Category Archives: Dark fantasy

The Road of Storms (The Seven Swords 6) by Anthony Ryan

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This seems to be the penultimate book in the series (Seven swords = seven books, I think?) and a lot of things come to a head here.

In the previous book, we discovered the purpose of the seven blades. Well, of the six blades that are destined to stop the first blade ever forged. In this book, Guyime and his companions are trying to do just that, and if they have to cut through twenty thousand people to do so, then so be it.

I love that we visit yet another new place in this intricately created world… and wreak havoc to it per usual. As one of the other characters in this book mentions, death and destruction follow the cursed blades, wherever they go. It is sad that their target manages to slip through their fingers in the end, but this makes me want to read the last book in the series even more. Also glad that Seeker is finally free of the Morningstar. She was becoming rather one-dimensional while she owned it.

My only complaint is that even thought this book is about the same length as the others in the series, it feels longer. The middle part dragged a little, at least in my opinion. But don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fast and enjoyable read to spend a weekend with.

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

Across the Sorrow Sea (The Seven Swords 5) by Anthony Ryan

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

Guyime and Seeker have come a long way since the Exacration, in endless pursuit of Seeker’s daughter. They traversed several continents and gathered other companions (and cursed swords) along the way. In this book, they finally learn the identity of the demon possessing the sword Seeker’s daughter is carrying, as well as the purpose of the Seven Cursed Swords.

I really enjoy this series. The books are pretty short – more novellas than novels, so they are quick to read and full of action and adventure. The author created a wonderfully awful world that each book explores a little bit deeper. This particular book is a pirate adventure, including sea monsters, a dreaded pirate captain, and a cursed treasure. 

And we finally learn the purpose of the seven cursed blades, as well as how their bearers can finally break the curse and be free of them. I must admit that the prospects are grim. 

I liked the whole sea adventure and the magical Spectral Isle, though I must admit that the author spent too little time on the isle itself. I would have loved to explore it more. But I will have to be content with the sea monsters and a pirate battle instead.

Speaking of the final battle, the dreaded pirate captain that had terrorized the Five Seas is a bit… underwhelming, to say the least. I mean, yes Seeker uses sorcery to defeat him, but even just as a character he was nothing to write home about. He is shown as a husk of a man, possessed by a cursed weapon (curiously, not one of the seven swords), who isn’t even capable of rational thought. I would say there was a whole lot of build up to this encounter, but the result is disappointing.

I am still looking forward to book 6. Will Guyime and his companions arrive at their destination on time to prevent the end of the world? Will Seeker be able to save her daughter’s soul? Or has she damned herself by picking up the Morningstar?

I would definitely recommend this series to anyone looking for a quick read full of adventure and fast-moving action. 

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

Dream of Death City (Red Kingdom 1) by P.J. Nwosu

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Stars: 4 out of 5

The Red Kingdom is a fascinating world. It’s dark, brutal, and unforgiving. The caste system is rigid and hopeless, to tell you the truth, and life is hard for anyone who is not a Sun Noble. Resources are scarce, violence is rampant, people are burned at the pyre for the smallest of transgressions, and if you managed to survive that, the black lung will take you to your grave in the end. It should be dark and depressing, right? And it is dark, but it’s strangely beautiful as well. 

You can see that a lot of love went into creating this world. I already had a glimpse of it in A Pale Box on a Distant Shore where we met some of the characters that Thora and Diem encounter in Death City. This book shows us a bigger glimpse of the Red Kingdom and the capital City of Pillars, but you can see that the Frontier and Death city is a favorite of the author’s.

And I can’t complain about it. It’s a wonderfully grotesque city and island where the harsh nature and living conditions, as well as the remoteness from the rest of the Kingdom and its rigid Red Doctrine have created a unique culture seeped in superstition and “low ways”. And it’s hard to blame the citizens of Death City when they have a corpse of a god lying in the waves just offshore, and dead giants walk the sea on hollow moon nights…

I liked the mystery our characters came to unravel as well. What seemed at first glance as a simple kidnaping of a Sun Noble’s daughter led them to uncovering a whole human trafficking ring. And transformed everyone involved in fundamental ways. Nobody left Death City the same as they arrived into it, though some didn’t leave at all.

So why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5? That’s because I didn’t particularly like Thora, who is one of our main characters. Oh, I understand her motivation and her desire to be more than mere Dust, to prove herself to her masters and have a chance at doing more than scrubbing floors and cleaning bedsheets all her life. What I didn’t like is how selfish she is in her pursuit of that dream and how willing she is to sacrifice everything and everyone to achieve that goal.

Her accusing Diem of taking justice in his own hands and doing things an Investigator shouldn’t sounded very hypocritical when she is the one who planted evidence, obtained false eyewitness statements, and created a diversion that got a lot of people killed. Not to mentioned persuaded a colleague to go against direct orders and do something that she knew could put her in danger. And when it got that colleague killed, she raged at anyone BUT herself. Yes, she didn’t hold her head under the water or hung her from a tree branch afterwards, but Thora was the one who sent her to her death nevertheless. It’s that double standard Thora has towards everyone else that seems hypocritical to me. That self-righteousness when she is definitely in the wrong. 

But this is just a small gripe for what is an excellent book. I am definitely looking forward to reading more book about this world and seeing how things progress in the Red Kingdom and outside its borders.

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

Winter’s Reach (Revanche Cycle 1) by Craig Schaefer

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an interesting start of a new (to me) series with nice worldbuilding and depth. The world is reminiscent of Renaissance Europe with it’s domination of the Church, the Holy City and byzantine political intrigue. Everyone has an ulterior motive, there are plans within plans, and conspiracies abound.

I liked all the characters, which is an important criteria of just how much I will enjoy the book. They aren’t all good people. In fact, I would argue that most of them aren’t particularly good, and all of them are out of their own personal gain in some shape or form. But they feel real, with their own good qualities and flaws. And I understand their motivations. Which made me invested in their struggles.

I especially liked Felix who went through a crucible of fire in Winter’s Reach and emerged stronger, but also more ruthless. And Amadeo, the dying Pope’s confessor and oldest friend, who is thorn between trying to fulfil a promise he made to his old friend and the realization that putting his the Pope’s son on the throne will be the end of, well, everything. 

I loved that there are plots within plots, and some plots are thwarted, and others succeed… but not exactly in a manner the organizers expected. And nobody is safe. Bad things happen to seemingly good characters, and death can come in an instant. Seemingly good people can be forced to do horrible things and bargain with powers they barely understand. Nothing is black and white, but all different shades of gray instead. This makes the book interesting, and the stakes ever so high for our characters. 

My only complaint about this book is that there are a lot of plotlines left unresolved. This book just sets the stage for the series, so don’t expect a nifty little conclusion at the end of it. We are introduced to the world and the characters. The lines are drawn and the armies are gathering, but you will have to read the following books to understand how it all gets resolved. Which I am more than happy to do, by the way, because this series seems amazing, and I want to know what happens to my favorite characters… and whether or not the villains in this story get their just desserts.

Two Twisted Crowns (The Shepherd King 2) by Rachel Gillig

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

The first book in the duology ended in a rather heartbreaking manner with Elspeth losing her soul and her body to the Nightmare. The King and the Maiden effectively became the Monster. This book picks up almost immediately after that fateful night with Elspeth in shackles and in the dungeons of Castle Stone, and Ravyn Yew reeling from what happened to the woman he loved. The monster and the captain of the Destriers will have to collaborate in order to find the Twin Alders card and lift the curse of Blunder once and for all.

Elspeth takes the backseat in this story, with the Shepherd King coming to the forefront and inhabiting her body for most of the book. And let me tell you that he grows on you the more you discover about his past and what happened 500 years ago when the cards were made and mists came to plague the kingdom of Blunder. It’s a classical story of how the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and how by giving too much of himself to his unhealthy obsession, the Shepherd King lost everything that he should have held dear – his family, his kingdom, and his life.

I loved his interactions with Ravyn, who is devastated because he thinks the woman he loves is lost forever, and he hates the monster that is looking out of her eyes now, yet he needs that monster in order to defeat a bigger treat to his kingdom and his family – the current Rowan King. That made for some entertaining banter between him and the Nightmare, as well as some pretty heartfelt interactions further in the book.

Two other characters from the previous book come to the forefront of the narrative in this one – Prince Renelm (or Elm), and Ione. And I was honestly surprised just how much I liked their story. I liked Elm from the previous book, but Ione had seemed a bit standoffish and “frozen” for most of the last book, because she was under the influence of the Maiden card. Well, we discover in this book that it wasn’t her choice or her doing, and the things she had been put through are frankly horrifying. I was really happy that Hauth got what was coming to him. 

All in all, I really loved this world and the story, even though I thought that the ending wrapped everything a little bit too neatly. But that is just a small gripe and I would highly recommend this book.

PS: I received and advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Touch of Light (Ashes of Avarin 1) by Thiago Abdalla

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Stars: 2 out of 5.

I grant it to the author, he is trying to tell an ambitious story here, so that necessitates a lot of set up and worldbuilding. Unfortunately, that also means that most of these 700 some pages are exactly that – setup.

The story is very slow going and broken into three distinct POVs that don’t even converge until the very end of this book. And even then, only two of them somewhat converge, I don’t think Nasha ever made it to where Lunn and Adrian were. So we slowly get three different stories developing simultaneously, and up until the end, there was no indication at to how they were connected. Heck, even having finished the book, I’m not sure I understand fully what’s going on.

I wouldn’t have minded this too much if the characters were engaging, but as it stands, I couldn’t connect with none of them. Yes, the author did a good job explaining their motivations, but there was some spark missing with the characters. They felt more like a set of characteristics than real people. So in the end I didn’t particularly care for any of them, which made this story very difficult to commit to.

That lack of fleshed out characters compounded with a slow moving stories that were only loosely tied together made it for a very long read. I thought about DNFing it several times, but but then I had already committed so much time that I wanted to at least see what it was all about.

And that brings me to the final problem I have with this book. There is no conclusion to this story. Nothing is resolved, nothing is explained. These 700 pages are just introduction to the world and setup for the series, I guess. Where did the madness come from? We have no answer. Why some people loose their minds and other seem to still function normally when infected? No clue. What does that have to do with the clan lands and the sickness that kills the land? Your guess is as good as mine. 

All this book did was set up the pieces on the board for the bigger story. I know that first books in a series have the thankless job of introducing the reader to a brand new world and characters as well as planting the seeds for the arching story for the whole series, but there also needs to be a completed storyline for that book. Readers need an emotional payoff after sticking around for so many pages. This book didn’t give me that. 

And since I didn’t get an emotional payoff for reading this book, and I frankly don’t care about any of the characters, I will not be continuing with this series.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cast in Courtlight (Chronicles of Elantra 2) by Michelle Sagara

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was better than the first book, even though the narrative is still a bit meandering at times which makes it rather confusing. However the story is rather fascinating, so I was willing to excuse the less than tight writing style.

We discover a lot more about the past of Elantra and about one of the secretive immortal races that calls this city home – the Barrani. I found this foray into Barrani culture fascinating. How would you live your immortal life if your name truly defines you? Not only that, but it gives whoever knows it power over you as well. So much power that they can compel you to do horrible things. What choice do you have when you know that the only way to escape this influence is death, but you are immortal? 

I find the world of Elantra fascinating. And yes, I’m aware that I used the world “fascinating” at least three times since the beginning of this review. We have a whole civilization living on the ruins of another, much older one. And those ruins are still imbued with magic which is often dangerous. Some of them serve as prisons to beings that should never see the light of day if this new civilization is to survive and thrive.

For example, the High Lord of the Barrani isn’t just an empty title that anyone can hold. That person needs to have sufficient power to serve as jailer to something burried underneath the High Court. Something even the Dragon Emperor fears. The location isn’t vanity. It’s necessity.

Or the ceremony of becoming a Lord of the Court? On the surface, it’s just an exercise in vanity as well. A riddle to be solved for the dubious honor to call these ancient halls home. The price of failure, however, is worse than death, as it turns out.

The more I read about this world, the more I want to know. And I especially want to know how the markings on Kaylin’s body tie into all this. What role will she have to play in what seems to be the continuation of an ancient war between immortal races and forces far more terrible, but long forgotten?

I admit that I am less fond of Kaylin herself than I am of the world she inhabits. For someone who has been through all the horrible things she had lived through, she surprisingly lacks maturity. I know, she is only 18 or so in these books, but sometimes she behaves like a petulant teen who lacks the brains to think her actions and reactions through before she does something. Though I must admit that I see some improvement between Kaylin in book 1 and Kaylin in book 2, so I am holding out hope that she will grow and mature as the series progresses, and hopefully not get on my nerves as much.

As it stands though, I am definitely continuing with the series, because I want to learn more about this fascinating world.

The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy 2) by Jen Williams

DNF at 55%.

I had loved the Ninth Rain, the first book in this trilogy. I had loved it so much that I was really looking forward to reading this book and learning more about the world and our characters… until I actually started reading the book. 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s well written, and we learn a lot more about the worm people, as well as more insight into the Erborans and their relationships with the rest of the world, but the story is just so… boring, I guess. The opening chapter was excellent, don’t get me wrong! it was  a fun-filled epic battle that our heroes epically fail. That chapter had me excited about the rest of the book. But then the action just stops. And we get pages upon pages of dialogs, monologs, descriptions, and characters basically just sitting around doing nothing. Even by the time they actually start doing something, the story is so disjoined that I found it hard to keep up with everything, or even care for where it was going.

I think the biggest hurdle for me was the author’s choice to split up the core group that was created at the end of book 1 and send them all on their own epic quests. It’s all well and good, but I found myself loosing interest in most of those quests. Yes, I kinda wanted to know if the Origin island where the sacred tree came from really existed, or whether the war beasts would regain their memories. But the rest of the story arcs? I found myself completely disengaged from them.

I kept trying to get back into this book for four months, resolving to read at least 20 pages each time I picked it up. But I found my attention starting to wander after about 5-10 pages and getting to those 20 page count would be a chore. I mean, I read 15 other books while I was on and off attempting to finish this one, and I found myself making excuses not to pick it up. That’s when I decided that maybe it was time to call it quits.

Other reviews say that the story picks up in the last 30% of the book, but I’m not sure I have the willpower to wait that long, wading through the slow and dreaded middle. I own this book, so I might pick it up at a later date and try again, but for now, I am calling it quits and taking it off the list of books I’m currently reading, just because I feel guilty every time I see it on my Goodreads page and that stresses me out.

Shorefall (The Founders Trilogy 2) by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I was a little apprehensive starting this book, because I loved Foundryside so much and there is definitely a dreaded middle book in the trilogy curse going around. So I was afraid to be disappointed. I shouldn’t have worried. RJB has never let me down before, and he didn’t this time. This is an excellent book that grips you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until the last. It makes you care for the characters and cheer them on… oh, and it rips your heart out in the process. I should have known, I’ve read the Divine Cities trilogy, after all.

The story starts about seven months after the end of the first book, and our Foundryside crew are doing well, plotting and scheming the downfall of the great scivener houses of Trevenne and accomplishing daring heists. And it seems like they have all found some modicum of peace and happiness, not to mention friendship. Well, all except Gregor, but can you really blame him after the revelations at the end of last book?

So the reader prepares for a book centered around our friends basically giving the finger to the big scrivener houses of Trevanne and bringing about the revolution… but if you think that’s what this trilogy will be about, you don’t know the author very well. Soon freedom for the people of Trevanne takes a whole different meaning, and the stakes become sky high. And our unlikely heroes are left scrambling, trying to stay ahead of the tsunami that is bearing their way, and there are no good choices only bad and less bad ones. 

I loved all the characters from book one and I’m glad we got to explore their relationships more in this book and see them work together as a unit, but also see that they have become the found family all of them needed. It was heartwarming… and we didn’t get nearly enough of it. I would have loved to see them in their compound, sharing scrivening definitions with other scriveners, answering questions, collecting definitions for their library… Unfortunately, we will never get that, judging how this book ended, and that’s sad.

The danger they are facing is very real, very urgent and rather terrifying in its sheer disregard for human life. And the more the book progresses, the worse it gets for our friends and for Trevanne in general. I won’t get into any spoilers, but the ending really rips your heart out. 

I really want to know what happens now and how this story will end for our friends, so I will be definitely picking up the last book in the trilogy.

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

Faded Steel Heat (Garrett Files 9) by Glen Cook

Stars: 3 out of 5.

This is the weakest of the Garrett stories so far, and compared to the previous ones, it was  a big disappointment.

First things first, it dragged way past the time when it was a polite thing to bow out and say goodbye. I would say at least 50-60 pages past that point. This book seemed way too long in general, with a lot of filler that could have been cut out without hurting the story. 

Second issue – I get it that Garrett is a chick magnet and that his brain goes down south every time he sees a good looking enough woman, but it was a bit of an overkill in this story. It stopped being cute and became irritating at about the halfway point. 

My biggest disappointment however is the reveal about Glory Mooncalled. I think Glen Cook dropped the ball on this big time. I think I get what he was trying to go for – don’t meet your heroes and all that, but this was so anticlimactic… I mean Glory Mooncalled has been the driving force behind most of the background events in this series since book 1. By now, he acquired an almost mythical status. To end it the way the author ended it… I don’t know, I feel like it’s a huge disservice to the character and so much waisted potential.

Honestly, same could be said about Sadler and Crask. That was a bit of an underwhelming ending for those two characters that have always been larger than life.

Another complaint is that we didn’t have nearly enough Morley Dotts in this book, but what had what wonderful. I love the interaction between Garrett and him. 

I feel like it’s then end of an era in the Garrett Files series. So much was tied around Glory Mooncalled and his actions in Kantard that I honestly don’t know where the series will be going not. But even though I was not as thrilled with this book as I was with the previous ones, I am definitely looking forward to continuing the series.