Category Archives: Fantasy

The Warden (The Warden 1) by Daniel M Ford

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Stars: 2.5 out of 5.

When I read the blurb of this book, this sounded like it should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the execution was decidedly underwhelming. And the opinions of my Goodreads friends are split on this one. One absolutely loved, and another one DNFed it. I’m tending to agree with my second friend on this one, though I managed to finish the book, and I now think that I shouldn’t have bothered.

I have several issues with this book, so let’s talk about the biggest two.

First of all, this book feels rudderless. This less of a cohesive story than a series of events that happen to Aelis. A bear attacks the sheep, some mercenaries bring cursed gold, then a villager seemingly goes crazy and attacks his brother, then all of a sudden we get a detour to kill a Demon tree… You get the picture. Aelis isn’t the driving force behind this story. It feels like she is just a leaf being dragged along the current of things that happen around her. She is reacting to external forces all the time. And this isn’t a bad thing, if done well. In fact, there are book that managed to create a compelling story around a protagonist who had no agency of his/her own. Unfortunately, this is not that book.

The problem is that Aelis has no stakes in the events that happen around her. She has no goals to reach and, honestly, nothing to loose. So there is really no sense of urgency in the unfolding story. Which also means that the story meanders without a clear goal, just like Aelis and Tun in the wilderness. I grew bored following them, to tell you the truth, because I didn’t particularly care if she caught up with the crazy brother. And even when the stakes seemed to finally get bigger (like the discovery of a rogue enchanter a few days away from the village), I was already too disengaged with the story to care.

And that stems from the second issue I have with this book – the character of Aelis herself. To put it bluntly she is a pretentious and extremely unlikeable. She is extremely condescending to EVERYONE around her, just because she went to the Lyceum of magic, and they are “simple peasants”. Yes, because her having purely academic knowledge and no field experience in pretty much anything is so much better than the experiences of people who have been through a war, or who learned to survive in a harsh environment since their birth. 

I would have been better able to stomach this if she learned and evolved throughout the book, made mistakes, got her nose bloodied, and came out humbler and wiser on the other side. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. In fact, there is no character growth for Aelis whatsoever. She is just as unlikeable at the end of the book as she is at the beginning of it. 

So I finished this story, but I have no desire to continue with this series, because I really don’t care about Aelis di Lenti and her overinflated ego.

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

Witch King (The Rising World 1) by Martha Wells

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I adore Martha Wells’ Murderbot series, but the two other books I read by her had left me underwhelmed. They were okay, but not up to the glory that is Murderbot. So I was understandably apprehensive to pick up a new series by her. But I am glad I did.

We start right in the middle of the story with our protagonist Kai in dire circumstances and no memory as to how he got into them. I fell like this was an excellent idea, because the confusion the reader feels, having to wrestle with new words and concepts in a brand new world, mirrors what Kai feels when he wakes up dead and entombed. This might discourage some readers, but I loved it. 

One thing Martha Wells does really well is creating likeable characters. They are flawed and sometimes morally grey, but they feel “alive”, and you can’t help but root for them. I especially loved Kai. Who would have thought that a demon could be so “human”. I also loved that the chapters set in the present are interspersed with chapters set in the past, back when Kai first came to the world above in his first body. You can really see how much he changed in the almost two centuries since that event, and you understand him a lot better as a person the more you see how the events unfolded. 

I loved all the supporting characters as well. Ziede is baddass and witty and a perfect foible for Kai’s often introspective and melancholic nature. Together they form an unstoppable force akin to a hurricane. Especially when they seek answers and their loved ones might be in danger. Kai’s relationship with Sanja and Tenes shows his softer side, because even though he is a demon, he has compassion towards people who have been abused and enslaved. He lived through that, so he knows how it feels. I loved his relationship with Bashara in the past.

I also enjoyed going on the road trip with those characters and progressively discovering the world they inhabit. I loved seeing most places through the lens of what they are today and what they were at the time Kai fought the Hierarchs. 

This book gives a pretty satisfactory conclusion to the main story. We find out what happened, and Kai and Ziede’s loved ones are rescued. Kai is reminded of the purpose him and Bashara had when they fought the Hierarchs and hopefully finds the strength and will to carry on. But there are still a few threads that were left hanging, so I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a new series. I want to know what happened to the other demons Kai had liberated from the Summer Halls. Since none of them could return to their home underearth, are they still living in this world? Or did most of them dissipate after their borrowed body died? Will the Hierarchs be back? Why did they kill off an entire people just because they could reveal their origins? So many questions!

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

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.

Cast in Fury (Chronicles of Elantra 4) by Michelle Sagara

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Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Just like in books 2 and 3, we discover the origin and secrets behind yet another race populating Elantra. This time, it’s the Leontines. Marcus is in trouble, and as usual, Kaylin is in the middle of it all. Oh, and did I mention that there are repercussions from what happened in the end of the previous book? Big tidal wave, anyone? Well, humans are wont to misunderstand everything, so they now think that the race of telepaths summoned the wave to try and murder them, instead of being there to try and stop it. Since they already fear them, hatred isn’t that big of a step. The whole city is a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode into civil war and bloodshed.

I love how little things mentioned in previous books come to play in the consequent books in the series. That one scene in the previous book where Kaylin came to help a lone Leontine to give birth in book 3 is front and center in this book. And we finally get an explanation why that mother was completely alone with noone to watch over her and her new baby (something unheard of for this race).

I already mentioned in reviews for previous books that the world of Elantra is fascinating, so I really enjoy uncovering a new aspect of it with each book. It’s also wonderful to see how all the pieces tie together into one complex story. For example, the Outcaste dragon from book 1 plays a major role in this book as well. We we are probably not done with him yet.

I also enjoy seeing Kaylin gather a little found family around her. It’s wonderful to see a protagonist who isn’t a lone wolf. She has friends, surrogate parents (Marcus and his pridelea), even siblings (the foundlings hall), and now an adopted son. She’s come a long way from the almost feral child from the fiefs, terrified of her own powers and traumatized by her past. Now she has something to fight for, and people she cares deeply about, and who care about her.

My complaint about this book is Kaylin herself. While she grows and mature in some ways, she remains just as ignorant and pigheaded in others, and that’s starting to get on my nerves. For example, she is told repeatedly by her teacher and other very powerful people that she needs to master her magic. Her life literally depends on it. Yet she is less then diligent in her studies. Or just general knowledge of the city around her? Kaylin sees times and times again that she is severely lacking some basic knowledge of history, racial differences and etiquette, and that ignorance landed her in hot water more than once… yet she doesn’t seem to want to do anything to remedy this. Why? She is a smart and resourceful woman. She should jump on the opportunity to broaden her horizons, but instead she grumbles and moans about it, and never really pays attention to what everyone is teaching her. This is becoming rather annoying.

My other complaint is with Severn, or rather the lack of any evolution for him as a character. He is a wonderful character, and I would like to know more about him, but as it stands. He has no agency of his own, he is just an extension of Kaylin. The silent friend and protector who seems to not have a life of his own. That’s a great disservice to a wonderful character. I hope he gets to act more independently in consecutive books. 

I also would like to know what happened to Kaylin in the six month between when she fled Nightshade and when she joined the Hawks.

All in all though, I’m still very invested with this series and I want to see more of that world.

The Myth Manifestation (SPI Files 5) by Lisa Shearin

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This is another excellent installment into the series. I swear this keeps getting better and better with each book.

In this book, we have a variation of a closed room (or in this case a closed hotel) mystery. Our characters, along with a bunch of other magical races, find themselves trapped in a hotel that has been transported into a pocket dimension. They can’t get out, but monsters sure can get in, and they have big appetites and nefarious intentions. What follows is a tense couple days during which our characters fight for their lives and try to determine exactly what happened, how to stop it, and who is responsible. Non-stop action and thrills, and the book flies by.

Mac continues to progress and develop as a character without losing her spunk and humor. I am not ashamed to say that she is quickly becoming one of my favorite urban fantasy heroines, there along with Kate Daniels (which is high praise). She is really becoming a badass, even though she isn’t portrayed as this killing machine that needs no man to help her. On the contrary, Mac is a seer, so her powers are non-offensive. She can’t conjure fire and incinerate her enemies. She doesn’t have super strength or super speed or fast regeneration. All she can do is see through glamor and veils. Oh, and detect portals. But she makes the most of her ability, which makes her an invaluable asset to her team.

I loved that she has a pain gun instead of a normal gun. Because SPI has plenty of sharpshooters, but they can’t hit what they can’t see. So Mac’s job is to hit the target well enough to make it visible to the snipers who can punch it full of holes afterwards. She has to be a good shot to hit a moving target in a frantic situation, but she doesn’t have to worry about delivering a kill shot. 

And I love that her team knows how to utilize her abilities best and that they have a backup plan for her if things hit the fan. And Mac sticks to that plan instead of trying to go GI Jane on people (and probably get herself killed). Like during the methodical sweep of the hotel floors. The plan was that if they are overwhelmed and she can’t help, she runs for the hotel lobby to regroup with the rest of the SPI commandoes. And Mac does just that.

My only complaint about this book is that there wasn’t enough Ian in it. Oh, he was present, but there wasn’t much Mac and Ian interaction. I love how those two bounce off each other. And since their relationship turned firmly into the adopted siblings category, their banter is just so fun to read about. I hope we get more of them together in the next book.

I also think that the tie in to the author’s other series set up in the same universe was well made. Now I want to read about Raine Benares as well to see if the main villain of this book gets his just desserts. 

Killing Pretty (Sandman Slim 7) by Richard Kadrey

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This books marks a turning point in James Stark’s life, and a sort of reboot of the series as a whole. After all, Stark saved the world from the Old Ones in the previous book and got rid of his arch-nemesis Mason once and for all (hopefully). So he should be able to live happily ever after, right?

That’s precisely what this book covers – how do you live after you fulfilled your purpose. Stark saved the world, but lost the Room of Thirteen doors in the process, so he can’t travel through the shadows anymore. So for the first time since he came back from Hell, he is stuck on Earth. No more popping to see Lucifer for a drink, heck no more zipping through LA from shadow to shadow. He has to brave the horrible traffic like any other shmuck. But more importantly, they had to fake Candy’s death at the end of the previous book, so she has a new face, new name, and is trying to build a new life for herself. Which means their relationship is basically starting over. Oh, and did I mention that Stark never got paid for his efforts to save the world? So he is broke as well. So no money, no girlfriend, no easy means to travel… and no purpose in life. Stark is not a very happy boy.

It was interesting to see our protagonist struggle with what to do with his life now that he doesn’t have a big bad to defeat or even a little bad in the face of Mason. Stark is questioning his own choices and actions in this book. This is especially visible in his relationship with Candy/Shihiro. Yes, it’s the same person underneath the glamor, but he still feels like he is cheating on the old Candy when he is with her new persona. And the things she told him in the previous book keep haunting him as well. Is he using her? Is he trying to mold her to be a monster like he is because he wants somebody like that by his side? Does he really love her or the image he created of her in his head?

I also had a lot of fun watching him function like a normal(ish) human being in LA – battling traffic, workplace rules, and having a boss he had to report to. As you can imagine, it failed horribly. Stark is not cut out to be an investigator – he is not the meticulous type who can sit in a stakeout for hours or go through surveillance footage. He gets bored and then his destructive tendencies kick in. And I think he finally came to terms with the fact that kicking doors and busting heads is what he does best. Now, he will have to figure out how to put this talent to use and earn some  money in the process. Maybe working with the new Augur would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. 

All in all, I really love where this series is going. This is a more subdued book, compared to the previous one, but that’s exactly what we all needed. Time for retrospective and reassessment. 

City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake 1) by Victoria Schwab

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This was a refreshingly good YA ghost story. And no romance of any kind in sight, so thank god. 

Can you imagine being a kid and being able to see ghosts? Not only see ghosts, but be able to cross the Veil into that strange in-between world where they reside? And also to be compelled to do that even when you don’t really want to? And not being able to talk about it to anyone, because even though your parents are famous ghost researchers, they don’t actually believe that ghosts exist. Kinda ironic, when their daughter knows for a fact that they do, and her best friend is one. 

I really loved our protagonist Cassidy. She is smart and capable, but also flawed and a typical teenager in some ways. But when she is faced with hard choices and horrible things, she does everything she can to make things right and to fight for her own freedom and her life. I also liked her relationship with Jacob and how they always have each other’s back. I’m glad that she has at least one friend that she can confide in, even though nobody else can see him. 

The story itself was sufficiently creepy and atmospheric. I lived for a year in Edinburgh, so I can attest that the author managed to capture the essence of the old city perfectly. Made me nostalgic in fact. Well, for the sights and ambiance of Edinburgh, not for the weather.  

I would have loved to have a little more interaction between Cass and the other girl who has the same gift. Their time together was very short, and I feel like they never got a chance to really talk. 

I am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series and discovering more about Cass’ gift and what it means to her relationship with Jacob. Oh, and visiting another haunted city.

The Book that Wouldn’t Burn (The Library Trilogy 1) by Mark Lawrence

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

Mark Lawrence delivers an epic story once again. I loved his book of the Ancestors series, but wasn’t impressed with his Prince of Thorns series. One thing for sure though, he knows how to build fascinating worlds and create memorable characters. 

Here, we follow two protagonists whose stories, at first glance, have nothing to do with each other, but who prove to be intertwined at the most intimate level. Evar has been trapped in the Library his whole life. All he’s ever knows are stone walls, mountains of books, his four siblings, and the mysterious Mechanism that allows whoever enters it with a book to live inside that book. But Evar can’t help but feel like he is missing something, or someone very important to him that the Mechanism made him forget.  Livira is a child of the desert and desolation who was brought into the Library after a disaster befell her home. Her situation there is precarious, but she is smart and tenacious, like the weed she is named after.

It was interesting to try and puzzle out how the two stories are connected. Or why Evar is trapped inside the library with no way of getting out. It was also rewarding to follow Livira’s journey of self-discovery. Despite all the odds stacked against her, she managed not only to stay in the Library, but also discover more of its secrets than anyone ever had. I liked the fact that the Library exists not only across different worlds, but also across all timelines. 

The main themes in this book also hit rather close to home – the intolerance, humanity’s tendency to divide people into “my tribe” and “the enemy”. The subjugation and hatred of anybody that is different. It was interesting to see how the Library could be used to bridge a gap between cultures and species, if only someone made the effort to do that. 

While I really liked this story, I thought the book dragged a bit in the middle. The action slowed. Things were happening to our protagonists, but there wasn’t a clear purpose to it. I got a bit bored. The ending though more than compensated for that. 

My bigger issue is that even though we are told that Livira’s situation is precarious, and there are several attempts on her life throughout the book, I never had a feeling that she really was in danger. Probably because the author uses the convenient time skip when things are about to come to a head, or she is about to face the consequences of her actions, and we only learn of what happened when it’s already been 3-4 or five years down the road. The book would have had more impact if we had seen Livira get hurt, or punished, or actually BE in danger before the end of the book, instead of just told about it after the fact. 

I would also have loved to learn more about the city beyond the Library, and the wider world in general, but I understand that this is only book 1 of a trilogy, and the whole series concentrates around the Library, so it’s normal that we spend most of our time there. 

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

Dungeon Crawl (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress 8) by Annie Bellet

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Stars: 3 out of 5.

It wasn’t as good as the previous book, which I kind of expected. After all, last book was the culmination of a story arc that had started in book 1 – the final confrontation with Samir. It would be hard to beat that emotional punchline. 

But even with low expectations, this book felt more like a side-quest than an actual main instalment into the series. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was a fun and quick read, and we had zombies! And teamwork! And Nazi werewolves! And both Jade and Alek were awesome in their own ways as well. But it felt a little bit.. pointless, maybe? There were really no stakes in this for Jade and her crew. 

She could have walked away from that house as soon as she discovered that something was amiss. It wasn’t a matter of life and death. In fact, I would argue that the attack on Alek was more important than the house robbery, because it had deeper-running ramifications, so it should have been explored more. Instead, it was treated like a side quest in the main dungeon crawl. 

I still thoroughly enjoyed the book though, mostly because of the characters and their interactions. The bander is priceless. You can really see that these people know and love each other and trust each other implicitly as well. It was fun to see them play to their own strengths and tackle difficult situations together. It also shows big emotional growth from Jade, because she finally trusts her friends enough to stand up for themselves and not have to lie to them to protect them. 

I just hope that there is a bigger story still to tell in the last two books of the series and that this instalment was just the calm before the storm that is about to descend on our unsuspecting crew of gamers. Either way, I will be there for the ride.

The Getaway God (Sandman Slim 6) by Richard Kadrey

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

I had been disappointed with the previous book in the series. I had found it meandering, and all character progression Stark had been through in the series had been pretty much negated. So I was rather apprehensive to continue with this series and I took a long break. Fortunately, my friends on Goodreads had only good things to say about book 6, so I decided to give it another go. I’m glad I did.

This is Sandman Slim at its best. The stakes are high for the world, but are also deeply personal to our characters and Stark in particular. And those personal stories are usually the ones that I like the most, because they have the most heart to them. Yes, the world may end if Stark doesn’t save the day, but what is more important to him is that Candy isn’t acting like herself, and there is nothing he can do about that. 

Stark is still his usual impulsive self, but it’s nice to see him try and temper his destructive tendencies and think with his brain, not his fists for a change. He understands that this is not a problem he can simply pound into the ground until it stops moving. He needs to think outside the box and cooperate with other people if he wants to save the world and those he cares about. Ironically, his solution is actually inside a box, well, inside a room, but I won’t spoil any more of that.

I was happy to follow along with Stark as he tackles this latest problem and finds an acceptable solution, even if it leaves him with rather diminished abilities and the necessity to find a job. Now that will be interesting to see in the next books.

I admit that I wasn’t a fan of Mason’s return. He seems like this jack in the box character that keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times no matter how many times you defeat him. By book 6 that grew kind of old. I think the author milked everything he could out of that character, because he was starting to look like a over the top villain by this book. All crazy and moustache twirling and no substance beyond evilness. Hopefully, this is the last we see of him, and even that is one time too many, in my opinion.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this installment in the series. It was a fast-moving romp with surprisingly a lot of heart, which you wouldn’t really expect from Sandman Slim. I am in love with this series again and looking forward to the next book in the series. I want to see how this private detective gig will work out for our Nephilim.