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

The Chronicles of Stratus #2

Fantasy, Dragons

Solaris (Rebellion); December 7, 2021

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

4.5 / 5 ✪

Chronicles of Stratus

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

5 / 5 ✪

Infernal Review

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

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

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

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

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

So, just go get it.

Go on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Made Things – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)


Fantasy, Steampunk, Novella; 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.

Infernal – by Mark de Jager (Review)

Chronicles of Stratus #1

Dark Fantasy, Fantasy

Solaris; November 26, 2020

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

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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.


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 Shattered Crown – by Richard (R.S.) Ford (Review)

Steelhaven #2

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Epic

Headline; April 22, 2014

391 pages (Paperback)

4.0 / 5 ✪

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The second book of the Steelhaven trilogy, the Shattered Crown carries all the weight of the previous installment, but does a much better job of handling it. All POVs return—save one: River’s tale has taken him outside the city and gets little exposure because of it—and even adds an additional character to the mix. While I felt that all the POVs weighed down Herald of the Storm, affecting both its pace and flow, the Shattered Crown rolls along much more smoothly, telling an action-packed story of love, hope, and betrayal.

Janessa now wears the Steel Crown. With few real allies and no real confidants, she is untried and untested. Yet with the Horde looming on the horizon, she must mature quickly. But will the girl become a Queen, or will she burn along with her city, becoming little more than a footnote to history?

Though the shadow of war looms large, life in Steelhaven carries on. The citizens have a choice to make, however. Will they stand in defense for the city, or pin all their hope on mercy from Amon Tugha? It seems that Kaira, Nobul, Waylian and Regulus have all made their choice—but for Merrick, choice is an illusion. While he carries duty and responsibility now, he mind rebels at the very thought of it.

Rag simply wants to be protected. Amon Tugha, the Guild, even the Greencoats (the city guard)—she’s not picky. But due to her choices in Herald of the Storm, life seems more real and death more inevitable lately. And yet, even her choices will help shape the fate of the city. For the Horde is coming, and no city is greater than the sum of its parts.

Herald of the Storm stumbled straight out of the gate. Each of the first seven chapters introduce a new character. That means a whole lot of new faces and backstories to take in, and not a whole lot of opportunity to establish any kind of a rhythm. Now, while the Shattered Crown follows exactly the same equation—the first seven chapters, each with a different POV, though only one of them is truly new—it seems to go much more smoothly than before. I think it’s because we’ve become used to these characters. With a book under his belt, the author doesn’t need to introduce a whole new motivation and backstory for each one. Instead, it’s more—here’re your returning POVs, here’s what they’ve been up to since you saw them last. While it still makes for a slow start, it doesn’t seem nearly as clumsy as it did before.

As usual, this story revolves around its characters. Each (except Regulus) have had a book to flesh out. While I didn’t find each and every one as deep and intricate as the last, there were a few that surprised me with their depth and impressed me with their ability to keep the story moving. I found some, like Kaira and Regulus, to be little more than cut-outs to progress the story. Others, like Rag, Merrick and Janessa, impressed me. Still more, Waylian and Nobul, haven’t made up their minds yet. I’m quite curious to see what will happen in the series conclusion—will every character experience some kind of development? Nobul and Kaira have been pretty stagnant up to this point, with Janessa, Merrick and Rag carrying most of the developmental weight. Will everyone finally progress? Or will some regress? Or will they all just die when Amon Tugha finally gets to the city?

Oh yeah, some spoilers. Amon Tugha doesn’t actually GET to the city yet. I mean, everyone knows he’s coming, but the dude is taking his sweet time. So far we’ve spent two books building up to the epic battle, and I’m more than ready for it to begin. Truth is, I was ready for (and anticipating) it sometime in the Shattered Crown, only for that moment to never arrive. I’d say that’s the largest disappointment in store for would-be readers. But otherwise, nothing’s too bad.


The Shattered Crown picks up where Herald of the Storm left off, but succeeds where the previous entry often disappointed. The story is interesting and entertaining. It takes a darker turn than I was expecting, as if to remind you that Steelhaven isn’t a place of sunshine and posies. There’s action, suspense, intrigue. Love, drama, hope, betrayal. The character development needs some work, and the world-building might as well not exist outside of Steelhaven. But there’s very little outside to pay any mind to—little that relates directly to the story, at least. And the characters of the Shattered Crown are better than they were in Herald of the Storm, which gives me hope for Book #3. All in all, a good read, and a better follow-up to a lackluster debut.

The series concludes with Lord of Ashes.

The Kraken’s Tooth – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

Seven Swords #2

Fantasy, Epic

Subterranean Press; September 30, 2020

136 pages (ebook)

4.4 / 5 ✪

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I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Subterranean Press and Netgalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Second entry in the Seven Swords reunites us with Pilgrim and Seeker, fresh off their battle in the Execration against a mad god. While the Seeker remains shrouded in mystery, her path forward has become clear. She seeks a certain girl, sold into slavery, one that bears a striking resemblance to she herself. The Pilgrim however, has been unmasked. Guyime, known to history as the Ravager, seeks the Seven Swords—a collection of demon blades that imbue their wielders with power and unnaturally long life. A life that Guyime would escape.

But to do that he must travel to Carthula and claim the Kraken’s Tooth, a mythical sword said to be lodged in the heart of a long dead Kraken. Accompanying him on this fool’s errand are: Seeker, whose path seems to parallel his own, for now; a powerful sorceress from an equally powerful clan; and her’s father’s slave, a man that never forgets anything he’s ever learned. But will this trio be enough to help Guyime through a maze built from his worst nightmares and memories, or will this fellowship crumble once their quarry is in sight?

Other than the previous Pilgrimage of Swords, the Kraken’s Tooth has nothing to do with any of Ryan’s other work (that I know of, at least). As with the first, I wouldn’t’ve minded a full novel dedicated to this, though it works well enough as an installment of novellas. I’m not a huge fan of novellas, particularly those I’ve seen from the author, but these two have so far broken the mold. Kraken’s Tooth tells a complete story, with no skimping on plot or fantasy. It’s light on details, yet still manages to convey more than enough to paint the Seven Swords in vibrant colors. I had no issue getting into or following the story, and if anything even less imagining it. Any character development does suffer from the lack of material, with details such as interpersonal relationships, reliability or anything more than brief flashbacks are absent. The characters themselves might as well be mannequins, except for Guyime, who has overcome his stoicism from Book #1 and now just seems gruff and distant (and maybe Seeker, who I’m assuming is supposed to just be mysterious, though it’s difficult to tell).

Other than the character aspect, I had no problem getting through Kraken’s Tooth. There was more than enough action and adventure to entertain, while the story holds a political undertone and throws in a bit of mystery and drama that didn’t hurt either. And as I’ve already mentioned, the world is well rendered—with just enough detail left out that the Carthula I imagined likely won’t be the same as anyone else’s—while still getting the most important aspects of the story across. It may be imperfect, but I’d definitely recommend the Seven Swords to any fan of mainstream fantasy, epic, grimdark, and more. I can’t wait to read the next installment and see where the story takes us next!

Age of Empyre – by Michael J. Sullivan (Review)

Legends of the First Empire #6

Epic, Fantasy

Riyria Enterprises; May 5, 2020

366 pages (ebook)

4.4 / 5 ✪

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Beware: Spoilers for the previous Legends of the First Empire through Age of Death!

“You’re taller than I remember.”
“I grew up.”
He made a disapproving sound in his throat. “You should try to avoid that in the future.”
“Well, I’m dead, so that shouldn’t be too difficult.”

The epic conclusion to the Legends of the First Empire does not disappoint! While I was torn on the first three (I threw TWO at the wall, and took a month to read the third), the next two absolutely wowed me. The third does a great job of concluding the overarching story of the war between the Rhunes and the Fhrey, and the establishment of the First Empire. Just keep in mind that it’s called the Legends of the First Empire for a reason; the events within occurred so long ago (3000 years, I think) that they’ve become, well, legends. Though I certainly knew what to expect in general (it IS a prequel to Riyria, obviously, so it can’t be too much of a surprise for any veterans of those books), Empyre does provide a few twists and turns, along with some events that actually took me by surprise. It’s like the legend of King Arthur or Robin Hood that often changes in each telling. The broad strokes may be the same—but legends in the making can be quite different than how they turn out on the page.

With over half our cast still dead, the living fight so that those gone may yet have a world to return to. But the war has taken its toll. Dissent and hopelessness are on the rise on both sides of the conflict. Currently on the losing side, the Fhrey have paid an unbelievable price to gain the upper hand. But even as humanity prepares to retreat, the price proves too high for some in the Fhrey, and a desperate gamble is taken. A gamble that relies on two artists, a certain prince, and a mission that was doomed from the start. But with Brin and the other yet to escape the afterlife, all hope may’ve well and truly died (ha).

But there’s a twist. Tressa—as it will surprise no one—has been lying. And when the objective of their quest changes yet again, our heroes may yet have a hope of completing their mission. All they have to do is find their way back to life.

I tried to keep the blurb as vague as possible here. Being a six-book series (or “hexalogy”), there’s no telling where anyone will be now. And be it book four, book two, done for some months, not yet begun, not yet interested in beginning, or anywhere in-between—I don’t want to exclude anyone. That being said, there are definitely some spoilers, so if you’ve read this far… you’ve already noticed a few.

Having read the Riyria, I knew generally what to expect, though Sullivan does point out that these are LEGENDS. Like the stories of King Arthur, Beowulf, or Robin Hood. Something that has well before faded from memory and become legend. To this end, I’ve seen a few reviewers complaining that it’s different than what Riyria led them to believe. There’s bound to be some change in the story just from each telling. Sullivan does justify this further within, but I’ll leave it here. But as a side note, there are others that expected each character to have their own proper ending. This doesn’t happen. And in general, it didn’t bother me. The story wraps up the war and the establishment of the First Empire nicely. While I would’ve liked an afterward to glimpse just what what everyone got up to post-hexalogy—it really isn’t necessary. The conclusion is satisfying how it is. And that’s enough.

The main thing that annoyed me in Empyre was that Brin is credited with inventing writing. Technically it’s said before now, but Empyre refers to it a lot. Seeing as how she copied the writing from some ancient tablets she found in the Agave (in Age of Swords)—she didn’t invent it. Honestly, this probably wouldn’t’ve annoyed me so much, but Sullivan again tries to justify that it’s HER invention, even saying repeatedly (even after we find out who MADE the tablets from the Agave) that Brin had invented them. Even after the writing is noticed on the Horn of Gylindora, which predates Brin by millennia, the author still attempts to give her credit through a conversation with the Fhrey the Horn belonged to, in the land of the dead.

“To most, it looks like a battered ram’s horn. But it has markings on it.”
The Fhrey nodded. “No one knows that—not yet. Right now, everyone thinks they’re just decorative markings. Some might even speculate they’re magic runes like the Orinfar. But in fact, they are words—words you can read.”
“How is that possible?”
“Because you invented the language they’re written in.”

So… his argument here is what—time travel? I don’t understand how—or why—Sullivan keeps trying to justify this. It doesn’t make any sense! Brin’s a badass anyway, she doesn’t need this extra bit. Rediscovering a lost writing system is just as impressive as inventing a new one, at least in my opinion. This is just another invention (e.g. the bow, wheels, pockets, etc) he tries to claim over the course of the series, a trend which I (very) quickly tired of.

As usual, the language is common, relaxed, not trying to reinvent anything, nor replicate that of olde. Therefore it’s quite easy to read, and quickly. I’ve always loved how well Sullivan blends action, excitement, and humor, which paves the way for quite a few memorable quotes.

“You can’t fight all of them,” Maya told him.
“Of course I can. I’m a Galantian. I’m not guaranteeing I’ll win, but I’ll try.”
“All by yourself?”
“What’re you talking about? You’ll help. And I have the Great Rain with me, and he’s got that sweet new sword.”
Rain looked like he might be sick.

The worldbuilding is as impressive as ever—particularly so considering we’re on the sixth book of the third series set on Elan (the SIXTEENTH book overall). While the First Empire is a prequel series, much of the land is undeveloped, but still memorable, though Sullivan doesn’t take quite as much pains as previous books to paint us a lovely word-picture. Of Elan, at least. The underworld, however, was easy to picture, and even sent my imagination running through its description. The characters—as usual—are amazing. Tesh, Brin, Moya, Gifford, Roan, Rain, Tekchin, Nyphron, Persephone, Suri, Mawyndulë, Imaly and even more have been fleshed out by this point. Any one of these characters probably could’ve carried the story on their own, but instead all of them meld together to create a truly epic narrative. There are even a few surprise appearances within that help the tale along. Not that it needs any help, mind.


An epic conclusion befitting of an epic series: Age of Empyre tells the story it sets out to and more, concluding the Legends of the First Empire in a blaze of action, adventure, and flair. While it may not appear exactly as you imagined it from the Riyria days, this hexalogy bears the title “Legends” for a reason. The plot alone provides more than enough justification to read this one—with so many threads converging at this point, it’s an epic conclusion to be sure! Meanwhile the worldbuilding and characters continue to wow, with each detail better than the last. A few hiccups remain—the group ending didn’t really appeal to me the way a personal one would’ve; and one of the story’s key points seriously tries to pitch time-travel as a justification. But, as with the latter half of the hexalogy, the pros well outweigh the cons. Plus, let’s face it—if you’ve gotten this far into Legends of the First Empire—are you really going to skip the final book? Really? Yeah, uh huh.

Ashes of the Sun – by Django Wexler (Review)

Burningblade & Silvereye #1

Fantasy, Epic

Head of Zeus (UK); July 21, 2020
Orbit Books (US); July 21, 2020

592 pages (ebook)

5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

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

Ashes of the Sun was my most anticipated book of the year—beating out Peace Talks AND Rhythm of War—and it did not disappoint. And while last year was my Year of Django, this may be my favorite book of his thus far.

Long ago, the Chosen ruled the world, but following a war with the Ghouls, they vanished from the earth. Humanity eventually won the war, scouring the Ghouls from the planet, but still their gods did not return. Hundreds of years later, a new Empire has risen in the ashes of the old. The Twilight Order serves the land, protecting its people from the threat of dhak—plaguespawn, unnatural creatures, that would overrun the land if left unchecked. But not all dhak are plaguespawn. As Gyre well knows.

When he was eight, Gyre watched as his little sister Maya was abducted by the Order. He tried to intervene but was rebuffed, the attempt costing him both an eye in the process. As Maya began a new life as an Order trainee, Gyre’s life changed as well. His parents never recovered the loss of their daughter, and soon, Gyre was alone with only thoughts of vengeance to guide him.

Seventeen year-old Maya wants nothing more than to be a centarch of the Order—roving the Empire, protecting the people from dhak, and the dhakim that would exploit it. But when she is recalled to the Order to begin the final leg of her training, it won’t be plaguespawn that she’ll have to worry about—it will be the Order itself. When Maya and a group of other initiates are sent to wile out corruption in a city filled to the brim with it, she assumes that nothing could be worse than the mayor of the place itself. But having been forewarned that her superior will stop at nothing to ruin their mission, she expects trouble on all fronts. But does not expect it in the form of her long lost brother, Gyre.

Gyre has had over a dozen years to stoke his hatred of the Twilight Order. In the depths of Deepfire, he’s found a cause that focuses it. Going by the moniker ‘Halfmask’ for the mask covering his ruined eye, Gyre is loathed, respected and feared in equal measure. Under the command of the rebel, Yora, he fights on behalf of the Tunnelborn, those downtrodden beneath the Empire’s boot. But he’s always looking for something more; something to destroy the Order, and the Empire behind it. And when he meets the mysterious Doomseeker—a man of more myth than even he—it appears that what he needs is within his grasp. Enter his sister, Maya, seeking to preserve the very Order he seeks to destroy.

With their paths about to cross will Maya and Gyre be able to put aside their differences and focus on their past, or will they tear the very world each is trying to protect into pieces?


My second ‘ siblings on either side of a war ‘ of the year (following the Ranger of Marzanna), and it turns out that second time’s the charm. Where I found Skovron’s book slow and dry, there’s nothing slow about Ashes of the Sun. With a plot that took off from the very start and action that started off slow and constantly gained speed as it went along—Ashes proved the epic retreat and adventure in a year otherwise plagued with chaos and… plague.

The setting of Ashes begins as one might expect; as a world newly discovered, the reader is introduced around to its various sights and sounds, never dwelling in one place too long as to spoil the effect, but long enough to build up their appreciation of the world-building on the whole. It’s a classic strategy—with a few notable differences.

There are just some terms that we have to work out for ourselves. When Maya and Gyre are introduced to something new or unique, or something they must familiarize themselves with, the reader usually receives a description. But for some other terms, like “unmetal, dhak, Chosen, haken” etc, we’re just left to fend for ourselves while the story continues on, not waiting for us to catch up. While there are some that may be turned off by this, I found it to be the perfect blend of detail and lack-thereof to both give my imagination cues to construct the world, while leaving me to my own devices to interpret some others as I saw fit. Thus the world I ended up imagining may be very different from yours, or the author’s, or anyone else’s.

While the world is great when seen from either Gyre or Maya’s perspective, when you bring them together it is a masterpiece. Characters often see the world in different ways. But this isn’t always clear in the writing. While one person might see the world as a dark, foreboding abyss, another may seen a land full of color and light. Maya sees the world as a lovely, vibrant place, where evil lurks in the shadows—and it’s her job to keep it that way. Gyre, meanwhile, views it as more of a lurid dystopia, where evil comes in many colors and good exists as but a fanciful dream. For the first several chapters, I kept switching back from one POV’s description to the other, but eventually the two began to blend with one another to create something new. Have you seen those paintings that combine the styles of multiple different artists to depict one object (like a building or landscape or whatever)? And the resulting work blends all of what each one sees together to create something recognizable, if completely unexpected? It’s like that. I don’t know if you’ll have the same experience with this, but I sure hope you do!

No one is above suspicion. Without any spoilers or long, rambling thoughts, let me just say this: Maya and Gyre are keepers. Otherwise, all bets are off. This isn’t one of those stories where the heroes vanquish evil and live happily ever after. In Ashes, there are no heroes. And life proceeds accordingly.

While the POV characters are the strongest, don’t count the secondary ones out. Unsurprisingly, Maya and Gyre are the strongest two characters in this story. Somewhat surprisingly, several others came close, with one on each side threatening to steal my heart away from the other sibling. Kit and Beq each flesh out quite nicely. But then most of Halfmask’s and Maya’s crews do as well. Yora, Tanax, Sarah, even Jaedia all try to steal the show at some point. I guess I just wasn’t expecting the level to which they would rise. In a book where no one is above suspicion, and you need to expect the unexpected, it’s never ideal to get too attached to a non-POV character. Or sometimes even a POV one (looking at you Ned and Boromir—yeah, so, pretty much just Sean Bean) (it’s never a great idea to get too attached to Sean Bean).

While it’s a serious quest to save the world, there’s still more than enough time to have fun. Drinking, sex, adventure, mystery, swearing, and sarcasm—if you don’t like any of those you might not enjoy this one. The book knows how to have fun. If I’ve learnt one thing about Wexler by now, it’s that he knows that too. When the cards are down, it’s time to get your game face on. Before that, however, well… there’s no reason to take yourself too seriously.

‘ “That,” she called out to him, “might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen anyone try. And believe me when I say you’re up against some strong competition in that category.” ‘

Ashes does humor well. I loved, I laughed, and I did some of each at the same time.

I had only slight problems with Ashes of the Sun; nothing worth harping on. A minor issue with one or two characters in the second half. A few minor issues with the level of technology changing. A slight issue with the plot leading up to the end. Nothing major; nothing really even minor; nothing worth worrying about.


Ashes of the Sun tells a dynamic story of two equally impressive siblings, each trying to shape the world in their own way. And since each sees and interprets the world differently, Ashes creates a unique perspective when the two points of view blend together. It’s not a seamless thing—more the product of multiple artists attempting to paint bits of the same location in their own style. The result would still be recognizable, but also unexpectedly unique and thought-provoking. I found Ashes of the Sun like that: the fusion of two different perspectives to paint a single picture. And I loved it. But you might not. Either way, the book contains strong characters, a rollicking story, action, adventure, romance, drama and a great plot all rolled into one. Even should you not totally love it—there’s more than enough to enjoy, and no reason not to try it.

Witchsign – by Den Patrick (Review)

Ashen Torment #1

Fantasy, YA

HarperVoyager; May 22, 2018

450 pages (PB)

2.3 / 5 ✪

Despite a rather disappointing choice of narrator in Steiner, Witchsign was a lovely fantasy, complete with mystery and magic—the start of a great new series. Until… about its 200th page. At this point, the mystery and adventure dampened, the plot developed serious issues, and the story’s flow completely fell to pieces.

Seventy-five years ago, the dragons fell. The Synod overthrew the rule of fire and magic, hunting the mythic creatures to the ends of the earth until none remained. Thus was the Empire born.

Far to the north lie the Scorched Republics, flanked between the Empire and the Sommerende Ocean. Despite being independent, the republics belong to the Empire in all but name. Northmost of the northern republics is Nordvlast, where the brunt of our story takes place. Steiner lives in Cinderfell, a dreary town tucked up against the Spøkelsea, farthest distant from the Empire of any community on the continent. But even here—where the winters are frigid and the summers short, where ash falls from the sky and the sun rarely shines—the Synod still exert their influence. Every year children below the age of 16 are tested for the Witchsign: the ability to touch and control the elements. If such a child is found, they are shipped off by the Empire, never to be seen again.

Steiner is no witch. A blacksmith’s son, he spends his days in the forge and his nights at the tavern, his eye on the owner’s daughter, Kristofine. A girl who has just begun to return his smiles. A simple life, for a simple man.But he fears the coming Invigilation—the day of testing—regardless. It is not for himself that Steiner worries, but for his sister Kjellrunn. A carefree girl of sixteen, Kjell has always been different. Her hair is a tangle and her body immature, appearing to far younger than her actual age. She spends each day in the forests, communing with the trees, the rock, the ocean. She cares little for the townsfolk, and what they think. For they think she has the Witchsign. Steiner suspects so as well. And even so, Kjell has made it through every testing—all but the last. Steiner is sure this year will be the one she is found out, and taken from them. And he is willing to take any risk to protect her.

Any and every risk.

And he just may have to.

I was quite high on the beginning of this book. One of my top TBR for the year, Witchsign started off well, with a budding romance, a generally likable narrator, a mystery, a conflict, and the promise of much, much more. I was hooked and cruising through; a five-star read for sure.

But… Steiner isn’t the best narrator. Early on he and Kjellrunn share the load rather equally, but later on Steiner shoulders more and more of the story. And he’s… a bit dull. Rash, impulsive, stubborn. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, when it’s well written. But Steiner is not well-written. While the author portrays him as possessive of a keen mind despite his inability to read and write, his hulking frame and his reputation—Steiner’s actions betray him. While early on he seems a thoughtful youth possessed by an impulsive, stubborn streak, later he’s just impulsive, stubborn and rash. I guess this could be chalked up to his development throughout the story, but I just pegged it as bad writing. And though the author continues to paint thought and detail into the prose of Steiner’s chapters and descriptions, the character’s mood consistently contradicts this.

Kjellrunn, meanwhile, offers a thoughtful, provoking POV. Until she doesn’t. And then does, again. See, Witchsign works well enough through the first 300-plus pages. And then it breaks down. The next hundred twenty or so remind me a bit of the first Harry Potter—where the story skips around to the significant moments, while leaving the other parts out in the cold. While that worked (arguably) for Rowling, she used line- and page-breaks to indicate when the story would be taking a breather.

Witchsign doesn’t. I felt like the author was running short on time and provided a bare bones account of the middle, skipped forward to write the ending, and then came back to flesh out the rest. An acceptable tactic, when it works. When you GET to it all. Which e didn’t. What we’re left with is a hundred page gap of poorly written story (so bad in places that I ended up skimming through it a bit), followed by an ending that would’ve worked pretty well if it had matched the preceding events at all. So, while the set-up and middle of the book are good, the lead-in and final battle are nigh-unreadable. Then the wrap-up is back to good. It’s… very frustrating.

The story itself is well-thought out and the world well built—again, until it isn’t. The characters, the development, the plot, the flow—everything takes a break around the two-thirds mark.

Now, if you could just let off there and pick up at the end… but you can’t. Nothing would make sense. Believe me—I tried. Again, Den Patrick has me raving at the beginning and skipping chapters by the end. Quite an unusual feat to pull off more than once. Honestly, it was painful to see the read collapse like it did. And disappointing. A little more time could’ve made all the difference. But… t’was not to be.


Before beginning Witchsign I raved about its beautiful cover and interesting-sounding story. Right away I was hooked, and continued to praise the writing, the mystery and the story. But, like the Boy with the Porcelain Blade before it, that all changed. At around the halfway mark I became disillusioned with Steiner. At the two-thirds mark, became disillusioned with the story. Shortly thereafter, it became nigh-unreadable. If you tough it out to the end, you’re treated to a lovely post-battle wrap up, which only made sense when I figured that the author was running short on time and skipped forward to write the end first. But never got back to the middle. It gets the point across, carries the plot from Point A to B—but barely. And not well.

If you’re on the fence, I’d recommend against it. But, if you, say—have the next book sitting around somewhere already (it was free, which helps), and you want to tough it out… yeah, it’s doable. Wasn’t bad til the 300-page mark. The Ashen Torment continues in Stormtide, published last year. I’ll probably get to it eventually, so I’ll let you know how it goes. An important reminder though: you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Ravencaller – by David Dalglish (Review)

The Keepers #2

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; March 17, 2020

576 pages (ebook), 535 pages (PB)

4.9 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit and David Dalglish for the ARC!

My ninth Dalglish book, Ravencaller might just be my favorite. Thus far, at least.

Ravencaller is the follow-up to David Dalglish’s Soulkeeper, in which magical creatures and monsters alike have reawakened after centuries spent trapped in a deep, deep sleep. Where in the first book we dealt with the awakening of these creatures, in Ravencaller we deal with the fallout. For the creatures’ sleep was not voluntary. In the times before, humanity and the denizens of the Dragons often clashed, and soon it became clear to one another that each could not exist while the other yet lived. And then something changed. The Dragons were forced under by the Sisters’ power, so that humanity could inherit their world. Imprisoned with them were all of their creations, who so recently awoke.

I was a big fan of Soulkeeper last year, but Ravencaller surpassed even my lofty hopes set by its predecessor.

Magical creatures now roam the land, preying on anything and everything to sate their bloodlust. Their imprisonment was long, and their tempers have frayed. Humans and animals alike suffer their wrath—but mostly humans. Not only the creatures have returned, however. Human servants of the Dragons, called Ravencallers, have emerged, their newfound powers similar to those granted to the Faith- and Mindkeepers but wielded towards a different goal. To drive these ‘men from the Dragons’ land, rather than save it from them. In addition to the these new malcontents, disease has arrived with the magic itself.

Humans awaken hungering for flesh, most often that of their neighbor. Others die, taken by plague or owls, gargoyles and foxes, or other magical predators. One band of creatures quickly overruns the Low Dock, taking it for themselves. Another drives the ‘men from Orismund west of Londheim, demanding past arrangements be honored. An army stands upon the city’s threshold. Another looms in the west. The Sisters’ faithful are pressed back on their heels—with one exception. Adria Eveson.

Transformed by Viciss and his creature Janus, she stands at the head of the church’s army. While magic has returned to the people of the land, Adria is something more. Something far more. And to ensure humanity’s survival, she must become far greater than she’d ever hoped.

Luckily, Adria has allies. Tesmarie, the ebon faerie; Devin, Soulkeeper and her brother; Tomas, newly awakened sorcerer; Jacaranda, newly awakened soulless; and more. The odds are heavily against them, but the humans may yet triumph in this war. Or, they might yet come to another, less bloody arrangement. But time will tell.

Despite a few faults, I loved Ravencaller. More than Soulkeeper. More than any other Dalglish book before it (my personal favorite up til now was probably A Dance of Ghosts). Devin remains my favorite character, but a newbie—Dierk, a Ravencaller—also steals the show. I liked Adria and Tesmarie and others, but Jacaranda’s one-woman revenge mission started to feel a bit worn-out at the halfway point. Nonetheless, I never got to a point in which I was dreading someone’s POV chapter. Not even hers’.

The language remains the same as it was in Soulkeeper. If you didn’t like the casual banter, the common names and words before—you probably won’t like it any better now. If you liked it, that probably won’t change. I didn’t mind it, because it’s what Dalglish used in his Shadowdance series. I’m used to it. But it might annoy you. And if it does, then it does.

The world-building continues to impress, as the changes the author makes to the world mirror the magic awakening all throughout it. Diseases pop up where none were before. Old tensions reawaken. Old disagreements draw new blood. The creatures’ motivations are their own, just like the humans’. It’s a mistake to think either are united in their ideals, their resentments. But can Devin and his friends keep an all out war from erupting?

I really have very little to say about Ravencaller. I loved it—and that pretty much seems sufficient. A classical story with darker elements. Just what I needed at the time. When the world is uncertain, escape into a lovely, well-rendered story.


If you enjoyed Soulkeeper, you’ll probably like Ravencaller. I’d be willing to say you’ll probably like it more. Returning are the riveting plot, the lovely world-building, the interesting and immersive world and its creatures. If anything, there’re even more interesting and unique creatures now. There’s mystery, combat and drama. Love and death. War and… well, mostly war. Action and adventure (though we spend less time out of the city than in Book #1). There’re strong male and female leads. Good characters, POVs and chapters. Nothing too difficult to read or too boring to not suffer through. I’d recommend it, but you’ll have to read #1 first. Honestly, it’s a no-brainer.

Ravencaller comes out early next week, March 17th to be exact. Pick it up, it you need a break from reality. Or, if you’re practicing social distancing. The series may or may not conclude with Voidbreaker, due out 2021. I’m looking forward to next year—and I’m already sick of this one. In March.


Blood of Elves – by Andrzej Sapkowski (Review)

The Witcher #2

Epic, Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery

Hachette Book Group; May 1, 2009 (original English translation)

Orion Publishing; February 13, 2020 (rerelease)

398 pages (PB)

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was generously supplied a copy in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Orion Publishing for the eARC! #NetGalley #BloodofElves

Blood of Elves officially begins the Witcher saga, a series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. It follows witcher Geralt of Rivia, of some renown and fame, as well as infamy. Though Geralt was initially introduced in The Last Wish, Blood of Elves is the first full length novel set in this world of elves, dwarves, gnomes, men, and witchers. In addition to the Last Wish, you maaaay be familiar with the Witcher games (which are all amazing). While I enjoyed all the games, as well as the Last Wish, I was torn on Blood of Elves.

Witchers—as introduced in The Last Wish—are a secretive order of monster slayers, hated and feared the world over, but needed as well. Taken as boys, they are put through rigorous and dangerous trials then are pumped full of alchemic and mutagenic compounds to turn them into the perfect monster-fighters. The survivors of these are few, but these few become Witchers. Witchers traditionally stay out of the limelight; not getting involved with the politics of kings, nor humans versus non-humankind.

But when Geralt hears of a certain prophecy, he breaks this unwritten rule. Ciri is the lost Princess of Cintra, a child of the Elder Blood—prophesied to bring great change to the world. She is also an orphan, one with magic in her blood. And so Geralt returns with Ciri to Kaer Morhern—the home of the Witchers—and begins to train her as one of their own. But as a child of Elder Blood, Ciri also begins training in magic, slowly becoming one of a kind. Something unique.

The story, such as it is, follows Ciri. Her Witcher training under Geralt. Her magic training under Triss Merigold. Her… less than reputable training, under the bard, Dandelion. Further on, it follows world events surrounding the Princess of Cintra, a prophesied child of Elder Blood. The politics of lords and kings. War. And more.

There’s a lot going on in Blood of Elves. Sapkowski focuses heavily on world-building, switching between vastly different perspectives with little apparent emphasis on the actual plot. The plot which is… incomplete. While the story follows Ciri as she grows up, and Geralt as her mentor, we spend a lot of time with an extended cast. In addition to Geralt, Ciri, Triss and Dandelion, there’s Yennifer, Vesemir, other Sorceresses, other Witchers, kings and viziers, elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, rebels, warriors, and more. There are random flashbacks—often short and unhelpful, only hinting at past events. It’s both a thrilling, and incredibly annoying tactic. There’s a lot going on; it’s easy to get lost.

First time I read this, it frustrated me on so many levels. Second time was better, but I still didn’t love it. The plot was still muddied, the pacing… odd. I never knew whether I should be feeling action and thrill or thoughtful and contemplative, and then it changed without apparent reason.

And… well. The plot doesn’t resolve at the end of Blood of Elves. It rather ends in a cliffhanger, in fact. Like the kind Michael J. Sullivan is so obsessed with. But where his novels are usually gripping and thrilling… well, BoE is both of these, too. But it’s also a bit dense. And with very little resolution, I found myself turned off it.


While Blood of Elves demonstrates world-building and lore on an elite scale, its plot is a quagmire of random characters, events and flashbacks, all cobbled together in a seemingly random order. Well the story told is a good one—better than good, even—it’s easy to get lost in all the twists and turns. Having played the Witcher games, having read the Last Wish—I could just barely keep up with it all, but still lost focus in the end, when the book ended, but nothing was resolved. I haven’t yet read Time of Contempt (the next Witcher novel), where the story presumably continues. The desire to both is and isn’t there. If it’s another mire of random characters and flashbacks, I’m not sure I want to. If it’s a series of action and adventure sequences following my favorite characters, I definitely do. So, I’m torn. And I’m not sure which way to lean.