The Emperor’s Railroad (The Dreaming Cities 1) by Guy Haley.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you a little gem in post-apocalyptic genre? This is a relatively short novella (only a little over 100 pages long), but it’s packed full of goodies: huge and very interesting world, a great catastrophe the cause of which is not fully explained, strange beings that might or might not be angels, a mysterious knight, and an engaging narrator. What else would you need for a wonderful book?

Our narrator, Abney, is a 12-year-old boy, and the whole story is told through the prism of his knowledge and perception, even though he tells it as an old man, many years later. And this is important to know, because Abney’s world had not extended past his little town until it got destroyed by the living dead. He is thrown into this vast and dangerous world after a traumatic event and armed only with the stories and beliefs his mother instilled into him.

So to him the Angels are supreme and perfect beings. God is almighty and everything that happened to mankind, from the war that destroyed all the cities of old to the plague of walking dead and even the dragon, is his punishment for the hubris of men of old. And Quinn is a Knight, which to little Abney makes him about just as legendary as the Dreaming Cities and the Angels themselves.

Even though this novella is a story of Abney’s journey through the perilous Kingdom of Virginia to the village of Winfort and the safety of his cousin’s home, it’s also Abney’s journey towards adulthood, complete with disillusionment, injustice and loss. The Angels are not as perfect as he believed them to be. God’s justice isn’t always just. And Knights are not the noble warriors almost larger than life he’d pictured them to be.

I loved this book. It’s a small glance into a rich and complex world, but just because it’s a small story of a little boy traveling a short distance (a mere 50 miles or so) through dangerous country to reach a new town, it doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting. In fact, it manages to introduce this world without resorting to info dumps and leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction, because Abney’s journey is done, but also with a head full of questions about what the heck happened to make the world this way and what the Dreaming Cities really are.

I can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series because I want to know more about this world. Who are those Angels? Are they really winged beings sent down by God or are they robots, AIs or aliens something like that like Quinn implied? Speaking of Quinn, what promise did he break that he  is seeking penance for? And who is the person he is determined to find in a place that everybody thinks is a dead wasteland? And what are the Knights? From what Abney described, Quinn has a lot more stamina and healing speed than any normal human should have.

A first book in a series did a good job when it managed to tell a compelling and self-sufficient story AND leave you with enough questions to want to pick up the next book. I say good job, Mr.  Haley, because I can’t wait to read the next one

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Way Walkers: Tangled Paths by J Leigh.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5


I really wanted to like this book, I promise. It had a really interesting world I was dying to explore. It had so much potential, that with the underdog hero on a quest to find his place in the world…


Unfortunately, even with all those things going for it, this book fell flat to me. I finished it, but I had to force myself to do so, and if it wasn’t an advanced reader copy I was reading for a review, I would have dropped it.


You see, despite all the potential the story was just so… boring.


The protagonist rages against prejudice and how his compatriots see him, but he does it in a very subdued, passive kind of way. And it’s hard to sympathize with him too much because despite some mistreatments, he is still the Crown Prince and Heir to the Throne. Then he sets off on this journey to discover his destiny and his place in the world, but his attitude towards this whole deal is so lukewarm that it doesn’t touch the reader either. If Jathen doesn’t really care much about his travels, why should the reader care?


I think the reason for my inability to empathize with the protagonist is the lack of stakes. There are no driving forces in Jathen’s life that push him to do what he does. Yes, his position as Heir is threatened, but it’s never a life or death situation. Besides, he himself isn’t even sure if he wants to sit on the throne someday. So him leaving on that journey is more of a spur of the moment decision than a need. And this lack of urgency, this lack of personal stakes, is what kills this story for me.


That and just how uninterested in the world Jathen seems to be. He is given a book that might contain major clues as to who his father might have been, yet he barely skims it when he gets bored. He is given a puzzle but doesn’t give it more than a passing glance and doesn’t even dig deeper when the solution seems too easy. He passes by cities and people with only passing curiosity for anything that isn’t architectural. It’s hard to care about a world and companions that the protagonist doesn’t care about himself.


My other problem with this book is that the dialogues seem overly long but actually rather uninformative. By the end of the book I had the feeling that everyone knew who Jathen really was, but nobody would actually tell him anything. They alluded, they spoke in riddles, but never actually gave him and the reader anything. It works alright in the first part of the book, but it gets old really fast. And gets really frustrating when none of those questions were answered by the end of the book. I get it that it’s the first in a series, but even then the reader needed some resolution after sticking with the story for almost 500 pages.


That’s the final problem I have with this book. It’s too long. Oh, I have read books that were 500 and even 1000 pages long (Songs of Ice and Fire comes to mind) and didn’t even see the time fly by because every page kept me immerged in the story. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Way Walkers. I feel like the book could have been cut in half without any harm to the story. There is a lot of exposition and infodump disguised as dialogue between Jathen and different characters which made Jathen seem very ignorant of the world he lives in. Surely the Heir to the Tazu throne would have had classes on history, politics and customs of the different nations he would have to interact with? That makes the explanations sound even more tedious because the readers know they are for their benefit only.


All this to say that I was disappointed in this book. It had such potential and the world truly seems rich in history and substance. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the desire to drudge through the next book to find out more about it though.


PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles 1) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.


Let me just say that Ilona Andrews is an author I go to when I want a good book to read and not have to worry to be disappointed with the plot, the characters or major plot holes. I never hesitate to pick up one of her books because I know that I would be completely immersed in the story, laughing and crying with the characters until the very last page. And I will be very very sad and feeling lost once I reach that page, not wanting to leave that world behind.


So when I saw that she had a brand new series out there, of course I immediately grabbed the first book! All I can say is that I love love LOVE it! I love Dina and the strange and complex world she inhabits. I love that we already have a hint that this world has may layers even in the first book. I love that all the races we meet have distinct origins and traditions. I love just how original the concept of this book and this world is.


But what is this book about? Well, Dina runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small sleepy Texas town. Only her bed and breakfast caters to a rather different clientele than the usual tourists. See, Dina is an Innkeeper (yes, the capital “I” is intentional), and her guests come from much further away and are infinitely more dangerous.


Usually, Innkeepers try to stay out of the news and not get involved in local affairs, because the safety if their Inn is their outmost priority. That and not attracting attention of the police to the occasional flying saucer landing in their backyard or a portal opening on their doorsteps. But when something that is definitely not a cougar starts killing dogs in the neighborhood and the resident werewolf doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it, Dina decides to intervene. Which, of course, bring a load of problems on her head, but hey, at least she gets guests to stay at her inn as well, so that’s good. That they are capable of destroying the whole town is just a minor side effect…


I love Dina as the protagonist. Yes, being an Innkeeper gives her some serious juju when she is on Inn grounds, but unlike some protagonists out there, she only uses her magic as last resort. Her biggest strength is her profound knowledge of the customs and preferences of all the races that inhabit the vast universe. She is immensely knowledgeable and treats all of her guests with respect and deference. But she isn’t a pushover either. She is very clear at drawing the lines of what is and isn’t allowed on her grounds and her retaliation if the guests cross those lines is swift and ruthless.


I like how knowledgeable Dina is and how respectful she is of her guests and their customs. And I also like that at the same time she is not a jaded and over-confident Innkeeper either. Her backstory is expertly woven into the book and explains this small contraction perfectly. Both Dina’s parents were very successful Innkeepers, so she grew up in a big bustling Inn… Until one day she came back from her travels to find both the Inn and her family gone and just barren ground in the place of the Inn grounds. She looked for them all over the universe, but never found even a hint as to what had happened. Finally, she decided to settle back on Earth and open her own Inn, but then only Inn such an inexperienced Innkeeper could get was an old disused one located away from the usual busy routes. So while she has extensive knowledge of what it means to be an Innkeeper, she is very inexperienced at actually being one. Plus her Inn had been asleep for so long that she has only maybe a tenth of the powers an Innkeeper would normally have…


I read the first book and immediately jumped into the next one, that’s how much I fell in love with this new world and these characters. So expect my review of book 2 soon.


Once again, Ilona Andrews proves that her books are a must read regardless of which series they belong too. Highly recommending this and everything else she’s ever written!

Of Scions and Men by Courtney Sloan.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Of Scions and Men is the first book in a new urban fantasy series and as such, it does a good job in introducing the readers to the world and the characters who inhabit it.

And that’s no small feat, I can tell you. First books in a series have the thankless job of showing the reader a brand new world and making sure that they love the protagonist enough to stick not only until the end of one book, but to keep reading the series, AND they need to do that while avoiding info dumps and expositions and still telling an interesting story. So I’m always happy when a start a new series and am hooked from the get go.

So what is this world that Rowan inhabits? This is a world where the war against terror escalated into a full blown all out Third World War and threatened to wipe the human race off the face of the Earth. Supernatural beings like vampires and shifters, who had until then been content to stay in the shadows and make normal people believe they didn’t exist, decided to intervene and put a stop to the massacre, because, in the case of vampires, they were reluctant to lose their food source. By the time vampires took control of the world and bought order and peace again (in a rather ruthless and bloody fashion, I must admit), most of the planet was a smoldering radioactive mess. And humans aren’t in charge of anything, not even their own lives anymore.

Rowan Brady sold her life, her career and her blood when she chose to become a vampire’s Scion, but it was the only way she could ensure that her brother would have a roof over his head and enough food to eat every day. And even though the loss of freedom and the obligation to give a pint of blood a week to her master is a bitter pill to swallow, in exchange Rowan got a job she loves with the police, making sure that supernaturals don’t engage in illegal blood trade.

I like Rowan and her relationship with Devon. I like how she tries to make the best out of a bad situation and preserve every sliver of independence she can while basically having Devon in her head and thoughts 24 / 7. I like that she always relies on herself and doesn’t flash her scion get out of jail card left and right. I like that she is a truly though and capable protagonist.

I like the fact that Devon isn’t your typical domineering selfish and rather violent male lead we usually get in those kind of books. If fact, as vampire masters go, he is a good one to be scioned to.

I do have a few gripes with this book though, hence the 4 out of 5 stars.

The first one is with Lyle. Lyle is gay and flamboyantly so, since even his true form is a blue jay. He could have been such an interesting character if he’d been fleshed out instead of being a walking assembly of clichés. As he stands now, he is more of a plot point and trusty sidekick to Rowan, always there to help her out and listen to her problems. That’s annoying. I want to know what makes him tick. I want to know his backstory. I want to know what pushed him to display his orientation so blatantly in a world where being gay is greatly frowned upon. Why did he choose to come out of the closet and become an outcast? Hopefully, we will discover more about Lyle in the next books because that’s one character I could really fall in love with.

My second gripe is with Rowan’s constant resentment towards Devon and the fact that she became a scion. I would understand that if she’d been forced to do that against her will, but she CHOSE to become a scion. Yes, it was for her brother’s sake, but still, nobody bent her arm or held her at gunpoint when she agreed to this. And it makes even less sense that she would rail against Devon instead of her little brother whom she is making all those sacrifices for. Also, this reaction is rather out of character for her, at least in my opinion. Rowan is a person used to making tough decisions and owning to the consequences, so rehashing this resentment over and over again gets old really fast.

But all in all, this is a solid first instalment of a new series and I will certainly look forward to the next book. And I would recommend it to lovers of urban fantasy.

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.