Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again. (Taken from Amazon

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Empire of Exiles is available now.

When an author combines extraordinary worldbuilding with a strong understanding of human nature, something magical happens. Empire of Exiles is spectacular, a feast for those who crave complex characters and sinister plots. Author Erin M. Evans has created the sort of book that will be treasured for years to come. The description of the book, while making me desperate to read it, doesn’t begin to show the full scope of what waits inside its pages.

The book opens with an errand. Quill comes to the Archives with a request: he needs some artifacts. A simple job, and nothing spectacular. But, then there’s a grisly murder with Quill involved for the most upsetting of reasons, and each theory leads to more questions. The twists and turns were brilliant, weaving a surprising story with much larger implications than anyone realizes.

It became less of a “whodunnit” and more of a question of how bad the fallout would be. The danger grew even bigger with each page, threatening to swallow everyone in it. By the end of the book, my house could have been on fire and I would have been annoyed at the interruption to my reading.

The plot wove between the past and the present, showing that history does not exist in a vacuum. Everything past had a connection to the present. I loved that, despite everything being connected in some way, the world was nonetheless huge. The book focused on a small cast of characters but did not exclude the rest of the world or make the story small in any way.

And what a cast! I can’t pick a favorite. I loved Quill’s tenacity and his willingness to admit that he was way outside his depth. Then there was Yinni, devout and oh-so-lost, completely unaware that everyone feels alone sometimes. Her character growth was astounding. I loved prickly Tunuk, who made me smile. And Amadea, full of secrets and questions herself, trying to hide her insecurities by being the pillar of strength for everyone else. As incredible as the world was and as fascinating as the storyline was, it was the characters that made me fall in love.

Well, that and the way the magic system perfectly described what my anxiety disorder is like. I was in tears at parts and the self-deceptive litany of “I’m fine” that could be found throughout Empire of Exiles felt so incredibly familiar. I loved the way the magic worked, how it threatened to swallow the character when they “spiraled”. I read that the author’s magic system was created from her wondering what a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder would be like. I can say with confidence that she nailed it. I was in awe at the way she put words to the indescribable.

The history of the world was fantastic, with hints of more to come. I loved the Changelings and the layers to their mystery. I’m a fan of changelings in books anyway, and these were so creatively done. The questions of morality that were raised with their inclusion added an intriguing facet.

I’m desperate to continue the story and will be waiting impatiently for book two. Empire of Exiles is truly incredible, captivating, and thought-provoking. I loved every word.

Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans

In a city filled with dangerous yet heavily regulated alchemical magic, a man from the slums discovers he may be its only hope to survive certain destruction in this wickedly entertaining fantasy. 
Welcome to Bezim, where sword-slinging bravi race through the night and rich and idle alchemists make magic out of mixing and measuring the four planes of reality.

Siyon Velo, Dockside brat turned petty alchemist, scrapes a living hopping between the planes to harvest ingredients for the city’s alchemists. But when Siyon accidentally commits an act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight—which is a bad place to be when the planes start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send Bezim into the sea.

It will take a miracle to save the city. Good thing Siyon has pulled off the impossible before. Now he just has to master it. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Notorious Sorcerer is available now.

Well, buckle my swash! Notorious Sorcerer is an entertaining adventure that kept me guessing. There is action almost from the get-go, as the reader is treated to a world peopled with ambitious characters, crime, and madcap escapades.

Bezim is the only place where it’s possible to perform alchemy. It’s illegal, but a little illegality doesn’t stop everyone. Siyon, the main character (although not the only point of view used) is desperate to learn a little magic, although only the rich can afford lessons. Siyon is far from rich, leading him to travel to other planes to collect sorcerous ingredients to sell in an attempt to finally afford lessons.

Things go south and suddenly Siyon has eyes focused on him-not necessarily a good thing. Then all heck breaks loose and he has to somehow save the day, a feat which may well be impossible. These stakes kept me interested, wondering what on earth would happen next.

There was a bit of uncertainty for me at first, with the author chucking you into things head-first. This is always risky, since I tend to end up distanced from books that leave me confused for too long (real life is confusing enough). In this case, it paid off, as curiosity hooked me. I was able to pick things up as I went along, and all was made clear relatively quickly.

The characters were an intriguing mix of poor and desperate, and privileged (although sometimes equally desperate, just for different things). I liked this switching between perspectives. It made the story seem fuller and added a layer of social unrest which I found fascinating.

Siyon was my favorite. His derring-do and rather careless way of risking life and limb was both endearing and exciting. I also enjoyed Zagiri, especially her desperation to prove that she was more than just a bank account and social status. All of the characters were great, but Siyon stole the show.

I wasn’t huge on the romance angle, but I rarely am. This is a me thing and has absolutely nothing to do with the skill of the author or the character dynamics. Fans of romantic entanglements will more than likely be drawn in by the complicated nature of the relationship.

The world was complex, but also felt a little underdeveloped to me. There was just so much teeming under the surface and I wish more of it had been fully explained. I loved what we did get to see, though, although it took a while to really understand the nuances of it.

There was so much happening that it was a race to turn pages and see what would happen next. This breakneck pace made for a massively enjoyable book. Notorious Sorcerer was a rollicking dash through pages, with roguery and mishaps aplenty.

One Foot in the Fade (A Fetch Phillips Novel) by Luke Arnold

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. One Foot in the Fade is available for purchase now.

This is the third book in the Fetch Phillips series, so there might be some spoilers for the first two books. You can find my reviews for those books here: The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

I knew from about twenty pages into book one that I’ll read anything by Luke Arnold, up to and including a pamphlet on beige paint. His writing is that good. I obviously had ridiculously high expectations for this latest installment in the Fetch Phillips novels, and One Foot in the Fade more than delivered. Buckle up, folks: this is going to be a rave. Or you could save yourself the trouble and buy the entire series now, which is the better option.

One Foot in the Fade continues on where Dead Man in a Ditch left off, with a much more motivated and slightly more capable Fetch taking the small bit of hope he’s seized and holding onto it for dear life. Thanks to a friend of his, Fetch’s sign has gone from an advertisement for a P.I. to a declaration: “Bringing the Magic Back”!

After sniffing the slightest possibility of a return to before everything went to crap, returning magic has become Fetch’s driving goal. He’s following every lead and hunting down any hint of a way to make that happen. Which is how he ends ups embroiled in what is either an almost-miracle or a very grisly murder. The answer leads Fetch on a journey both physical and emotional.

One Foot in the Fade takes the series from a grimy noir-fantasy to something completely new and different. I didn’t know what would happen next and I loved it. From duels (aka fights with self-important rich men who hold all the cards in life) to a not-quite-a-corpse, to an unfortunate encounter with a monster of legend, there was plenty of danger and action to be found. However, the heart stopping action scenes weren’t what held me enthralled. Rather, it was the incredible character growth to be found in Fetch.

Fetch Phillips has become one of my favorite characters in fantasy. Ever. His staunch refusal to give up, even when he’s convinced himself that he has, is heartbreaking. His grasp at the smallest glimmer of hope is relatable. And his palpable loneliness and the way he slowly learns to open himself up to the possibility of friendship is amazing and a privilege to read. Despite this being a fantasy setting, or maybe because of it, Fetch is one of the most supremely human characters I’ve read.

One Foot in the Fade has everything I want in a fantasy book. The story is engrossing, the descriptiveness of the writing is brilliant, the characters are all wonderful, and the ending made me tear up. A perfect blend between fantastical creativity and fascinating character development, One Foot in the Fade hooked me from page one.

The Hunger of the Gods (Bloodsworn Saga #2) by John Gwynne

THE DEAD GODS ARE RISING.
Lik-Rifa, the dragon god of legend, has been freed from her eternal prison. Now she plots a new age of blood and conquest.   
   
As Orka continues the hunt for her missing son, the Bloodsworn sweep south in a desperate race to save one of their own–and Varg takes the first steps on the path of vengeance.   
   
Elvar has sworn to fulfil her blood oath and rescue a prisoner from the clutches of Lik-Rifa and her dragonborn followers, but first she must persuade the Battle-Grim to follow her. Yet even the might of the Bloodsworn and Battle-Grim cannot stand alone against a dragon god.   
 
Their only hope lies within the mad writings of a chained god. A book of forbidden magic with the power to raise the wolf god Ulfrir from the dead…and bring about a battle that will shake the foundations of the earth.  (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Hunger of the Gods is available now.

This is a sequel, so there might be some spoilers for book one, The Shadow of the Gods, although I’ll try to avoid them. You can find my review for The Shadow of the Gods here.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the book, I want to thank the author and Orbit profusely for adding a “story so far” section! So much happened in The Shadow of the Gods that this addition was perfect and very appreciated.

John Gwyne is the sort of author who seems to delight in writing books that pack an emotional punch. I was on the edge of my seat for a good chunk of The Shadow of the Gods, and while it had a slower start, The Hunger of the Gods ramped up and by the last page, I was once again enthralled.

The second book starts right up where the first one ends, with each character having their own goals, motivations, and really big problems. The three main points of view from The Shadow of the Gods are joined by new characters, however Orka stole the show.

Orka is one of the most complex and uncompromising characters I’ve read. She can come across as harsh and fierce and she is- fiercely loving, fiercely loyal, and fiercely protective. She’s hardcore and intimidating, which I loved. Her strength is the sort that is fascinating to read. She was fantastic in The Shadow of the Gods, and she’s now on my list of excellent female characters.

The Norse-inspired world is vast and continues to grow and evolve and the action scenes are visceral and ruthless. Johny Gwyne goes for the jugular in every way, from the fight scenes to the storyline and character development.

This is not the sort of series that can be jumped into midway. Make sure to start with The Shadow of the Gods. If you haven’t started the series yet, I can’t recommend it enough. Book one is fantastic, and it continues magnificently. The Hunger of the Gods is violent and brilliant, a worthy sequel to The Shadow of the Gods.

The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Set in a gorgeous world of bone and shadow magic, of vengeful gods and defiant chosen ones, The City of Dusk follows the four heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.

The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the City of Dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.

But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving metropolis. And without it, all the realms are dying.

Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Risha, a necromancer fighting to keep the peace; Nikolas, a soldier who struggles to see the light; and Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with a reckless heart—will become reluctant allies in the quest to save their city.

But their rebellion will cost them dearly. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Angela Man and Orbit Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The City of Dusk is available now.

Dark and complex, with intrigue and machinations aplenty, The City of Dusk was a fascinating book. I was a little surprised; it started out slowly, and I was often curious as to how the seemingly unrelated bits of narrative would mesh. While the book follows multiple points of view, each lends its piece to a whole that is bigger and much more complicated than I could have possibly hoped for.

The City of Dusk follows four heirs from separate houses (houses who worship different gods) as they try to unite and save their city. Each house has a different skill, for lack of a better term, which has to do with their patron god. I’m grateful for the list of houses at the beginning of the book. While the four heirs have very distinctive voices, I sometimes found myself forgetting who was related to whom and which house other characters belonged to.

While each of the characters offered a different and unique part to the story, Taesia was by far my favorite. She seemed to be more fully developed than some of the others. She was also a bit cantankerous and sarcastic, which I loved. She seemed happy to mock from the shadows, while at the same time fighting like mad to save her realm. It was a delightful combination of character traits, and I loved every chapter told from her point of view.

Angelica really annoyed me, although I couldn’t say why. There was something about her that felt very self-pitying, and it got under my skin pretty quickly. I did like the way her music acted as focus, though. That was extremely creative.

The political vying for position and the behind-the-scenes machinations were quite possibly my favorite aspects to the book. Everyone is so busy wondering whether they can trust the person they’ve formed an uneasy alliance with, that it adds almost a level of anxiety to the pages, which was a blast to read.

The descriptions were beautiful and the history and mythology that author Tara Sim has created is astounding. There’s so much to it! The city itself oozed personality and was almost a character in its own right.

It took a while for me to become fully invested in the book, but once it got going, The City of Dusk held me captive. This is an excellent start to what I’m sure will be an addictive series.

We Cry for Blood by Devin Madson

Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as it first appeared.

After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.

Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret—one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.

And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva e’Jaroven is caught in his web. She’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. We Cry for Blood is available now.

The machinations! The backstabbing! The violence! The wit! Author Devin Madson has mastered it all in the latest installment in The Reborn Empire series. There is a lot going on in this book (and I mean a lot), yet it was never disorganized. Instead, I felt that everything is leading toward the sort of conclusion that blows the mind.

We Cry for Blood continues to follow the four characters from previous novels:  Dishiva e’Jaroven and Rah e’Torin, Empress Miko Ts’ai, and Cassandra Marius. Each character has their own story arc, which could be confusing in lesser hands than Madson’s, but somehow never is. That is saying something, because I often struggle with keeping larger plotlines straight. In this case, the sheer amount of detail serves to broaden the world and make the story even more compelling. Everything happens on an epic scale, while at the same time feeling incredibly personal.

This is one of those great series where my favorite character seems to change book by book. In We Cry for Blood, Dishiva stood out to me. Her point of view reminded me that, while so much is happening on a grand scale, things are also incredibly important on a smaller, yet no-less-important level. Her challenges seem nearly insurmountable, but the fighting spirit exists all the same. Usually in books with multiple viewpoints, there’s that one that just isn’t interesting to me, but I didn’t have that problem here. Each character was compelling in their own way.

This series continues to completely ignore the usual expectations in a fantasy novel, and I love it! As much as I love the classic fantasy feel, I also really appreciate how broad the spectrum of fantasy is, and seeing it stretched into new and exciting directions is beyond exciting. The Reborn Empire is well on its way to being the sort of fantasy series that readers of the genre “must” read. In fact, I would argue that it is already there.

This is not a series that can be understood if you start in book three. However, I guarantee you’ll want to read the entire series. It is truly excellent.

The Bone Ship’s Wake (The Tide Child Trilogy book 3) by R.J. Barker


Joron Twiner’s dreams of freedom lay shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge. Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child, he takes every opportunity to hurt the Hundred Isles he is given. But his time is limited.

His fleet is shrinking, the Keyshan’s Rot is running through his body, and he hiding from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer will end the entire world.

But the Sea Dragons have returned, a miracle in itself, and who is to say that if you can have one miracle, there cannot be another? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Bone Ship’s Wake is available for purchase now.

Every now and again a series comes along that completely wrecks me, in the very best way. The Bone Ship’s Wake perfectly ended a series that surprised, touched, thrilled, and saddened me (the author is not nice to his characters). It was an emotional roller coaster, one that was so well written that I was constantly astonished.

It is difficult to review the final book in a series without accidentally giving spoilers. I’ll be as vague as possible, but warning: There be spoilers ahead!

The Bone Ship’s Wake wraps up the story started in Call of the Bones Ships (book one) magnificently. Joron is doing everything he can, and then some, to rescue Meas. He is now the leader of the entire black fleet. He is called the Black Pirate and has gained quite the reputation for being a bloodthirsty murderer. Joron is desperate. He is violent. He is fantastic. I loved his character development. He is scared, angry, and lonely. He is incredibly human. He feels the weight of everything that has happened and everything he fears will happen and- despite this- he somehow keeps going.

As always, each character was well written and a great addition to the story. I love found families, and that’s exactly what we have here. A ragtag group, to be sure, but that made the relationships and the characters’ interactions even better.

I would love to say that Barker’s writing is “even better in this book”, but how can you improve upon magnificence? There is not a single misstep and Barker happily took my feelings and stomped all over them. How dare you, sir (and thank you for devastating me with your storyline)!

The pacing was fantastic, each word placed with care. There’s violence galore, but there are also introspective moments that I found to be even more riveting. The story moved at a great pace, not too slow, but not so quickly that details or important plot points were discarded.

If you’re looking for a books with happily ever afters for each character, keep looking. This series will not be for you. However, The Bone Ship’s Wake brilliantly ended a series that was both brutal and beautiful. Yes, that seems like a bit of a contradiction, but I promise it makes sense. Go into the final book expecting to cry.

I highly recommend this series.