this month.

Dead Silence – by S.A. Barnes (2/08)

Standalone

Goodreads

A horror story. A ghost ship. A mystery that longs to be solved.

When the crew of a deep space maintenance ship stumble upon the ruins of a starship lost centuries ago under mysterious circumstances, their first thoughts are of how this will best line their pockets. After attempting to return the hulk to known space, however, they have very much different things on their mind.

So… I recently gave up on this one. For now, at least—I will try to revisit it later. The ghost ship and the mystery and the history are compelling—but the lead I cannot fathom. Claire just… shouldn’t be here. It’s beyond reason that anyone would have made her a captain, with her history. I know, I know, you haven’t read it. But I can’t not complain about this a little because I really wanted to like this and just… couldn’t.

Age of Ash – by Daniel Abraham (2/15)

Kithamar #1

Goodreads

The latest fantasy epic from Daniel Abraham starts in a city on the brink. Kithamar has remained free from three hundred years, but when their Prince suddenly dies, it may be high time for a change in power. Told from three perspectives—one in three different books, all set during the same time-frame—this is epic fantasy at its best. Or so I’ve heard.

Mickey7 – by Edward Ashton (2/15)

Standalone

Goodreads

After a mission gone very wrong, Mickey7 somehow returns to base to find that sometimes there are worse things than dying alone on an alien world. First among these is Mickey8, who is already out of the tank and sleeping in his bed. A clone and the colony’s only Expendable—the one human that gets all the most dangerous assignments and missions, because there’s always another where he came from—this might well be Mickey’s last mistake. The base’s commander already hates him, and that was before he laughed in the face of God by having two of himself. For philosophical and spiritual connotations aside, having two of oneself is NEVER a good thing. If there’s one bright spot, it’s that with Mickey’s job, he might just get lucky and die before anyone finds out. A funny thing to hope for.

Deepest of Secrets – by Kelley Armstrong (2/15)

Rockton #7

Goodreads

I only kinda skimmed this because I’m still on Book #5, but I’m pretty sure there’s another murderer in Rockton. Not too surprising when half the town are criminals, but inconvenient to say the least. As always, it’s up to the police force of 3 to bring the killer down, before the entire town turns on one another.

Diablo Mesa – by Preston & Child (2/15)

Nora Kelly / Corrie Swanson #3

Goodreads

Well, the spinoff has reached its third installment, and it’s already better than the main series itself. Probably a reason—but we won’t get into that. When Nora Kelly quits the Institute instead of heading a humiliating dig focused on aliens at Roswell, she manages to fall into a new gig almost immediately. And the first thing she has to do is… excavate the crash site in Roswell.

At least this time it pays better. And of course with a “conspiracy” this storied and phony, it’s not like it’ll be dangerous…

Other Releases

The Harbour – by Katrine Engberg (2/22)

Kørner & Werner #3

Goodreads

This third (in English, at least) entry in the Kørner & Werner Nordic noir crime series features another less than typical Copenhagen day in the world’s happiest country. I missing person, a worrying note, a potential murder, and no other leads for any of it. This is what confronts our pair this time and based on their past experiences… well, I’m not sure I’d anticipate the happiest of endings.

MUSIC

Two albums on my radar this month, but I’m sure there’re more plus singles I haven’t heard of yet. Finnish metal band Amorphis has a full-length album Halo coming on the 11th, and Australian celtic punk outfit The Rumjacks have a rather long EP, Brass for Gold, out the same day.

There’s also an Infamous Stringdusters album, Toward the Fray, releasing the next week, February 18th. I wasn’t in love with either of their first two singles off said album, but luckily I’m enjoying the 3rd one much more!

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to try to have something of my favorite songs released in the last month up, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen. Because me, because life, because effort. But I wanted to highlight songs by the Veer Union, Smash into Pieces, Wardruna, Shinedown, Infected Rain, Hermitude, and others. And hey, maybe it’ll happen;)

Gaming

I’ve been playing Biomutant lately, which—if you’ve heard anything about it all all—didn’t sell as well as expected on release because of publishing delays, poor pre-order incentives, somewhat repetitive combat, and a narrator who won’t shut up until your ears start to bleed.

I’ve been quite enjoying myself though, to be honest.

An open world adventure through the decaying ruins of the old world, you’re tasked with defeating the four Worldeaters, that are destroying the roots of the Tree of Life, which will result in the world’s destruction. Or… you could help them along, because the world is dying anyway, and nothing short of the end of everything is going to change that. The point is you have options.

You have the option to save or doom the world. You have the option to follow the main quest lines and unite the tribes, marshaling all forces under your rule to save/kill the Tree of Life and complete your destiny. You also have the option to get lost and wander around in the ruins of the old world, collecting loot and meeting interesting characters, while occasionally stumbling onto things from the main story (often entirely out of order), before resuming your globetrotting adventures in exploration. While I have no problem with doing the former options, I’ve primarily been doing the latter. In my defense, I get easily distracted, and the world itself is pretty and mutated and post-apocalyptic—and I really can’t resist that type of thing.

The narrator can be quite annoying and as he’s pretty much the only voice in the game, you’ll be hearing his voice A LOT interpreting everything or just inserting random comments because. You can turn his frequency down, which is quite nice—or, alternatively, you can just mute him entirely.

Otherwise, I have no complaints. I love adventure and exploration games, and I knew in advance that all I really had to do was put up with the narrator, so I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m only 23 hours in, but am hoping that I’ll get at least 60 total before I lose interest. Anything more than that would be a bonus. Anything less… well, I did get it on sale, at least.

MISC

In terms of plans for the month… I’ll pretty much be sticking to the schedule I’ve been following lately. Reviews Sunday and Tuesday, cover love on Thursdays (or I may switch that around and put the Beautiful World stuff on Tuesdays instead). My friend KK is still sending me the occasional review that I’ll be posting myself, randomly, and I may do some lists or musics or other things as well. I’ll also be doing a TBR sometime this month, but it’ll be more low key than what I was trying to do in years past.

Life-wise… I didn’t get fired. Which I kinda thought I would, so… yay! My direct boss left, and since I’ve just been filling a bunch of random positions under her I was worried I might just be left without anyone to report to, assign me shifts, or pay me. And while I don’t exactly have either of those first two worked out, I DO have someone to pay me—at least at first. I would be more worried, except I don’t really love my job anymore. There’s a lot of politicking recently and the focus has shifted from making sure everyone is having fun and being safe to making sure we’re making money and aren’t liable for anything bad that happens. But since I haven’t found anything better yet…

The last month sucked. Anxiety. Lots of it. Also gut and food and sleep troubles. Let’s not get into that. Here’s hoping that February is better! (Though I’m pretty sure everyone’s been saying that for the last two years straight…)

So what does everyone think of the books? Or the games? Oh, and what’s your lunar animal? I’m going to ask everyone this so don’t be surprised when it’s the first thing I follow up your comments with. I’m a rabbit. A FIRE rabbit. Pretty sure most rabbits don’t like being on fire, but whatever, maybe some Eurasian ones do? But uh anyway books and games and stuff…

Fated – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #1

Urban Fantasy

Ace; February 28, 2012 (US)
Orbit; March 1, 2012 (UK)

278 pages (paperback)

Author Website

Goodreads
StoryGraph

3.5 / 5 ✪

Alex Verus is part of another world hidden in plain sight. A mage himself, he owns a magic shop in Camden, a little on the nose perhaps, but not unheard of—much like a certain guy who advertises in the phonebook under “Wizard”. Comparatively, Verus’ life is quiet by comparison—something he’s quite a fan of. See, for years Alex has done his best to remain under the radar, out of everyone’s business but his own.

But when the Council comes calling, it seems there’s little chance of that continuing. See, Alex is a diviner, meaning that while he doesn’t have access to any kind of flashy magic like the ability to shoot flames or ice or force, the ability to raise the dead or create vast armies of constructs, the ability to heal or snuff out life with a touch and a thought—he does have the ability to make people very, very nervous by reading their every move for every interaction. Now, divining isn’t a science or anything like you see on TV; he can’t foretell anyone’s death (unless it happens to be in the very close future), he doesn’t tell fortunes, and no, he can’t predict the lottery. What it is is probability and chance—two things Verus has extensive experience with, and have not only kept him alive, but made him very good at his job.

It’s this that the Council is after. And they’re desperate.

So when Alex turns them down, they don’t take it well. Fortunately for the Council, the next group to come calling are a group of Dark Mages, and they ask a great deal less politely. See, Dark mages are consumed with power beyond anything else—anything they want, they take, and if you’re not strong enough to resist them, then it’s not anything you deserve having. The strong lead; the weak follow.

So when Alex turns them down, they take it even more poorly. Soon he has cause to rethink the Council’s offer, but there’s still concern. Because when Verus sees the object in question, he has great misgivings giving such a thing to either side. In a perfect world, Alex might just walk away and let the two go to war over it. But this isn’t a perfect world. So it begs the question: just what is he going to do now?

‘ “What’s motivating you?”
“Well… right now, staying alive would be good.”
Morden shook his head. “ Oh, I think you can do better than that.”
“Um, staying alive is a pretty big motivation for me.” ‘

Thus begins the Alex Verus reread!

With part 1 of 12 successfully complete, I’ve slightly better hopes of accomplishing this feat in 2022, though most of the challenge is still ahead of me. And I have quite an ambitious idea for just what it may entail. While I’m a big fan of the series, I’ve only actually read one of the entries before—and it wasn’t Fated.

So here it is: a return to the roots of one of my favorite urban fantasy series. And… it’s okay. Pretty decent, even. The first book, at least.

Fated isn’t the greatest read ever, nor is it the best beginning to a series that I’ve ever read. It’s okay—though obviously the work of a relatively new author. There’s not much depth, not much character development (although we spend most of the time exploring Alex and his history, so that’s not any great surprise). The first great disappointment is in the supporting cast. They’re… kinda shallow. By which I mean they don’t have a whole lot of substance to them, or any kind of development or history that’s worth caring about. As a returning reader I can tell you that some of them flesh out quite nicely in the future—just not in Fated.

The first time I read this, I stumbled regularly over the first 100 pages or so. It took me much longer to get into the story, which is a bit of an issue in a 300 page book. This time, I had no such trouble getting into the story. I really moved along quite quickly once the plot got rolling—and I managed to get into it much easier since I had a vague idea of where it was headed.

“ If there’s one thing all diviners share, it’s curiosity. We can’t really help it; it’s just a part of who we are. If you dug out a tunnel somewhere in the wilderness a thousand miles from anywhere and hung a sign on it saying, Warning, this leads to the Temple of Horrendous Doom. Do not enter, ever. No, not even then, you’d get back from lunch to find a diviner already inside and two more about to go in.

Come to think about it, that might explain why there are so few of us. “

As I said, this is obviously an early effort by a recent author. But what does that mean? Well, in this case it means that it’s not as polished, not as refined, not as immersive as their later work, once they’ve established their writing style and have some experience under their belt. It does seem to be thought out and written according to some plan, as such not wandering around waiting for something to happen. There’s a story pretty much straight out of the gate, and while it’s not very innovative (at least at first), it certainly doesn’t lack for creativity either. The language is also a bit fiddly, but it’s not like there are grammatical or punctuation errors or anything. It just… sometimes takes the long way to say things. And hell, some authors do that more as their career expands. It’s not even something you’d certainly notice. It’s just not… the same language the author uses in later books—once he’s really developed a feel for these things.

The thing that didn’t change was its entertainment value. I found this just as entertaining—if not more—the second time around. When I first read Fated back in 2016, it took just short of two weeks (but then there are many reasons for that). This time around, it took me about three days. And while I have to admit it was a very straightforward plot (at least at first)—it was quite enjoyable. Even more so knowing how the story grows from here. It’s honestly a bit like Storm Front (by Jim Butcher, first entry in the Dresden Files) in that it’s not the author’s best story, but it’s definitely enjoyable, certainly entertaining, gets the series off on solid footing, and sets the stage for what’s to come. And there is in fact a nod to the Dresden Files in the early pages: ‘ I’ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phonebook under “Wizard”… ‘—so there’s that.

TL;DR

For those of you who didn’t want to read my jaunt down memory lane—yeah, whatever. The short of it is that Fated isn’t the best book out there. It smacks of being written by a relatively new author—characters don’t have a whole lot of substance, and aren’t developed much; the plot was straightforward and far from innovative; and, in my first time through at least, I had trouble getting in to the story. But while not terribly innovative, the world is certainly creative and well-told. Another world hidden within our own, but this one not entirely out of sight. Alex Verus isn’t a flashy mage, but a thoughtful one. And he’s not without his skill. It’s a great intro, as these things go, and the series only gets better from here!

The series continues with Cursed, which—to be honest—I’m drawing a blank on. I mean, I remember liking it, but not any specifics. Huh. I guess you’ll have to check back in February to learn more. Or… you could always just read it yourself first:)

Q&A with Richard S. Ford – Author of Engines of Empire

I was fortunate enough to get a little Q&A with Richard S. Ford, author of Engines of Empire and the Steelhaven series—each of which I’ve featured here—but also much more! Mostly it’s talk about his new book and the upcoming sequels, but also there’s a glimpse into the past: concerning books already published, sequels not yet written, worlds not yet realized. I learned a few things—and even made an addition to my TBR.

I was hoping to get this out last week, in time for the release of Engines of Empire, but these last few weeks have been insane—busy, stressful, everything happening at once. So… here it is now!

Many, many thanks to Orbit for making this happen, especially Angela Man, and of course Richard S. Ford for taking the time to answer some of my burning questions!

As is my style, I mostly stayed on task and asked questions about his latest release, but also snuck in some about his other books, other series, ones that we might not have had an adequate resolution to (ahem, Steelhaven). Luckily he didn’t seem to mind, and here’s the result!

Well, this is your fourth series (three as Ford, one as Cullen), and (unless I’m mistaken) your fourth different world (five including Kultus). Though some authors stay in one world their whole career, you’ve decided to do the opposite. So, do you have just so many ideas for different worlds, or feel the need to get started on something new after spending three straight books in one place, or some third option?

I hate to shatter the illusion that I’m some kind of creative dynamo, but the main decision to jump in and out of different worlds has mostly been made for me. I wrote Kultus back in 2010 with the intention it would be part of an ongoing series of 5 or 6 novels. However, Headline made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and my focus had to shift away from Blaklok’s story to Steelhaven. When, after a couple of years, Headline then decided to cancel its SFF imprint (and fire my editor) I was forced to move on to something else, which would eventually become the War of the Archons series. Due to the fact my previous books had been left hanging in the wind as far as ongoing narratives were concerned, I decided WotA would be a self-contained trilogy with a definite beginning, middle and end.

Before I even finished that trilogy I’d had ideas for other stories percolating in my head for a while. I wanted to write something truly epic, but I’d also wanted to dip my toe into historical fiction for years. So which one to write? I decided, why not do both at the same time?

And do you think you’ll ever revisit any of your other fantasy worlds in the future?

I have toyed with the idea of finishing the Blaklok books, perhaps via self-publishing (I now have the rights back from Solaris) but it’s quite a difficult series to market. Self-publishing relies on being able to promote your books by leveraging established genres, and Blaklok doesn’t comfortably fit in one, since it’s an occult, steampunk, action-adventure, with an ultra-violent, potty-mouthed protagonist. But who knows?

There are also lots more stories to be told in the world of Steelhaven (what has happened to Nobul Jacks?), but while Headline still clings onto the rights for the original trilogy they’ll never be written.

Saying that, the two trilogies I’m working on at the moment may well spin out into longer series, though that will entirely depend on their popularity.

I quite enjoyed the book, but really would’ve liked to see a bit of the revolution from outside the Hawkspur family. Did this worry you at all when you wrote the book? And do you think we’ll see any more diversity from the characters moving forward?

No, it didn’t worry me. The first book establishes the world through the eyes of the Hawkspur family, and adding too may external POVs would have diverted the narrative focus. Saying that, book two will bring a couple of minor characters from the first book to front and centre. You’ll just have to wait and see who they are.

And which character was your favorite to write? And the most challenging?

Conall was the most fun to write, mainly due to his snarky interactions with Sted, his stalwart lieutenant. In my original draft he wasn’t even featured, but on revising the MS I realised I needed a character with a bit of ‘bite’.

Every character brings their own unique challenges. Usually finding logical motivations for your villains, without making them moustache twirling bounders, is the most difficult part.

Could you explain the magic system to me? Without spoilers, of course. I never quite wrapped my head around it. If it was interconnected or different or based on the different gods or… there was a lot going on!

The magic system is sort of interconnected, but not really. In Torwyn traditional ‘magic’ has been outlawed since the war of the Archmages a thousand years before the story begins. The only magic that’s allowed is the use of pyrestone, which can be harnessed as a power source for artifice, and manipulated by webwainers.

Across the Drift in Malador, magic is much more traditional, but with a slightly demonic bent. In Nyrakkis they use necroglyphs – magical sigils ritually scarred into the skin – to harness demon-magics, though they would call them gods. In Iperion Magna magic is even more sinister, but its use is mostly reserved for the Scions and their servants.

Due to various cultural taboos, few people have ever (in recent years anyway) tried to combine the two. But, perhaps soon, someone will…

There are some hints that we’ll be going somewhere new in Book #2, which I can’t get into because of spoilers, but what can we expect from the series looking forward?

Rumour has it that in the coming year or two, more novels are going to focus on ‘joy’, so I thought I’d embrace that and have everyone make friends and live happily ever after in this next book. Only kidding – there’ll obviously be much more violence, betrayal and rip-roaring adventure!

And what can we expect from you looking forward?

I’ll be continuing both my ongoing series. Shield Breaker, book two in my historical fiction series (writing as Richard Cullen) will be release around July. I’ve almost finished the first draft of Engines of Chaos, and once that’s nailed and sent to the editor I’ll be jumping straight into book three. So pretty busy really!

Congratulations on the release of Engines of Empire, and best of luck in the future! I already can’t wait for Book #2!

Hope you enjoyed this little peek into the mind of Richard S. Ford/Richard Cullen. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out my various reviews of his stuff, and then maybe go check out his books. It sucks about Headline and the Steelhaven stuff. Having recently finished that series, I’m still a bit frustrated by wondering about Nobul Jacks. But there are still other books yet to discover. I know I’m definitely interested in reading Kultus!

Richard S. Ford — Website

Kultus — Goodreads

Engines of Empire — Review • Goodreads

Herald of the Storm — Review • Goodreads

The Shattered Crown — Review • Goodreads

Lord of Ashes — Review • Goodreads

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.