The Warrior – by Stephen Aryan (Review)

Quest for Heroes #2

Fantasy

Angry Robot; August 9, 2022

379 pages (paperback)

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8 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many, many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a lovely physical ARC, even after the first two got lost in the mail (and I told them not to worry about it)! It was so very nice of them. They are quite nice people, after all! Um and… all opinions are my own.

Kell Kresia, two time Hero of the Four Kingdoms, King of Algany, most famous man alive—is trapped. Trapped in a grand design as the “king” of one of the four kingdoms, a position he fills mostly as a figurehead. Trapped in a loveless marriage, his wife Sigrid was born to rule but for the nature of being a woman, something she has never forgiven the world for. Trapped and surrounded by people and fame, he can’t find any alone time or anonymity among the commonfolk.

So when his old friend Willow shows up requesting for her homeland, Kell can’t wait to leave.

But this isn’t something as simple as a quest north to defeat the Ice Lich. The land of the Alfár is remote and hidden—somewhere humans have rarely tread. More importantly, it is a land out of time; both literally and figuratively, as the passage of time moves differently in this realm, meaning that for every week that passes within, a year or more might pass in the outside world. Then there is the Malice, the strange and terrible affliction that poisons the land.

Meanwhile life in the Four Kingdoms goes on, with Sigrid (and her infant son) ruling alone. Day to day politicking aside, the continent inches ever closer to war, divided on the worship of the Shepherd, the religion that one Reverend Mother Britak would use to create a theocracy. Despite its very nature being based on a lie, the faith continues to push into Algany, its devotees purging any other beliefs in their way. And without Kell’s legend to dissuade her, there may be nothing holding Britak back from the future she desires. Nothing but Sigrid.

Only upon reaching the Alfár homeland of Gilial do Kell and his party realize just how far gone the place truly is. The trees have withered and died, or turned to monsters of bark and branch. The animals have become mindless beasts only sated by blood and meat. The other races of Gilial have fallen into ruin, and are only rumored to exist in any form. While the Alfár are just a shadow of their former glory—a dying, infected species, day by day more and more fall victim to the Malice.

There exists a plan to save Gilial but it is dark and desperate, despicable and deranged. Willow seeks to stop it, something which Kell and his companions—members of his personal guard: Odd, a loner harboring a terrible secret; and Yarra, harboring deep regret—are instrumental to, as humans may resist the Malice better than their Alfár counterparts.

Only upon seeing the state of the land they might wonder—how could the cure possible be any worse than the affliction?

For it to be precious, life has to end. If I live forever and do nothing, then what was the point?

While the first quest broke Kell, the second made him whole. What will this third one do?

Well, at least he won’t have to face the Ice Lich. Or WILL he?

No. He won’t. Instead he’ll face a world unseen by most of humanity, full of vibrant locales and ruined cities and creatures never seen before—all corrupted by the Malice’s influence. It was quite the tale, one that left me wanting to see more of this new world, yearning to see it before it had been devastated by the Malice. What we see in the Warrior is a world laid to waste. Oh, to see it before!

But anyway, the story is a good one. Kell’s is, at least. Full of twists and turns. Challenge and peril. A land full of surprise and opportunity. The story winds its way through this strange land, eventually leading to the heart of the Malice—and to the big reveal. As big reveals go, this may not have been anything game-changing, but it was at least interesting. And the conclusion and aftermath more than make up for any letdown in the mystery department.

The issue I have is not with Kell’s story, but Sigrid’s. Even in the first few pages of her first chapter, you knew where it was going to lead. Well, you knew where Kell’s was leading too. But where Kell’s was interesting, immersive, and exciting throughout—and even sprinkled with a seed of doubt—Sigrid’s only started this way. But at the 3/4 mark, it takes a turn. Everything afterwards seems like a foregone conclusion.

While a great tale and quest, the Warrior ain’t exactly innovative. It’s strongly reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, albeit an abbreviated, poor man’s version. It’s entertaining, sure; almost everything that it does, this book does well (excluding, of course, the conclusion at home). It isn’t a retelling of LotR, or a fanfic, although the quest is rife with similarities. That said, there’s nothing wrong with doing a little LotR impersonation every now and then. Impression is the highest form of flattery. And LotR is (no matter your opinion on it) the most popular fantasy tale. It would be impossible not to draw similarities between the two. And that’s okay. Because it’s not a clone, a rip-off, or a retelling. The Warrior tells an amazing story with just a little bit of a letdown towards the end.

TL;DR

The Warrior isn’t a game-changer. It tells of a quest—a fellowship, if you will—through a land devastated and barren, to reach some peril at the end and vanquish it. I mean, just stop me here if this reminds you of anything. Or just keep reading. Because while the initial plot is hardly innovative, once you get into it it’s sure immersive. A plague destroying a previously forgotten land. A race against time. A legend with nothing to prove, hunting the Malice that threatens his friends. A new world to explore. An old world to remember. I mean, it’s all quite good. And a worthy conclusion to a fabulous duology!

August 2022

ARC

Eversion – by Alastair Reynolds (8/02)

Standalone

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From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

The Warrior – by Stephen Aryan (8/09)

Quest for Heroes #2

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The story of Kell Kressia continues in Book II of the gripping fantasy duology. Kell, two time saviour of the Five Kingdoms, is now the King of Algany. He has fame, power, respect, and has never been more miserable…

Bound, by duty and responsibility, Kell is King only in name. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he leaves affairs of state to his wife, Sigrid. When his old friend, Willow, turns up asking him to go on a journey to her homeland he can’t wait to leave.

The Malice, a malevolent poison that alters everything it infects, runs rampant across Willow’s homeland. Desperate to find a cure her cousin, Ravvi, is willing to try a dark ritual which could damn her people forever. Journeying to a distant land, Kell and his companions must stop Ravvi before it’s too late. While Kell is away Reverend Mother Britak’s plans come to a head. Queen Sigrid must find a way to protect her family and her nation, but against such a ruthless opponent, something has to give…

The Oleander Sword – by Tasha Suri (8/16)

Burning Kingdoms #2

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The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.

Babel: An Arcane History – by R.F. Kuang (8/23)

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1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

Other Releases

The Surf – by Kwaku Osei-Afrifa (8/17)

Solar Satellites / Novella

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Elerie Astrada is hanging in almost-space, awaiting launch.

Ultsurf is a popular, high-stakes relay race contested at the edge of a planet’s atmosphere. It’s fast, hard and dangerous: it isn’t a bloodsport, but blood is often spilled. It is also highly illegal. And Ele is at the top of her game, just a few wins away from the major leagues.

But making the fastest Split isn’t Ele’s biggest challenge. When her childhood friend India blackmails her with knowledge of her Ultsurfing career, Ele’s thrown into the politics of money and power, and way over her head. As a pawn in India’s scheme, Ele digs up everything she can on her Ultsurf rivals, the Royals—through drugs, espionage and violence—to ensure her team’s victory.

It’s brought her to this moment. Everything is in place, every deal done. Then the starter whistle blows…

All of Our Demise – by Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman (8/30)

All of Us Villains #2

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For the first time in this ancient, bloodstained story, the tournament is breaking. The boundaries between the city of Ilvernath and the arena have fallen. Reporters swarm the historic battlegrounds. A dead boy now lives again. And a new champion has entered the fray, one who seeks to break the curse for good… no matter how many lives are sacrificed in the process.

As the curse teeters closer and closer to collapse, the surviving champions each face a choice: dismantle the tournament piece by piece, or fight to the death as this story was always intended.

Long-held alliances will be severed. Hearts will break. Lives will end. Because a tale as wicked as this one was never destined for happily ever after.

Purchases

The Winter Road – by Adrian Selby (2018)

Standalone

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The greatest empire of them all began with a road.

The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.

With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet…

Brother Red – by Adrian Selby (2021)

Standalone

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When the trade caravan Driwna Marghoster was hired to protect is attacked, she discovers a dead body hidden inside a barrel. Born of the powerful but elusive Oskoro people, the body is a rare and priceless find, the centre of a tragic tale and the key to a larger mystery…

For when Driwna investigates who the body was meant for, she will find a trail of deceit and corruption which could bring down a kingdom, and an evil more powerful than she can imagine.

Black Heart: Words on Wind, Adrift on Dreams of Splendor (Book 1) – by Mark Smylie (2022)

Artesia #2 / Black Heart #1 (of 3)

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The last survivors of the raid on the Barrow of Azharad have scattered to the four winds, each walking a separate path. For some, it is the path of noble service, as the households of great kings and warlords beckon, offering a chance to enter the fray of politics with the fate of nations on the line. For others, it is the path of secrets and magic, as the veil of the world parts to reveal the hidden truths that dwell in shadow and spirit.

And for Stjepan Black-Heart, royal cartographer and suspected murderer, it is the path of battle and sacrifice, as he is summoned to attend the household of the Grand Duke Owen Lis Red, the Earl Marshal to the High King of the Middle Kingdoms, on his latest campaign to find and kill Porloss, the Rebel Earl: an elusive quarry lurking behind an army of ruthless renegade knights in the wild hills of the Manon Mole, a land where every step could be your last, and where lie secrets best left undisturbed.

Leviathan Wakes – by James S.A. Corey (Special 10th Anniversary Edition)

The Expanse #1

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This 10th anniversary edition hardcover includes: 

A striking new cover
Stained edges and illustrated endpapers
A black and magenta foil case
A reversible cover that features the full, uncropped artwork of the original cover art
A new introduction from the authors
From New York Times-bestselling and Hugo award-winning author James S. A. Corey comes the first book in the genre-defining space opera series, The Expanse, introducing a captain, his crew, and a detective as they unravel a horrifying solar system wide conspiracy that begins with a single missing girl.

Humanity has colonized the solar system—Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond—but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

I’ve had my eye on this one since it released! While I’m not much of a Special Edition kinda guy, this one is just lovely. And shiny. Veeerry shiny. Plus it’s the beginning of one of my favorite ever science fiction series. I mean, yeah, I may have got it on sale, but I still bought it when I already own an ebook copy, so…

Currently Reading

Don’t have much to say about this yet, as I’m only about a quarter through it. So far, so good! Can’t wait/bummed for the series to be done—you know how it is.

Gaming

Big month for indie games. I completed three: Kim, a retelling of Kipling’s historic novel; Hyper Light Drifter, a hack n’ slash done in a lovely pixelly style; Death’s Door, a souls-born-esque game where you play a reaper ushering souls into the afterlife. Kim was a bit meh, but the other two I’d recommend. Each were rather short to complete the story, but Death’s Door took me 20 hours to 100%. I’ll include some links and previews, and some of my favorite shots from Hyper Light Drifter.

Life

A couple of new things. Quit my second job (because I hated it), and I’m a little lacking for hours from just the one, but I’m fine for funds right now so I figured I’d take it easy a bit and enjoy the last month of summer before I start looking in full. Got a camping/backpacking trip coming up next week (haven’t decided which to do), which will hopefully be fun. Was supposed to go this last week, but it’s been 100˚F each of the last 6 days, with under 20% humidity. Feels a bit oveny, but that’s to be expected for Montana summer. In fact, it’s probably the nicest summer in years. It’s the start of August now, and there’re no huge fires in the state yet. Our smoke levels are also not bad. Moisture and precipitation levels are around average. Mosquitos are really the only thing to complain about. Well, I guess that and prices. If it wasn’t for the need to eat, I wouldn’t even have to get a 2nd job. But well, kinda hard to stop eating.

I should have the reviews to at least some of the ARCs above out this month. Also, Ymir from July. Might even have a blurb about Kim out too.

Hope everything’s going well for everyone else! What are y’all excited for? Got any interesting plans for the rest of the summer? And what books are you looking forward to—any that we share?

The Coward – by Stephen Aryan (Review)

Quest for Heroes #1

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Angry Robot; June 8, 2021

411 pages (paperback)

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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.

Magebane – by Stephen Aryan (Review)

Age of Dread #3

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit Books; August 6, 2019

491 pages (PB)

4.3 / 5 ✪

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Contains spoilers for both Mageborn and Magefall. Also may contain possible spoilers for the Age of Darkness trilogy!

For a guy who hated one of my favorite books, Stephen Aryan can tell a pretty good story. His second trilogy set in this particular world, the Age of Dread continues what the Age of Darkness started, with magic, law, and the gods themselves coming to the forefront for this conclusion.

The Age of Darkness ended in an epic battle for the good of the world, but the Age of Dread features an epic struggle as well—this one for both gods and men. Having carved out a niche for themselves in the corner of Shael, Wren and the others now search for acceptance from a world that continues to hate and fear their kind. When a mysterious illness appears on the streets of Perizzi, it’s up to Tammy to make sure the virus spreads no further. But she fails as the city is soon quarantined, and are left with a choice—will they survive together, or die alone? As Munroe hunts the being that stole her family from her, nothing will stand in her way. Less justice, more vengeance; nothing will save Akosh when the mage catches up to her. For justice is all well and good, but some debts can only be paid in blood. Akosh has fallen far from the goddess she truly is. Hunted on all fronts, she is forced into an alliance with a being even more powerful and ancient than herself. And when even her once ally threatens to turn on her, Akosh must make the ultimate sacrifice to survive. Revealed as something more than mortal, Danoph know travels with Vargus, the one-time Weaver showing him the ropes. But what is Danoph’s task, exactly? And will he be able to fulfill it when the truth is revealed?

I know this was a fairly brief prompt compared to my usual ramble, but at the end of a six book series (that’s two trilogies), I’m not sure who’s where and how much I should be revealing. Hopefully I did a decent enough job of keeping it informative, yet also vague enough that anyone can jump right in.

I’ve really enjoyed these two trilogies—both the Age of Darkness and the Age of Dread—though I know they weren’t exactly giant successes. It seems most of the people I’ve talked to about them read one or two of the first trilogy, but thought they were decent at best, and then dropped off. Well, everyone’s allowed their own opinion, but it doesn’t really matter as I thought they were brilliant!

With five books preceding Magebane, there are so many paths diverging and converging that the story could almost end up anywhere. It was a brief disappointment when instead we arrived at two shared threads, but the conclusion was entertaining enough that I soon got over it. Though not as epic (in my opinion) as the finale of Chaosmage, the ending here was still impressive. An ultimate evil on one side, while a much different evil awaits on the other. It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected given the series’ history, but in some ways impressed me more given that it broke out of the mold it’d kept to up to this point.

The characters and world-building have been strong throughout the series, reaching an impressive zenith as all their threads collide. While we didn’t get as much exposure to either Sorcerer as I would’ve liked in this final book, enough of the other characters starred that I got over the slight—especially when I figured out what the author was up to. While the trilogies both feature so much of the affairs of gods and sorcerers; the world is not built upon them. It’s built on the backs of mortals. Or, I guess, ‘it is in men that we must place our hope.’ Many stories ended here, some are only getting started. I can’t wait to see where Aryan takes the story from here!

TL;DR

The Age of Darkness ended with a bang. The Age of Dread ends in much the same manner. Another epic conclusion concludes another epic series. Part of me was truly disappointed to see it end, but every story must come to an end. As they’ve struggled to adapt and overcome over the course of six books, the characters that emerge from Magebane have seen some things. They’ve been fleshed out, humanized, developed, grown, regressed, both most of all survived. Everything has led to this point—the end of an age. If you’ve not yet begun either series—I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re somewhere in the middle but on the fence about continuing—I’d still recommend it. If not, I understand; there’s always more to read 🙂

Book Review: Magefall – by Stephen Aryan

The Age of Darkness #2

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Orbit Books; September 4, 2018

438 pages

4.8 / 5 ✪

I actually received a free copy of Magefall a little while after it was published, and am kinda embarrassed to admit that I put it off for so long. Not because of the wait. I read what I like, and sadly it kept getting pushed back. But mostly… mostly because it was really good. I’m a big fan of Stephen Aryan’s books, and this one was no exception.

I really shouldn’t have to say it, but my opinions are my own, and I don’t change them for anyone, even nice people that send me free books. Don’t let that stop you, though.

All books are better when signed. It’s just a fact.

Mageborn saw the fall of the Red Tower. Mages and talents alike became reviled, hated for the magic they were born with. Children showing the spark were no longer delivered so that they might be trained but drowned in rivers or smothered in their sleep. The former high mage’s council has fractured into three; each now traveling their own path. Balfruss—arguably the most powerful mage alive—accompanied by Eloise, he leads his group into the east, and to safety. They are welcomed by the desert kingdoms, but once there, it is difficult to return. Garvey leads the faction of students that refuses to bow, nor to run. They rove between the borderlands of Zecorria and Yerskania, murdering and razing towns that will not allow them succor. They become feared, hated, in equal measure. Wren leads a small group out into the wilds of Shael, where they set up camp and try to learn, grow, survive. They are safe, for now. In Yerskania, Monroe searches in vain for her family, an anger unlike anything the world has seen building within her. In Perizzi, Tammy suffers under the mantle of leadership, trying to guide the Guardians through a web of lies and betrayal, while their country crumbles from within. In Zecorria, the Regent attempts to create his own cabal of mages, but for the safety of it or power it brings only he can say. On another plane, gods and immortals play quite a different game, each with their own pieces and rules. Akosh, one such being, plays a dangerous game. But if she can maneuver it correctly, there waits a sea of certainty and power in an uncertain world. But as always, Vargus lurks nearby, waiting for any that dare cheat. A storm looms, and none know where the wind shall take it.

Magefall continues the Age of Dread trilogy (which follows the Age of Darkness trilogy, and will likely precede the Age of Sunshine and Adorable Bunnies trilogy), which began with Mageborn, and in which Stephen Aryan firmly establishes himself as one of the masters of dark fantasy. The quality of the world continues from the pinnacle it reached in Chaosmage and while most of the POV feature returning characters, there are a few new faces as well. The story is solid and yet toes the line between simply advancing the overarching plot and going off on its own course. It’s… it does advance the Age of Dread plot. But there exist slight distractions between this and the characters’ own individual stories, some of which are more self-contained than threads in a greater story.

The overarching plot isn’t terribly intricate, with the events of Aryan’s debut Battlemage as the main focus. The war that turned people firmly against magic. While the Age of Darkness has ended, and the darkness pushed back, the commonfolk it seems are not eager to return to such a time. And there you have it. Short and sweet. I mean, it’s not terribly inventive, and one could say that Aryan is certainly getting his money’s worth out of his first novel. But it works. And it’s entertaining. So, I don’t really have a problem with it.

I really loved this book. The characters, the depth, the world-building, the plot (even though I found it a bit simple), the writing were all truly amazing. Almost up to Chaosmage levels. I’ve really enjoyed the journey so far, and Magefall did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

The most inconsistency Magefall shows is in its characters. Though not their motivations, nor arcs. It’s mostly the POVCs (Point Of View Chapters) in the text. Munroe had increasingly dark POVCs throughout, which—though holding to her deepening thirst for vengeance—made her chapters do little more for me than to move the story along. Akosh was difficult to relate to as all gods are, but particularly the kind of god that you’ve seen in POVCs since Battlemage and are still trying to figure out how they work exactly. But minor players in Book 1; Tianne, Danoph and Garvey stepped into the spotlight. Honestly, two even featured twists I never saw coming. One was so surprising that I keep going back and rereading it. For the most part, the POVs of Magefall I found grossly entertaining, even the few I had trouble relating to. The one-hit wonders provided a bit of struggle, as they do anywhere really. Still, you’re going to encounter that in 99% of novels, and this was by no means flagrant, or a deal-breaker. It may’ve helped hold the book back from a full 5 star rating, but did little else. Magefall is still damn good. And if you haven’t yet read any of Aryan’s books, it’s past time to start.

Pleasantly but not devilishly dark, Magefall features both deep and relatively green characters, both of which help drive its excellent story. While a few, minor inconsistencies and the occasional dropped POV held it back from being something truly special, Magefall is nevertheless one of my favorite Aryan books, and so far the best book I’ve read this year. Can’t wait for Magebane. It drops in June, giving everyone just enough time to catch up on the series if they haven’t already done so.

But.

Literally. Cannot. Wait.

OF GODS AND MEN – REVIEW

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men – by Stephen Aryan – A Novella of The Age of Darkness

4.7 / 5.0 stars

This novella by Stephen Aryan takes place prior to the events of Battlemage and stars Vargas, the mysterious figure prominently featured in the original trilogy. Unlike any of Aryan’s novels, this follows Vargus’s POV throughout and recounts some of his experiences as the Gath. While not covering anything central to the plots in either the Age of Darkness or the Age of Dread—at least, not really—it provides some background on Vargas (including the reason he is known as “Weaver”) and unveils another secret that Vargas has been keeping from the world. A terrible, terrible secret that is…

Well, that would be telling.

Sufficient to say that the novella was both interesting and engrossing, and makes me look at Aryan’s world in an entirely different light. I terribly recommend this to anyone that read (and enjoyed) the Age of Darkness Trilogy—Battlemage, Bloodmage, Chaosmage—or Mageborn. Or even fans anew.

Just a tad overpriced. I literally took off 0.3 of a star for that, yeah.

4.7 / 5.0 stars (If possibly a tad overpriced at $4 for something at probably around 60-65 pages. If you’re wondering: Of Gods and Men by Stephen Aryan, the next 15 or so pages is a preview of Battlemage).