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.

Eyes of the Void (The Final Architecture 2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5

You would think that when different factions and races that make up intelligent life in the galaxy discover that the Architects are back, they would put aside their petty squabbles and unite in the face of an overwhelming enemy, right? Well, you would be wrong.

The Architects are back and this time they are destroying inhabited worlds regardless of the species who live on them, whereas before they only concentrated on human worlds. Heck, even the Hegemony isn’t protected by their Originator relics anymore. But instead of uniting and fighting together, humanity is shattering and descending into an inner conflicts. HUGH and the Partheni are at each other’s throats and the smallest spark can ignite a powder keg of mutual destruction…

It’s interesting to see that all the characters in this book struggled with their loyalties to their respective factions versus their own moral code and what they thought was the right thing to do. Idris defected to the Partheni at the end of the last book because he hoped that they could engineer Ints without subjecting people to the horrible programs that HUGH had put in place. Programs that have over 80% mortality. And the surviving Ints are broken beyond repair, and are no better than slaves. But when a war between HUGH and Partheni seems eminent, he struggles with this decision. Is he a traitor for abandoning the Colonies? Of course, soon that consideration becomes rather irrelevant, at least to him.

Solace and Olli have their own doubts and crisis of faith moments as well, but ultimately, I love that their first loyalty is to their found family on Vulture God as well as humanity as a whole instead of a particular faction their originated from. 

We also learn a lot more about the universe, the structure of Unspace and its relation to our real space, oh and a little bit about the foreboding presence that stalks whoever enters Unspace. 

I was also impressed with the few planets described in this book. The destruction of Arc Pallator by the Architects after they removed the Originator ruins was epic. Especially considering that our characters were smack in the middle of it, running in said ruins. That was an amazing and heartpouding sequence of events.  And Criccieth’s Hell is truly a hellish world. 

My only complaint about this book is that the characters seem a lot more passive than in the first book – things happen to them, and they just react to that instead of being a driving force behind the story. This is especially true of Idris, who spends the whole book being a magic McGuffin that everyone tries to kidnap.

This small complaint notwithstanding, I enjoyed this book, and I am looking forward to the last book in the series.

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. 

Long Past Dues (The Unorthodox Chronicles 2) by James J Butcher

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

I really liked the first book in the series, so I picked up the next installment with a lot of trepidation. Too many times I was left disappointed by the direction in which authors took their series after the opening book. I am glad to say that it is not the case with the Unorthodox Chronicles. This book delivers everything I liked in the first one and ramps it up a notch.

We begin our story about six months after the events of the last book, and Grimsby finally got his dream of becoming an Auditor. Only the job isn’t exactly what he had dreamed it to be, since he is stuck doing house calls and babysitting various Unorthodox whom the Department wants to keep an eye on. It’s boring and mind-numbing, and makes Grimsby wonder if his life in the fast food industry was any better.

One of the reasons he is stuck with rookie jobs is because Mayflower, his partner, hasn’t shown up for work in six months. And doesn’t plan on showing up any time soon… That is until Grimsby does something desperate and steals a case intended for another Auditor. A case that has a lot of similarities with one that Mayflower encountered over 20 years ago. A case that Mayflower thought was closed, since the main perpetrator had her brains blown out…

This was a roller-coaster  of a story. So many things happen, and the action keeps moving along. It was also a better plotted story than the first book, in my opinion. Even though there was a lot of action, all of it served to further the story and move it along, and we got some nice character development throughout as well.

I admit that Grimsby can be a little infuriating in his absolute lack of faith in himself. His self-esteem is lower than the location of Underton, and that place is buried deep under Boston. But even though I found his mopping around and self-doubt ratter irritating at times, I also understood where it was coming from. All his life he’d felt like he has less than everyone else. Because of his scars interfering with his magic, because of his inability to learn any other spells than the 3 he knows. And when Mansgraf kicked him out of the Auditor program, it only reinforced his belief that he was a failed witch and a failed human being. 

So I understand that he feels like he didn’t earn his badge so to say, that he is an impostor in ill-fitting clothes just playing at being an Auditor. I like that by the end of this book, he’d made peace with that idea, and decided that he will be the best Auditor he can be with the abilities he’s given. Granted, by then, he has bigger issues to deal with than his self-doubt, but it’s still a nice piece of character growth.

I loved that Grimsby stays true to his core believes – that violence, especially the terminal kind that Mayflower is so good at, is a last resort. Or that you should always try to do your best to help your friends. He demonstrates that over and over again when he helps Wudge, then does everything to save both Wudge and Mayflower from Mother Frost, or even when he rescues the familiar. Speaking of Mansgraf’s familiar, I wonder if it will have a role to play in future books? 

We learn a lot about Rayne in this book as well, and I’m sad that things happened the way they did. Because both her and Grimsby could have been the friend each of them needed, but that is probably not in the cards anymore. I would like to know what is that birthright she worked so hard to suppress all her life. I’m sure we will hear more of that in the next books.

As it stands, I am definitely eagerly awaiting book 3, even though it probably won’t come out until next year.

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

Dead Man’s Hand (The Unorthodox Chronicles 1) by James J Butcher

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I think I found a new urban fantasy series to fangirl about! I picked it up on a whim because I liked to cover. Oh, and I had no clue that the author was Jim Butcher’s son. Though I must admit that I was never a huge fan of Harry Dresden, though I read maybe 4 or 5 books in the series. I might even revisit that particular series someday…

Anyway, I came to this book unbiased and without trying to compare the creation of the son to the works of the father. And I must admit that I really loved it!

The world is very interesting. We have the Usuals, or people like you and me, plain Jane humans, and we have the Unorthodox. Who can be magic users (or witches), as well as other magical creatures that we heard of in legends and fairy tales (and some we’ve never heard of). Some can pass for human with relative ease and managed to build almost normal lives in our world. Some… not so much. All of them are controlled and regulated by the Bureau of Unorthodox Affairs, who acts like law enforcement, but also a social services organization. 

Now let’s talk about Grimsby, our protagonist. He is a bumbling, stumbling bundle of insecurities and misery, but I must admit that I really liked him. Because he has good reasons to be miserable and resentful, and to wallow in that misery from time to time. Life really did a number on him. He is not a hero. He is, most of the time, a coward that hates conflict and tries to avoid it at any cost. 

But despite all that, he has a strong backbone and a moral compass. He is willing to bend and let a lot of things slide, but when it comes to something that he holds dear, or that he thinks is plain wrong, he will stand his ground, even despite the danger to himself. He is also very loyal to his friends, probably because he doesn’t have that many. In fact, by the end of this book, he really only has one.

I also liked that despite his limitations, he finds new and ingenious ways to combine the three spells he knows. And even though those are only 3 spells, he mastered them to perfection. Grimsby might not be particularly powerful, but he is very tenacious and capable of innovative thinking, because he doesn’t have pure magical strength to rely on.

I also like his grudging partnership with the Huntsman, because despite the odds, they make a really good team. The Huntsman constantly pushes Grimsby to get out of his comfort zone, especially if that zone is made of self-pity and woe against the unfairness of the universe. And Grimsby acts as a tempering influence and a moral compass for a man who has done some terrible things in the line of duty and often won’t hesitate to do even more horrible things if needed. Even if he would probably regret it afterwards.

It was interesting to see the Huntsman go from looking at Grimsby first with suspicion, then with derision, then with grudging respect. And they did get to the bottom of things in the end and got the bad guy. 

I liked that the main storyline is resolved by the end of this book, but there are other tantalizing bits of story left dangling in front of the reader to entice me to pick up the next book. I want to know how the main villain managed to make so many human familiars without anyone noticing.  I want to know who Blackskull was when it was alive. And I want to know if Grimsby will every manage to control his magic even despite the scars. So I will definitely be continuing with this series. 

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

What Song the Sirens Sang (Gideon Sable 3) by Simon R Green

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Stars: 3 out of 5

I think I am getting a bit disappointed with this series. It’s like the author follows exactly the same blueprint for every book in it. There is a big heist to be accomplished and a big bad horrible person to be robbed (because our protagonists are good guys and only rob those who had it coming). So Gideon puts his crew together, makes a plan, and they merrily waltz into danger and impossible odds… and everything turns out just fine in the end. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still a fun ride. The books are action-packed and not awfully long, so they make for a fast read and don’t overstay their welcome. Problem is, there isn’t much substance there either. 

My biggest problem is that we are on book three of the series, but we’ve had zero character development from Gideon or Annie Anybody for that matter. We’ve seen other members of their crew change and evolve (and fall again, as is the case of the Damned in this book), but the protagonist and his girlfriend? Nada. 

We still have no clue who the protagonist was before he stole the name and fame of Gideon Sable. We still don’t know Annie’s backstory and what made her feel like she needs to be anyone other than herself. Heck, we didn’t even learn much more about their relationship prior to the protagonist becoming Gideon. And when they happen to ask each other a question about those times, they just gloss it over, deflect, or say “I don’t want to talk about it.” Well, it’s all good and jolly, but as a reader, I can’t connect to a character that doesn’t evolve, or who never shows me what makes him or her tick.

But there is still a lot of fun to be had with this world. It’s fantastical and slightly horrifying. I loved the Low Road where the souls of the Dead travel to their next destination. It wasn’t at all what I pictured it to be. The author also has a knack of introducing awesome new side characters. It’s a pity that most of the time they outshine the protagonist at every turn.

As it stands, I might give this series one more try and pick up the next book, but if we don’t get any character development for Gideon or Annie, I might throw the gauntlet. 

Wanderlust (Sirantha Jax 2) by Ann Aguirre

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Stars: 3 out of 5.

I liked this book better than the first one, probably because I was already somewhat familiar with the world, so I wasn’t as lost. Plus, the story progresses from the events of the last book, and our protagonist’s actions have some very real consequences.

I am less annoyed with Sirantha in this book as well. She is still an emotional wreak, but she seems more self-aware at least. And she is finally becoming a lot less selfish then she was in the first book. I think she finally realized that she isn’t just a jumper anymore who has no other responsibilities than to get the ship from point A to point B through Grimspace without loosing anyone in the process. Even if in the beginning she only accepted the mission of ambassador to get off planet (and frankly because she didn’t have two coins left to rub together), by the end of the book she started taking this mission very seriously.

I think seeing the Morgut infested space station had a lot to do with that change of heart. You can’t really remain selfish when you realize that there is a species out there who thinks humans are delicious, and destroying the Conglomerate just rang the dinner bell. Honestly, I think the segment of them exploring that space station was the best part of the book. It was scary and intense, and reminded me of some of the best space horror titles I read this year.

I still have issues with Sirantha’s and March’s relationship though. It feels very unhealthy to me. I mean, they claim to love each other unconditionally. To always be there for each other and all that stuff. Yet, they can’t talk things through when they hit a difficult bump on the road and get their feelings hurt. Or just plain abandon the other because someone else needs them more. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but I honestly still can’t understand March’s decision on Lachion. Probably because I didn’t give a flying fig about the war between the clans on that planet. Honestly, that part of the book was a slog to read. 

What I am saying is that I don’t understand why the author keeps pushing these two characters together when they are obviously toxic for each other. If that’s her idea of a perfect relationship, I will have a problem with the rest of the books. I like my relationship on the non-abusive spectrum. 

Oh, and the whole subplot about Jax’s mother was very far-fetched in my opinion. Are you honestly expecting me to believe that in all those years Sirantha was growing up, she never noticed that her mother was at the head of a crime syndicate? Right…

However, I am interested enough in the worldbuilding to give the next book a try. If nothing else, I really want to know how they will resolve the Morgut problem. I am also interested to learn a bit more about Grimspace, and why Sirantha can sense it even when not jacked up.

Greymist Fair by Francesca Zappia

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

Now this is a fairy tale retelling done right! It doesn’t try to outdo the original, just takes that inspiration and creates something new and very readable with it.

I loved the village of Greymist Fair and the atmosphere of mystery and even foreboding the author created for this place and the villagers. Imagine a village in the middle of a dense forest with only one road leading to it and back out. That’s already claustrophobic enough. But now add to that the fact that there are rumored to be monsters in the forest, and those who wander under the trees rarely come back alive. Oh, and that road to the village? It can take hours, or it can take days to travel, and some travelers never find Greymist Fair at all.

The author managed to convey the magical feeling that I absolutely love in fairy tales, and she also understands the cardinal rule of those tales – no matter how fantastical the world or the events happening in it, there must be internal rules to that world that everything follows. And if those rules are broken, there must be an explanation as to why and how. Like the ever-flowering tree branch that protects the wearer from Death, or the shoes instilled with magic that allow the person to outrun Death and its wargs.

The characters are less important here than the story they are part of, but I still had fun following along with them. The story is also not told in chronological order, with subsequent stories often going back in time and shedding more light on events mentioned or implied in previous stories, but the whole paints a fascinating canvas of a village at war with Death, even if the villagers don’t realize that. See, the forest around the village is Death’s domain, and so was this village at one point, until something happened and Death was denied entrance.

I loved the fact that this conflict was resolved not with violence, but with forgiveness and acceptance. The main message of this story is that we are all social animals, and that even entities like Death can be lonely and long for companionship. And that it is always better to show acceptance and love to others instead of prejudice and violence. That’s a message we should hear more often today.

It’s a well written and heartfelt story with a beautiful message, and I would highly recommend it.

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

The Night-Bird’s Feather by Jenna Katerin Moran

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Stars: 1.5 out of 5.

Well, this book was a big disappointment, to tell you the truth. I love fairy tales. I love modern retellings of said fairy tales, if they are well done. And that’s a big IF. Especially when it comes to retellings of Slavic tales, because they are near and dear to my heart. I grew up with them.

Unfortunately, we don’t really have a retelling here of anything. Honestly, if you had switched the Russian names of the main characters to typical English names, the story wouldn’t have changed much at all. Peppering the story with typical Russian or Ukrainian dishes or things doesn’t build an exotic atmosphere, like the author probably intended. It just served to irritate me.

The biggest problem with this book though is that it has no soul. Sure, the author can write pretty sentences, but that isn’t enough to make a good story. The characters feel flat and one-dimensional. Even Valentina, our protagonist whom we spend most of the book with, is extremely boring. I don’t know what makes her tick. I don’t know what her dreams and fears are. 

The author tells us she wants to kill the Headmaster of the Bleak Academy because he took something from her, but what he took is described so vaguely, that I still don’t understand what the big deal is. So you are made of blood and bones, and you can hear your heart beat. Big deal.

Same goes for the story of her falling in love… with a man she never spoke to, just saw in passing and heard play the piano. Sure, the author tells us that, but there is not a shred of feeling of it in the actual story. There is no feeling in the story at all, to tell you the truth. It’s all very dry and soulless, if prettily written.

My other problem is that this world makes no sense. The author mentions that this was the land of eternal darkness until Valentina brought the sun to it and created the separation between night and day. Okay, I can get on board with that, but explain to me how this works? How do people grow crops in darkness? How do they survive without night and day? How do they travel about? Where do they get all the resources necessary to light their town? How do animals and trees survive there? 

See, real fairy tales always have an inner logic and a rigid set of rules, no matter how fantastical those rules seem compared to our world. And characters, monsters, and even natural events follow those rules. In this book though, the rules are never explained, so the reasons behind why some things happen are very nebulous and often make no sense. If I can’t make sense of that’s happening, I won’t be invested in the story.

To summarize, don’t bother with this book if you like fairy tale retellings. There are much better books out there. Like Greymist Fair by Francesca Zappia (sponsored link), for example.

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

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.