Tag Archives: ARCs

The Bladed Faith (The Vagrant Gods 1) by David Dalglish

Stars: 2 out of 5

DNF at 45%.

There are the makings of a good book in there, that’s why I am not giving it a one star review, but the execution was sorely lacking, at least for my taste.

First of all, it drags. Even the battles move slowly and the narrative parts between them are never-ending. We get a long training montage at the beginning of the book that was interesting for the first 10 pages, but rapidly lost my goodwill after it dragged and dragged. 

I think the reason for that is because even though the characters acquire new skills and evolve physically, they never grow mentally. I found that the character development is next to null in this book. I never got to bond with the characters because I was never allowed in their heads. What drives them? 

Why does Cyrus decide to endure this harsh training? Just because he was told that he could become the avenger of his people? He didn’t strike me as someone that selfless and patriotic at the beginning of the book. I would understand this better is I was privy to his inner thoughts and doubts instead of just his relentless training. 

Same goes for all the other characters. They are kind of there and going through the motions, but I can’t picture them in my head. They are not “alive” to me. I am a character-driven reader, I don’t do well with books that lack those. I can forgive a lot of flaws and plot-holes as long as I’m invested in the characters. Here, I wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting ideas in this book. The whole idea of the origin of divinity is one I would have loved to know more about. This is one of the reasons I kept reading for as long as I did. But then I caught myself skipping pages upon pages and stopping just to read the major plot points. That’s when I knew that it was time to abandon ship. 

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

Empire of Exiles (Books of the Usurper 1) by Erin M. Evans

Stars: 4 out of 5

Sometimes you pick up a book because you like the cover or the blurb and discover a hidden gem. This is what happened to me with Empire of Exiles. I haven’t read other books by this author, so this book was a surprise hit for me. Now I have a new series to look forward to and a new author to follow!

I loved how complex and “lived in” this world feels. There is history there. There is a past. The different races feel distinct but also plausible, with their own religions, philosophies and physical attributes that don’t feel shoehorned into the story just for the sake of diversity. I would love to explore Semilla more in future books. 

The empire itself is an interesting construct. Like the title of the book says, it’s an empire of exiles or of refugees, since all the races who call it home fled their native lands facing extermination by a common enemy – the changelings. Desperation and the threat of extermination are sure to force people to cooperate, but I love what they created out of the ashes. An empire that assimilated all these religions and philosophies and let them coexist. 

This world wouldn’t be as memorable if it wasn’t populated by such vivid characters. I loved all of the protagonists in this story. They felt real. Sure, they had their quirks and their moments of weakness, but they always felt like people. I couldn’t help but feel Quill’s pain and confusion when his best friend dies in front of him after committing a crime that was completely out of character for him. I rooted for Amadea the more I discovered the depth of horror her childhood has been. Seriously, how did she manage to piece herself together and remain a functional human being after everything she’d been subjected to? I loved all the specialists in the archives and was truly worried about them when their affinities seemed to overwhelm them.

Speaking of the Archives, what a wonderful concept! A central repository of all the knowledge those fleeing nations brought to Semilla when they arrived ahead of a horde of changellings. Where all scrolls, works of art, religious text and everything else is perfectly preserved for future generations.

The magical system is also rather unique. I would like to learn more about it in future books. Especially what differentiates a specialist from a sorcerer, and is that what Yinnii is now? How would that affect the rest of her life?

My only complaint about this book is that the budding love stories feel forced. I mean, there is way too much blushing and stuttering during conversations. I would understand that from teenagers like Quill and Yinnii, but Amadea is in her thirties, so why does she behave like a hormonal teenager who never had a crush? That read so false that it took me out of the story.

Other then that small complaint though, I absolutely loved this book. I can’t wait to explore this world more in the next installments. There are still a lot of questions left unanswered, after all. Like is the world behind the Salt Wall really as desolate as we are lead to believe? What really happened with the changellings? What was the Usurper’s endgame and why did he need Amadea for it? I’m definitely picking up the next book.

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

Flotsam (Peridot Shift 1) by R J Theodore

Stars: 2 out of 5

DNF at 45%.

There is a good book hidden somewhere in there. Unfortunately, it’s buried under tons of overwritten plot and bad characterization. It feels like this story isn’t quite done yet. It need more time to “cook” in the author’s head, or maybe a strong developmental edit.

The premise is fascinating: a whole planet shattered by a cataclysm that left it in chunks. Yet somehow life still exists there. There is atmosphere and gravity even if that revolves around the “islands” – floating bits of planet. There are five “gods” that remade their respective people in some ways to facilitate their adaptation to this new environment. And these deities are not fictional. They exist, they interact with others sometimes. There is a mysterious ring and some even more mysterious aliens. And the crew of a smuggler’s ship caught in the middle of all of that. Sounds interesting? Sounds like lots of fun and action, doesn’t it?

That promise kept me going for almost half the book. That’s when I realized that the flaws of the book made it almost impossible to enjoy the story. I was skimming most of the chapters just to get to the juicy bits, but even those weren’t enough to keep me interested.

This book is horribly overwritten – I don’t need descriptions of what every character is wearing and all the weapons they have unless it’s relevant to the story. And while yes, I’m interested about how Sub Rosa was founded, I don’t need 6 pages of exposition about it. This kills the momentum and makes the book a chore to read.

The other problem is the extremely stilled and unnatural dialogue. The characters don’t talk like people. In fact, most of the time, the characters barely talk. The protagonist talks and assumes what her crew is about to say from their posture or the look in their eyes, when they barely said a word or two before she interrupts them. This is extremely irritating and makes the protagonist look unstable, even unhinged sometimes. Prone to mood swings and quick to lash out… without any provocation. 

This impression comes from the fact that the author tells us everything, but is very bad at showing it. So the author tells us that the crew is being insubordinate and even disrespectful, but nothing in the scene actually “shows” us that. Half the time, when I read those scenes, I came away confused – exactly why did the protagonist lash out? Nothing in the dialogue provoked that response. I don’t really want to follow a character I don’t like and can’t understand.

All of these flaws just kept adding up and by the time I decided to say goodbye to the book, I was just not getting any enjoyment out of the experience.

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

Ashes of the Sun (Burningblade and Silvereye 1) by Django Wexler

Stars: 4 out of 5

This is the third series I have picked up by this author and I can say with confidence that Django Wexler is a creator of worlds, which is good praise in my books. Each of his series has a very distinct feel, with an original world and engaging characters. 

I loved a glimpse of the world in this book, where humans live on the ruins of a war between two Elder races – the Chosen and the Ghouls, who had been intent on mutual annihilation. The Ghouls unleashed the Plague that wiped out the Chosen, but not before they bombed the ghoul underground cities into oblivion. That was 400 years ago. Humanity inherited a planet full of ruins, broken weapons, and magical artifacts. And also plaguespawn – an unfortunate side-effect of the Plague. These monsters have just one purpose – attack anything living and assimilated it, and they prefer humans. Unfortunately, they are also all over the place, so humanity lives in cities and walled villages, and travel is dangerous…

I also really liked both of our siblings – Maya and Gyre. Even though they are on the opposite ends of this conflict, it’s really hard to say who is right and who is wrong. They both believe in their own truths. They are both decent people deep inside. They are also very young, so they still see the world in black and white, even though they allowed a few shades of gray in the end which helped them find a compromise long enough to get out of a very bad situation they were in. 

I liked that they both felt “alive” to me. No, I didn’t agree with all of their actions, especially with what Gyre did in Deepfyre, but I understood their motivations. To me, that’s the most important part. I might not like the character or agree with them, but I need their actions to make sense with what I know about them. That’s exactly what I get every time I pick up a Django Wexler book. 

Of course, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered – who or what is that black spider that Maya keeps encountering. How did it get ahold of Jaedia? What is the Thing on Maya’s chest and why does the spider call her an experiment? What are the plaguespawn and are they really the by-product of the Plague? Are the Chosen really gone? And a lot more. 

So this book accomplishes what a first book in a series is supposed to do – introduces an interesting world with engaging characters and left us with enough questions to pick up the next book. Well done, Mr. Wexler, well done. I am definitely continuing with this series. 

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

Steel in the Blood (The Reckoning Cycle 1) by N.T. Narbutovskih

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I am not sure why this was published as a book. As far as story goes, it’s only Part 1 of a bigger book. The part that sets up the characters and the premise and doesn’t nothing else. By the end of Steel in the Blood, the main conflict of the story was set up, alright, but no questions were answered, there was no emotional payoff for sticking with the story so far. It just ended. So if you want to learn what this story is actually about, you have to buy the next book.

Unfortunately, there is nothing I hate more in a book than a cliffhanger designed solely to make you buy the next book, so I’m afraid that this series and I will be parting ways. Which is a shame, because from the little I have seen of the world and history in this small installment, it might be an interesting story.

The human empire has existed for thousands of years, ruled by an immortal Empress. It’s big, safe and prosperous (or so we’re told), but it has stopped growing. Innovation is discouraged, exploration is non-existent. It’s a well-oiled machine designed for one purpose only – to keep trade flowing to the capital worlds. No part of the Empire is self-sufficient. They all depend on each other for food, raw materials, trade, or goods. 

Each section of the empire is governed by members of different genelines, who have been cloned and enhanced to rule their sections for millennia as well. There has been no war in a thousand years, after the last Medicant Wars have ended. But now one is brewing…

Wonderful premise for an exciting book, right? That’s what I thought as well. I already mentioned the first problem with this story – this book is only a set-up. A transit point from one geneline is seemingly attacked by agents of another geneline, even though the Executor of that geneline never ordered the attack he is accused of. He has to find those who are responsible and clear his name or a civil war will break out. He leaves to do just that and puts his daughter in charge of their whole sector… And that’s it. That’s where the story ends.

If you are expecting answers to all the questions asked in this book, you will have to purchase the next book in the series.

My second problem is that while the world setting is intriguing, the characters are a lot less so. Erick seems very naïve and indecisive for a leader who supposedly ruled his corner of the Empire for 400 years. Bryn seems a little more interesting, but we haven’t really been in her head enough to get attached. In fact, the character I found the most interesting and whom I could empathize the most with is the Medicant. Yes, an android is has more personality than the humans in this story.

The ending also feels a bit flat – we are introduced to a whole assault team of characters we’ve never seen before who have a brief battle to capture a saboteur at a fold array. Said saboteur explodes, literally, damaging the array. The end. Again, if you were looking for answers and emotional payoff for sticking with this story for a few hours, buy the next book. Maybe the story will get better, maybe not. I am out either way.

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

Seven Deaths of an Empire by G.R. Matthews

Stars: 2 out of 5

Well, this was a disappointment. Do you sometimes happen across a book that should, by all accounts, be right up your alley, but realize that it’s a complete miss? This is what happened to me with this book.

First, I didn’t like the worldbuilding itself. The world is too reminiscent of the Roman Empire with a little bit of magic added for good form. Oh and a monotheistic religion that mirrors what Christianity became at it’s worse – intolerance towards other religions, Inquisition, and witch hunts. Though in this case, we should probably say mage hunts. Other than those parts, the world itself has no originality. There is nothing that makes it unique or memorable, or even “fantasy”.

I am still fuzzy about the geography of this world or the different people who live in it. We talk about the forest tribes and the Empire, but it’s mentioned that the Empire conquered a lot of other people as well… yet I don’t see this diversity in the book. Even the tribes looked like a monolithic block to me, despite the fact that Emlyn mentions several times that each tribe is unique. We are told that, but we aren’t shown it.

Same with the Empire itself. It’s just an homogeneous mass of soldiers to me. I can’t even tell you what the main characters look like. Kyron is supposedly descended from the tribes, so does he look different than another citizen of the Empire? One descended from the original invaders that came from overseas? No clue. 

Speaking of that, why is the capital of the Empire on this new continent if the Empire originated elsewhere? Who governs that part of the Empire? Are they aware of the death of the Emperor and all the drama that follows? There is no mention of that. It’s hinted that it’s a big territory, yet it’s not important enough to even mention more than once in the story?

This moves into the second problem I had with this book. There is no sense of scale. The author hints at a huge continent and the Emperor is somewhere north of it with his army… yet it takes them what, one or two weeks to get back out of the forest and almost to the capital? Considering that they were moving on forest trails and with heavy carts full of with provisions, as well as the Emperor’s body, they weren’t moving very fast. Probably even slower as than a normal march. So if this was a big continent, it would have taken them a month or two to get out of the forest and into proper roads. And the author mentions that it took the Princess and her retinue a week to sail to the city with the bridge… yet they were back in the capital rather quickly after that battle. This creates such a confusion about geography and distances. I don’t “see” this world at all, thus I’m not interested in it.

Finally, I didn’t click with the two protagonists either, though I liked Bogan better than the whiny Kyron. Yes, the kid does some growing up in the course of the story, but he is still as selfish in the end as he was in the beginning. And his actions at the end of the book only prove it. His grandfather begged him to leave and do nothing. His master begged him to leave and do nothing. Heck, a lot of other people who know what they were talking about begged him to just save himself. Did he listen to any of them? Of course not. And by acting against the wishes of the person he is trying to save, he makes things so much worse…

Also, if found that the ending was at least 60 pages too long. The battle at the bridge was a very nice climax to the story with a great emotional payoff… but then the story kept going… and going… and going. Frankly, I lost interest and started just scrolling to the end, reading a word here or there. Even the twist and the big reveal didn’t manage to recapture my attention. I think it’s because that twist is so out of character for the actual villain of the story. Either that or Bodan can’t read people to save his life. 

If this book is a standalone, then the story isn’t wrapped up by the end. If it’s the first in a series, unfortunately, it didn’t make me interested enough to wait for the next one.

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

Book of Sand by Theo Clare

Stars: 2 out of 5.

DNF at 60%

I tried so hard to like this book, or baring that at least finish it before I reviewed. I struggled for the last 10-15% of the story, hoping to get some answer or that the story would get more interesting. Unfortunately, it didn’t, so I am calling it quits.

The beginning was really promising, though I wasn’t a fan of the dual storylines. McKenzie’s story in particular was a little bit too YA for me. I am not a fan of YA, so getting through her parts was a struggle. It was especially hard and off-putting because of how intermingled these parts are – you have several paragraphs with Spider and the family in the Cirque, then we jump to McKenzie for a paragraph, then back again with no warning, no rhyme or reason. 

The desert storyline was intriguing enough to keep me going though. And I wanted to know how the two stories tied together. Unfortunately,  the answer to that question was rather blah. Also, the book went downhill once the two stories merged. There were too many questions left unanswered and too many deus ex machina moments. Also, nobody communicates in this family. Everyone withholds information for no other reason but to keep the mystery of the story. It’s infuriating. 

These people are supposed to be a family, and the author mentions several times how much they love each other. Yet for some reason they all despise Hugo because he is “entitled”. Well, I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen anything entitled about him in this book. He’s been nothing but helpful and self-sacrificing throughout the story. The reaction of the other family members makes no sense. Same with Spider’s constant suspicion towards Noor. Like dude, why don’t you two talk it out, like normal human being would? And why are your so-called Elders speak in riddles and never answer any questions? And why do you constantly just let it go? It’s a life and death situation you guys are in, but Spider would be just like, “cool, you won’t answer me about why I should explore this city, so I will just go away and do something else.” Really?

Also, with such a big cast of characters, it’s sad when the only well-defined and interesting one is a camel. 

And this book is way too long. It sits at a hefty 600 pages. So I made it to about 350 by the time I called it quits, and the story hadn’t given me any satisfying answers yet. Nope, I’m out.

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

Daughter of Redwinter (The Redwinter Chronicles 1) by Ed McDonald

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

I liked the idea behind this book better than the execution, but it was still an enjoyable read all in all.

Raine in particular is an interesting character with a lot of flaws and a lot of trauma in her past, who manages to stay relatable. I loved her character arc and her emotional growth throughout this book.  From a young girl who constantly doubts her worth and her place in the world, who has been told over and over that she isn’t worth anything, to a young woman who knows exactly who she is, who her friends are, and what she believes in. And who is willing to stand up and fight for that, even if by doing so she is risking her life.

However, I found that the middle of the book feels a bit draggy, because a lot of things happen to Raine instead of being instigated by her.  She’s basically floating along the narrative flow from right after the battle at the monastery to the part where she chooses to rescue her friend from his kidnappers. I understand why it was done this way, and it is justified, narratively speaking. But it makes for a rather dull read. Since Raine herself doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and just kind of exists day to day, the reader feels like none of the events happening have any meaning. We don’t know what’s important because Raine doesn’t care about anything.

But once Raine finally decides where her place is and what’s important to her, she becomes a really wonderful character – she takes action, she makes tough choices, and she emerges victorious out of what seemed like an impossible situation. I will be curious to see how her life with evolve going forward, now that her big secret is known by several people who aren’t trying to kill her for it.

The worldbuilding is also rather fascinating. It reminds me of Scotland and England back in the middle ages when the Scot were subjugated by the English. Raine comes form the highlands, there is talk of clans, and the scenery is reminiscent of what I’ve seen in Scotland. There is also talk of moon horses that sounds a bit like kelpies, and hidden folk, the fae, etc. I would like to explore this world more, learn more of its secrets. 

I wasn’t as excited with the side characters. The characterizations there aren’t as well-done as Raine. Half the time we had just hints and sketches of character without full definition. Granted, a lot of it steams from the fact that we see this story through Raine’s eyes, and she’d been emotionally shunted for most of the book. It was hard for her to empathize with other or care enough to pay close attention to them. But even the people she seems interested in aren’t as well-defined as I would have liked them to be. 

Also, while I can believe into the motivation of the main villain in the story, I find it hard to believe that he was powerful enough to mind control so many of his followers. So does this mean that some of them followed him willingly even though all he wanted was petty revenge? Or was he so good of a liar that nobody suspected anything until the very end? Then why at least some of them didn’t turn on him after his grand speech in the cavern when the truth came out? Why were they willing to still die for him?

All in all tough, this book accomplished what a first book in a new series should do – it introduced and interesting world that readers want to explore more. It introduced a compelling protagonist that I wouldn’t mind following for a few more books. And it told an interesting story. It also didn’t leave us with a cliffhanger, thank the havens. All the questions relating to this particular story were answered by the end of the book while leaving enough unsaid that I am excited about picking up the next installment. 

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

Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror by Lee Murray

Stars: 5 out of 5 (Extra extra star for the gorgeous cover)

I don’t often read non-fiction unless I need it for work, so I was a bit skeptical when I picked up this book. But that cover drew me in like a magnet, so I decided to give it a try. And I must admit that I didn’t regret my choice.

This is a collection of essays by Asian women about their experiences having to reconcile two often different cultures or trying to integrate into a culture that is different then the one they were born into. It’s also about the role of women in Asian culture and how powerless they often are. And each essay also talks about some monsters traditional to various Asian cultures and how those monsters are often females.

Yes, summarized like that this book doesn’t sound particularly interesting, but trust me, it is. Maybe because being an immigrant myself, I can relate to the struggle of reconciling different cultures within oneself. I had to move and integrate into a different society several times in my life, and each time I had to decide which parts of myself I wanted to leave behind and what was the “core” of my being that I wouldn’t compromise on, no matter how strange and “foreign” that made me in my new country. 

And while my culture doesn’t have such a radical and repressive stance against women, I still can relate to their struggles. My mother also sacrificed her career to follow my father into a foreign country and dedicated her life to raising a family. She also never bothered to learn the language. She surrounded herself with friends that spoke the same language instead. So you might say that she never fully integrated, even after living there for 20 years.

So a lot of these stories resonated with me, and as a bonus, I got to learn about folklore of other countries, which I am always fascinated with.

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

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.