There Will Be One by Todd Sullivan

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For generations, Windshine has chronicled the exploits of young men on quests to become heroes. Most suffered brutal deaths, and distrust of the Dark Elf grew until rogue officials offer sixteen-year-old archer, Woo Jin, the chance to eliminate her. If he succeeds, they will name him hero. If he fails, he can never return home.In the company of musicians, veterans, and the wielder of the glyph blade, Woo Jin sails from Jeju to the mainland. Their quest— to evacuate Goseong, the village of children, from the devastated borderlands of South and North Hanguk. Unbeknownst to Woo Jin’s companions, he studies Windshine for weaknesses even as he wonders what evil lurks in the Dark Elf.Reaching the village, the companions encounter a fierce horde of northern soldiers. Battling to survive, Woo Jin spots the perfect opportunity to fulfill his mission, but will he assassinate the Dark Elf to become a hero? (taken from Amazon)

                        Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

There Will Be One is the sequel to Hollow Men (you can find my review for that book here). I will do my best to keep this review free of spoilers for book one. I really enjoyed Hollow Men; I loved There Will Be One.

Woo Jin joins a group on their quest to evacuate a village of children before battle reaches it. Ostensibly, he is there to help. In reality, his quest is far different: to assassinate a member of the party. His victim? A dark elf, the only foreigner on the quest.

This book tackles racism and morality against a backdrop of rich lore, epic battles, and fantastical creatures. I didn’t always love the main character, but I enjoyed seeing his eyes open and his viewpoints shift. This character matured more in less than two hundred pages than many characters do in long novels. He began with a quiet sense of right and wrong, a disquiet about his mission. What that seed of doubt grows into is fascinating to see.

Another thing I loved about this novella was the bold choice made in the narration. Despite being a sequel, the main character is an entirely new addition. There are tie-ins that make it more than just a different tale told in the same world, but the decision to use a different voice was a really cool one.

The world is fantastic, the Korean elements made the book more realistic (and were absolutely fascinating), and it moves quickly. Plus, there are dragons! I strongly suggest reading these novellas. Todd Sullivan is a talented voice in fantasy, and one I’m excited to see more from.

 

Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake

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Together in print for the first time in this paperback bind-up, the dazzling prequels to the Three Dark Crowns series are finally available for fans to have and to (literally) hold. Uncover the sisters’ origins, dive deep into the catastrophic reign of the Oracle Queen, and reveal layers of Fennbirn’s past, hidden until now.

The Young Queens

Get a glimpse of triplet queens Mirabella, Arsinoe, and Katharine during a short period of time when they protected and loved one another. From birth until their claiming ceremonies, this is the story of the three sisters’ lives…before they were at stake.

The Oracle Queen

Everyone knows the legend of Elsabet, the Oracle Queen. The one who went mad. The one who orchestrated a senseless, horrific slaying of three entire houses. But what really happened? Discover the true story behind the queen who could foresee the future…just not her own downfall. (taken from Amazon)

I love Kendare Blake’s writing. The darker tones present throughout her Three Dark Crowns series adds a glorious sense of the gothic. This book of two novellas was no different.

Both of these stories take place in Fennbirn, the world of the Three Dark Crowns. I would suggest reading at least the first few books in the actual series before picking these novellas up, because you’ll get spoilers otherwise. There are also things in this book that won’t make as much sense if you haven’t already read the others.

In The Young Queens, we get a bigger view of the queens’ lives before they were pitted against each other and the events of the Three Dark Crowns series unfolded. While I can see why this novella is so well-liked, I honestly didn’t feel that it added anything to the original story. In fact (and this is a weird opinion), I preferred getting only glimpses of the queens’ time together prior to their fight for the crown. This book was sweet in many ways, but it just didn’t do it for me. From a technical standpoint, the writing was as strong as ever, but this novella just felt…unnecessary.

The Oracle Queen, though! Holy Hannah, that packed a punch! Kendare Blake’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat is once again made apparent. The story of the last oracle queen is full of intrigue, betrayal, and more than a bit of violence. I loved every moment of it. Kendare Blake has never shied away from being mean to her characters, a trait that makes her books unpredictable and compelling. I suggest picking up this book of novellas for this story alone.

This was a good book, even though I didn’t love The Young Queens, and it’s definitely worth adding to your shelf.

Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan

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Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

There was a lot more to the book than I originally expected. I made the mistake of thinking that, because it’s a short book, there wouldn’t be much detail. I was wrong. The world is fully formed, including customary responses to situations, histories, and even social expectations. I am incredibly impressed.

Sixteen-year-old Ha Jun goes on a quest. It’s expected of young men, as a way to earn honor and glory. However, sixteen is much younger than the usual age. His glory-hungry father has trained him for this-plus he has a glyph blade, so he’s sure to succeed, right? Hopefully? In his pursuit of honor, Ha Jun joins a monk, a knight, a solider, and the dark elf Windshine on a journey to destroy a demon. As all fantasy readers know, a quest can create the coolest of stories.

This book goes in unexpected directions, and is chock-full of action. Where this book stands out, however, is in the richness of its lore. For example, there’s a man-eating tiger mentioned at the beginning of the book. Instead of just being a tiger with unfortunate taste, more is added to make it memorable. If the author were to ever write a book of legends from his world, I’d be first in line to buy it.

I did struggle to adjust to certain things in this book. The last few fantasy books I’ve read felt less formal (for lack of a better term) so emotions, while definitely present in this book, seemed to be buried a little bit deeper. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to that. It added depth to the characters, seeing the small ways they conveyed emotion.

Lastly, I have to mention the cover. It has a Forgotten Realms feel to it, and definitely grabs the eye. This is a very well-written novella, and one I recommend to those who like their fantasy with a unique, diverse feel.

The Dark Stalkers by Henry Bassett

I: The Dark Stalkers (The Dead Chronicles of Martha Railer Book #1)In a town not too dissimilar to yours lived Martha Railer; a solitary individual who lived by herself, yet enjoyed the company of her close friends whom she spent time with on days out. In a realm outside of human perception, something sinister had been put into motion, and inhuman dark figures arrived in her town. They stalked Martha on her day to day activities, but was she chosen or was it chance or, perhaps, even fate? However, a simple choice of a short cut home would change everything for her…& them. (taken from Amazon)

                               Have you ever seen one of those artsy films? You know, the ones where the story-telling is so different, and the camera shots are so distinct, that you know there will never be another movie like that made, no matter how many other people try to mimic the style? This felt a bit like that.

The story itself is a simple one, but the execution is so unique that the story-line in and of itself really doesn’t matter. I’m used to books that attempt to make the reader a part of the world. This one deliberately keeps the reader at arms’ length, allowing a glimpse into what’s happening, but never opening the door all the way. It lent the book a sinister vibe, like there was a secret being held which added a sense of urgency.

The point of view switches back and forth from that of Martha and the stalkers. Martha never really reveals much personality at all. Because of that, certain things that happened in the book didn’t hit me the way I think they were supposed to. This is one of six novellas and I wonder if possibly combining them all into one full-length novel might help the characters come to life a bit more.

I can’t sum up my opinion of this book in a neat “I liked it” or “I didn’t”. I’ll settle for this: the book is intriguing and will stick with me for quite a while.

Death Train and Anxious Anna by Daye Williams

Anxious Anna & The Souls by [Williams, Daye] DEATH TRAIN by [Williams, Daye]

Thank you to the author for providing me with these novellas in exchange for my honest opinion.

I went back and forth on whether to review these two novellas in one post, or separately. I finally decided on one because they both examine similar themes, albeit from different angles.

Death Train is about a man who stores aboard a train that delivers souls to the Underworld. He is attempting to save the souls of his deceased loved ones. While this story is ostensibly about saving his family, what made me invested in this story are the underlying themes of grief, and dealing with loss.

The story moves along quickly without ever feeling trite. While the descriptions are absolutely incredible, sometimes I’d get lost in them and have to remind myself of what was happening. Daye Williams has a very detailed writing style. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into his mind, so to speak. I quite enjoyed this one.

Anxious Anna also explores themes of mortality and the fear of the unknown. This story is about a young girl who, on her eighth birthday, is so terrified by the idea of growing old and dying that she manages to break the binds of Time and goes on a journey wherein she must come to grips with her fears and decide whether to return home.

This one was a little more difficult for me to grasp. Again, it was very well-written, but I felt a little lost at times. The descriptions were beautiful, but I couldn’t connect with Anna as easily. Taken separately, both of these novellas are good. Read back-to-back (I read Anxious Anna first), they paint a vivid picture and are thought-provoking. These stories can be read quickly, but they’ll stick with you and make you think.

Have you read either of these novellas? What did you think?