The Hollows by Daniel Church

DNF at 50 %.

This had so much promise! A small town cut off from the rest of the world by a snow storm. Mysterious creatures attacking its inhabitants. A lone policewoman trying to keep order and make sure as many people survive this as possible… Yup, the description was right up my alley, so I went into this book with a certain amount of excitement.

And the beginning was good. Ellie discovers a body and realizes it’s one of the residents. Apparently he froze to death and there are strange markings next to his body. That’s creepy. The introduction to the monsters was also creepy and frankly terrifying. Those are the stuff of nightmares, alright. I wouldn’t want to see one of them outside my window at night.

But that’s about where the positives end for me. The book is way too long for its own good. It drags. The story meanders at a leisury pace when it should be rushing along revving up the suspense. I mean I quit reading right after our first real glimpse of the Tatterskins, and that was at 50% if the book. And I would have tried to stay with the story if the constant distractions were useful to deepen the character relationships or tell us more about the town. But it really doesn’t. 

My second problem, and the one that ultimately made me call it quits, is the fact that all characters are caricatures of themselves. The bad people are so villainous, they don’t even feel like real people, like that one inbred family at the farm. The good ones are good, but one-dimensional. I couldn’t tell you what Ellie looks like or what her story is. Yes, there is mentions of her loosing her son, but never in much detail. Other villagers just blend into one indistinctive mass of people.

But what made me throw the towel was how the wife of the second cop was portrayed. I understand that we aren’t supposed to empathize with her. I understand that the protagonist doesn’t like her. But why did she have to be portrayed as an arrogant screeching harrigan who cares more about her car being totaled and tearing Ellie a new one than the fact that her husband is missing and presumed dead? Unless she is so heartless that she was planning her husband’s murder and the monsters just happened to hasten things, this is an extremely unnatural reaction. That was so jarring to me that I closed the book and never looked back.

There is a good story somewhere in there, it’s just buried under excessive wordcount and poor characterization.

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

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Stars: 3 out of 5.

I feel bad giving this book less than a stellar rating, because it raises some pretty important issues about inclusion and the casual mistreatment of those who are different. It also talks about trauma and healing and finding your purpose in life. So all the things that should be right up my alley, right? Yes this book left me pretty much cold. 

I see several problems with the narrative that made it so this book didn’t work for me.

First, there is too much going on. There are demons ready to buy your soul and the competitive world of violin music. There are aliens escaping the collapse of a distant civilization. There is a traumatized transgender kid who is trying to find her way in this world that has never showed her kindness. There is the Queen of Hell, who already damned the souls of six of her most brilliant violin students and only need to collect one more to buy back her own.

On each own, all these stories would make a wonderful book. Reading about Katrina finding her own voice and melting the Queen of Hell’s heart in the process would have been wonderful. Reading about Lan Thran building a new life on Earth for her family and finding a modicum of happiness. And also realizing that music might be just the thing that could heal the soul of her dying civilization. Or even reading about the strange and cutthroat world of violin competitions and the violin repair shop owner who had the power to repair and exorcise cursed violins. And it is also a story about immigrants and refugees who are trying to rebuild a life on distant shores, as demonstrated by the Asian diaspora in California. 

Unfortunately, mashing them all together into the same narrative did a disservice to all of the stories. First, it felt like a clash of ideas, but more importantly, there wasn’t enough time to develop each story to the extent that it needed to be developed. There were too many characters to keep track of, as a result, almost none of them felt fleshed out. I could honestly say that the only two characters that felt “alive” to me were Katrina and Shirley. Ironic, isn’t it, considering Shirley is an AI?

As it stands, I felt like all the stories were underdeveloped then forcibly woven together to create a happy ending. 

Also, I found that for a book that seemingly had such high stakes – the souls of two women in jeopardy, aliens fleeing the destruction of their civilization, etc. I never felt any urgency in the narrative. We are told that the stakes are high, but we aren’t shown that. Apart from that last competition where Katrina plays her heart out, I never felt like any of the characters were in real danger. 

It might also be because violence is glossed over or threated with a passing shrug and nothing else in this story. Katrina is raped by her roommate and it is barely mentioned afterwards. I mean, she was betrayed by someone she trusted, yet again, but we will not dwell into that? Or when Lan’s son casually kills a civilian and then Lan just disintegrates his friends so that they wouldn’t go to the police? There is no aftermath for her for that. Oh, we just killed four people. Oh well, moving on. That felt very callous to me, especially in a story that talks about how music can heal our souls.

The ending is also something I didn’t like about this book. I understand the author’s desire to end the story on a good note, to create a happy ever after ending. Unfortunately, it cheapens Katrina’s sacrifice and self-realization during the violin competition, and also Shizuka’s real sacrifice after it, when she chose to forfeit her soul instead of damning Katrina. Shizuka was bound to Hell. That was the choice and the sacrifice she’d willingly made. It would have made for a heart-breaking, but beautiful ending of the book. One that I would have remembered and praised. Getting her out of that bargain by cope out space aliens was wrong, in my opinion. It sends the message that no matter what horrible things you did in your life, you can always escape punishment if you have the right friends. 

I would also argue that the way this book treated Katrina’s trauma was very “fairy tale” ending as well. She has severe PTSD from all the abuse she’d suffered from her family and those around her. She has self-loathing and self-image issues. Winning one competition and finding her music won’t solve all that. Finding one person who loves and support you helps, but doesn’t eliminate the trauma. Katrina needs serious therapy and years of work and recovery to be whole. Yet that part is completely glossed over. 

So yes, I like all the ideas in this book and a deep dive into violins and music was fascinating. I just didn’t particularly like how they were blended together in this book. 

PS: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance 3) by Naomi Novik

Stars: 3 out of 5

This book, even though it was a satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy, felt less well structured than the previous two. Also, it dragged. Hence the 3 star rating where the previous two books were solid 5 stars for me. 

I think my biggest problem is that this book spends too much time spinning its wheels. We pick up right after the awful events at the end of book 2. El is safe. El is back home with her mom, but El’s world has crumbled. She is traumatized by the events of the graduation. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. She is depressed. So she spends a lot of time mopping around. Granted, that was very true to El’s character, since she tends to overanalyze everything to death and circle around the drain, but it makes for rather boring reading. 

I also felt that the middle part of the book dragged and lost its focus a bit. Yes, we learned some big revelations, especially about the correlation between mawmouths and enclave creation, but it felt like we were retreading the same ground again and again after the attack on London. The whole middle part could easily have been condensed and made more fast-paced and exciting without loosing any of the impactful reveals and character development. This is the first time in this series that I was tempted to skip forward and just skim through the pages. 

I loved the confrontation at the gates of the Scholomance. It really felt like this was the culmination of all the threads so carefully set up in the previous books. This was the culmination of Orion’s story. Of the mawmouths and the enclaves, and of the Scholomance itself. I think it would have been a better book if the author had decided to end it right there and then. Unfortunately, she didn’t…

I understand that she wanted to leave her character for a happy-ish ending, but it felt rather forced and shoehorned into what was a rather bleak story at times. I liked how Orion’s arc was resolved at the gates of Scholomance. I would have been happy with him being bound to the school, because that’s what El and all of the wizards had asked of him and the school itself – stay and protect our children. The fact that suddenly he can travel freely everywhere he wants and still has his ability to “eat” mals even though El killed the mawmouth inside him… it feels like a cheep copout. It cheapens the sacrifices and hard decisions both had to make during the battle of Scholomance. 

I also wasn’t completely happy with the solution they found for the enclaves. It’s not sustainable in the long run. After all, El is not immortal. One day she will be gone and there will be nobody there to kill the mawmouths. And yes, people will always choose the path of least resistance if they can. Building Golden Enclaves is harder than normal ones and requires more mana investments from the builders. So give it a generation, and wizards will revert to building modern enclaves again. 

In order to get rid of that practice, there needs to be a huge shift in how people think. Unfortunately, I don’t think the ending of this book laid a good enough foundation for that. So this is a hollow victory, because nothing has really changed. Which is a little disappointing.

It was still a good read though. All in all, I liked El’s growth and emotional journey and the fact that she finally found a modicum of peace.

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance 2) by Naomi Novik

Stars: 5 out of 5

This is an excellent continuation of the Scholomance series. It picks up moments after the end of book one and its ominous warning and leaves El and her friends with a plethora of new problems. The most pressing of which is getting ready for graduation. They all know what is waiting for them down in the graduation hall and that not all of them will make it out alive. It’s time to form alliances and play your cards right. Because surviving graduation is only the first step. If you are lucky enough, you might also get a spot in an enclave after.

I loved El’s character growth in this book. Her slow realization that she had friends she can rely on. And her bigger realization that surviving graduation on her own isn’t enough anymore. She also wants to make sure her friends survive. And most of the other graduates as well, even if some of them are from enclaves, but she is finding out that they are good people after all, flawed, entitles, clueless as to how life is for non-enclavers, but not intrinsically bad. 

It was also interesting to see her progressively feel more and more responsible for the first years that she had to have classes with. To come to the realization that they would have to deal with graduation as well in four years, and that the cleaning measures they had repaired might break again before their graduation. And if that happened, they would have to face a room full of hungry mals and no El or Orion to protect them… El is finally learning how to care about people other than herself and it’s a wonderful thing to see. That’s character growth at its best. 

The stakes felt real in this book as well. Graduation is coming whether our characters want it or not, and they have to work together to survive it. I loved how this idea slowly dawned on everybody and how people finally started cooperating. And that when El came up with her insane plan, mostly everyone backed her up. Granted, the fact that the Scholomance itself was actively encouraging them to be useful was a good inciting factor as well.

Speaking of the Scholomance, loved the revelation that the school was, if not sentient, then at least aware. That all these years, it’s been trying to fulfill its purpose the best it could, even with failing security measures and cleaning spells in the graduation hall. Even if that meant mercilessly training the kids in its charge so that they stood at least a chance to survive graduation. Even if that meant paring the week and feeding them to the mals, so that the strong had a better chance at making it out alive. I mean what an impossible conundrum – it’s tasked to protect all the gifted children of the world… and is forced to make tough choices to protect at least some of them.

The ending was heartbreaking. I really hope that we haven’t seen the last of Orion. On a different note, I love that this didn’t evolve like the typical YA love story.  In fact, romantic interests are the least of our characters problems in this series so far. Sure, they pair up, do the typical teenage things, but it’s not the focus of the story, and I’m glad about it.

All in all, I’m loving this series so far. It’s a well-constructed world with complex characters that you can’t help but empathize with. 

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance 1) by Naomi Novik

Stars: 5 out of 5

This is not your ordinary magic academy book. In fact, I doubt Harry Potter would have survived past the first night in Scholomance, because he wouldn’t have been an enclave kid, but just a looser like El. 

In fact, the world of Scholomance is rather bleak and unforgiving. Being a wizard isn’t something to be excited about, unless you have the privilege to be born in an enclave. Eighty percent of wizard children born outside of enclaves don’t survive to puberty, yet alone adulthood. Why? Because they are considered tasty treats for the myriads of mals roaming the world, looking for a snack. And a kid who barely started manifesting his magic doesn’t have the skills to defend themselves from the mals. So the solution was to create the Scholomance – a magical school that would also serve as shelter for those children lucky enough to be chosen to attend. They would have four years to learn and hone their skills. All they had to do was survive the graduation. Sure, people died there as well, but the survival rates were a lot higher than risking it on your own in the outside world instead.

This paints a grim picture doesn’t it? It’s also a fascinating take on a secluded magical community leaving alongside normal human population, or “mundanes” as they call them. I also loved the explanation why it was so much harder to do magic when surrounded by normal people. The idea of belief influencing the potency of spells is rather unique. 

Oh, and our protagonist is no Harry Potter either. Well, scratch that. She kind of is, I guess? In the sense that she is a chosen one and has a whole prophecy about her. Granted the prophecy goes along the lines of doom and gloom and bringing death to all enclaves. No wonder she is bitter and distrustful. No wonder she is a loner who assumes the worst of people. It also doesn’t help that most of the spells she gets from the school are spells of mass destruction or subjugation, as befitted a Dark Overlord… which she desperately doesn’t want to be. Add all that, and El is a bundle of bitterness with a soft mushy core under all that armor. She is a delight to follow in her slow progression from a loner to someone who finds a purpose and even real friends.

The concept of mana vs malia is also rather unique. I don’t often encounter this conundrum in other books about magic, but if you think about it, it makes sense – you can’t create something out of nothing. So any spell you cast has to be fueled by something. Mana is the fuel you build on your own. Malia is something you syphon out of the world around you – animals, plants… other people. It’s easy to get and you can have an almost unlimited pool of it… if you decide to be evil. Of course, prolonged use of malia corrupts your soul and body, and you risk having your insides rot in the long run, but it gives you a lot of power before that happens.

I found the whole concept of Scholomance fascinating. A school with no adult supervision, no teachers, no vacations. You get in via portal and you get out four years later, if you survive the mals in the school and the Graduation. Between then – the school teaches you by providing books and classes that it thinks you might need. And don’t even think about not completing homework on falling behind on your classes. First, you won’t be allowed in the dinning hall… then accidents will start happen. In other words – you learn or you die. I’d say that staying alive is the best motivation a student could need.

I am glad I was recommended this book. Even though it’s classified as YA, and yes, it has some typical YA elements, it lacks those that I despise the most: inta-love, love triangles, and protagonists too entitled or too stupid to live. This book is smart, intriguing and you can’t help but root for the characters even if El tends to get stuck on her grievances a lot and seems to run in circles before making a decision. But she is what, 16 in this book? So I would give her some slack.

All in all, I am really looking forward to diving in deeper into this world in the next book. And I will certainly check out other books by this author.

NaNoWriMo 2022

Get ready to write!

This is that time of the year again, when thousands of people around the world will put their pens to the paper and attempt to create a novel, or at least put 50k words on paper that they will wrestle into a good story in consecutive drafts. 

I will be joining the festivities as well, but I will be doing something different this year – I will be a NaNo Rebel. Instead of trying to write a new story from scratch this November, I will be putting final edits on my very first novel – Of Broken Things. 

This story and I have gone through several iterations over the years, slowly going from the first disjointed draft I did during NaNoWriMo 2014 or maybe 2013? To something that is almost publishable. And since it is almost publishable, I had decided to spend some money and order a developmental edit for the draft. And even though it was costly, I don’t regret it.

First, the feedback I received told me that the story is worth telling. It’s interesting and will find its audience. 

Secondly, I received a couple suggestions on how to tighten the plot and make some of my protagonist’s choices more impactful. 

It doesn’t seem like much, when you read the recommendations, but it requires a careful rewrite of several scenes, introduction of a few characters earlier in the story, shifting the emphasis on a few events, and all in all, a lot of small changes throughout the book. So when you look at it overall, it will be a quite extensive edit that will require me to read through the draft (again), and touch up about 70% of the scenes, especially in Aiden’s story. Damon fares much butter, but I still need to add more background for Cassie and a little more details on the other Nest Subjects.

So I think this would be the perfect project for this year’s NaNo. The draft is a little over 110k words, and I will need to review and correct/rewrite about 70% of the scenes, so I think I will reach 50k new words without problems.

This will be my second year being a NaNo Rebel, and with the same story to boot. Last year, I had to retype my corrected first draft from scratch because my digital file got lost in the void and all I had was a printed copy with all my hand-written corrections on it. So the end product was actually a third draft, because not only did I incorporate the changes already made on paper, but I also added more changes as things progressed. 

This year, this will be the final draft (hopefully), at least content-wise. I will still need to do some copy editing to get rid of most punctuation and spelling errors and check it for continuity, but the bulk of the changes should be done after this NaNo. Which means I will probably have this ready for publication next year! That’s exciting and terrifying, and a story for a future blog post.

As of right now, my virtual editing scissors are ready, creating juices are flowing. Let’s get it done!

Happy NaNoWriMo to everyone!

Savage Legion (Savage Rebellion 1) by Matt Wallace

Stars: 3 out of 5.

While I mostly liked this book, it didn’t wow me like some other fantasy books I read this year. 

I think the reason for that is that I had too many questions about the worldbuilding that were never answered. Crache is a fascinating concept, but if you start digging a little deeper into it, you realize that it doesn’t work. 

Try as I may, I couldn’t picture this country. Cities are mentioned, but never truly explored apart from the parts of one city where the Gens live and the Bottoms, where the poor, the beggars, the infirm, and the “useless” eke a pitiful existence. What about the people in the middle? What about the simple citizens? They are mentioned once in passing. How do they live? How do they make a living? If you have to form a Gen to do any kind of trade in Crache, then what do the simple citizens subsist on? Are they allowed to work? Or do they just exist on some kind of universal income and do nothing? 

The second problem for me was the whole concept of the Savage Legion. “Brutal. Efficient. Unstoppable.” is what the blurb says. I would have to disagree with the last two statements. There is no way an army assembled from the dregs of society, barely trained, equipped with broken weapons and almost no armor can be efficient. Yes, they can overwhelm some opponents with their sheer numbers, but there is a limit to that as well. The Roman Legions have proven that organization and training trump sheer numbers any day of the week. Legionnaires conquered most of Europe, even though their numbers were much smaller than the Visigoths that opposed them. But they were professional soldiers, skilled, trained, and better equipped. 

With the Savage Legion, we are talking about half-starved and often infirm people who had never fought a battle in their life before. Who are just thrown into the fray as cannon fodder. Any well organized army would make quick work of them.

Finally, the multiple POVs do this book a disservice, in my opinion. They are too distant from each other. I understand that the author wanted to show different aspects of Crache through the experiences of these three women, but as a result, all three stories feel broken and disjointed. As soon as we are immersed in one story and the tension is mounting to some kind of resolution, the next chapter switches to another story. Tension – killed. We try to pick up the thread of that story again and decide whether we care or not. And as soon as we start caring for that story again, the POV switches one more time.

The problem with multiple POVs in this book is also that none of the stories have a resolution. I understand that there is a sequel, but there should be at least some emotional pay off at the end of book 1. A reward for following the story so far, of sorts. Some kind of win for the protagonists. Here, the story just… stops. Well, all three stories just kind of stop in the middle. 

To me that is rather frustrating, and it doesn’t make me want to pick up the next book, even though I already have it on my kindle. But I might give it a go just to see if I get more answers to all my questions.

Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux

 Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This was an interesting read and it went in a different direction than I expected. 

What would you do to get rid of the memories of the most traumatic events that haunt you? What would you do to never have to remember then again? Would that make your life easier? Better? Would that help you start over? Or would you realize that those events are also part of who you are, and by erasing them, you erase an important part of yourself as well?

This was the most interesting aspect of the story for me. I understand that people can be so damaged and haunted by something horrible in their past that they would do anything to get rid of the memory. Even accepting to be part of an experimental treatment offered by a person whose face nobody has ever seen. Even accepting to go to a remote and desolate location where they would basically be at the mercy of that same person. I understand that the desire to forget can overwhelm the instinct of self-preservation. And when you get to the place and things don’t seem quite right, or when the man in charge makes the hairs on your back stand up, you still try to make excuses, because you want so bad for this to work…

This book also raises an interesting question of whether our memories and experiences shape us as a person. That we are the sum of all the experiences we had – both good and bad. If we erase the bad, would we still be the same person? 

Also, how can we be certain that someone who has absolute access to your memories didn’t modify something else? How can you be sure that you are still you, and that your desires are really yours, instead of implanted by a machine?

So I loved all those concepts and questions raised by this book. Unfortunately, the characters we followed through the story felt a bit flat to me. Though, I must admit that they improved by the end of the story, but for most of the book, I wasn’t really engaged in their stories or their well-being. I felt slightly more engaged with Senna than the other two, but even then, it was more mild curiosity than concern.

Plus, the villain’s motivations didn’t particularly stand to scrutiny. What was his end-game there? Keep these people prisoners on his nice little ice world forever? Edit their memories so badly that they become no better than androids who obey his every whim? That’s not viable on the long run.

Also, the technology itself was more in the realm of fantasy than science fiction. So that was a bit of a let down. And I also found that the ending was wrapped up a little bit too neatly.  There would have been a lot more fallout for the survivors after they basically accused the most influential man in the system of kidnapping and illegal experimentation. I mean, look what happens to those who go against rich and influential figures in our times – most times those lawsuits go nowhere and we never hear from the accuser again… yet the accused are still rich and thriving. 

All in all though, it was an entertaining story that I would certainly recommend. 

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

Into the Broken Lands by Tanya Huff

Stars: 5 out of 5

I absolutely loved this story! The setting is unique and the characters are memorable. Exactly what I need in a fantasy book. 

This story is in fact two stories told parallel to each other. One is about the journey of a young heir to a powerful city, charged with bringing magical fuel out of the Broken Lands to keep the flame going that protects his city. The other one is of his uncle who undertook the same journey over 50 years ago. The common denominator for both stories is Nonnie – the last living weapon created by the mages before they annihilated each other and created the Broken Lands.

It is interesting to follow two similar journeys of two different parties of characters. Their mission is the same. Their destination is the same. They are going into the same lands… but their stories are as different as the Broken Lands themselves.

The Broken Lands, what an intriguing concept! Image a land created by magic, and then scarred by the same magic during a horrible war. There are fixed points in the landscape – places that stay the same, no matter what happens. Everything else is… malleable, mutable, and definitely hostile to outsiders. See, the road between two fixed points can take a day during the first journey and meander for four during the next one. It can cross a lush forest one time and become a murderous swamp other. Landscape, weather, and even time are not set in stone. 

This makes both journeys fascinating. Just because Ryan and his crew have the accounts of his uncle’s journey, their own adventure takes a different turn. They never cross the same landscape, apart from those fixed points. And I think that is the point of this book, no pun intended: each team gets their own share of trials, tailored specifically to them, like that dark tunnel in the cave that was the second fixed point. The Broken Lands force them to confront their own fears and insecurities an emerge on the other end changed. Some for the better, some for the worse, but always as a consequence of their own choices.

That’s another thing I loved about this book. There isn’t a big bad to fight against here. Yes, the mages who created the Broken Lands were horrible beings (I wouldn’t even call them human by now), but they are dead. The horrors they left behind stay in the Broken Lands. There isn’t immediate danger to the lands around them (apart from some incursions). Our protagonists choose to cross the boundary and travel these lands, so all the horrors they encounter are the consequence of their own choices. You could say that what they find in the Broken Lands is a confrontation with themselves. It’s a crucible, in which they either crumble or are mended into a better version of themselves.

And all the characters are memorable, even those you begin to hate by the end of the book. Which is no small feat, considering that we have two distinct groups of around eight people each (even though not all of them make it back out of the Broken Lands). They all felt distinct and “alive”, and I mourned those who were left in the Broken Lands along with their surviving companions, because they weren’t just numbers, they were people.

Nonnie is the glue that holds his story together. It’s amazing to see how much she’d grown between the story journeys – from a weapon that barely spoke and didn’t even consider herself as a person, who could have feelings and desires, and who was forced to undertake the trip into the Broken Lands, to someone fully accepted into a community, valued and respected, who chose to accompany this new group because of a promise she’d made to a friend. And she knows that the Broken Lands test people both physically and mentally, so she lets her companions make sometimes stupid choice because she knows they need to go through those trials. Like she lets Ryan find out for himself what his precious fuel really is, and make his own decision about what he wants to do with that knowledge. Just like she let his uncle fifty years ago.

I will definitely check out other books by Tanya Huff because I was impressed with her imagination and storytelling. 

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

Engines of Empire (The Age of Uprising 1) by Richard S. Ford

Stars: 1 out of 5.

DNF at 30%.

The description of this book sounded so promising, and I was really excited to start it… Unfortunately, my excitement quickly turned into puzzlement, then annoyance, then simply boredom.

This story feels so… disjointed. First we have a prologue that has almost nothing to do with the story itself – we are introduced to characters that never appear in the book again (at least in the part I read before I called it quits), in a location that is barely mentioned again, only because one of the protagonists is sent there. But then again, that particular protagonist has the least page time, so I maybe got to read his POV twice before I dropped the book.

Then we are briefly introduced to our protagonists who are promptly sent their separate ways, so we don’t really get a feel for their family dynamics or feelings. They are together for maybe a couple pages and manage to squabble like kindergarteners for that whole duration. There is no sense of familial ties or history there. Then they leave to their specified locations… and that’s it for the ties between them.

I understand that that the author wanted to show different parts of this seemingly vast empire through the eyes of the protagonists. Unfortunately, that didn’t work for me. There isn’t enough meat in the worldbuilding to visualize the actual world. We have this Empire that is seemingly ruled by industrial Guilds. And the Emperor is the head of the most powerful Guild… Okay, how does this work? Apart from a brief reception for a foreign dignitary (during which the emperor behaved like a simpleton), and a sham of a trial in front of the Guild council, we get nothing about what makes this empire tick – what about the non-guild citizens? Army? Militia? Judiciary system? Anything? Same for the “Demon empire” that supposedly was their enemy for a thousand years. We get disjointed glimpses of things but they don’t make a clear picture.

It didn’t help that I couldn’t like any of the protagonist enough to care about them. Especially Tyreta, who behaves like an entitled brat with no self-control for most of the story I managed to get through. And while that could have been excused for a teenager, her mother, who is supposedly in her 40s, isn’t much better. This book suffers from a distinct lack of good characterization.

Finally, the fight scenes are… uninspired to say the least. Who could imagine that a fight scene can be boring? Well, they are in this book. They last for pages at a time but aren’t dynamic or suspenseful. They are just boring. I found myself skipping paragraphs during the fights.

Maybe I am just spoiled by other great epic fantasy books I read this year, since a lot of people seemed to have loved this one and left me cold.

PS: I received a copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

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